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Barely Dry Ink (2): Katarina Gryvul

During the many concerts of Gaudeamus Festival 2023, countless brand new works, whose ink has only just dried, will be performed. Intern Sofia Chionidou interviews several composers who tell us about the compositions that they have written – or are still writing – for us. Today: Katarina Gryvul on her new performance bukimi no tani, which will premiere this September on the Friday night of Gaudeamus Festival 2023.

by Sofia Chionidou

Katarina Gryvul, like many composers who work with Gaudeamus, has various identities; apart from a composer she is also a music producer, a violinist, an educator and a sound artist. In the short duration of our conversation, she gave me a glimpse into her worldview of contemporary music and how it has led her to this intricate mix of identities and sounds, combining different traditions and approaches to music making.

Mixing genres

Gryvul’s work combines two areas which appear to many as uncompromisable: classical and popular music. To understand how this came to be, I asked her about her trajectory in music. She was originally trained as a classical musician, a violinist. This was soon followed by her studies in acoustic and, then, electro-acoustic composition, which eventually led her to study computer music and sound art. On top of that, because of her work in the game industry, she also became involved with popular genres. Working with music “from rock to some Japanese pop to country”, this step out of the academic world allowed her to enter a different realm of music production, one which led to the release of her own songs.

This was a new direction that she really enjoyed, Gryvul shares, as it reflected the variety of genres of music that she appreciates listening to in her daily life. In fact, she mentions that she generally does not classify certain genres as superior to others; for example, classical music as better than popular genres. To her they are all equal, each one for a different occasion.

And it is evident that this flat hierarchy of styles allows her to blend their different sounds into her own unique mix. Currently, she chooses to work with a combination of electronic and acoustic means. For Gryvul, these are, and should be, inseparable in music production these days. Her approach, which is up to date with the constantly transforming, transcending boundaries and all-assimilating cultural production of these days, leaves no space for traditionalism. “Our music can’t have the same sound as the music of the ‘60s or ‘70s,” she says.

“Uncanny” sound

This also what gave birth to the work we will see in September, bukimi no tani. Following a commission by Gaudeamus along with Ulysses network and Mixtur festival, Gryvul started creating around the idea of ‘bukimi no tani’ or, as it is translated in English, the “uncanny valley”. This is a term which refers to the unsettling feeling that people get when they are confronted with a technological entity which closely resembles a human, but not quite. As an idea, it is getting more and more relevant these days with the evolution of AI and robotics and their integration in everyday life, making it one of the many urgent topics that Gryvul addresses through her work. Topics which often revolve around psychological, non-human or technological themes.

In bukimi no tani, Gryvul attempts to recreate the conditions which lead to this uncanny feeling through sound. Grateful for the openness of the commission and the technical support that the organizing festivals provide to her, she experiments with distorting her own voice and distributing it through the 8-speaker system in the performance space. Her main tools to achieve this, which happen to also be the main aspects that she investigates throughout her practice, are the variations of timbres (qualities of musical sound) and the spatialization of sound. And while timbres can be explored and rehearsed throughout the composition process, the spatialization of sound presents an important challenge for her, as she will need to adjust to the acoustic characteristics of each performance space where this piece is presented.

Affecting the audience

For the moment, Gryvul is still in the process of fine-tuning bukimi no tani, exploring the experience it will create for the audience and the aftertaste its ending will leave us with. After all, this is what she finds most important in her works; that they create emotion. In her words, the power of music is that it can “change something inside you”, that it can somehow make you feel more alive, whether the feeling it gave you is good or bad. In Gryvul’s work, it is all about the combination. She strives for a mix between beauty and ugliness, particularly the one which will have the deepest impact on the audience. At the end of the day, it seems that we are up for a strong, immersive – in both sound and emotion – experience on the festival’s Friday night, one which definitely should not be missed!