In a relatively short span of time, the brilliant Kazhak composer, pianist and singer Angelina Yershova released two great albums, “Piano’s Abyss” and its ideal sequel “Resonance Night,” (both labeled by Twin Paradox) two sonic gems in which she developed her interesting and deeply introspective aesthetics, in between vague semblances of Lustmord-like coldwave/dark-ambient, electroacoustic searching and some of the highest peaks of electronic contemporary music (Scanner, Alva Noto and so on). Besides comparisons and similarities, the best way to get an idea of Angelina’s sound is to listen to it. In the meantime, let’s get to know her better. All pictures are courtesy of  Ilya Shamuratov.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Angelina, how are you?

Angelina Yershova: Very well, thank you!


Chain D.L.K.: Could you introduce yourself to our readers in your own words?

Angelina Yershova: Hi to all readers! I am very happy to be here with you all! I am a pianist and composer from Kazakhstan, and I currently reside in Italy.


Chain D.L.K.: I read you graduated with the maximum score and honor at the Kazakh National Conservatory of Music Kurmangazy in Almaty, an academy I’ve never heard of, to be honest. You’ve also attended other academic environments. What are the main differences in the ways/manners of speaking about harmony, melody, rhythm and so on in all the academic places you’ve been?

Angelina Yershova: I formed myself as a musician and composer in a classical music environment. I then got my degree at the National Conservatory of Kazakhstan, but later I also obtained a degree in electronic music at the Rome Conservatory “Santa Cecilia”, and I must say that there are indeed differences in how harmony, melody, and rhythm are approached dialectically, but we are talking more about differences in the language which is used within a given environment, and not about actual conceptual differences in those subjects.


interview picture 1Chain D.L.K.: Getting deeper into music makes people perceive it in a different way. It’s a sort of process that (I say luckily) makes people more particular… did you experience such a process? Would you refuse a ticket for a concert or a gig of some commercial band?

Angelina Yershova: I have always been very particular, but as time went by I have gotten even worse!! I love quality music, and especially when behind a project or a track there is a concept, there is a true artist, and when he/she wants to share his art. I am also choosy in regards to sound and the context I hear it in.


Chain D.L.K.: Improvisation and composition… are they opposite poles or meeting intersections in your way of making and perceiving music?

Angelina Yershova: In my case, I often unite these two opposite poles: I could write a score before playing, without even touching the instrument’s keys, imagining the notes, the structure of the track, its evolution, its idea, everything, just in my thoughts. But I can also put my hands on the keyboard and let free thoughts fly elsewhere, or play a graphical score, leaving a lot of space to improvisation. Improvising stimulates me the most; it makes me feel more ecstatic, and I love that feeling.


Chain D.L.K.: In your remarkable release “Piano’s Abyss,” piano is considered as a sort of spiritual medium for listeners. Would you say other composers or artists made a similar connection? If so, which ones are the closest to your way of exploring the possibilities of a piano?

Angelina Yershova: I have never followed anyone, in particular, save for my passion for classical music giants Johann Sebastian Bach and Sergey Rachmaninoff. I like the enigmatic and mysterious charm in the music of Gyorgy Ligeti, Arvo Pärt, Olivier Messiaen and Klaus Schulze. There are several artists that, in my opinion, have contributed to enlarging the vision of the piano sound, from John Cage’s prepared piano till today: Experimental Bowed Piano Ensemble, Hauschka, Mario Bertoncini, Simone Pappalardo and others. Ultimately I think every artist is always in search of new possibilities to increase their freedom of expression.


Chain D.L.K.: Do you remember the exact moment when you started listening to piano in a different way?

Angelina Yershova: Yes, I remember that particular moment: it was a long time ago, I was in my home in Kazakhstan, and I was living a very peculiar moment. During a cold winter night, all of a sudden the lights went out in the whole city. It was a total blackout that lasted around 90 minutes. In the total darkness, it seemed to me that something was taking me elsewhere from my thoughts. I approached the window. Darkness was burning my eyes, and everything seemed surreal. Watching up towards the sky, I was amazed by the spectacular view that appeared in front of me…. a giant score made of stars! Riding the wave of this emotion, I started improvising in the dark and it was beautiful; I was playing the stellar score, and I remember this indescribable sensation, but in my imagination, at that moment, something was lacking in the sounds and the piano keys and the chords… I was feeling an intense desire to expand the sound, to go “beyond the real sound of the instrument”… so I wrote a track called “Stellar Sky” that maybe one day I will publish…


interview picture 2Chain D.L.K.: Do you think that the current academic teaching of piano acts as a sort of mask of the power of this instrument?

Angelina Yershova: I believe that academic education helps in acquiring a basic knowledge of the instrument, but after having done that, in my opinion, to do a serious research one must forget everything that one has studied and must try to imagine oneself as if one is “an alien on an unknown planet in search of the monolith hidden somewhere.”


Chain D.L.K.: Let’s examine “Piano’s Abyss” extensively… how many years did you work on it?

Angelina Yershova: “Zooming” the sound of the piano has always been my obsession. Jumping into the sound of the instrument and enlarging the timbric perception of the single note. I am honestly not able to exactly quantify it in terms of time, but I did go through a long period of maturation and growth of the idea, of the research of the synthesis of the sound of the instrument. Then all the improvised piano parts were played impromptu in one evening. So it took a very long and a very short time!


