An On Bast: modular magic
An On Bast is a multi-talented Polish producer and live artist who creates exquisite astral techno on modular hardware. Her recent album, ‘I Create As I Speak’, is a perfect release for Carl Cox’s Awesome Soundwave label. DJ Mag hears about her fascination with the soul of modular machines
Poland has a rich electronic music history. As far back as the ‘50s, if you tuned into the frequencies of the Studio Eksperymentalne Polskiego Radia you would hear the earliest electronic sounds beamed back to you. In the ‘90s, while we in the UK were revolting against the Tories with the free rave scene, so were post-Communist Polish youths sharing tapes, cobbling together tracks on whatever gear they could find and throwing raves in hotspots like Warsaw.
“I wish I had experienced those parties,” says Wrocław-based artist Anna Suda, AKA An On Bast. “But unfortunately I was not aware of this scene, I was studying some philosophy book back then, singing in a choir or improvising on the piano for fun.” Her entry into the scene she is now a key part of was far from a typical one, and actually started after she had already begun performing live in clubs and at festivals. Rather amazingly, completely on a whim one day in 2005, Anna decided that she wanted to make an album.
“I felt this huge spark and very good energy around it, so I just started to work on it,” she says, matter of factly. Long story short, in 2006 she self-released ‘Welcome Scissors’, an experimental IDM fusion with glitchy textures and abstract sound design that belied her utter lack of experience. The album made an impact in the right places: it led to Anna being chosen for the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne in 2006. “That was the first time I experienced club music,” she says from her home, as she watches her two beloved cats sleep peacefully. “Until then, I had never been to a club party, nor had any friends related to the electronic music scene. It all changed when I got back to Poland. I was suddenly booked for gigs in clubs even though my music was still more IDM, but after the Academy I knew that I wanted to play dance music too. I just felt this energy, and since then I cannot stop.”
She’s not wrong, because since then there have been more than 15 EPs, and a total of 10 albums, including last year’s ‘Coherent Excitations’ on Modularfield. The eleventh, ‘I Create As I Speak’, lands this month on Carl Cox’s Awesome Soundwave label. Despite it being written in a pandemic year, she says that didn’t change how it sounds as she is someone who tries to cut off all external influences once she starts writing music. She did have a plan for it from the start, though.
Firstly, as a long time gear-head, she used a lot of new techniques developed over the years to get fresh and creative new sounds out of her vast collection of hardware tools and toys. It was the freedom of machines that drew her in initially. As an accomplished live performer, Anna tends to play live in the studio too when making new music, “rather than drawing on the computer,” and then uses software to finish off her tunes. “I feel a special bond with every piece of gear in my studio,” she beams, “but I never wanted to collect them, just play on them, connect them together, experiment with what else I can figure out with them. Behind every sampler, synthesiser or drum machine there is a clever human who created it and implemented the operational system, simply saying: what and how you can do with it — it is so much fun to get to know it and then to adopt it into my thinking, my needs.
“I love music machines for the soul of their creators and also the playability, sound possibilities and quality; also, most of them are so beautifully designed. With modular synthesisers come also another layer — voltage control. It is pretty much awesome for the imagination to try to see jumping electrons, and modulating this process is simply wonderful.”
Next to searching for new techniques, Anna also decided this record would be her first that was “dance music only. I wanted to express myself in a lot of different moods.” So, for example, she would imagine herself playing at a huge festival for the techno tracks. “The sound travels differently on big stages. This perception certainly influenced the way I produced some songs. But most of all, I focused on telling the main story of the album in different ways or in different forms in each song.”
She says that the process of discovering ‘How?’ is a magical adventure for her, and this one started with the title, which is a translation of the word ‘abracadabra’, which is — as we are often told as children — ‘the magic word’. “I realised that the real power is within the words we speak, and in general that everything we say and think has an influence on our reality.” Armed with that thought, Anna explored the latest research on the subject, found it “extremely fascinating” and thus had a starting-point for the album.
