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Erik Sikora: Music repository for feelings; popeine and other addictions

Published March, 2015
by Jakub Juhás

Erik Sikora lives and works in the Mecca of eastern Slovakia, Košice. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and in Slovakia is known as the one who can naturally, without artificial means, drugs or any other devices cause unbounded joy, delight, and release of endorphins, simply a process he calls “Tešba” (Joy). In addition to this occult ability, he was nominated for the Oskar Čepan Award in 2013, which in Slovakia is considered the most important prize for visual artists under 35 years. Audio bricolage is also of great importance in his work, open to various forms from alternative rock and improvisation, intuitive songblogs through noise, conceptual declamation of texts to site-specific projects and current intimate songwriting. This conversation is trying charter Síkora’s activities to help the listener navigate in his extensive work.

I would like to know about the history of your sonic work, since aside from your artistic activities in various media, music is the least known, at least it seems to me.

If I may, I’d like to mention this in a chronological way:

1. Ručne hlučne

Ručne hlučne for me is an initiation and thus a legendary band, which has existed mostly though talking (since 2009). We were able to discuss it during high school and sometimes play, which provided us with decent fullfilment. The keywords were: underground, Slovak bands Bez ladu a skladu and Chiki liki tu-a, punk improvisation, shyness, I don’t have drums. We would play in the basement, where you couldn’t jump up because of the low ceiling. We managed one gig in total – in the garage.

The bandmembers changed, but the core remained with Jakub Lorenz, who now produces guitars, Ľubo Štec a visual artist and teacher. I’m very proud of one text, which we managed to virally spread among our friends, even though it was impossible to understand the recording.

Jedno ráno ako druhé, mama kričí dopi čaj [One morning, like any other, mother shouts drink up the tea].
Pohár dobre poumývaj, do kredenca daj. [Wash the glass well, put it in the cupboard]
Buď ticho a nepapuľuj, už sa viac neozývaj. [Be quiet and don’t talk back, don’t speak anymore]
Osem hodín škola volá, dopi čaj a utekaj. [It’s eight o’clock, the school beckons, finish up the tea and run].

2. At home with dad

When it comes to experimental thinking about music, I’m no trailblaizer, because I was on the receiving end of it ever since I was a child. My dad is a skilled locksmith, but he’s successfully made a living as a hippie jeweler for thirty years now. I don’t know why it was so self-evident, but when dad’s friends came to visit, they brought music instruments and started to improvise. I secretly watched and tapped along, and this has been carved into my personality, whether I want it or not, I love improvisation and I’d love to elevate it to a lifestyle, or something like the most beautiful form of human dialogue.

3. NE-I

Afterwards, I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, where everyone does visual arts, but upon closer inspection, lot of students have an affinity for music in some way or another. Together with Jan 2046, we put together a project called NE-I there. Since I was so satiated with art education, but a newcomer in music, I had this liberating feeling that I can do whatever I want in this field and because of this, I often ran away from visual arts to music. And this is the exploratory crux of NE-I: the escape from everything known and the child-like enthusiasm. In practice, it meant that we had a lot of concerts in Prague and its surrounding at specific places, where we soaked up the atmosphere and in return, created sonic hubub. We improvised on: computers, samplers, theremin, hoses, hairbands, pianos, cupboards, etc. Everytime we realised something worked out, or even with audience approval, we forbade ourselves to do it and put together a completely new setup. We released an album from each gig.

Some tricks, which were part of NE-I, that I liked were inventing instruments, such as:

I put my headphones into my nose and used them as a mike. I was thus able to play my smell. I amplified a tent and connected to an abandoned church. Afterwards I played on this tent, banged it and creaked it, as if it was a voodoo doll of this church.

4. Songblogs and soundtracks

In realms, where visual work connected with music, such things came out of it like video soundtracks, where I tried to sing conceptual texts in an effort to justify those videos.

When I found out, that blogs are slowly getting out of fashion, replaced by vlogs, I wanted to have mine too, a unique Songblog. The idea was to make up a song in the moment when I press record.

5. Džumelec

I returned to Košice from Prague, in effect more or less putting an end to NE-I. Isolated songwriting seemed like an unchartered, exciting thing to do. I wanted to write lyrics. I wanted to add emotions through music.

At the moment, my time for music is limited. I only create in the evenings, after the children go to sleep, or when I run away to the forest. The music is deep what pertains the lyrics, because they can also be thought up during the day, but a bit instant when it comes to the music itself. In the sense that I’m not able to bang the drums or scream, but rather do it locked away in the bathroom hoping that it will come to life in the heads of listeners.I recorded two albums so far, the first, Odkalisko staré psisko I did a little like the songblogs. I pressed record and at that moment, tried to save every minute of the recording. I listen to it afterwards, and accelerated it a little, in order to hide dead parts.The second album, Brutovce, is a result of this exactly defined desire to capture my landscape trips into a song-landscape type of work. At your recent gig in Brno, you were part of an all star bill that was focused on outsider poetics. Do you see any parallels between this type of poetics and your work? What does this labelling mean to you?

“The music that does not expect to be heard” from all the musics has probably the least reasons to exist. I would like to hope that the creator gave it life out of pure love. And the listener, since he tried to fall in love with it, can have this heroic feeling that he or she saved it from its non-existence.

All of those recordings ooze a big chunk of wit, playfulness, love and naturalness. It seems to me, as if there are hidden stories inside, images from your visual works, videos, site-specific projects or performances. It is like a sonic diary created alongside other works. How do you perceive this relationship between music and your visual works?

My main job is to think about the world, and when something catches my attention, I try to fall in love with it and take it further, play with it and as naturally as possible, admit my inability to do anything with it and translate this to other people. In the end, either something comes out of it that needs to be talkative and needs visual proofs, a video for instance, or if it’s more about undefinable feelings, it could also take on a musical form. There is a connection, with every idea, but it might just coalesce into one at some point.

What are your experience from live gigs so far. I’m asking because I’ve always been fascinated by how could “landscape rap” sound like in a small local club. How do the intimate experiences from Brutovce sound like?

Playing live is a challenge. I never know if I’ll be able to get away with it and give it some shape. In the beginning I thought that in order to preserve the fullness of sounds, I have to use effects on my voice, and I should play everything at the same time, the bass, computer, looper. While I was staring into the computer screen, I realised that I’m not focusing on Brutovce, but on the fact whether I have enough time to click. So now I started to use acoustic guitar, which I kind of loathe, because the sound of the guitar seems like the most traditional and folksy, but it’s the only instrument which I can play in a way that I don’t have to think about and can keep my eyes shut.

In Košice, I once did an experimental performance in such way, that I combined a lecture – something like my chatty videos live – with Džumelec tracks, and was very happy about it.

I had some songs thought out ahead, which were very poppy. I’m fascinated by pop being a repository for feelings. When you hear a summer hit and experience some profound emotions during it, it can be saved into your brain and since that moment, the song becomes a repository for that concrete feeling. I try to prove that it is caused by a substance that I named POPEINE. The higher the dose of popeine, the bigger the hit and the better the repository for feelings. I’m trying to dig out and insert the most natural popeine into my new songs. You could have seen something similar in Brno, a didactic explanation coupled with songs and a mental landscape trip.