A man with no borders: PhD in computer science and musician Solar X

Most people are used to thinking of the 90s in Russia as 'dark' times packed with criminals and poverty. For many, however, this period is remembered as a time of freedom and great discoveries: the abolition of censorship, the first raves, the appearance of the Ptyuch club and magazine, and a whole cohort of musicians, including Roman Belavkin aka Solar X. Roman was not only at the forefront of the Russian electronic scene but in many ways influenced its formation thanks to his label Art-Tech. Having moved from an accident and seclusion to the status of the “father of the Russian IDM scene,” a PhD in computer science and AI specialist, he proved that there are no longer any boundaries - neither for creativity nor for human knowledge.

At the end of 2018, Nina Kraviz announced the re-release of his album “X-Rated” on the Galaxiid, a sub-label of трип. We talked with Roman about the way this album was recorded, the past and the future, music and science, as well as a bit frightening predictions about technologies that will easily allow you to read human thoughts.

A man with no borders: PhD in computer science and musician Solar X

Most people are used to thinking of the 90s in Russia as 'dark' times packed with criminals and poverty. For many, however, this period is remembered as a time of freedom and great discoveries: the abolition of censorship, the first raves, the appearance of the Ptyuch club and magazine, and a whole cohort of musicians, including Roman Belavkin aka Solar X. Roman was not only at the forefront of the Russian electronic scene but in many ways influenced its formation thanks to his label Art-Tech. Having moved from an accident and seclusion to the status of the “father of the Russian IDM scene,” a PhD in computer science and AI specialist, he proved that there are no longer any boundaries - neither for creativity nor for human knowledge.

At the end of 2018, Nina Kraviz announced the re-release of his album “X-Rated” on the Galaxiid, a sub-label of трип. We talked with Roman about the way this album was recorded, the past and the future, music and science, as well as a bit frightening predictions about technologies that will easily allow you to read human thoughts.

A man with no borders: PhD in computer science and musician Solar X

Most people are used to thinking of the 90s in Russia as 'dark' times packed with criminals and poverty. For many, however, this period is remembered as a time of freedom and great discoveries: the abolition of censorship, the first raves, the appearance of the Ptyuch club and magazine, and a whole cohort of musicians, including Roman Belavkin aka Solar X. Roman was not only at the forefront of the Russian electronic scene but in many ways influenced its formation thanks to his label Art-Tech. Having moved from an accident and seclusion to the status of the “father of the Russian IDM scene,” a PhD in computer science and AI specialist, he proved that there are no longer any boundaries - neither for creativity nor for human knowledge.

At the end of 2018, Nina Kraviz announced the re-release of his album “X-Rated” on the Galaxiid, a sub-label of трип. We talked with Roman about the way this album was recorded, the past and the future, music and science, as well as a bit frightening predictions about technologies that will easily allow you to read human thoughts.

A man with no borders: PhD in computer science and musician Solar X

Most people are used to thinking of the 90s in Russia as 'dark' times packed with criminals and poverty. For many, however, this period is remembered as a time of freedom and great discoveries: the abolition of censorship, the first raves, the appearance of the Ptyuch club and magazine, and a whole cohort of musicians, including Roman Belavkin aka Solar X. Roman was not only at the forefront of the Russian electronic scene but in many ways influenced its formation thanks to his label Art-Tech. Having moved from an accident and seclusion to the status of the “father of the Russian IDM scene,” a PhD in computer science and AI specialist, he proved that there are no longer any boundaries - neither for creativity nor for human knowledge.

At the end of 2018, Nina Kraviz announced the re-release of his album “X-Rated” on the Galaxiid, a sub-label of трип. We talked with Roman about the way this album was recorded, the past and the future, music and science, as well as a bit frightening predictions about technologies that will easily allow you to read human thoughts.

A man with no borders: PhD in computer science and musician Solar X

Most people are used to thinking of the 90s in Russia as 'dark' times packed with criminals and poverty. For many, however, this period is remembered as a time of freedom and great discoveries: the abolition of censorship, the first raves, the appearance of the Ptyuch club and magazine, and a whole cohort of musicians, including Roman Belavkin aka Solar X. Roman was not only at the forefront of the Russian electronic scene but in many ways influenced its formation thanks to his label Art-Tech. Having moved from an accident and seclusion to the status of the “father of the Russian IDM scene,” a PhD in computer science and AI specialist, he proved that there are no longer any boundaries - neither for creativity nor for human knowledge.

At the end of 2018, Nina Kraviz announced the re-release of his album “X-Rated” on the Galaxiid, a sub-label of трип. We talked with Roman about the way this album was recorded, the past and the future, music and science, as well as a bit frightening predictions about technologies that will easily allow you to read human thoughts.

