While it is quite a commonplace occurrence in music to find two independently respected musicians collaborating to create something perhaps even greater than their independent practices, rarely do we find it reaching such heights as with Vādin.
A duo comprised of Lucie Štěpánková — better known as sonic artist and DJ Avsluta — with fellow sound artist and life partner Christian Duka, Vādin is more than a power couple making strong music together: when working together, the results exceed the already powerful results of their solo endeavours.
With their second album, ‘Black Tortoise‘, released early August on the ever-beguiling Utter label, the duo build on their fantastic debut, ‘Taiyō‘, released at the end of 2020. Matching the precise mood of ‘Taiyō‘ — a finely-tuned balance of cosmic mystique and earthenware rhythms — would always be a difficult task, yet Vādin’s sophomore not only matches the energy of the debut, but grips the listener in a stranglehold, dragging deeper into their sonic world.
From the chilling narrative and lethal percussion heard on ‘The Presence‘ to the extended drift of ‘The Furnace‘, ‘Black Tortoise‘ completely succeeds as a second release, developing the right aspects of their sound and letting be those areas already proven strong. We spoke with Lucie and Christian about the nature of their composition and musical practice, from soaking in a location and the nature of improvisational playing, to understanding their sonic language, and their relationship with alchemical in-house artist Marco Maldarella.
Interview by Freddie Hudson
"All of the Vadin records are fully improvised on the spot, there is some overdubbing and small adjustments made as we go along but no re-arranging and composing. We just start jamming and when things become interesting, we hit record and go from there"
Hello Lucie, Christian! Thanks for answering our questions on this project. Firstly, a big congratulations on the second album release. The first captivated us, and the new one is working similar magic. I’d like to start by asking you to introduce yourselves as individuals, musically.
Christian: Hey mate, thank you for your lovely words and for this interview! Apart from this magical project, I make music with my best friend Marco Maldarella as MARMO; we are actually going to release an album together on Utter next year. I also create experimental sound pieces and interdisciplinary performances in spatial audio – I discovered immersive audio at MONOM 4D Sound in Berlin during a residency in 2018 and have since developed my own immersive audio practice both as a sound artist, facilitator and curator through my own art organisation AMOENUS. Inspired by Lucie’s work, I have also recently started DJing.
Lucie: Hey Freddie, thank you so much for having us and for your kind words about the music! So, apart from Vādin, I make music, perform and DJ as Avsluta and I run a monthly podcast series and radio show on Netil Radio called Introspective Electronics which focuses on music at the crossroads of ambient and dance. I co-run a bi-monthly event series called Terra Obscura with my friend and one of my favourite DJ’s Alicia.
With Terra Obscura, we are trying to champion creative freedom and give artists space to play music they might not be able to play at regular club nights, the curatorial direction is mostly focused on leftfield electronica, contemporary UK bass, IDM and experimental, dub and glitch ambient. Outside of electronic music, I am deeply invested in free improvisation which is an endless source of inspiration in all aspects of my life and feeds into my musical, performative and sound art practices.
How did the connection heard on the first album take place? Had you worked together in the past, or was this your first time collaborating?
Lucie: This is actually quite a beautiful story – and it is also totally true. We met in October 2019 and fell in love and two months later we had the crazy idea to pack our instruments and spend some days in a yurt in Wales making music together. That’s how ‘Taiyō‘ — the first album — was created and how Vādin sprung into existence. I guess you could say we were trying to navigate this new relationship through this creative process — we were getting to know each other on a musical but also on a personal level and there was a lot of curiosity and passion and vulnerability which all translated into the music.
Christian: Well, this is first and foremost a work of love! Only 2 months after Lucie and I fell in love, we decided to take off to a yurt in the Welsh countryside and make music together. I guess it was a way to test if through our relationship we could also share our love for music-making. It all happened very instinctively and serendipitously – I remember a moment where we decided to draw a tarot card during our trip for the first album, each from our own deck, and sure enough, we both drew the same card: the Sun. That moment of synchronicity was very telling – the whole experience of making music as Vādin turned out to be incredibly beautiful and quite effortless. I guess you can say that through music we deepened our understanding and love for each other.
Our understanding is that Vādin’s output seems to be more conjured than composed, with isolation in nature and absorption in sound being amongst the most important instruments. Can you describe your process for us?
Christian: The process is rather simple actually. We choose an inspiring location, always in some far-away, remote and idyllic cocoon surrounded by nature, and soak in the identity of its surroundings. We take some time to really feel the place, listen to what it “has to say” and at the same time look inward at how we are feeling in that moment in our lives. From this extro/introspection come musical ideas, timbres, textures and glimpses of musical narratives. It is a very instinctual and unconscious process – for this to happen, improvisation is key, at least as we flesh out the more substantial parts of each track.
Lucie: Like you said, Freddie, all of the Vādin records are fully improvised on the spot, there is some overdubbing and small adjustments made as we go along but no re-arranging and composing. We just start jamming and when things become interesting, we hit record and go from there. When we start a track, we are trying to finish it in one session. We are basically living inside the track and its mood as we add layers and expose its story and we don’t stop until it’s finished. I feel that this gives the music a sense of cohesion because the ideas behind each piece don’t have a chance to dissipate, they are captured and materialised in the very flux of these impressions and emotions.