Chain D.L.K.: Is it a metronome providing that ticking element that could be heard in the opening, Immersion?

Angelina Yershova: In the track “Immersion,” the intention was to create a constant and hypnotic rhythmic flow, and that metronome effect is actually the superposition of two sounds of slightly different frequencies, perceived as a periodic variation in volume whose rate is the difference between the two frequencies. In acoustics, it’s called the “beat phenomenon,” and I’ve also worked a lot with the creation of binaural beats that increase the feeling of immersion even more.

Chain D.L.K.: The following track “Suspense” reminded to me of some releases in the collaborative album by Fennesz and Sakamoto, but it seems to be a connection to your experience as a soundtrack composer… related to this last aspect, what’s your approach to score? Do you analyze plots and characters before composing?

Angelina Yershova: The collaboration between Fennesz and Sakamoto is wonderful, very cinematic!! Usually when I compose music I “visualize the sound” and “I live it” through the sensation of the color, the form and the emotion of the moment, so the sound for me is alive and real, just as if it was a true character. I could say that my approach is in some way similar to the “Live the character” of Stanislavkij’s Method Acting: “Live the sound.”


Chain D.L.K.: A short parenthesis… I read your compositions are often used by RAI and Mediaset, the main ItalianTV broadcasting networks… I haven’t watched TV in ages, as I am easily bored, but can you tell us how your music became embedded in their programming?

Angelina Yershova: I like to create different pieces of music exploring different styles and genres, without fear of stepping away from known territories, and above all, I like to surprise myself, and sometimes to push myself to the limit, changing the sound radically but always working with quality in mind. I don’t turn the TV on often myself, but for me, it is always a great challenge to create music for visuals.


Chain D.L.K.: Are there any tracks in “Piano’s Abyss” inspired by Italian or Kazakh places?

Angelina Yershova: They are unknown spaces, with immense and imaginary places. They are “inner” areas, somewhat connected with my passion for the cosmos and astrophysics.
Surely in Kazakhstan’s open nature, it is a lot easier to experiment and experience solitude in the midst of the shamanic steppe.


Chain D.L.K.: The central piece, “Icy Breath,” actually renders what the title says…how did you extract those sonorities using a piano?

Angelina Yershova: They are two sonic levels: the first one is a “frozen” prepared piano. They are pizzicato strings in the high register with reverb and a very specific equalization. The second level is “spatial and atmospheric,” made through synthesis and the elaboration of some partials of the piano sound spectrum. There are also other technical details that regard the spectrum analysis of the frequencies chosen as the main ones.


Chain D.L.K.: There’s a recurrent breath-like sound in your tracks… how did you make it? Is there a reason why you often include it in your compositions?

Angelina Yershova: That breath-like sound is a key element, since it was created specifically to “humanize” the piano sound. I wanted to give breath to the instrument, creating a sort of alter ego to the real character (the natural piano sound). In the album, there are two levels of piano sound: the real one and the processed one. The breath of the piano is obtained through a specific electronic synthesis and extreme sound stretching.

Chain D.L.K.: Have you performed “Piano’s Abyss” on live stage yet? If so, any interesting feedback or reactions?

Angelina Yershova: I would very much love to perform this project live, but it would require more than two hands! 2 for the real-time elaborations and another 2 to play the keys and the strings – but I believe nothing is impossible! Pragmatically, I think that I would simply need to create controllable automation for some of the elaborations. I am currently experimenting with all the relevant possibilities.

Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to explore the abyss of other instruments sooner or later?

Angelina Yershova: Absolutely YES! I would be very enthusiastic to discover other “sonic abysses” too.

Chain D.L.K.: Just after “Piano’s Abyss,” you released “Resonance Night” on Twin Paradox, whose availability has been scheduled for next February… any word about this forthcoming album?

Angelina Yershova: “Resonance Night” can be seen as a second chapter of the artistic adventure that began with the critically acclaimed previous album, “Piano’s Abyss,” and it is a journey on the “resonant train” riding in the mystifying darkness of the night.


interview picture 3Chain D.L.K.: I obviously pre-listened to “Resonance Night”… and I can recommend it to our readers! Superb work! What’s the main difference between it and the album we’ve extensively talked about, in your words?

Angelina Yershova: It is an album with a totally different concept. If in the previous album, the central idea is the sense of suspense, the endless “falling into the abyss” and the final total disorientation, in this album the central idea is the rhythmic pulsation. Even on a sonic level this album, compared to the previous one, offers more contrasts and features different techniques.


Chain D.L.K.: “Resonance Night” has been described as a journey from darkness to light…was this the intent from the beginning, or did it come while working on it?

Angelina Yershova: This intent was not planned or specifically pre-conceived, since it is more of an evolution process and an exploration of the experience. “Resonance Night” is another part of the journey that began with “Piano’s Abyss”; it is a development of the story.


Chain D.L.K.: Why did you decide to title the final track “Start of the Journey”?

Angelina Yershova: When one listens to an album from beginning till end, one is somewhat guided by the music, but when it ends one remains in the silence of one’s emotions and sensations. In other words, what remains is the person that has lived that unique experience. So it is an actual journey that one takes when the sound is no longer there. One is not guided anymore, but goes into the elsewhere that was composed by the artist. It is also a metaphorical/symbolic way of saying that every end is only a good beginning!


visit Angelina Yershova on the web at: www.angelinayershova.com


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