A man with no borders: PhD in computer science and musician Solar X

Most people are used to thinking of the 90s in Russia as 'dark' times packed with criminals and poverty. For many, however, this period is remembered as a time of freedom and great discoveries: the abolition of censorship, the first raves, the appearance of the Ptyuch club and magazine, and a whole cohort of musicians, including Roman Belavkin aka Solar X. Roman was not only at the forefront of the Russian electronic scene but in many ways influenced its formation thanks to his label Art-Tech. Having moved from an accident and seclusion to the status of the “father of the Russian IDM scene,” a PhD in computer science and AI specialist, he proved that there are no longer any boundaries - neither for creativity nor for human knowledge.

At the end of 2018, Nina Kraviz announced the re-release of his album “X-Rated” on the Galaxiid, a sub-label of трип. We talked with Roman about the way this album was recorded, the past and the future, music and science, as well as a bit frightening predictions about technologies that will easily allow you to read human thoughts.

A man with no borders: PhD in computer science and musician Solar X

Most people are used to thinking of the 90s in Russia as 'dark' times packed with criminals and poverty. For many, however, this period is remembered as a time of freedom and great discoveries: the abolition of censorship, the first raves, the appearance of the Ptyuch club and magazine, and a whole cohort of musicians, including Roman Belavkin aka Solar X. Roman was not only at the forefront of the Russian electronic scene but in many ways influenced its formation thanks to his label Art-Tech. Having moved from an accident and seclusion to the status of the “father of the Russian IDM scene,” a PhD in computer science and AI specialist, he proved that there are no longer any boundaries - neither for creativity nor for human knowledge.

At the end of 2018, Nina Kraviz announced the re-release of his album “X-Rated” on the Galaxiid, a sub-label of трип. We talked with Roman about the way this album was recorded, the past and the future, music and science, as well as a bit frightening predictions about technologies that will easily allow you to read human thoughts.

You 20 years ago and you today, what has changed in your life?

I was in Moscow recently and ended up visiting my former colleague's father. In the conversation, he told me that he was skiing. He said: "Imagine, I am already 80, but it is completely imperceptible.” I guess it’s early to think about those things, but 20 years have passed, and I can’t get my head around it, how is that possible? It is absolutely not felt. I think that I am the same as I was, and my perception of the world has not changed much, only the status. I am no longer a student, but a professor; I have a wife, and a son, who is almost 4. There is just a need to balance time. Often I work at home; I don’t like to sit in the office. In my opinion, it started when I got into an accident in 1992 and spent a long time at home with a computer. Since then, I prefer to stay at home and do my own thing. I’ve always had this affinity towards wanting to discover something, to develop, to record.

You 20 years ago and you today, what has changed in your life?

I was in Moscow recently and ended up visiting my former colleague's father. In the conversation, he told me that he was skiing. He said: "Imagine, I am already 80, but it is completely imperceptible.” I guess it’s early to think about those things, but 20 years have passed, and I can’t get my head around it, how is that possible? It is absolutely not felt. I think that I am the same as I was, and my perception of the world has not changed much, only the status. I am no longer a student, but a professor; I have a wife, and a son, who is almost 4. There is just a need to balance time. Often I work at home; I don’t like to sit in the office. In my opinion, it started when I got into an accident in 1992 and spent a long time at home with a computer. Since then, I prefer to stay at home and do my own thing. I’ve always had this affinity towards wanting to discover something, to develop, to record.

Where did such an interest in science and discoveries come from?

My father was a mathematician, and since childhood, I remember playing on the floor, while he was writing formulas on paper nearby. Days and nights away. Then, when I went to school, we lived in a two-room apartment. My parents slept in one room, and me in the other. That was also the room where my father worked. The story went on for years: my father worked late; I tried to fall asleep with the lights on and said: "Dad, come on, go to bed." I fell asleep and often the next morning, when I woke up, he was still sitting and working. The first computer that we had at home was bought to type his math articles. I was translating them into English and keyboarding them into a computer - that was my first income. I was getting huge fees for that.

When I graduated from university, the same as my father, and started writing music, I was suddenly interested in science. Not because I wanted to do it as a family tradition, but

Where did such an interest in science and discoveries come from?

My father was a mathematician, and since childhood, I remember playing on the floor, while he was writing formulas on paper nearby. Days and nights away. Then, when I went to school, we lived in a two-room apartment. My parents slept in one room, and me in the other. That was also the room where my father worked. The story went on for years: my father worked late; I tried to fall asleep with the lights on and said: "Dad, come on, go to bed." I fell asleep and often the next morning, when I woke up, he was still sitting and working. The first computer that we had at home was bought to type his math articles. I was translating them into English and keyboarding them into a computer - that was my first income. I was getting huge fees for that.

When I graduated from university, the same as my father, and started writing music, I was suddenly interested in science. Not because I wanted to do it as a family tradition, but

it was through electronic music that I got an interest in computing and computer science theory. Not even computer science, but rather the idea of what music is. Why does music have such an impact on us?

it was through electronic music that I got an interest in computing and computer science theory. Not even computer science, but rather the idea of what music is. Why does music have such an impact on us?

