FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. Slovakian field recordist Jonáš Gruska finds hidden sounds in the everyday, recording electromagnetic fields with gadgets he’s made for clients including Ryuichi Sakamoto. After releasing his debut album, Spevy, last year he tells Adam Badí Donoval about what’s next.
NAME: Jonáš Gruska
FROM: Bratislava, Slovakia
MUST-HEAR: Spevy (LOM)
FOR FANS OF: Chris Watson, Fis, Jana Winderen
Jonáš Gruska believes in the “hidden potential of ordinary sounds”. His fascinating debut LP, Spevy, is a testament to this philosophy; guinea pigs, bridges, trains and crickets living in manure contribute to the record, intermingling with synthetic micro-improvisations and unusual South East Asian instruments played by Gruska himself. And while Spevy is technically the Slovakian sound artist’s debut album, it would be wrong to ignore the extensive back catalogue of field recording material and music he has released over the last few years. One could in fact say that Spevy is a sonic diary of the past 5 years of his life.
Growing up in Slovakia’s capital city Bratislava, Gruska initially connected with music through a local music school where he studied classical guitar. Over time, he gravitated towards harsher, more experimental sounds, which eventually led him to The Hague in the Netherlands, where he spent several years studying at The Institute of Sonology. This is where Gruska discovered the beauty of field recordings, his current area of expertise.
“[In the Netherlands], I started being fascinated by sound in general, regardless of whether it was musical or not,” says Gruska. “I discovered a community of people who were interested in recording and listening to pretty much anything, without discrimination.”
Gruska’s recent field recording projects undertaken in Eastern Europe include recordings of the immersive soundscapes created by Slovakia’s remote meadows and hills (Lúky and Chočské vrchy a doliny), an intimate and mistake-filled sonic glance into a local music school (ZUŠ) and a collection of recordings documenting a particularly loud and disruptive night at an oil refinery near Bratislava (Zvuky Slovnaftu).
During his studies in The Hague, Gruska was also acquainted with electromagnetic fields and decided to build his own recording devices for this particular range of sound. Initially, they were only built for personal consumption, but soon enough other people were interested, too. This is how LOM, Gruska’s label and company began. In addition to releasing experimental music, LOM now specializes in unique, sought-after sound recording equipment developed by Gruska in Bratislava, attracting hundreds of customers from around the world (including Hollywood sound designers and even Ryuichi Sakamoto). Gruska’s ultimate aim is to actually develop recording devices which could be utilized for scientific research, for instance as a reference for researchers interested in electromagnetic pollution.
When he’s not developing new gadgets, Gruska continues to produce music. Spevy – which roughly translates as “Chants” – was the label’s first vinyl release, and while it references many personal moments in Gruska’s life via field recordings and sound, it is much more than a collection of disconnected impressions.
The album manages to capture and share Gruska’s fascination with the sounds he stumbles upon and as a listener, you’re often drawn into profound interactions; you become a first-hand observer. Pieces like ‘Volanie’ (‘Calling’) where alien life forms join crickets in song, ‘Brušky’ (‘Tummy’) where guinea pigs crunch bell peppers, or the closing ‘Netopiere’ (‘Bats’) where bats’ calls are transposed to our hearing range, are incredibly intimate as well as sonically intriguing. Throughout, Gruska remains a distant conductor, assembling sounds with finesse and a touch of humor too. “I never wanted Spevy to become too serious. The animal sounds, especially, were meant to evoke a smile in the listener and ASMR is an inspiration too.”
In 2018, Gruska is planning on developing new recording devices, holding ASMR and field recording workshops around Europe and releasing even more solo material. His forthcoming album will be focused on polyrhythm, polymetry and algorithmic compositional techniques and will feature remixes from Hiele, Max Eilbacher, Broshuda and &apos. In short, Gruska will continue to explore.
Adam Badí Donoval is a freelancer writer. Find him on Twitter