The record plays out like a well-crafted DJ set — full of brooding, muscular and deep techno that also manages to be, at times, “poetic and beautiful,” as she puts it. Tracks are built on rubbery, rolling bottom-ends and overlaid with cosmic synth modulations and subtle acid flashes. ‘Golden Mind Possessed’ is a strippedback and warm, cavernous cut perfect for big warehouse spaces, while the serrated lead synth of ‘Back To Garden’ will tear up any main stage. Elsewhere, ‘The Bond’ leaves this planet and heads off to the stars, where rippling synths circle around you to hypnotic effect, and the likes of ‘12 Secrets Of Silence’ provide more melancholic, introspective moments that help keep the album physically and emotionally moving and richly multifaceted. The record is a fine fit with the astral and melodic techno Carl Cox’s Awesome Soundwave has become known for, and came about after the label co-owner Christopher Coe contacted Anna in 2019. Last year she played the Carl Cox stage at Mysteryland online for the virtual Awesome Soundwave Festival, and “felt very much connected through our talks about music. There is a great atmosphere around the label, plus there is something personal that attracts me too — the label is in Melbourne, one of my favourite cities in the world.”
Last year, of course, all real-world gigs were cancelled too and Anna found herself at home much more than usual. Looking back now, she says she got through it well, “as I treated it as a lesson to practice and cultivate peace within myself, rather than to feel fear because of something external.” Unsurprisingly for someone so prolific, she also stayed busy with many music projects which, alongside family time, kept her focused.
“Writing and playing music is the language I love to communicate with,” she says, adding that intuition, trusting in the process, openness and listening to yourself are also vital when it comes to writing music. “The enthusiasm of using this language is my motivation. Probably my energy comes very much from my curiosity, fascination and personal development. I think I am inspired by the mostly non-music world, by people who are talented, hardworking and challenge themselves to cross their own borders.”
She cites the likes of sportsmen such as Roger Federer and Kamil Stoch, philosophers like Henri Bergson and Jiddu Krishnamirti, and “writers that opened my eyes wider” such as Hermann Hesse and Philip K. Dick. She also says she finds inspiration in quantum physics, energy psychology and sci-fi movies, and “a very good way to relax and recharge before another studio session” is by doing a bit of rock climbing, yoga or snowboarding, spending time in nature or “most importantly, spending time with my family, cats, friends and artists I meet from different fields.”
Plenty of these more thoughtful pursuits and philosophies come together in the short accompanying story that arrived with promo delivery of the album. It’s a few hundred words that include every title from the record along the way. Some of those titles are even thought up before a track is written, Anna says. “During the last phase working on ‘I Create As I Speak’, I spent half a day listening to the finished tracks to find the right order. Finally, I experienced the feelings that I wanted and at the same time I looked at the titles in sequence and it struck me, the text was in front of my eyes! The story couldn’t be better expressed by me with words. It was a very magical moment — instantly, I wrote the text in one breath. That was the final touch of the beautiful process of making this album.”
Music is clearly a full-time way of life for Anna. She does it because she loves it first and foremost, and because she feels it is her best means of communication. She usually works on multiple projects a day, not only for herself, but with other artists, musicians and vocalists. She also does sound design for films, animations and art installations, as well as working with choreographers making music specially for contemporary dance performances. “It depends on my mood but also on deadlines,” she says of what she does, and when she does it. “The clash with different artistic fields is fascinating, and working with amazing artists is always wonderful and teaches me a lot.”
As if all this wasn’t enough, she also started doing classical music reworks in 2009, initially writing a concert about Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Rite Of Spring’. “It was an amazing adventure to discover and connect with the composer’s way of thinking and try to add my own spin with modern means of artistic expression,” she says. Since then she’s worked with music from the likes of Chopin and Penderecki, and also hosts workshops on electronic music production. “I like to share my passion,” she says, modestly underplaying her vast output.
Next to the album, Anna has, naturally, already prepped an EP with Douglas Greed to be released in April by Kater Blau’s label Kiosk I.D, finished some remixes, and will soon start work on a second album for Cologne’s Modularfield label. One goal she has not yet achieved but hopes to soon, is writing and producing the soundtrack to a sci-fi movie, and she is also eager to start connecting with audiences again with some real-world performances. “I wish everyone could do something in life which fuels them with the greatest enthusiasm,” she says, before disappearing back to her music-making machines. Anna Suda, at least, has certainly found that something.
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.