How to make your computer write music or make it help you with it? What is the difference between the computer and human composition? Is it possible to mathematically describe it? And the difference between painting and music. In my childhood, I drew a lot, went to the Olympiads. I was pretty sure that when I grew up, I would become an artist. Then it waned somehow, and from the creative work of fine art, I switched to music. I tried to understand why music is so emotionally intense.

So electronic music fueled your interest in research?

Initially, I was interested in whether it was possible to write a computer program or an algorithm that would help compose patterns. It is quite easy to distinguish music written by a man from the one written by the computer. It is clear that a person puts emotions into music. My dissertation was rather far from classical science - the question of emotions in AI. It was connected with an attempt to simulate processes similar to 'sentiments' in programs that imitated a person’s thinking — cognitive models used by psychologists. Then it turned out that this is a serious topic. It was clear how to solve specific problems using machine learning algorithms, be it an expert system or automated deduction systems. It was completely incomprehensible how to create a program that, for example, plays chess with a bad mood or vice versa. What changes when you get angry and get nervous, or when you do something, and you experience positive emotions.

The thesis I wrote stirred a reaction. People working with the military in America used these ideas to mimic the work of the radar operator. The operator of the radar is sitting behind the screen for three days, and he has a lack of sleep - sleep deprivation. How to imitate a person who is exhausted and begins to fall asleep on the go? This behavior can be described in words, but what needs to be changed in the program so that it can imitate the moment when a person begins to nod and miss goals? Today, I am developing ideas related to cognitive models in the field of computer theory of evolution, collaborating with biologists. With the help of my argument, it is possible to predict how mutations of bacteria will develop if, for example, they are attacked with antibiotics. It turns out that the principles of work in cognitive models are very similar to what happens in the human brain. It is related to the rather dry abstract theory of computer search, information theory and thermodynamics. In many ways, we were lucky that later on the research turned out to be an indispensable basis for understanding these processes.

How to make your computer write music or make it help you with it? What is the difference between the computer and human composition? Is it possible to mathematically describe it? And the difference between painting and music. In my childhood, I drew a lot, went to the Olympiads. I was pretty sure that when I grew up, I would become an artist. Then it waned somehow, and from the creative work of fine art, I switched to music. I tried to understand why music is so emotionally intense.

So electronic music fueled your interest in research?

Initially, I was interested in whether it was possible to write a computer program or an algorithm that would help compose patterns. It is quite easy to distinguish music written by a man from the one written by the computer. It is clear that a person puts emotions into music. My dissertation was rather far from classical science - the question of emotions in AI. It was connected with an attempt to simulate processes similar to 'sentiments' in programs that imitated a person’s thinking — cognitive models used by psychologists. Then it turned out that this is a serious topic. It was clear how to solve specific problems using machine learning algorithms, be it an expert system or automated deduction systems. It was completely incomprehensible how to create a program that, for example, plays chess with a bad mood or vice versa. What changes when you get angry and get nervous, or when you do something, and you experience positive emotions.

The thesis I wrote stirred a reaction. People working with the military in America used these ideas to mimic the work of the radar operator. The operator of the radar is sitting behind the screen for three days, and he has a lack of sleep - sleep deprivation. How to imitate a person who is exhausted and begins to fall asleep on the go? This behavior can be described in words, but what needs to be changed in the program so that it can imitate the moment when a person begins to nod and miss goals? Today, I am developing ideas related to cognitive models in the field of computer theory of evolution, collaborating with biologists. With the help of my argument, it is possible to predict how mutations of bacteria will develop if, for example, they are attacked with antibiotics. It turns out that the principles of work in cognitive models are very similar to what happens in the human brain. It is related to the rather dry abstract theory of computer search, information theory and thermodynamics. In many ways, we were lucky that later on the research turned out to be an indispensable basis for understanding these processes.

Your scientific work is about evolutionary biology, system optimization, entropy, learning systems - all the most relevant and important topics. Is there an echo of it in your music?

Hard to say. I am a polyglot. Some people move in one direction, but it turns out that I jump from one to another. As you rightly noted, there is pure mathematics and biology in it. I like doing what I find interesting. Music and mathematics seem to be different things, but I get the same pleasure.

Your scientific work is about evolutionary biology, system optimization, entropy, learning systems - all the most relevant and important topics. Is there an echo of it in your music?

Hard to say. I am a polyglot. Some people move in one direction, but it turns out that I jump from one to another. As you rightly noted, there is pure mathematics and biology in it. I like doing what I find interesting. Music and mathematics seem to be different things, but I get the same pleasure.

Constructing mathematical ideas, composing tracks or creating synthesizers is the same process for me.

Constructing mathematical ideas, composing tracks or creating synthesizers is the same process for me.

On the other hand, I can’t say that I put ideas about entropy into music. The processes themselves, whether it is a scientific one or the process of playing music, are very similar to each other. However, when you write music, emotions are brighter. When you finish the track at five in the morning, you think: “Here it is!” Still, when you finish an article and say to yourself: “Nicely written,” it’s also pleasant.


You said that it is easy to distinguish the music written by the person and the one written by the computer. How exactly is it possible?

