parallel dimensions / an interview with rrose

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rrose inhabits a parallel dimension. at least, that’s what she’d have you believe. her music is grounded in the kind of thoughtful electronic elements that make her a perfect fit for lucy’s stroboscopic artefacts label, but at the same time, she is outlandish enough that her transportive 2015 album, never having written a note for percussion (comprised solely of a one-gong percussion piece) made perfect sense. she’s one of electronic music’s more mysterious figures, an artist that flits between not only genres, but between pronouns and perhaps even personalities.

it’s with this in mind that i accept rrose’s offer to meet at a sound bath meditation session hosted by stoboscopic boss, lucy. taking place one a month at the studio sonne in neukölln, it’s almost too fitting a setting for our talk. lucy helms the meditation session, starting out with breathing exercises before the sound bath — accomplished with a 90 cm handcrafted nepalese gong and three different mallets — begins. it’s true what they say about gong baths; it’s mere minutes before things really start to bend. the experience overall is more soul-shaking than i would have thought: once you let go and give in to the sound, you start to understand what rrose means by “parallel dimensions.”

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i have to be honest: initially i was quite skeptical of the whole concept of meditation in general.

really? i think that’s something that people struggle with because of the connotations it has. some meditations are more tied to tradition than others but it doesn’t have to be tied to some kind of religion or dogma… with meditation, i find you’re still taking in sounds and sensations and just sort of… experiencing the inner world.

was tonight’s sound bath your first, or is this type of meditation something you’ve always been interested in?

this is the first event of this type that i’ve done, but i have done a lot of meditation and yoga over the years. it’s something that i became interested in more than 20 years ago… i’m revealing my age a little bit. (laughs) i was studying it and pretty intensely interested in it in the 90s and then i kind of stopped practicing for a long time but i’ve gotten back into it again recently.

what is it exactly that interests you?

one thing that really draws me to meditation is the simplicity. it’s not about actively doing anything. it’s just sort of about taking away kind of a lot of the external stimulus that we are normally bombarded by; experiencing the world in a simpler way. the kind of meditation that i practice is not really trying to do anything, but just trying to be aware. it’s just about sort of experiencing reality.

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that seems very far removed from the world of electronic music culture.

yes, in a way. but i actually think the best shows i have are the ones where i feel there’s more of a connection between those two worlds.

in what way?

well, there are times where i play and i feel like the audience is sort of meditating even if they’re dancing or moving or whatever. i feel like everyone’s come together to focus on this sound and how it’s connecting to their body and their mind. when i can sort of keep them there, then i feel like i’ve achieved something. when people are standing in front of the dj booth and chatting and checking their phones, i feel a lot of disappointment! i’ll look up and i stare people down! (laughs)

is it a goal of yours to have your audience reach that level of consciousness when you’re playing?

yeah, i think so. when the audience is meditating, it helps me stay focused on the sound. i think the best gigs are like that, where you feel like everybody is sort of with you instead of off socializing… that moment where you grab people. everyone is doing the same thing, focusing in the same way. i really appreciated that about the gong performance at tonight’s sound meditation.

when we spoke initially, you mentioned reaching that meditative place yourself when you debuted a gong performance in an underground tunnel in washington.

right. the tunnel was actually an underground railway for downtown washington that never really got used. the piece is a take on james tenney’s having never written a note for percussion. i’m very inspired by tenney’s work. i can’t play most of it but i’ve been drawn to certain pieces that require a sort of concentration or stamina. basically it’s just one long crescendo and then decrescendo.

that seems… deceptively simple.

exactly. i mean, i had no experience playing the gong before i decided to play this piece. i’m not an expert and i didn’t intend to make it as smooth as possible. so for me, if the gong started to behave strangely, that didn’t bother me. i let it resonate and let it get a little harder or a little softer in places. i think the repetitive nature of a piece like that, the fact that you have to concentrate on keeping the flow of the crescendo…. there’s a state you reach when you practice and you fully assimilate to the music… it becomes a part of you, and it kind of becomes a meditation.

it seems almost like a trance, right?

sure, yeah. i mean, i think that probably any performer gets very deep into it as they perform… there’s something about having to focus on the sound and this very gradual change over time. i think i’m more distracted when i try to meditate on my own than when i play this piece. when i played in the tunnel… really the sound was everything. that’s all i was focused on for the whole duration of the piece. something about that connection between physicality and sound and repetition… it completely focuses my mind. the piece itself explores some very strange boundaries of experience.

i felt that way about the sound bath tonight, actually. at certain points when the gong got very intense, it was quite trippy.

right, that’s just it — the gong reaches a sort of peak of intensity where it gets almost violent. that’s interesting to me, that line between something that starts sort of very soothing and drags you in in this meditative way… it can reach a point where it’s almost aggressive, but it still maintains this sort of meditative place.

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i spoke with deepchord recently and he was talking a lot about this idea of vibrational healing… is that something you thought about during the gong piece, or when you make music in general?

no. i want my music to have an effect, sure, but not necessarily healing one part of your body. there’s nothing direct or specific about it. i wouldn’t write it off, but i’ve also never experienced that kind of feeling. i think healing in general involves a lot of willingness of the person being healed to make that happen.

are you a spiritual person? would you call your connection to electronic music a spiritual one, for example?

well, the word spirituality… i don’t use that because i think that word has too many strange connotations. i stay away from that word. but i think the idea behind it applies, yeah. it’s just a loaded concept.

so, music doesn’t need to function on a higher plane, so to speak? it can exist purely as entertainment?

ideally the music would not be entertaining at all! i struggle with that word even more than spirituality! (laughs) like i said, i want people to be really focused on the music, on performance. i don’t necessarily even want it to be fun. i want it to be intense and enjoyable but also challenging in some way. i think of entertainment as a distraction, and i don’t want it to be a distraction. entertainment to me means something that distracts you, an escape.

do you not think of music as an escape?

not in the way that entertainment is an escape that takes you away to a blank area. if people say that my music is entertaining, i won’t be offended, but that’s not my goal. i think of music as taking you to a place that forces you to confront reality, in a way.

i read that you sometimes feel like you’re in a parallel universe when you’re performing as rrose.

i guess when i say parallel universe, it’s that i have these kind of overlapping identities. i’m myself and i’m not myself at the same time. i’ve become quite comfortable in my role as rrose, dressing up… and yet, it’s very different from my normal day-to-day experience. it makes the whole experience of the performance and the music into its own universe that overlaps with my normal reality.

is rrose a kind of escape for you, then?

(very long pause) that’s a tough one. i wouldn’t call it an escape because it makes me think about my normal daily reality and the relationship to it. i’m not just stepping out and existing in some other world like that. in fact, making music as rrose forces me to think a lot about the relationship between the different identities that i have, and my aims with music.

like you said, it kind of faces you to confront reality. it seems like your connection to rrose is quite an emotional one.

i don’t know if i would call it emotional. i’m trying to get away from the specific emotions that we put words to, especially when it comes to making music. i’m kind of trying to do something to people that they don’t really understand… i’m aiming to feel like there’s an idea behind my music even if you can’t describe it, even if i can’t describe it. you feel something, you don’t know what it is, but you know that it’s something. that’s what i do when i’m making music.

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