mmpsuf: expeditors of undiscovered sound worlds

  • May 6, 2015

Perhaps many of us have childhood memories associated with a musical box. Whenever it was opened, everyone around went quiet, observing the beautiful dancer spin, while the music would play over and over again. Something similar happens when one listens to the electroacoustic duo mmpsuf: the first sounds immediately arrest the attention through hypnotically meandering vocal and electronic lines. Formed in 2010 by two well-known figures of the Vilnius underground scene – Eglė Sirvydytė (vocals, guitar, keyboards, texts) and Aivaras Ruzgas (electronics, backing vocals, texts), the duo has already two CD releases Expeditors (2011) and Retina (2012) to their credit, which attracted significant attention among the enthusiastic fans in Lithuania and the increasing crowd of bloggers from Greenland to Australia. 

Their songs are distinguished for their firm rhythms, the sound of acoustic instruments interwoven with intricate electronics and vocal subtleties. The lyrics unfold with coloured dream fragments and fantastic experiences, featuring talking animals, dazzling ‘bullets’ of light, mountains and oceans. Deeply melancholic (“For beauty, no matter how sad” is a motto of their second album), tranquil, pure and ethereal; sometimes alluding to the pagan past and the divine nature; oftentimes reflecting the transformations of known reality in a ceaseless stream of fantasy. These are but a few words that might describe the duo’s music. While listening to mmpsuf, imagination soars, producing vivid images or even full-motion imaginary films, whereas diverse sound effects help visualise the tiniest subtleties, colouring, or interferences of such imagery.

I met Eglė and Aivaras to talk about the ever changing environment, transformations of sound, their personal approaches to nature and God, as well as responses to their music coming from different countries. 

As a duo you have already released two albums, which captured the attention of listeners from all over the world. Nowadays music travels fast and far via the Internet, which also allows tracking down each individual member of your growing audience. Would you be able to name the countries where your music was heard and appreciated? 

The time when Retina was released, on the 1st of February, 2012, makes us smile and wonder. Star charts showed that a child born on that day will travel all around the world. Sounds quite poetic, isn’t it? But eventually this is exactly what happened. Retina, our most recent album, has indeed ‘travelled’ around all continents. Nearly every day we receive emails, reviews and free will donation (the album is distributed online free of charge) from all around the world. Germany, Czech Republic, England, Australia, Greenland, Brasil, Canada, South Korea, Arabia, South Africa, Egypt, India, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Japan, Thailand… it is really difficult (and, probably, also boastful) to name them all. On the one hand, this makes us walk on air, because it seems that we are also travelling together with our music. It would be so interesting to see all those houses, apartments, basements and other spaces where mmpsuf is played – what people live there, what they do – and to make a documentary. On the other hand, let us not give too much prominence to that and, especially, let us not think too high of ourselves. We enjoy this sharing with others and we are glad that others share their music with us too. There is so much beautiful music already written in this world!

The making of music, just like any other occupation, requires the command of craft and its continuous perfection. In the rapidly changing environment where new technological possibilities emerge every day, the very nature of sound is changing too. What transformations, mutations and changes of the sonic matter do you notice in your work?

A. R.:  Indeed, with an aid of modern technologies everyone can write symphonies without leaving home (and they can be played equally easy, using but a single computer). One can easily synthesise the most unusual sounds and effects; in fact, technical possibilities are expanding faster that it is possible to make use of them. Still, I would second the idea expressed by one colleague of mine: not only the sounds are changing, but our hearing apparatus is evolving as well. Such an idea explains quite a lot: we live in a different sonic environment than, say, people in the sixteenth century; we are continually exposed to new sounds and their transmissions. Thus, reverting back to the creativity, I often ask myself – who, if not the creators of music, are responsible for this process of evolution? Are the sonic solutions that I choose ambitious enough? Do they correspond to my ‘aural intellect’?

E. S.: I’d agree with Aivaras. I recall one electronic music festival in Riga. Four o’clock in the morning, full house of people, and the sound is so powerful that the metal constructions of an old factory are shaking all over. It seemed that all my organs will soon start bleeding as the volume and sheer attack of sound was bashing all the cells in my body. I don’t think we could imagine anything similar some three hundred years ago. Even when I’m talking to my grandmother about music, I feel that we are speaking different languages. And what is music? What is aesthetics, beauty? Although many of us might agree about some general principles of beauty, aesthetics and musicality, there still exists some objective universal process of change, transformation or transition (which we might regard as the reason behind the evolution of the hearing apparatus/perception); and only being part of this process determines the expanding limits of perception of beauty/aesthetics/music. I think that the variations of sound textures, structures and compositions are truly endless. Endless to the extent that we are able to perceive, capture and immerse in this infinity. 