Since school, I felt the lack of music I wanted to hear. There was music that I liked, but it seemed that you could write something cooler and more interesting. I tried to write for myself, at first. Then, when it worked, I showed it to my friends. I didn't plan on becoming an artist. I had a craze to listen to music day and night, and in many ways my mother influenced it. She listened to what I wrote and honestly criticized it for repeatability if it arose. I soon realized that beautiful chords should not be repeated too many times. If you repeat a thing too many times, it becomes boring.

Sometimes it is quite the opposite. You listen to some things, and you cannot understand what it is. It seems interesting, but you can’t see through to the end, and after a while, you suddenly start to appreciate such music and the fact that it is absolutely brilliant. And you can no longer get enough and stop listening to it. Every time you hear it, you think it sounds fresher. Why does some music get annoying very quickly, and some doesn't?

On the other hand, I can’t say that I put ideas about entropy into music. The processes themselves, whether it is a scientific one or the process of playing music, are very similar to each other. However, when you write music, emotions are brighter. When you finish the track at five in the morning, you think: “Here it is!” Still, when you finish an article and say to yourself: “Nicely written,” it’s also pleasant.


You said that it is easy to distinguish the music written by the person and the one written by the computer. How exactly is it possible?

Since school, I felt the lack of music I wanted to hear. There was music that I liked, but it seemed that you could write something cooler and more interesting. I tried to write for myself, at first. Then, when it worked, I showed it to my friends. I didn't plan on becoming an artist. I had a craze to listen to music day and night, and in many ways my mother influenced it. She listened to what I wrote and honestly criticized it for repeatability if it arose. I soon realized that beautiful chords should not be repeated too many times. If you repeat a thing too many times, it becomes boring.

Sometimes it is quite the opposite. You listen to some things, and you cannot understand what it is. It seems interesting, but you can’t see through to the end, and after a while, you suddenly start to appreciate such music and the fact that it is absolutely brilliant. And you can no longer get enough and stop listening to it. Every time you hear it, you think it sounds fresher. Why does some music get annoying very quickly, and some doesn't?

The melodies are composed continuously in my head, but there is a censor inside me. I always ask: “Does this music get boring quickly?” If I feel it is, I reject the track and don’t finish it.

The melodies are composed continuously in my head, but there is a censor inside me. I always ask: “Does this music get boring quickly?” If I feel it is, I reject the track and don’t finish it.

I've wanted to create a form that would not get boring. It is necessary to catch a wave to understand why this instrument appears here, not earlier or later. A computer can compose, but a person must select what is interesting since a computer does not understand it. Yes, you can create a self-learning program that is going to learn how to do it gradually. In the 60s or 70s, there was a program called Variations: it used genetic algorithms, learning over time to create the variations that composers like more. Still, it hasn't answered the question of why some are more preferable than the others.

What do you think has changed in the ways of writing electronic music and its trends over the past 20 years?

You could not record a sequence in real time on the old computer. You should have thought it through in your head, programmed, run a program that counts it during a few hours, and only then listen to the result. Soon the software that worked in real time appeared. You could click on a note and hear it immediately. Then there was a problem: I wanted to open a sequencer and a plug-in at the same time, which was not possible due to the lack of memory. Today it is easy to open hundreds of plug-ins in Cubase or whatever. It can be done on a laptop on the plane or the iPad. Old analog synthesizers are great because they work in real time, and you can touch them. The ability to physically control the tool is important, and the barrier in the form of a screen, a mouse, an interface slowed down the work. Then came the controllers, and the problems of computing power faded into the background. But the problems did not disappear.

The simplified process is a double-edged sword. The increase in the possibilities increases the search width. You spend a lot of time not moving towards your goal. You can go for it, when you hear the melody and, without being distracted, finish the track. Ten thousand presets that are available today can lead you away, so you never reach your goal.

Some people think that writing music on an iPad is not ‘true.’ Do you agree with it?

I totally disagree. It is some kind of childishness. iPad or synthesizer are the means. In the end, you just hear the sound, and it is unimportant to know what it is recorded on. Another aspect is that in the programs like Reactor you could arrange the wires on the synthesizer, and spend a lot of time aligning the blocks so that they look beautiful on the screen. From an aesthetic point of view, this is cool, but it has nothing to do with the final sound because when you hear it, you do not think how these wires were arranged. The same applies to the question of whether the music is made on a computer or iPad, on an emulator or a real analog synthesizer. There may be a difference, but the question “What is better?” is the same as comparing electronic and classical tools. Someone says that the sound of a real piano cannot compare with anything. Why even do that? It’s like comparing a horse to a motorcycle. What's better? After all, the bike will never be the same, emotionally. But that’s not the point. If you need the sound of a violin, and you do not have access to an orchestra, you can make it from samples. On the other hand, is it possible to play Kraftwerk on violin?