When was ‘Black Tortoise’ forged? Was it around the same time, or built from the same recording session, as the first album, ‘Taiyo’?
Lucie: ‘Black Tortoise‘ was recorded almost exactly one year after ‘Taiyō‘ – in the Winter of 2020 – this time in a hunting cabin at the Welsh border. The spaces we choose to record these albums have a huge impact on their stories and aesthetics. ‘Black Tortoise‘, for example, is richly infused with the dark and spooky atmosphere of the cabin with the pitch-black darkness surrounding it, its creaking skeleton, the heavy scent of burning log fire and the terrifying sounds coming from a cowshed nearby at night.
Christian: I remember that moment very vividly. Lucie was having a moment with herself looking out the door of our wooden cabin at night and she got spooked by something outside. Her imagination went wild as she stared into the darkness — and in this darkness, she could sense an ineffable presence that triggered this primal fear of the unknown. Somehow, this felt very inspiring for both of us and from that moment onward we knew this was the thread that should be running through the album.
"The spaces we choose to record these albums have a huge impact on their stories and aesthetics. 'Black Tortoise', for example, is richly infused with the dark and spooky atmosphere of the cabin with the pitch-black darkness surrounding it, its creaking skeleton, the heavy scent of burning log fire and the terrifying sounds coming from a cowshed nearby at night"
With the two of you being equally interested in the sonic arts as you are in more dancefloor-oriented music, which would you say has the greatest influence on the project? There appears to be an equal balance in the works you’ve released thus far.
Christian: Great question! I guess both come together in equal measure, it’s a chance for us to fuse together the two into something that could be appreciated as a listening experience and almost just as equally danced to.
Lucie: I think you are absolutely right, Freddie, there is a fairly equal measure of both and it makes quite a lot of sense for us this way. I personally love this overlap and find it very inspiring to explore these spaces in between.
Also within both works is the aspect of narration, or spoken-word storytelling, with dark and mysterious lyrics. Are these passages written by yourselves, or are they taken from texts that inspire you? Some insight into the sources would be great!
Lucie: It is actually a mix of both. When recording ‘Taiyō‘ for example, we were quite deeply interested in mysticism and the narration on ‘The Seven Laws’ comes from the mystical text of the same name. On ‘Black Tortoise’ I used two of my own texts. ‘The Presence’ was conjured up on the spot as we were working on the track and it is heavily connected to my experience of the place and the situation. For ‘The Furnace’ we used a poem I wrote some time ago. As I was reading through my diary that night, it spoke to me. I felt it possessed that same potent dark-tinged sensuality and urgency as was present in the music.
Christian: On ‘Black Tortoise‘ the spoken-word narration came from a sort of automatic writing process led by Lucie. Inspired by the theme that unfolded during our stay in the cabin, she put into poetic form the moods and feelings that arose from our experience. This spoken-word narration has now solidified as one of the core aspects of Vādin’s aesthetics – it was there in ‘Taiyō‘, and will be part of the third album we recently completed.
Both of you are perhaps principally live musicians — are there plans for a Vādin live show?
Christian: There is definitely an intention to develop a Vādin live show and take it for a tour but that requires some major shifts in our approach. The way we write our albums doesn’t quite fit with the live show scenario as it’s only two of us and not everything can be improvised and done live at the same time.
Lucie: There have been talks about playing live between us and Alex who runs Utter, where we released both of the albums, but so far none of them materialised. We are in the process of discussing some possibilities at the moment but we will need some time to dedicate to it before we can make it happen. We want to make sure to do it right, to find the right balance of doing justice to our creative process but also presenting something solid and engaging for the audiences.
Lastly, we’d like to ask about the artist behind both the Vādin albums, and the Introspective Electronics radio shows, Marco Maldarella. How did you task him with the album art? It is both emblematic of the release as a whole, and different to the material he produces for the radio shows.
Lucie: To put it simply, Marco is a magician! He has a strong personal style which he adapts to any brief with such grace and ease. We shared the story of recording the album with him in detail, talking about sensing the mysterious presence in the cabin and being filled with fear which was the driving force behind the album’s conception. The name “Black Tortoise” comes from Chinese astronomy: it represents the winter season, and has a strong connection to spirituality as understood in Taoism. Marco was able to bring all these elements together into an artwork that has immense depth, both artistically and emotionally. I feel very lucky to be able to work with him on Introspective Electronics as well, the visual identity he has created for it is widely celebrated by the listeners and truly brings out all the colours of the series.
Christian: Marco is my best friend from my hometown, Bologna. We have known each other since we were 15, playing in a metal band together, and we now make electronic music together as MARMO. In the past 10 years, he has developed his own graphic design practice and has created the visual counterpart of everything artistic I have ever done. To be fair, he’s a sort of visual alchemist, you present him with a mood board or an idea and he is able to represent the soul of that idea into a visual artwork. The more freedom you give him the more likely he surprises you with something truly magical. I also worked with him on a couple of live audiovisual performances called HOLISTIC where his live video mapping and manipulation abilities were showcased beautifully.
‘Black Tortoise’ is out now via Utter. Order a copy from Bandcamp.
2. The Presence
4. The Furnace