A driving force in the emergence of Budapest as a bastion for challenging electronics, Balázs Semsei best known as Norwell makes a remarkable return with the lush, intergalactic ‘Grasslands‘, his second full-length featuring reworks from Farbwechsel colleague S Olbricht and former Godspeed You! Black Emperor member Roger Tellier-Craig aka Le Révélateur.
The album – which you can stream in full via our channels, extends the far-flung cosmic scope of his freshly released ‘Death Of A Star‘ EP on Pinkman, adding an extra focus on spacious synth-scapes and slo-mo rhythms as it sails off to pristine space hinterlands.
With just a few days to go till the album hits the streets, we sat back with the Hungarian producer as he sheds light on ‘Grasslands‘ organic look-and-feel, old and new kosmische influences and the fine harmony of the Farbwechsel family.
Interviewed by Baptiste Girou
"I wanted to make a very solid record, music and artwork-wise. This way I was able to take part in the whole creative process, not "only" writing music"
Your new album ‘Grasslands’ is coming out in a few days. Please tell us more about the creative process. In which context did it see the light?
Grasslands is my second album and a few months ago I decided to self-release it on cassette and digital. I felt that these tracks perfectly reflected what I did in the past year. I didn’t want to wait for a label for another year and miss the moment.
Besides that I wanted to make a very solid record, music and artwork-wise. This way I was able to take part in the whole creative process, not “only” writing music, which was also very interesting. We also worked with Mátyás Csiszár, Péter Bakonyi and Róbert Tóthtogether on three music videos which was fun too.
Overall I think this is one of my most accomplished releases considering the music, artwork and visual aspects.
"Usually these are bittersweet songs, I don’t really like to make very uplifting things. A hint of bitterness feels natural to me"
There is a very emotional sense of liaison between the tracks, combined to a deep kinetic feel. Were you looking to come up with some sort of narrative?
Yeah, we can say that. Despite that I make different kinds of music from time to time – if you consider my electro EP on Pinkman and everything else I released so far, there’s one thing in common in all of them: emotions. Usually these are bittersweet songs, I don’t really like to make very uplifting things. A hint of bitterness feels natural to me.
My goal with this album was to move a bit away from my previous releases: dive deeper into the kosmische sound and leave the lo-fi side of my first album behind. I used to play these songs in my live sets during the past half year. It was good to see that they’re actually danceable in the right circumstances.
"My goal was to explore the kosmische world further with this album. Of course it wasn’t meant to be a genre-specific thing and I didn’t try to copy the original sound, but the inspiration definitely comes from there"
Where did you get your inspiration from?
As stated above my goal was to explore the kosmische world further with this album. Of course it wasn’t meant to be a genre-specific thing and I didn’t try to copy the original sound, but the inspiration definitely comes from there.
Kosmische means an organic/natural sound to me. Therefore I tried to use more ‘organic’ drums, patterns and melodies to make less of ‘straight’ tracks compared to my previous stuff. Maybe next time I’ll work with a live drummer. Anyway this organic and natural feel is where the Grasslands title comes from as well.
‘Grasslands’ has a strong Klaus Schulze’y vibe to it indeed. What are your most favourite records of the genre?
I have a small vinyl collection at home which includes the following records: Cluster – Sowiesoso, Faust and Tony Conrad – Outside the Dream Syndicate, Tangerine Dream – Phaedra / Stratosfear / Ricochet and I also have some Kraftwerk LPs. Since you mentioned Klaus Schulze I really like his ‘Moondawn‘ album.
One of my favorite bands is BEAK> because I really like how they reinterpret krautrock. Besides kosmische american psych-rock bands like Silver Apples had a huge influence on me too. Their self titled album is amazing.
"It’s very important to me to have instruments to play with. It’s part of the whole organic/natural thing, which is really important to me"
What kind of equipment did you use for the recording?
Mainly hardware: MFB Nanozwerg, Korg Poly800, Roland Alpha Juno, Doepfer Dark Energy2 and some reverb, delay and distortion pedals. I used the computer for recording and drum samples only. Since then I bought an MFB 522 drum machine so I can generate every sound outside my computer which was my goal a year ago.
It’s very important to me to have instruments to play with. It’s part of the whole organic/natural thing, which is really important to me.
Which piece of gear do you dream of acquiring and why?
I usually buy cheaper synths because they can perfectly do what I want to achieve with them. As for the dream setup, I always wanted to make a song with a Minimoog plugged into a Roland Space Echo. For my electro tracks I’d definitely like to use a TR 808.
But coming back to Earth I’m quite comfortable with my current setup.
"Friendship. The whole Farbwechsel thing was built on our friendship and our common love for the same type of music"
The Hungarian scene has been flourishing over the last few years, with producers like Route 8, S Olbricht, Imre Kiss and many more going boom on an international level. What do you think is the key to this emulation?
Friendship. The whole Farbwechsel thing was built on our friendship and our common love for the same type of music. We wanted to finally make something and not just be talking about music.
When we started to compose years ago we helped each other to make better songs and in the meantime we met new people like Route 8, Imre Kiss and so on. Since then we got released by international labels but we still act as part of the ‘Farbwechsel crew’. This togetherness is key in making the Hungarian scene more known on an international level.
"This togetherness is key in making the Hungarian scene more known on an international level"
When I interviewed Route 8, he said he hoped that “more Hungarian artists will show up, cause lately it kinda stopped”. Which artists should we keep an eye on?
Besides the above mentioned guys you should definitely keep an eye on Alpár (another co-founder of Farbwechsel) he makes very interesting music with his modular ‘tower’. AiwA released many things under different names although I really like this project from him.
12z had an album recently released on Nicolas Jaar’s Other People and they make one of the most exciting sounds in Budapest right now. Berriloom is a good friend of mine and I love his latest album. I also hope SILF will finally earn an international reputation this year. But I could mention many more artists from Hungary…
"I listened to this album 3-4 times in the car while I drove to Pohoda Festival last weekend. It has a very strange atmosphere, it’s like an emotional roller coaster"
What’s the last record you fell in love with and why?
BEAK> ‘Couple In a Hole‘. I listened to this album 3-4 times in the car while I drove to Pohoda Festival last weekend. It has a very strange atmosphere, it’s like an emotional roller coaster. I can’t wait to watch the movie finally.
What’s scheduled for you in the next weeks?
It’s summer so I’ll play at some festivals in July. Next week Grasslands will be out so I’ll start shipping the tapes. Music-wise I’ll have a tape on Seagrave, due out in September or so, a split release with Alpár on Farbwechsel around November and some other things might happen until 2017 as well. It’ll be a busy second half of the year for me.
Grasslands is released on July 19th, pre-order a tape copy from Bandcamp.
1. Fictional islands
3. Waters of June
5. Birds of the Hill
8. Random Rider
9. 1004 (S Olbricht Remix)
10. Grasslands (Le Révélateur Remix)
Discover more about Norwell on Inverted Audio.Norwell19 July 2016ElectronicaKosmische