I've wanted to create a form that would not get boring. It is necessary to catch a wave to understand why this instrument appears here, not earlier or later. A computer can compose, but a person must select what is interesting since a computer does not understand it. Yes, you can create a self-learning program that is going to learn how to do it gradually. In the 60s or 70s, there was a program called Variations: it used genetic algorithms, learning over time to create the variations that composers like more. Still, it hasn't answered the question of why some are more preferable than the others.

What do you think has changed in the ways of writing electronic music and its trends over the past 20 years?

You could not record a sequence in real time on the old computer. You should have thought it through in your head, programmed, run a program that counts it during a few hours, and only then listen to the result. Soon the software that worked in real time appeared. You could click on a note and hear it immediately. Then there was a problem: I wanted to open a sequencer and a plug-in at the same time, which was not possible due to the lack of memory. Today it is easy to open hundreds of plug-ins in Cubase or whatever. It can be done on a laptop on the plane or the iPad. Old analog synthesizers are great because they work in real time, and you can touch them. The ability to physically control the tool is important, and the barrier in the form of a screen, a mouse, an interface slowed down the work. Then came the controllers, and the problems of computing power faded into the background. But the problems did not disappear.

The simplified process is a double-edged sword. The increase in the possibilities increases the search width. You spend a lot of time not moving towards your goal. You can go for it, when you hear the melody and, without being distracted, finish the track. Ten thousand presets that are available today can lead you away, so you never reach your goal.

Some people think that writing music on an iPad is not ‘true.’ Do you agree with it?

I totally disagree. It is some kind of childishness. iPad or synthesizer are the means. In the end, you just hear the sound, and it is unimportant to know what it is recorded on. Another aspect is that in the programs like Reactor you could arrange the wires on the synthesizer, and spend a lot of time aligning the blocks so that they look beautiful on the screen. From an aesthetic point of view, this is cool, but it has nothing to do with the final sound because when you hear it, you do not think how these wires were arranged. The same applies to the question of whether the music is made on a computer or iPad, on an emulator or a real analog synthesizer. There may be a difference, but the question “What is better?” is the same as comparing electronic and classical tools. Someone says that the sound of a real piano cannot compare with anything. Why even do that? It’s like comparing a horse to a motorcycle. What's better? After all, the bike will never be the same, emotionally. But that’s not the point. If you need the sound of a violin, and you do not have access to an orchestra, you can make it from samples. On the other hand, is it possible to play Kraftwerk on violin?

People who bought an analog synthesizer spent a lot of money; they need to comfort themselves. It is supposedly the right way. Though, it is not connected with music. However, there is one thing to consider. Richard D. James once said that the most important thing in a synthesizer is how it looks. I agree. A synthesizer is somewhat similar to a spacecraft control panel: a lot of buttons, knobs, light bulbs. There are fantastic, and the picture itself, the thought about it inspires. When you look at a synthesizer, it seems like an essential thing. The sound is one thing, but its face can also have a role. It is about whether you like what you work with or not.

People who bought an analog synthesizer spent a lot of money; they need to comfort themselves. It is supposedly the right way. Though, it is not connected with music. However, there is one thing to consider. Richard D. James once said that the most important thing in a synthesizer is how it looks. I agree. A synthesizer is somewhat similar to a spacecraft control panel: a lot of buttons, knobs, light bulbs. There are fantastic, and the picture itself, the thought about it inspires. When you look at a synthesizer, it seems like an essential thing. The sound is one thing, but its face can also have a role. It is about whether you like what you work with or not.

The process of creating music is interesting not only because you write music that you want to hear as a final product, but also as a moment of composition. Studio equipment is a huge emotional charge. The question is whether you want to sit in the studio.

The process of creating music is interesting not only because you write music that you want to hear as a final product, but also as a moment of composition. Studio equipment is a huge emotional charge. The question is whether you want to sit in the studio.

What were you working with now and then? Tell me about your approach.

I have always tried to reduce the distance from the head to the result. The music never turns off in my head. I constantly listen to music; that's how my brain is constituted. Now, when I’m talking to you or driving a car - the brain often acts like a tape recorder, plays something he recently heard or just composes on the go. I was thinking how to make it so that you can plug a wire into your head and record music. It was very annoying when I was in the subway, and the sound of it gave interesting musical ideas that I tried to remember, but at the exit, you always passed by the stalls where some rubbish was sold, the latest hits. I went out and heard them, which, naturally, interrupted what was spinning in the head, creating a mess. The desire to reduce the distance between what you have in your head and what happens at the output was the motive of the technique that I used. Since there was no access to other analog synthesizers in the 90s, I was buying old Soviet ones, unique in their own way, but rather heavy. When I relocated to England, I realized that I could not move everything. I had to sell something or leave it for storage. I transferred some synthesizers to a computer: some programs allowed you to create a synthesizer on a computer based on its circuit. In many ways, I managed to stuff things in, and this seemed to be a significant advantage because I didn’t have to spend a lot of space on storing massive synthesizers.


