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Primitive. Messy. Low Quality: An Interview with Latvian Artist Figūras

Published February, 2017
by Easterndaze

I read somewhere a little while ago about the link between electronic music and the historical and artistic movement of post-modernism; that some of the greatest and most interesting electronic music has deeply rooted influence and perhaps elements of post-modernism within it. Said elements were defined as heightened forms of musical abstraction, minimalism, avant-garde and experimental to counteract the ‘blandness’ of the previous period (Modernism), and many more. It was an interesting read that concluded with the claim that those aforementioned segments were still very ripe in the modern music industry.  And although these characteristics seem lengths away from the special facilities of mainstream music and culture, their echo can still be heard in the back corners of the Internet and the musical underground of alternative music. With this in mind, you can imagine my interest when I listened to the sounds and music of Latvian based musician and artist Figūras.

Figūras is an electronic artist whose practice encapsulates several elements of post-modernist music. Over the course of seven experimental mixtapes/EP’s and albums the Latvian artist has explored the realms of outsider electronic music and avant-garde soundscapes. Among his many releases, Figūras exhibits elements of minimalism, the more alternative and underground genre of lowercase music; which was invented by experimental composer Steve Roden on the infamous Forms of Paper album, and even flourishes of noise and power electronics music. These sub-genres, combined with the industrial and minimalist art featured on the cover of subsequent releases, make Figūras’s music an experience to listen to.

For example; a mini-album length release simply entitled Laptop showers the listener with engaging abstracted sounds and the crunch and churn of electronic noises in a collage like appearance. Another
release, entitled Mixtape I: Reminiscence of a Past Void, compacts an outsider, electronic form of free jazz music and several slow passages of droning ambient music into two lengthy tracks. And just like the philosophical, musical, artistic and architectural response to ‘blandness’ and former linear constructs of Modernism, Figūras’s music is never a linear genre or musical format. In fact, over the length of a track, a Figūras song can morph into several different genres; at times sounding quiet and meditative before filling your ears with industrial noise and warped samples.

The artist himself claims a kind of retrospective distaste for the concept and namesake of post-modernism, but maintains his practice contains portions of the movement thoroughly. His love and interest of lengthy, improvisational pieces has also lead the way for a kind of live performance art, and his love for jazz has inspired an undercurrent of the genre throughout his music; while maintaining a prevalent factor in his music is art as a visual medium.

How would you describe your music?

Primitive. Messy. Low quality. Long. My hope would be for it to never start and never stop.

Who are your main musical influences?

As a kid I was probably most influenced by Jean-Michel Jarre that my father listened to while driving. Later on, I got into everything I could get my hands on – Iron Maiden, drum’n’bass, noise, hardcore, Aphex Twin, jazz and even Phil Collins. I lived in a very isolated world in a way – pirated CDs and BBC1 broadcasts were my windows to the outside world in 90’s. Later on, after getting tired of sequenced music I started to get into improvisation – we did 30 hours or so of improvised noise with Mārtiņš Roķis (known also as N1L) about 10 years ago and I gradually got into improvisation. Figūras started with extensive use of delay only recording live improvisations. Terry Riley was a huge influence in doing that, also new age music, stuff that Sound Forest festival brought to Riga over the time.

Mixtape I: Reminiscence of Past Void by Figūras

What instruments/electronics do you use to create sounds and music?

I’ve used different things over the time – laptop, reel-to-reel, cassette players, old Soviet guitar, vintage church organs (that I actually tried to carry to gigs which now seems incredibly stupid). Now I’ve settled with couple of synths – Soviet Kvintet with dis-functional A key, archaic RMIF TI-5 synth (early 90’s Latvian made analog synth that sometimes goes out of control), Electribe for sampling and a looper/delay pedal. I still use the laptop every now and then but I prefer actual knobs and keys as it becomes more mystical in a way. I used a PC for many years and just got tired of gluing patterns together without any live action. The process is what makes Figūras function.  

Are you inspired by visual art or sound art at all?

During the daylight, I’m actually an artist and curator. I also co-run a gallery 427 in Riga. So, in a way Figūras was a way to blend my visual practice with sound, I do a lot of endless drawings and so sound was in a way continuing that. I actually see Figūras as extension of my artistic practice.

Your music features elements of post-modernism (musical abstraction, minimalist compositions, an evolving and experimental sound) would you consider your music post-modernist?

I actually dislike the word “post-modernism” – I guess it’s some kind of high school trauma of being obsessed with post-modernism as I was discovering the whole wide world. But on the other hand, yeah, why not. I don’t like labelling, so in a way I don’t really care what you call it. But of course, it’s more influenced by stuff that happened after WW2 rather than modernist music, though I still like Erik Satie and Dadaists and stuff like that. If you want to categorize it I guess there’s more connection with minimalism, conceptualism and even partly Fluxus.

I hear some characteristics of jazz in your music. Are you at all influenced by jazz?

Oh, that’s interesting, I don’t see that, but could be so because I used to listen to jazz a lot. My favourite LP of all time is Raubiško’s Jazz Trio’s “Images of Ancient Egypt”. I like the repetitive elements in jazz, gradually changing over the time, the improvisation.

Who are some of your collaborators?

I’m collaborating with Vivienne Griffin every now and then. I have recorded some music with Viktor Timofeev and Quantum Natives; we just released our first album under the name Zolitūde ( I think in a way we share the same interests in sound. In both cases we also share interest in contemporary art. And also in both cases it’s very tricky since they both live somewhere else.

I used to do stuff with Mārtiņš Roķis as we were discovering our interest in improvisation, we also did a radio show together about 15 years ago. I’ve also played with Mona De Bo, amazing Latvian band and some other Latvian artists.

What does a Figuras live show look and sound like?

Sometimes I have some cut-up videos of Police Academy in the background, often times there’s not much else. I’ve done two concerts that I called Never Ending – the idea was to start with the opening of a bar and end with closing, both times it lasted about 10 hours and no one, not even bar tenders, saw the whole thing.

I like the idea of not fully grasping the whole piece, for each listener to have a different perspective. It also helps me to go into a sort of routine/trance where little things matter less and less, notes blend into each other, the structure morphs and everything can go alter the sound. I like mistakes and errors (not technical though).

What’s next for Figuras?

I was just in Bucharest, doing a performance with Vivienne Griffin, Cian McConn, Katrina Damigos and Paul Dunca. It took place in National Museum of Contemporary Art that’s located in People’s Palace, 4th biggest building in the world. It was built by Communist leader Ceaușescu in 80’s and is a massive monument. While rehearsing I did a lot of recording of my own stuff with Vivienne Griffin tuning in every now and then and I’m planning on releasing four or five releases with music recorded in People’s Palace. I also have some other material lying around. Maybe another never ending concert is on its way. We’ll see – I do music when I have time, so the what’s next is very vague. But I definitely want to overflood the internet with Figūras music – as I said it’s never ending.

Many Figūras releases may be heard here, via the projects Bandcamp page as well as live performances which can be viewed and listened to here.

By Cam Phillips