About Miguel Ángel Ruíz aka Orfeón Gagarin, the Spanish artist we recently interviewed after listening to the re-release of his self-titled debut album (initially released in 1986 by the Spanish independent label Toracis Tapes) on Valencia-based record label Verlag System, Antoni Aura, director of the label, wrote: “This Orfeón Gagarin’s debut of 1986 sounds to the XXI Century and collects the savoir-faire of Miguel. The signal of the DIY punk spirit is evident. It is a clear designation of origin for that underground electronic 80ies cassette from outdated Madrid; the one who had no place in the exquisite ‘movida madrileña’ (madrilean new wave). It is evident that ‘In vitro process’ could never access that Olympus of the gods. It is perceived in courts as ‘Last Instance’ to that young man who is around the twenties, who hears crackling needles of the turntable in the groove of the German LPs of Sky, as it would happen to the founder of Mute Records or the ambient series of Eno in ‘Eucarystics.’ It is that crude, hard cover, full of thick points, that portrays the viewer’s gaze beyond the shape of the dish. This image captures the essence and mystery of this album. Do not be deceived, that look goes beyond the O.V.N.I. and from human finitude observes with stupor the immeasurableness of the cosmos, its infinity, its power.” Let’s validate his feedback by meeting this interesting artist.
Chain DLK: Hola, Miguel! How are you?
Orfeón Gagarin: After dinner, grateful to appear in your magazine!
Chain DLK: I’ve recently relocated to Spain… I only know some aspects of contemporary and modern music development of this country (the first name that pops into my mind when thinking of the Spanish experimental/electronic music is the one of Esplendor Geometrico… but there are many more…), so I’m happy I have the chance to have a chat with a veteran like you… Any introduction to the Spanish electronic music scene of the recent decades? Anything that foreign listeners could have missed (even if worthy of consideration) in your viewpoint?
Orfeón Gagarin: Yes, Esplendor Geometrico were (and still are) the best known worldwide. But there was an amazing movement in the 80s for bedroom artists and some groups, and a cassette exchange network that also expanded across Europe and the USA. An important point was a program on Radio 3, a state radio station, dedicated to electronic alternative music. There I could hear the most outlandish things, from Comando Bruno, Avant Dernieres Pensees, Macromassa, Luis Mesa, the Necronomicon fanzine, etc., so I realized that there were people doing strange things like me at that moment. But over the years everything changed; many left the guerrilla and the new generations already in the 90s fell into the temptation of techno and dance music. Recently, there has been a return to the primitive artisan roots thanks to the popularization of electronic instruments, musical software and Internet communication, where the producer and the listener can deal without the need of an intermediate.
The problem is that many works have sometimes been relegated to the retail boxes of record stores, international distribution has always been the biggest problem. Spanish listeners often overlook what has been done within their borders.
And also, there are few festivals and occasions to listen to this music live, except for brave initiatives, almost always counting on dark & uncomfortable, bad sounding venues.
Chain DLK: Can you tell us something about the very first days and sources of inspiration for the birth of Orfeon Gagarin? Why such a weird name?
Orfeón Gagarin: Once, I saw an exhibition of Russian cosmonauts here in Madrid at the beginning of the 80s. I took pictures, I became interested in the subject, I bought a gigantic book about the life of Yuri Gagarin in a Russian Spanish bookstore. The name came to me simply because of the union of two seemingly unrelated words. Cosmonauts, surrealism, the unknown, everything is part of my private universe.
Chain DLK: Your self-titled album, which recently come out on Verlag, is your third one, isn’t it? Any word about your first two albums? Do you think they might deserve a re-release?
Orfeón Gagarin: No, actually the Orfeon Gagarin album recently published by Verlag is my first work on cassette, in 1986, reedited and improved in vinyl format. KEDR was my second cassette, which will probably also see its reissue shortly by the same label; this work is dedicated to Gagarin’s space flight, because “KEDR” was the name of his ship in the conversations with the terrestrial control. “Contestacion Capilar” is a CD that was published in 1996, as a compilation of short pieces from the Toracic archives. There are more albums like Neumotorax s.XX, which was published in a small edition by the Italian label Menstrual Recordings some years ago. It is frankly a difficult task to summarize all this in words. An “orfeon” is a traditional choir in Spain with just voices, no instruments. A solo speaker but many personalities at the time. That’s how I consider myself.