But there is another problem. All that you have is on a small screen, and you communicate with it through the interface and the mouse. When I was in Japan, in 2010, I was invited to play on a skyscraper. I had a laptop with my music programs, but there were no controllers to twiddle many knobs at once, to press buttons. I bought a set then, and this solved my problem. I try to minimize expenditures. I always ask if I need something new in a particular situation or whether I can be content with what I have, though,  the purchase of a controller or a unit is always inspiring. I spent a lot of time creating my synthesizers, reactors, assistants in creating tracks, sequencers, all sorts of drum machines. I wanted to create such a setup that would allow me to improvise at a concert. Unfortunately, often electronic musicians play from CDs or mini-disks, as it would require to get half of the studio to the stage, which is expensive and dangerous. Some had to play from disks and pretend that they are composing, although this is noticeable immediately. I have already achieved the goal some time ago with the help of Reactor. The last 15 years, it is pure improvisation at my concerts. Sometimes I can be closer to the original version, sometimes less, interpreting the composition in a new way. The negative side of it is that the ability to continually improvise almost entirely kills the desire to finish tracks. When you can play a new version of the same thing every time, the urge to sit down and record the final version disappears. Therefore, the process of releasing new albums slows down. It is much easier and more interesting to improvise at home, sitting all night long and experimenting with a set of tools.

What were you working with now and then? Tell me about your approach.

I have always tried to reduce the distance from the head to the result. The music never turns off in my head. I constantly listen to music; that's how my brain is constituted. Now, when I’m talking to you or driving a car - the brain often acts like a tape recorder, plays something he recently heard or just composes on the go. I was thinking how to make it so that you can plug a wire into your head and record music. It was very annoying when I was in the subway, and the sound of it gave interesting musical ideas that I tried to remember, but at the exit, you always passed by the stalls where some rubbish was sold, the latest hits. I went out and heard them, which, naturally, interrupted what was spinning in the head, creating a mess. The desire to reduce the distance between what you have in your head and what happens at the output was the motive of the technique that I used. Since there was no access to other analog synthesizers in the 90s, I was buying old Soviet ones, unique in their own way, but rather heavy. When I relocated to England, I realized that I could not move everything. I had to sell something or leave it for storage. I transferred some synthesizers to a computer: some programs allowed you to create a synthesizer on a computer based on its circuit. In many ways, I managed to stuff things in, and this seemed to be a significant advantage because I didn’t have to spend a lot of space on storing massive synthesizers.


But there is another problem. All that you have is on a small screen, and you communicate with it through the interface and the mouse. When I was in Japan, in 2010, I was invited to play on a skyscraper. I had a laptop with my music programs, but there were no controllers to twiddle many knobs at once, to press buttons. I bought a set then, and this solved my problem. I try to minimize expenditures. I always ask if I need something new in a particular situation or whether I can be content with what I have, though,  the purchase of a controller or a unit is always inspiring. I spent a lot of time creating my synthesizers, reactors, assistants in creating tracks, sequencers, all sorts of drum machines. I wanted to create such a setup that would allow me to improvise at a concert. Unfortunately, often electronic musicians play from CDs or mini-disks, as it would require to get half of the studio to the stage, which is expensive and dangerous. Some had to play from disks and pretend that they are composing, although this is noticeable immediately. I have already achieved the goal some time ago with the help of Reactor. The last 15 years, it is pure improvisation at my concerts. Sometimes I can be closer to the original version, sometimes less, interpreting the composition in a new way. The negative side of it is that the ability to continually improvise almost entirely kills the desire to finish tracks. When you can play a new version of the same thing every time, the urge to sit down and record the final version disappears. Therefore, the process of releasing new albums slows down. It is much easier and more interesting to improvise at home, sitting all night long and experimenting with a set of tools.

photo from a personal archive
photo from a personal archive
In one of the interviews, you said that musicians should not be afraid of AI, because there is no need to replace live musicians with robots. Why are you so sure about it?

It seems to me that there is definitely nothing to be afraid of because art is interesting in the way it gives a person pleasure. If computer music will bring joy to a person, let it deliver. But will the computer be interested in making music for a person, and will a person like it? Is there a way to replace Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Bach? You listen to Bach and realize that you communicate with a fantastic person. If the computer can compose something in this way, then go ahead. But I doubt that this will happen soon. AI is needed in those place where the work is tedious and can be replaced. It is gradually happening now. I watched an interesting film on the BBC called “Could A Robot Do My Job.” They talked about truckers and that many years ago it seemed that many professions are absolutely indispensable for computers. And now they are disappearing! For example, in England, the tax inspections where thousands of people used to work got closed. Now it is all done by computers. If you think about it, the work associated with these tax returns is exceptionally boring. You sit, print in the figure, and count it up. Everything that can be automated has to be automated.

What is it done for? To free up time and give a person the opportunity to create something more interesting. Writing music, making a film, writing a book: that's what isn't boring.

In one of the interviews, you said that musicians should not be afraid of AI, because there is no need to replace live musicians with robots. Why are you so sure about it?

