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Emptiness as potential: An interview with Artyom Astrov

Published February, 2017
by Easterndaze

Artyom Astrov is a multifaceted artist whose area of interest transgresses music, visual arts and poetry. He currently lives and works in the Estonian capital Tallinn. Among his solo projects is, for instance, the hip-hop-influenced moniker Benzokai. His latest work is a conceptual album called Background Music (Vol 1), an almost scenic conception of music, accompanied by a video which depicts various still life situations. The release was published on his own label Serious Serious. 

Can you talk about your latest release – the concept behind it, if any?

Background Music is all about happiness and love. My original intention was to explore a few musical ideas. Actually, not only musical. Ideas that have something to do with stillness, space, repetition, chance, randomness. But also, maybe even more importantly, I had an idea to find an antidote to various anxieties and restlessness, which somehow became the norm for both everything outside and my music-making. Speaking of the release, there’s a certain sonic code, certain logic to it, but also a lot of emotion. Actually, I think it’s really charged with good feelings. Maybe that’s even more important to me than some sharp concepts.

How does this differ from your previous Benzokai work? In terms of the music-making process, concept, vibe? 

I was studying jazz and became fascinated by academic music, then came Benzokai with a totally different “boom boom” attitude, abstract poetry, and an electronic music rollercoaster. But at some point I felt like taking time and returning to where I came from. When I work with acoustic music, I work without a real reference. The process in Background Music was fun. I played around with notation and chance techniques, and had a nice time recording a real-pipe organ and shooting videos in a very charming place in south Estonia.

Your work deals with emptiness, void, is it something conscious and personal, or more general / global?

The idea of emptiness that I refer to has little to do with void or depression or lack of something.
Actually it’s a source of inspiration to me. Actually I think of emptiness as potential. It’s this pregnant moment before stuff really happens. If you keep your mind still – even for a moment, things start happening.

Can you tell us something about yourself, your background, interests, work?

Currently I’m busy writing music for a couple of theatre productions, recording and performing as Benzokai, and as of recent, running a record label called Serious Serious. We’re interested in ambient and conceptual music, but also in creating social situations with a participatory character. So it’s not so much about selling and buying things, but it’s about finding ways of bringing people together under the banner of idealism, generosity, care, creativity – creativity not in the sense of creating new objects, but in the sense of finding new ways and attitudes to do things in this crazy, cold world.