7 Questions for… Alen Ilijić

Photographer unknown (contact us and we'll put your name in lights!)

Photographer unknown (contact us and we’ll put your name in lights!)

The uncompromising Alen Ilijić has featured on a Jazz Noise before (see the series of video clips from his performance at Munich’s Noise Mobility festival in May of this year.) Here he gives us a particularly direct, honest, outspoken (in the best way) and highly intriguing 7 Questions interview…

1. What are your non-musical influences?
Glad that you asked me this, ‘cause my colleagues, composers, performers, mainly talk about their musical influences. Music is not only about a sound thing, it’s much more, and as time goes by, that whole process of creation will need a revision, a connection with different arts and sciences. Mono music, as a medium in itself, has got to an dead end. I’ve read a lot since an early age and followed people from various fields. I appreciate strong personalities such as Tesla, Einstein, Duchamp, Beuys, Hesse, Kafka, Kiš, Kubrick, Emir Kusturica. All these innovators helped me to see the world differently, they crafted my personality as it is, resulting in my non-compromising attitude towards the world we live in.

2. What’s the balance of preparation vs. intuition/improvisation for the average performance piece?
Well, I start with a fragment, which mainly comes intuitively, from ‘improvisation’. Once I get something to work with, or let’s say, spot a situation, I start composing, defining the material. As I feel comfortable, satisfied with it, I write it down, completely. I analyse every bit by looking, searching for the musical, and non-musical parameters used, and that’s how I set my roles for improvisation/intuition, a ‘dropout’ which comes as a result of the written part, usually one musical sentence or a period, comparing it to literature. That’s the way it works for me, so, I’m in total control of what will come out as a final result regarding the ‘musical extemporization’ situation.

3. What is the oddest/least conventional sound you’ve incorporated into a performance so far, and why did you choose it?
The ‘oddest’ sound or soundscape I’ve ever produced was at the Student Cultural Centre Belgrade, in 2010, as part of my aleatory composition for piano, violin and amplifier which I performed in collaboration with Đorđe Mijušković, violin player. I simply titled it ‘Improvisation’. I took a microphone, and plugged it into a small amplifier and laid it over it’s membrane. By moving the mike around the speaker, I got various frequencies, mainly high ones. At the end of the piece, I turned the internal amplifier distortion on, dropped the amp inside the piano, so, the whole instrument was miked, and played huge clusters in the lower piano register. The result was fantastic, it was like a big bang noise cadence for the end of the piece and performance. My reasons for doing this ‘experiment’ were various, but to make the story shorter, I’ll say that I wanted to introduce the ‘unwanted’, extreme sounds into a conventional, so-called ‘classical music’ venue.

4. If the avant-garde, by definition, includes rejection by the mainstream, how do you find and reach an audience for your work?
Being rejected as a new media avantgardist is nothing new. If we look back in time, all inventive ideas were repelled at first. I’ve been aware of that since I realised that my music is heading towards that direction. Only small circle of people, mainly reached over the Internet, understand what I actually do, but that’s OK, ‘cause it will eventually grow. I’m saying this because of my recent performance experiences. People are slowly getting into my sound zone, the music I perform makes them think, re-think things, participate by expressing their feelings, pain, revolt, getting rid of the anger for a moment, which is great. So, I only count on the audience I’ve presided over so far. They will spread my messages and get me to the wider public. Don’t need huge marketing, not at all.

5. Where do you stand on the streaming/downloading/file-sharing/musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate?
That is tough question. The music industry has changed a lot since the nineties when I was involved, or let’s say actively participated in it. Nowadays, there are lots of independent labels promoting their artists, or musicians doing it by themselves, so, freedom of expression has reached its peak, which is great. But, at the same time, not many of them are getting paid for their works. Albums, they give them for free download, just to attract the audience, get them to their gigs, and than sell a few CDs or vinyls on the spot. That’s wrong, it’s not the way, not the final one. As music and technology progresses, the industry needs to reorganise, we need new rules. I don’t have a clue what that’s going to look like, but I’m sure that will take some time before we find the right solution for the growing problem. Well, I just thought of something, and this is my definite opinion about the current situation: in the end, can we download a bicycle or toaster from the net, or do we have to go to the store and buy it?

6. How does the music scene in Belgrade contrast with London?
Well, Serbia is in good position regardin’ art, or so-called ‘serious’ music. We can easily cope with an English, British scene, ‘cause we do have a history, a timeline that gave a great contribution in that field to European music in general. I’ll mention a few important composers: Srđan Hofman, Vladan Radovanović, Svetislav Božić and Svetlana Savić. If we talk about the subcultural tendencies the situation is incomparable to the UK’s one. We’ve never had anythin’ authentic that was coming out of the local meaning, except Šaban Bajramović, a Romany singer, whose songs were mainly based on the richness of our traditional music and folklore. Everything else in here was a surrogate nuclear dreg, ‘colorful’ replicas, only used in our internal political whacking. So musically speakin’, nothin’ worthwhile came out of that discipline. I’m still waitin’ to hear something good, inventive, and totally independent, free of all those past mistakes, irrespective of stupidity and money greediness.

7. What’s next? (musically, geographically, recording, tours, ensembles, anything…)
I’m currently writing, composing two pieces; for a string trio, including their voices and body movement, movement in space generally; and a work for piano, voice and loop pedal. It’s goin’ to be very exciting if I manage to record those properly, ‘cause both compositions are very technically demanding. Also, I have in mind an opera, still making little notes though. It will be based on Danilo Kiš’s masterpiece novel, a collection of nine stories, ‘The Encyclopedia of the Dead’ which has been compared to the work of Jorge Luis Borges. This work helped cement Kiš’s legacy as one of the most important 20th century authors. The Encyclopedia is mediated through contradictory strategies, documentary, myth, imaginary projection, metafictional allusions and references that cannot provide narrative coherences or certitudes. Regarding my visual art, every time I grab a moment of inspiration I work on a project titled ‘Divine Messages’, a polymedia work consisted of simple drawings, vocovisual poetry, installations, short movies, paintings, etc. So, we’ll see, I may have a solo exhibition this year.

(This short film highlights Alen’s previous solo exhibition, “Stellar Refugee”)

Regarding the concert activities, well, it’s a tough, tricky business, but hopefully I’ll play a few over here and some in Europe by the end of 2015. Next year looks kind of more promising, with a few dates confirmed in Tel Aviv and Graz where I was awarded three months’ Artist in Residence status by the Styrian government to stay there and work on my project ‘Ongevarfen’ (Eng. disordered), an homage to Arnold Schoenberg.


For a purely audio Alen Ilijić experience, the retrospective album “I Have No CoordiNATION” is available on Bandcamp or through Ninety & Nine Records. For audio and visual, check out his YouTube channel.