Chain DLK: The fact that there’s a ‘gagarin’ maybe influenced my imagination, but while listening to Orfeon Gagarin, my mind often jumped to the sceneries evoked by many works by Gennady Golobokov, a well-known Russian pop-artist, and his socialist space workers…do you know them? Any space age reverie in your music?
Orfeón Gagarin:I did not know the Russian artist that you say, but I see that it can be a form of plastic expression compatible with my aerial and dramatic sounds. Recently, 2 vinyl albums have been published in a collaboration with a friend from Madrid under the name of Dekatron, whose covers include retro-futurist paintings by Adamo Dimitriadis, a contemporary painter with whom I feel very identified.
Chain DLK: Re-releases normally occur for releases, which can be considered forerunners of something that could be better appreciated or understood years after its initial birth date…would you say the same for Orfeon Gagarin?
Orfeón Gagarin: Many young people listen to this music and are surprised that is was created so long ago and still sounds quite current. Keep in mind that in my case, they were recorded with few resources, exploring the possibilities of recorders, tapes, organs that now seem outdated, primitive computers or even electric razors that challenge the listener with devilish noises. Bearing in mind that now it is difficult to be surprised with new sounds, even though now stupid music software has thousands of them.
Chain DLK: There are many awesome tracks in Orfeon Gagarin. What are the more interesting (and more difficult to catch by contemporary listeners) technical aspects of some of its tracks, in your own words?
Orfeón Gagarin: At the time I recorded that cassette, my primary focus was to organize my existing brain chaos, since I wanted to do everything in a short time. I’m not disciplined, so they started to emerge as disparate themes, and always trying to use exciting tools and methods, like the voices of “Not is possible landing” created with a speech synthesizer for my newly acquired Commodore 64, the wave radio cuts through my Korg MS10, the rudimentary multi-track recording using two half-speed tape recorders, or the analog sequencer in Gulag. Unlike my contemporaries, I did not enjoy the UK industrial noise so much that I felt more comfortable between the cosmic couriers, the electroacoustic experiments of krautrock, or the American minimal composers, all contaminated by my own eclectic breath.
Chain DLK: …And any weird samples, such as the ones in “Voces Mauritanas”?
Orfeón Gagarin: Yes, the Maghreb stations are easy to tune to here, late at night. Then, modified by the synthesizer and with touches of persuasive percussion that can remember the nights where the moon shines in the desert and songs of fraternity resonate worldwide. Gagarin saw it from above.
Chain DLK: What does Omsk 1939 refer to?
Orfeon Gagarin: I am sure that year something important happened in Omsk, but I am not authorized to reveal it.
Chain DLK: One of my favorite moment of the album is the highly hypnotic “Ultima Istancia”…any words about this amazing track?
Orfeón Gagarin: That was a mix of different recordings. The sequencer was amazingly more or less tuned in that key, so I pressed the REC key and the miracle happened. Now with a computer everything is too easy, but it loses the magic. No space for accidents or casual coincidences.
Chain DLK: When you re-listen to some of your old entries, do you ever think that something could be better embellished or recorded?
Orfeón Gagarin: Next June I will play a reinterpretation of these songs live, at the Tagomago festival in Valencia, one of the few electronic music festivals in Spain. I, of course, do not call electronic music dance or club music. I do not think it will exceed the original versions, but for me it’s a challenge.
Chain DLK: Any work in progress?
Orfeón Gagarin: Soon a collaboration with another musician from Madrid (Giron) will appear as “Zytospace” in Verlag System as well a new solo album as Orfeón Gagarin with new material at the famous Geometrik label. Zytospace is music with multisequence and vaporous attitudes. Also preparing a reissue on my own Toracic label of “La Cámara Gamma”, another cassette from the late 80’s, dark and threatening and my solo second album “KEDR” as Orfeón Gagarin in vinyl for Verlag System record label too. Unfortunately some reel recordings are in poor condition so it will not be purely a reliable reissue. But also this can provide a point of risk. In Toracic things never go as planned!