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Escape Velocity

Weird Pop: Clinamen Interviewed
Julian Marszalek , September 10th, 2020 09:03

Serial collaborator Kuba Ziołek teams up with electronics wizard Krzysztof Ostrowski to offer hope in a time of plague, says Julian Marszalek. Tune in for an exclusive pre-release stream of the new album

The worldwide lockdown in the face of the coronavirus pandemic has affected musicians in many different ways, but for multi-instrumentalist Kuba Ziołek the enforced downtime has offered him the opportunity to reflect and recalibrate.

“I wasn’t doing anything creative because there didn’t seem much sense in doing it,” he tells tQ from his home in Bydgoszcz, Poland. “The world got to a zero level of activity, so I thought I’d adjust and re-set everything. I think it was good, but I’m now back on track with making music and being active again, which is cool, but I’m glad I did this zero thing for some time.”

Not that Ziołek has remained completely inactive.

“I learned how to grow cucumbers in the garden,” he says. “I made a wigwam out of sticks and, using string and rope, I made sure the cucumbers would hang and not rot in the ground.”

It’s precisely this interest in nature’s harvest that’s informed Clinamen’s The Tropisms Of Spring, for here is an album that concerns itself with birth, the urge to reproduce and a glimmer of hope for a world coming to terms with the shock to the system that has been 2020. As with many of Kuba Ziołek’s projects – among them his work with The Alameda Organisation, Innercity Ensemble and his partnership with Wacław Zimpel – Clinamen is the product of a fecund joint venture, this time with underground electronics musician, Krzysztof Ostrowski.

The pair originally met in 2013 at Bydgoszcz club, Mózg, the longest-running and most famous venue for independent music in Poland.

“Krzysztof is an amazing musician,” says Ziołek of his latest collaborator. “He keeps changing his working methods. He’ll spend three months working with modular synthesizers and then he’ll stop and start working using an iPad, and then he’ll drop that and start using something else. He’s the most advanced electronic musician I have ever met. It’s been a real lesson for me to see what it is that he does.”

Clinamen - which means the unpredictable swerve of atoms – came together out of Ziołek’s desire to make what he describes as “weird pop”.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time; using beautiful melodies but being really radical in terms of the sound and structure, and Krzysztof seemed to be the perfect partner for this. He loves unpredictability and change.”

Ziołek has chosen well. The resulting album, The Tropisms Of Spring, is one of his most original and satisfying works. Eschewing conventional notions of song structure in favour of a more open-ended approach, the album’s use of eldritch electronics and immersive soundscapes reveals both artists’ desire to push forward, explore and create new forms of music, a concept that’s reflected in the album’s title.

“I’ve been thinking more about life, and I found the title, The Tropisms Of Spring, in a copy of [French historian] Fernand Braudel's La Dynamique du Capitalisme with a quote from [fellow French historian] George Lefebvres. He described a tropism of spring as man’s urge to re-produce, and I started to think about nature’s urge for recombination. There exists some kind of machine-like energy that leads to the constant self-organisation and recombination and emergence of new forms in nature.

“Nature’s ability to self-organise is so amazing. The comedian George Carlin said that we shouldn’t be concerned about the end of the planet; we’re going to die, and nature and the planet will self-organise. Humans are the ones who are going to have problems.”

And what of the music? The Tropisms Of Springs sees Ziołek and Ostrowski pursuing the objective of songs becoming like “biological entities”, material they describe as “structured, yet open, evolving, unpredictable and whimsical.”

So how does that manifest itself in practical terms?

“Apart from humans, biological entities don’t really follow any intellectual design,” explains Ziołek. “They have certain processes which can take many turns and I wanted to apply that to this album; I never really thought about how it would turn out or what shape it would take. You just had to unleash certain processes and follow them.

“We tried not to make this record based on loops. I used repetition with Wacław Zimpel [on Zimpel/Ziołek]. When you work with loops and repetitions, you basically have the whole structure of the song enclosed in them. Working with Krzysztof, we got to explore many different paths and see what works best and makes the life form grow and which makes the life form die.”

The Tropisms Of Spring is a deeply moving album, and one that elicits a similar emotional response as Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity. Whereas that album - through its cover art, ideas of communication and broadcast, and retro-futurist delivery – feels like the horrors of the past reaching out as a warning to the present, here Clinamen sound as if a possible future is looking to today to offer a sense of comfort and cautious optimism.

“I saw Tenet yesterday, and that’s also about messages from the future,” says Ziolek. “But I left out all the temporal stuff out of this album as I was too focused on the here and now. The final result was totally unpredictable.”

And while the future is difficult to predict, not least thanks to a very dynamic present, Kuba Ziołek is confident as to the why, if not necessarily where, he’s heading to next.

“I would love to stick with certain projects and see them live for a long time, but life is so unpredictable and change isn’t something that you can control,” he says.

“I think that maybe my work with Krzysztof is super interesting and that he’s a nice guy and I’d love to work with him for the next ten years, but at the same time, I realise that I am a very capricious person and I get bored very easily. Probably all the stuff that I find interesting in this conversation, I’ll end up getting bored with and moving on to something else. It’s something that I can’t control.”

He allows himself a chuckle: “Being a serial collaborator is a by-product of being easily bored.”

The Tropisms Of Spring is released on 10 September on the Brutality Garden label