It seems to me that there is definitely nothing to be afraid of because art is interesting in the way it gives a person pleasure. If computer music will bring joy to a person, let it deliver. But will the computer be interested in making music for a person, and will a person like it? Is there a way to replace Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Bach? You listen to Bach and realize that you communicate with a fantastic person. If the computer can compose something in this way, then go ahead. But I doubt that this will happen soon. AI is needed in those place where the work is tedious and can be replaced. It is gradually happening now. I watched an interesting film on the BBC called “Could A Robot Do My Job.” They talked about truckers and that many years ago it seemed that many professions are absolutely indispensable for computers. And now they are disappearing! For example, in England, the tax inspections where thousands of people used to work got closed. Now it is all done by computers. If you think about it, the work associated with these tax returns is exceptionally boring. You sit, print in the figure, and count it up. Everything that can be automated has to be automated.

What is it done for? To free up time and give a person the opportunity to create something more interesting. Writing music, making a film, writing a book: that's what isn't boring.

And if a person wants to do it, why replace it with a computer? If a person can be expelled from a particular area, this means that this area is not so creative. Music, cinema, literature, art - there is hardly a need to replace a person in it. Even if it was possible, I doubt it is needed.

And if a person wants to do it, why replace it with a computer? If a person can be expelled from a particular area, this means that this area is not so creative. Music, cinema, literature, art - there is hardly a need to replace a person in it. Even if it was possible, I doubt it is needed.

If it happens though, it will only be in the form of synergy. In chess, they have now created a powerful chess program that will beat anyone. What does it mean? These programs can work together with the human brain. A person plus a computer program is already a team that can defeat any other computer. The matches can now be played in teams. A machine could learn something from a person, and vice versa. In such areas there will definitely be synergy - it already exists. And there are areas where a person can be replaced completely: finance, transport, and so on.


How do you imagine the future of music writing? Say, in 20 years.

I am sure that in the near future the direction of electronic music will develop significantly. You will have something like headphones, and you will not need to stick wires to your head, but only wear special sensors that can read your brain signals and convert them into different forms. The interface will be connected directly from the brain to the device as a wireless connection. You will not need to type letters on the phone or say something. I'm pretty sure that over the next ten years they will create a tool that reads the thoughts and prints what you think about on the screen. In the same way, it will be possible to control synthesizers: listen to the melody in your head, and reproduce it using so-called telepathy. But what can it lead to? It is dangerous, for sure. If you develop technology to the point that you can type words into a phone or write music from your head, what prevents you from doing it at a distance. Let's say it is possible to point a microphone that will read the signals from your brain. Then, what prevents others from reading your thoughts in the same way?

If it happens though, it will only be in the form of synergy. In chess, they have now created a powerful chess program that will beat anyone. What does it mean? These programs can work together with the human brain. A person plus a computer program is already a team that can defeat any other computer. The matches can now be played in teams. A machine could learn something from a person, and vice versa. In such areas there will definitely be synergy - it already exists. And there are areas where a person can be replaced completely: finance, transport, and so on.


How do you imagine the future of music writing? Say, in 20 years.

I am sure that in the near future the direction of electronic music will develop significantly. You will have something like headphones, and you will not need to stick wires to your head, but only wear special sensors that can read your brain signals and convert them into different forms. The interface will be connected directly from the brain to the device as a wireless connection. You will not need to type letters on the phone or say something. I'm pretty sure that over the next ten years they will create a tool that reads the thoughts and prints what you think about on the screen. In the same way, it will be possible to control synthesizers: listen to the melody in your head, and reproduce it using so-called telepathy. But what can it lead to? It is dangerous, for sure. If you develop technology to the point that you can type words into a phone or write music from your head, what prevents you from doing it at a distance. Let's say it is possible to point a microphone that will read the signals from your brain. Then, what prevents others from reading your thoughts in the same way?

Talking about the earthly, not the headphones, but about synthesis, creating sounds. There are different ways of sound synthesis: subtractive, granular and spectral syntheses, frequency modulation and sampling methods, and a whole lot more. Will there be anything in terms of sound synthesis? Certainly, there will be something that has not yet been discovered; by the way, it is gradually happening. For example, the technology of chaotic oscillators, a little-studied area of ​​synthesis, looks like something new. But the most interesting point is, will we recognize it? Do you hear the difference when using different types of synthesis? It is almost indistinguishable. Sometimes, of course, it is caught, and you can distinguish additive synthesis from subtractive or FM synthesizers. In the end, you hear the sound, but what is sound? A set of harmonics that change over time. The way they were created is the question. Sometimes you never stop wondering when you listen to new music that comes out, especially here, in England. In the underground, there were times when the drum and bass scene prevailed; at other times it was dubstep and grime. You realize that people keep on finding new forms of sounds. And it definitely won't stop there. In the future, we will hear new sounds, new ideas, and new directions. So how can we do without a new type of synthesis?


How did you record X-rated? It was 1997, and you still seemed to be living in Russia then.

