With his debut EP Ecologies, Jacques Gaspard Biberkopf tasked himself with constructing artificial National Parks in a digital space.
Biberkopf’s first blip on our radar was back in 2013, when one of his tracks surfaced in a Bok Bok mix. 2014 was a much more conspicuous year for him, as he contributed mixes to Truants and The Astral Plane, two platforms that especially pride themselves in propelling exciting underground club music. ‘Exciting’ is the primary descriptor for Biberkopf’s mixes, featuring many of his own productions and traversing grounds between club music, disjointed grime and stonewashed musique concrète. Through these mixes and interviews, his fascination with the nature of club and concept music, the digital realm and use of the human voice were made evident.
Ecologies was released on Kuedo and Joe Shakespeare’s Knives label earlier this year, and saw Biberkopf create and explore the potential environments of tomorrow’s world. Taking inspiration from visual artist Joe Hamilton, who went on to design the striking, organically improbable cover art, the EP was written between 2011 and 2013. Two years later, the music still sounds like a near future that lies just beyond some imminent tipping point of our society. Tidal synths and distorted Tupac vocals spar with a mechanistic sound palette overlaying most of the tracks, and the EP explores that interplay between what we see as human, what we see as organic and the artificial constructions of hypothetic environments. One major influence on the record is the Anthropocene proposition that human activities have begun to disproportionately and significantly affect the global ecosystem, and perhaps that tipping point is behind us now. I emailed Biberkopf to ask him about the EP and where he thinks we’re headed.
“You close your eyes, and you hear these new sounds, new relations of them, you hear entire soundscapes going extinct.”
J. G. Biberkopf
The tracks on Ecologies are like simulations of natural environments in artificial space – places that could be engineered to exist in the physical world, perhaps. Are these representations part of the world as you see it in the present or are they where you think societies are headed towards? Or are these impossible environments, fully exaggerated?
Might be all three. The Ecologies project mostly came out of this personal struggle with representations and simulations of nature and how these work collectively in destabilising Earth. I was trying to figure out what is this weird experience of the landscape now, and how do I experience it? A big source for inspiration were the romantic ideas some people had about nature, how it works and what [it] is.
Ecologies exist in a speculative space for me; These entities, or at least parts of them, have the potential to become real. Traumas of the present and of crumbling futures produced them. I tried to materialize these confused feelings to get some perspective. Like trying to figure out what is covered up with the images. You close your eyes, and you hear these new sounds, new relations of them, you hear entire soundscapes going extinct.
I’ve seen a fair few people note the presence of horror as a theme on Ecologies, though that doesn’t seem to be something you were focused on conveying. Why do you think it has been received in this way? Is it something you see in your works yourself?
I wasn’t interested in horror that much. I wanted something that cuts through the spectacle of a musical composition and feels tangible. Something that would cut through to get a peek through this state of unreality, unrealness. ‘Black Soil’, for example, is this big new meta-narrative taking over, crushing modernist utopias, romantic metaphysics or post-modern groundlessness – it’s the Anthropocene, or whatever it should be called, taking over. It might be horrific, but I wanted this monumental event to feel a bit like it could slit your throat.
I hear thematic or aesthetic resonance with your music in the works of the Janus crew, Holly Herndon, TCF, v1984 and others. It seems to always feel like the atmospheres created in this area are dystopian. Certainly in Ecologies, ‘Waters’ and ‘Black Soil’ push some sort of dread, whilst other tracks include sounds similar to lens zooming, recalling the digital hyper-surveillance present today. What is the relationship between creative boundaries and barriers we hope to stretch and break and the capitulation of society itself?
I’m not sure that a word like ‘dystopian’ does the right job. Disruption might be a better descriptor. I think most of the artists mentioned are pretty constructive, although, of course, there is certainly a provocatory dimension to their work. But they seem to be trying to hack their way out, disrupting or dislocating the flow. And you know, like NSA, it’s just out there, though it might be invisible. A lot of the important things can be invisible. You have to see it for yourself, so you can find your own ways to learn to relate to phenomena like these, try to fight it or whatever.
There is a parallel with the tech industry there, ‘disruption’ being the tag for recent trends in Silicon Valley and amongst start-up firms. It seems as if disruption in the work of these musicians is a result of necessity, as if it were the creative expression of survival. Both phenomena pose the question: What are the consequences of disruption?
You might be right about this being some kind of a natural necessity. In my opinion though, it’s quite hard to calculate the consequences of this kind of a disruptive intervention — it might work to help with discovering ideological structures, creating alternative perspectives, carving out some space to breathe, to doubt, to question authority, hopefully spark transformation. The use of the word might not be incidental, as most of us are appropriating or using the tools, networks, aesthetics that these same Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have created — so you have these disruptions created from within. I am not entirely comfortable with this strategy, because it’s a very fine line between seeming to start to fetishise the logic and the aesthetic, but maybe that’s all we can do at this moment.
The idea that the internet has led to younger generations being desensitised to grotesque material is not new. Is that something you’ve felt? It strikes me that transgressive art doesn’t have the same effect on today’s young adult generations as it did to those there for its apex, but cultivating nature (even artificially) could seem like an alien concept. Do you think the current wave of “net-aware” artists are influenced by this?
