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ALBERT ALCOZ: Shak Benavides directs, coordinates and produces TeslaFM, an online radio focused on sound art, electroacoustics, classical music, improvised jazz, electronic experimentation and the most unsuspected sound artifacts. “Only in relation to silence does sound have meaning” is stated in the home page of his website. Silence is a concept that admits multiple interpretations depending on the context and perspective of the listener. One of Robert Bresson’s famous phrases states: “build your film on white, on silence and immobility”. Nikola Tesla contributed to the development of electricity through something invisible: alternating current. How does TeslaFM define itself in terms of these perspectives on silence and invisibility?
SHAK BENAVIDES: TeslaFM starts from the idea of silence for something very personal, my need for isolation, for silence from any over-stimulation. It is an excuse to elaborate and weave a structure of subtle material mostly, which needs a greater attention to appreciate it. The programming, for the most part, consists of sound art, experimental music and some pre-romantic classical music, all of which have silence as their main foundation in their creation.
AA: Where does this concern for promoting and making known historical sound archives related to sound art come from?
SB: The main concept of the radio is that it is an artifact that represents the 19th and 20th centuries, when the first technological revolutions in sound and music were taking place. Everything follows from a personal idea, from my research from the 1800s to the 1960s, and this last idea logically precedes my knowledge already acquired during years of music from the 1960s to the present era.
AA: TeslaFM contains a wide variety of programs that demonstrate the rigour of its creators when it comes to exposing sound content. The richness of the same is a call to listen to them carefully. What criteria were followed to select and create the staff of collaborators? Were they exclusively thematic?
SB: Half of the collaborators offered themselves, the other made a call or I went looking for them. The criterion is that they were djs, musicians or sound artists, or that they already knew the radio and had cultivated ears to experimentation. In the beginning, we reached a consensus of proposals, or I directly suggested them according to the profile.
AA: In TeslaFM there is a clear inclination towards sound exploration and the avant-garde. Contemporary music, electroacoustics, improvisation, abstract electronics, Noise, Industrial, Post-Punk and sound landscape are some of the usual musical genres in the definitions of contents. However, there are many other concepts exclusive to certain programs such as Free-Jazz, Contemporary Jazz, No Wave, Minimal Synth, EBM, Ambient, sound poetry, Spoken Word, Circuit Bending, Dark Ambient Wave, Drone, Avant-Pop, Krautrock, Techno, Synth-Pop, Psicodelia, sound collage, etc. How is the representation of all these genres articulated in the station?
SB: Well, I think that if they don’t enter the blocks, they are in the programs, sessions and sound collages of the collaborators, so it is according to their choice, but it always seems that all those styles have already defined certain logical correlations and sonority.
AA: Could you briefly comment on the musical lines that are laced behind specific programs such as Gonzo’s Emissions From the Other Side, David Lost’s Lostracks and Susan Drone’s Noise Politics?
SB: In Emissions it’s interesting how it makes a mostly instrumental composition. The few songs where there is voice are usually narrated, recited, or ritualistic, a use that gives it an almost cinematic discourse. Lostracks is one of the nihilistic voices needed in TeslaFM, as a representation of the current adverse times. And The Politics of Noise is the ideological loudspeaker that defines the whole position of the radio and its mission.
AA: After a year of radio consolidation, what is new about this new season? Do you think that there are some sound areas that have not yet been covered?
SB: New incorporations that replace marches, therefore, new program ideas. A new block, Futur Noir created by David Dece, about experimental black music such as experimental hiphop, abstract hiphop or singeli. Yes, I would like there to be pieces of radio art, or works of sound poetry or text sound.
AA: Other radios from the artistic sector -RadioMACBA or RRS. Radio of the Reina Sofía Museum – or programmes such as Ars Sonora directed by José Iges and, later, Miguel Álvarez Fernández for Radio Clásica of Radio Nacional de España, present similarities with the contents of TeslaFM. In any case, their approach seems to be diametrically opposed. What economic support supports the project? What mechanisms are behind its function?
SB: So far, out of my own pocket. The main mechanisms are distribution of programming in networks on a daily basis. Fine-tuning of previous programming, inserting some monthly news such as concerts and conferences recorded live in theaters, also contacting national record labels to request material and promote it by planning to listen to whole albums uninterruptedly. Host the podcasts already broadcasted on the web using code embedded in mixcloud, having uploaded it previously. Currently thinking about optimizing the use and design of the web. Constant contact with the collaborators to remember the dates of emission of their programs, and to make them participate of any advance.
AA: Lucius Works Here is the name you use to develop your work as a composer. Stopped in time (2017) -published in vinyl, on cassette and available on Bandcamp- is your last length to date. What are the concerns behind the project? What musical processes do you follow to create this “hauntological exploration charged with electroacoustic atmospheres”?
SB: I am seduced by the zeitgeist of the 19th century, a time of technological inventions, advances in science and philosophy, spiritual and cultural rethinking… so I chose from my small library, biographies of personalities of that time to pay tribute to them, the heroes and heroines I had admired years ago, to each one I composed a sonorous state of mind. The process was to fit mainly silences, or aural textures, such as erosions, small noises, delicate sounds together with compositions of few arrangements that brought me relief from the sensory overstimulation I was suffering at that time. The “electroacoustic” elements is a mark in my pieces, I put it between quotation marks because the instruments I play through the keyboard of the midi controller. Finally, my work was coined as a hauntological exploration by using its methods, creating sound fictions, evoking non-existent memories, and using recording surface noises and crackles typical of the term.
AA: You’ve been performing live for two decades and dj Shak in dozens of festivals, events, clubs, halls and international venues. How do you manage your vast musical baggage and the versatility of sound recordings in your sessions?
SB: Mostly it has always been unmixed, as a process of evolution over time for various reasons. Then, depending on the place, I’ve been adapting chameleonically because I can afford it. I shape the sessions depending on the environment and the audience, sessions that I have already thought up for styles previously. I think I’ve played everything but heavy metal and polka (laughs). I currently have music sets from the 30s, 40s and 50s for vermouths and relaxed drink environments; postpunk, synthwave, industrial, dark techno for dancefloors until late hours, and electropop and disco for more casual dancefloors. For the end of October, they called me for an eclectic festival in Girona, because they needed a versatile dj who could accompany an improvised jazz concert hoping that the session would be as accessible as possible, and they thought of me, because they know that my musical knowledge is not only based on styles, but on a good psychological use according to the audience, so I’m going to introduce downtempo (for all audiences), mixed with abstract jazz and dub, the basis of everything is going to be some complex but jazz and almost part-time dance rhythmic structures. With this example, I wanted to answer you about management.
AA: You are the co-founder of the record store Wah Wah Records, which opened its doors in 1992 in Barcelona’s Riera Baixa street. After the emergence of the internet and digital media, there was a critical moment in the marketing of records and cds. How do you currently see the panorama of physical sales and this resurgence of vinyl?
SB: Well, now that it’s been a year and a half since I’ve been on that circuit, I’m only going to talk about past impressions, and that’s because I’ve always had a sense of uncertainty, since current times are unstable, they’re liquid, compared to past decades that we’ve barely lived through, but that we all know. I have witnessed the comings and goings of the market, and nothing assures me how long it can last again. Nowadays everything seems to be going well, records are sold in shops and above all in concerts, but… if we start to rethink the real ecological abuses, what role does the use of vinyl play, the same could be said of books and the felling of trees (now that they have become my object of desire again, replacing the records). I don’t know the future.
(Highlighted image: Record Matrix Room, Berliner Gramophone Company, Montreal, QC, 1910. Source: Musee McCord Museum)
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