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In Extremis

City Fever: An Interview With Jasmina Maschina
Val Phoenix , December 14th, 2011 06:19

Val Phoenix gets on the couch with globetrotting electronica soundsmith Jasmina Maschina, to talk travels and word association

Robots don't get jet lag. But human beings do, and Kraftwerk-inspired name aside, Jasmina Maschina is all too human. Waiting to soundcheck at London's Café Oto, holdall and guitar by her side, she is the picture of the world-weary touring musician. Although she'd flown in from her adopted city of Berlin that morning, her tiredness is grounded in the much longer journey from her native Australia days before.

The reason for her one-day visit to the UK is the release of her second solo work, Alphabet Dream Noise and an opening slot that night. Following on from 2008's The Demolition Series, it conjures up visions of flickering embers, softly spoken words of endearment and layers and layers of electronic textures, with the odd guitar pattern peeking through. Right in the middle of its 11 songs sits moody epic 'The City Is Moving Like a Map', which features field recordings of bridges, their metallic clink adding to the urban feel of the piece.

Later that evening Jasmina Maschina takes the stage at Oto, slipping off her ankle boots to open proceedings with a surprisingly brief four-song set divided between Alphabet Dream Noise and her 2010 split album with fellow Berliner Golden Diskó Ship, City Splits #1 Berlin. During set closer 'Asleep' Maschina hunches over her guitar, squinting her eyes as she half-whispers into the mic, reaching out one besocked foot to move the faders on her loop pedal, gradually building to crescendo. Occasionally she also dabbles with her computer keyboard. The brevity of the set, it transpires later, is due to her unhappiness with the on-stage sound.

Getting the sound right is important. Born Jasmine Guffond in Sydney, she played in local bands, getting her life education via trips abroad and a formal one in Communications, before forming the experimental noise duo MINIT with Kiwi collaborator Torben Tilly in 1997. In 2003, they decamped to Berlin and she's lived there ever since, working as a sound engineer both in local venues and on tour with other musicians, such as Heidi Mortenson, whom she accompanied to China in 2010, and Bachelorette.

Jasmina Maschina started as a one-woman band, although her records feature the odd guest appearance, and she sometimes plays live with a drummer. Retiring to a nearby couch for our chat, the softly spoken musician reclines deeply into the chocolate brown leather folds for a discussion of her music and her travels.

So, you're here on a whirlwind visit to London, but you were just in Australia, weren't you?

Jasmina Maschina: Yes, just in Australia and New Zealand. I hadn't been home for two-and-a-half years and I was on tour as Bachelorette's sound engineer. I also supported her on some shows and then I had my own shows in Melbourne and Sydney.

How does it feel when you've been away for a while? When you go back, do you have a sense of 'I'm happy to be going back'? And then when you leave, do you feel like you're happy to be going back to Berlin? Or do you still feel a twinge?

JM: As it happens, I'm going to be going back again at the end of December, which is great, because it was just really too brief, like it was kind of stressful trying to catch up with everyone. No, I was really looking forward to going back. Two-and-a-half years is too long.

I want to do some word association with you. I was thinking about 'The City Is Moving Like a Map'. I'm going to name some cities and you give me your association with them. So, let's start with Sydney.

JM: Home. [laughs] Just like a psychological test, the first thing that comes to mind?

I'm not going to grade you on it. I just thought it might spur you on.

JM: You're not going to assess my personality.

No, I'll hand that over to our panel of experts.

JM: [laughs] Sunshine, ocean, friends, parents.

Paris.

JM: I actually lived in Paris once when I was 19 and I was completely in love with the city and now I'm not. Don't like it very much anymore. It feels like it's lost its vibe.

Its va-va-voom.

JM: [laughs] Yeah, its je ne sais quoi.

Were you there as a student?

JM: No, I'd finished high school and I hadn't started university yet, and I had a couple of years in between and I sort of had a Europass and came to Europe for a year and fell in love with Paris, so I stayed there for nine months.

Beijing.

JM: Oh, have you been doing your research? These aren't just arbitrary cities. Beijing. Actually, I preferred Shanghai, though everyone says Beijing is better. I don't know. It's hard to sum up Beijing in a nutshell.

So, what happened?

JM: Oh, it was amazing to be in China, just to be in a non-European culture and also see this crazy — like I was only in Shanghai and Beijing, but this new generation of consumers, you know, whose parents probably had grown up on like a bowl of rice a day and now they had a disposable income. It was also really hot and polluted, and I had a couple of friends living there, which was good, because no one speaks English and I don't speak any Mandarin. You kind of need some kind of local contact to help you out.

New York.

JM: Aw, that was also a city I was totally in love with, in my early twenties or through to mid, late twenties. I was just there again this year. Actually, the last time I was there — I think '99 — it had sort of lost it for me, as well. Like, Giuliani had become mayor and the Lower East Side, which I used to love, was full of yuppie bars. And even though he kind of cleaned it up culturally, it was still really dirty. Like huge piles of rubbish on the street. I don't know. I mean there's still something I love about New York, like its multi-culturalness. And I love the native New Yorkers, as well. I don't know why. I just like their cynicism. Still, somehow I think they're positive. Like I don't find it negative. I just find it funny.

And, finally, Berlin.

JM: Ah, Berlin. That's pretty complicated. I've been living there for eight years, so I actually really, really love Berlin. I think it's an amazing, unique city. Just, I guess, because the living expenses are so cheap, which gives so much space to alternative culture. And also it is a spacious, green city. Like, in summer you can go swimming in lakes and, even though there's a lot happening culturally, it's really relaxed. It's sort of the best of both worlds for a city — like a lot of cultural activity, but then still a really relaxed, unstressful environment.

Out of all of those places, which would you say would be most inspiring to you musically?

JM: Oh [ponders] It's hard to say, because I think now, because music is so accessible, it doesn't really matter where you are, though I do love live music. I can't really rate one above the other. I would have to put Sydney and Berlin up there together, for different reasons.

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