I think there are a few moments in the EP, that for me, touch on this in a more direct way. I don’t feel like I’m in good a position at all to make generalisations like this, but [it] seems like a lot of peers are consciously trying to relearn to be emphatic, like you want to feel something again. You want to cultivate, love, but it seems [as if] you’ve just lost it. Maybe when you’re in a privileged position of being perfectly self-sustained as it is, you don’t need that much of others. Landscape also isn’t a threat in the same way it was in the past. Love is stronger when there are threats. We internalise the market in our relations. And yeah of course, there’s this thing about being desensitised by the excess of stimuli, being stuck in a perpetual scrolling indifference, apathy. Images are losing their representational value progressively, their connection to the represented – maybe the same thing applies for performances and images of art. You need stimuli so immense and concentrated, just to get somebody to feel something, take notice or care. Though we are definitely becoming more aware.
In your productions, the atmosphere is often tangible – whether it’s musique concrète, hyper-real machinations or heavy percussion. Still, these atmospheres seem to exist in the virtual world. Today, a large part of our interaction with cultures takes place through the internet, and it serves as the setting for a significant chunk of the development of our socio-cultural understanding. The art people create, the conversations people have, the news that is published online is so different from IRL. Would we develop in the same way socioculturally without virtual spaces? Do you see more of our lives becoming further invested in virtual spaces, whether they’re places of discourse or recreations of physical environments?
Yeah, no doubt. IRL is much less needed for relating to other humans or objects, it’s even less capable and potent for some of the interactions. The socio-cultural itself is defined so much by dreams and visions of Silicon Valley culture. Technology itself might be neutral, but the people who build it certainly aren’t. The engineers are forming the affordances. And the platforms and the interfaces themselves shape the interactions we have very much.
You’ve expressed interest in the Anthropocene era previously and I can’t help but think of sci-fi prophecies of humans ruining Earth and looking for a new home out there to ruin. Is it possible to ruin virtual worlds? You’ve captured natural environments within the digital realm, so I wonder if that space has something analogous to nature conservation.
For sure you can ruin those. Maybe you can go on and call media theorists media ecologists. The virtual networks are materialising, triggering things IRL. Planetary computation is participating in Gaia and its self-regulatory system. The landscape is being shaped and remodeled by the landscapes, rules, phenomena and ephemera of the digital. So maybe you could even drop the word ‘media’ and just call some of them ecologists.
When I first heard your music, you were living in Berlin. Since then you’ve returned to your home of Vilnius – has this transition affect your approach to your work? As someone who can only really speak English, I wonder whether the ecologies you have simulated in your music transcend language or exist as strictly English language Western worldviews. Is there a disconnect between the environments we see in your pieces and Lithuanian language thought processes?
In a similar way to contemporary art, I think that music languages are assimilating. Maybe there is so much talk about appropriation recently because it is a reaction to this happening. Distinct languages, exotica, only exist on distant peripheries and you have only accents left, mostly. I’m sure there is an accent to what I’m doing.
I am feeling really productive being in Vilnius. I found it quite hard to produce being in Berlin, which had a feeling of being too much of a safe-haven sometimes. While Vilnius has an incredible amount of tensions in the air, some which are of real, destructive potential. It is like a strategic buffer zone for the Western world. Proposed [with] a dream of being integrated [into] the Western society, to find itself now stuck in a grey zone, becoming a semi-colony under hegemony of EU and US, semi-cared for. It’s this environment of fast transformation; this state of in-betweenness, very bipolar. Breaking away from an agricultural, industrial and Soviet past, rapidly building itself (and being built) into this knowledge, service economy, and maybe the next point for expats to move in. All of it seems very fragile. It certainly provokes you to act and do something being here. It’s a bad place to wait for something. Being so familiar with the place, it’s relatively easy to sense change, you can become easily aware of how certain ideologies and their conflicts produce the space and the landscape. I always felt alien here, and it seems like a lot of other people feel the same way; I’m not sure I’m staying here for long.
“It was always important to disrupt conceptions and expectations of what the club space is and what it can do.”
J. G. Biberkopf
You’ve been playing some live shows in recent months – I recall hearing decayed grime and pop music juxtaposed and entwined at one. Is the aim of your live shows something that exists in tandem with or complementary to the direction of your releases and mixes? I imagine them to be further constructions of representations of environments, ecologies and topologies. How have club spaces fared in nurturing your vision?
Certainly, Ecologies was conceived in the club and was heavily influenced by the dynamics of the space. Maybe it’s not the best place for it to be performed, there are places more adept. Though it is very interesting, if the conditions, and especially the attitudes of the people maintaining the space, are right. For me, it was always important to disrupt conceptions and expectations of what the club space is and what it can do. Ecologies was thought of along those lines.
One thing, that [I] deemed a good reason for why Ecologies should stay in the clubs, was the perspective of club spaces as usually being a total, immersive environment, rather than a stage with a predefined fourth wall. The whole of the space is participating in [the] building of the experience, a certain kind of ecology. So it seemed like the speculated environments would feel more real – environments actually involving bodies to experience it, live in it.
The live shows definitely extend on the Ecologies project. It evolved to being a more powerful way to enter it, in a way. The shows are always organically progressing, so it’s bit more current. The show also involves working with moving images, which I certainly enjoy more and more. DJing on the other hand serves more of an exploratory function – it is trying to provoke myself and others.
Have you been writing or working on any new projects in other fields in recent weeks? What can we expect to hear from you in the future?
I was [just] on my first vacation in a very long time. Though I had a handful of interesting offers over the few weeks – I will be working with an ex-circus performer for her performance, and maybe will end up doing some sound works for Malaysian jungles in the upcoming months. Indirect.flights came out recently, which I’ve helped J. Hamilton with, and a month back we finished up with the Newman festival. Wrote quite a lot of new material this year, not sure where it will end up, but hopefully it’ll find its way to being released.