It was not even 1997, but rather 1995. By that time I had already released my first album on tape, comprising of the tracks that I had selected from the old ones. To record the album, I used a lot of Soviet analog synthesizers that I had, and a computer with a sound card - a simple combination. As an additional stage, I used a tape recorder. What did I use it for? I told you before that I want to catch live dynamics in the track - at what point something appears and how it changes. It is difficult to explain it logically; one can only feel it. I was turning on the recorder that was writing it all on the tape, and for a few minutes, I was playing the track. I used the version that seemed to work and used it as a stencil. Later I was copying the final version of the track based on a tape recording made during improvisation - a productive and convenient method. Of course, now it is much handier to record on a dictaphone, but still, a lively development is necessary. Time, as I said, is linear, and you can only fit in what can be fit; tell only the way it is told in real time, and the phrase has to be used exactly as much as it has to. Everything happens very emotionally, so improvisation is essential.

Talking about the earthly, not the headphones, but about synthesis, creating sounds. There are different ways of sound synthesis: subtractive, granular and spectral syntheses, frequency modulation and sampling methods, and a whole lot more. Will there be anything in terms of sound synthesis? Certainly, there will be something that has not yet been discovered; by the way, it is gradually happening. For example, the technology of chaotic oscillators, a little-studied area of ​​synthesis, looks like something new. But the most interesting point is, will we recognize it? Do you hear the difference when using different types of synthesis? It is almost indistinguishable. Sometimes, of course, it is caught, and you can distinguish additive synthesis from subtractive or FM synthesizers. In the end, you hear the sound, but what is sound? A set of harmonics that change over time. The way they were created is the question. Sometimes you never stop wondering when you listen to new music that comes out, especially here, in England. In the underground, there were times when the drum and bass scene prevailed; at other times it was dubstep and grime. You realize that people keep on finding new forms of sounds. And it definitely won't stop there. In the future, we will hear new sounds, new ideas, and new directions. So how can we do without a new type of synthesis?


How did you record X-rated? It was 1997, and you still seemed to be living in Russia then.

It was not even 1997, but rather 1995. By that time I had already released my first album on tape, comprising of the tracks that I had selected from the old ones. To record the album, I used a lot of Soviet analog synthesizers that I had, and a computer with a sound card - a simple combination. As an additional stage, I used a tape recorder. What did I use it for? I told you before that I want to catch live dynamics in the track - at what point something appears and how it changes. It is difficult to explain it logically; one can only feel it. I was turning on the recorder that was writing it all on the tape, and for a few minutes, I was playing the track. I used the version that seemed to work and used it as a stencil. Later I was copying the final version of the track based on a tape recording made during improvisation - a productive and convenient method. Of course, now it is much handier to record on a dictaphone, but still, a lively development is necessary. Time, as I said, is linear, and you can only fit in what can be fit; tell only the way it is told in real time, and the phrase has to be used exactly as much as it has to. Everything happens very emotionally, so improvisation is essential.

I even remember I had photos somewhere, where I sit with a cassette recorder on the floor. X-rated was written in summer. It was pretty hot in Moscow then, and I was sitting at home in sports pants only. After I recorded the tracks, it turned out that I came up with an idea for the track titles. My friend Django, a DJ from London, who then lived in Moscow and worked at the Ptyuch club, once brought a book to the club. It was a collection of London call girls cards, their business cards, which were given out to people and contained pretty funny phrases. I had a thought that, well, if the music also gives you pleasure, you can name tracks using these phrases. That’s the way the titles came about. The first version of the album was released in 1996 on cassette, and in 1997 a CD with a new design and bonus track came out. Now come the vinyl and digital versions of this album.

Why did you agree to re-release the album on vinyl?

Why not? Nina Kraviz wrote to me, asking me to send my albums. I am surprised that interest has emerged because it seems to be such an old album. I still like it, because I wrote it for myself. But when you show it to people, naturally, you ask yourself: "Do others also like it?" or whatever. "Is it still interesting for someone?" So, I guess, I'm glad it turned out this way. Let people listen.

I even remember I had photos somewhere, where I sit with a cassette recorder on the floor. X-rated was written in summer. It was pretty hot in Moscow then, and I was sitting at home in sports pants only. After I recorded the tracks, it turned out that I came up with an idea for the track titles. My friend Django, a DJ from London, who then lived in Moscow and worked at the Ptyuch club, once brought a book to the club. It was a collection of London call girls cards, their business cards, which were given out to people and contained pretty funny phrases. I had a thought that, well, if the music also gives you pleasure, you can name tracks using these phrases. That’s the way the titles came about. The first version of the album was released in 1996 on cassette, and in 1997 a CD with a new design and bonus track came out. Now come the vinyl and digital versions of this album.

Why did you agree to re-release the album on vinyl?

Why not? Nina Kraviz wrote to me, asking me to send my albums. I am surprised that interest has emerged because it seems to be such an old album. I still like it, because I wrote it for myself. But when you show it to people, naturally, you ask yourself: "Do others also like it?" or whatever. "Is it still interesting for someone?" So, I guess, I'm glad it turned out this way. Let people listen.

______

Interview: Pavel Belosludtsev

Photo: Irene Ok

( Latest articles )