The function of the mind responsible for human curiosity also appears to be insatiable. Judging from my personal experience I can tell that my perception is changing in huge leaps. I am undergoing a transformation; I am being heavily transformed by the sonic environment and all that interaction of physics, ideas, feelings and aesthetics that we call music. I do not personalise music and I do not claim its authorship. Because sometimes this transmission going on through me is so evident – even more evident than the chair I am sitting on now. Nevertheless, I believe in the existence of those channels of light and ideas that our consciousness connects to and receives a message, transmission or idea. But in order to hear that message, you have to be prepared – your consciousness has to be prepared. And that is why all this transformation is taking place. All this change is directly related to the limits of beauty perception, which are obviously undergoing an expansion.

There is an increasingly prevalent tendency that one must be able to present and sell the intellectual product s/he creates, to find and please the customer. While working on your music do you think about its listeners and the impression you make on them? Or do you regard the entire creative process as a source of pleasure and leave everything to drift on its own? 
Let’s admit, all these new ‘tendencies’ have governed the entertainment industry since the times of panem et circenes without much change. No matter if you are a madonna or a kirkorov, or any other entertainer who seeks the attention and appreciation of a mass audience – all are equal in the face of public’s demand for “bread and circuses.” Long time ago, panem and circenes were supplied on rare occasions, like a generous gesture ‘from above.’ Nowadays it has become an indisputable privilege of the public, its square one. So yes, if you seek recognition you have to serve the customer: to present yourself properly in a form that is customer-friendly and, preferably, stimulating as well. In the entertainment industry, the music has come pretty close to the service sector; it operates in accordance with the service schemes.

But mmpsuf does not belong to that world. We don’t pursue some identified target customer thirsty for ‘circuses.’ So the abovementioned tendencies are of no significance to us. Speaking of ‘bread and circuses,’ we primarily focus on bread, which we bake for ourselves and share it with others if we think it is good enough. Besides, I wouldn’t say that it is about pleasure. Of course, the creative process is pleasurable, but you don’t do it just for fun. Most often it becomes a necessity: time ripens the idea that begs to be put in the baking oven, or the dough will collapse. So we bake this bread, enjoy it among ourselves and, if something remains we humbly offer it on the huge internet guest table, abundant with all kinds of masterpieces, for someone to partake. 

Do you imagine that enormous internet table in the great feast of the hungry? There are all kinds of goodies on it, starting with refreshments and sweets and ending with huge pig roasts. Do you see that small bowl with bread on the side, close to the vase with some fruit? Yes, we are there. We place one bowl on the side, another one in the middle; so sometimes there are more and sometimes less hands that can reach us.
The sound of mmpsuf provokes an entire range of emotions: this music brings delight, puzzles, fascinates and makes us tremble. In a similar way we react to the diverse natural phenomena, the change of the seasons, etc. What is your relationship with nature, from both personal and creative perspective? Or, should I ask – are you of a city-born and city-bred kind?
A. R.: mmpsuf was born in nature: in Stagalėnai, near the fireplace under a large tree, surrounded by fields – that is how I recall it. So, I’d say that for me and mmpsuf nature is like a cradle. On the other hand, I do not tend to romanticise nature. I am neither urban, nor natural man – space is of utmost importance to me. It does not matter where this space is, as long as I can find some spacious pastures for my thoughts.

E. S.: I tend to think that nature is within us and we are nature. No more and no less than a tsunami, a tree or a mosquito. Our thinking makes us closer or more distant, but it does not change the very essence. It’s just that in the company of a tsunami, a mosquito or a tree it is easier to feel the integrity and unity of all things. In those thick mixtures of people called metropolises – it is easy to become disoriented, distracted and focused on things that actually deserve no attention. There are people who know how to speak to trees or a tsunami. Its not that the urban people cannot do that, but when you’re in the city you’re too busy involved with other people, stuck with observing them and their interrelationships. And after you spend some time in the forest, with the elements, or elsewhere that we call nature, you start seeing yourself as part of a much greater context. This understanding might bring joy, confusion, fear or liberation. 

The album Retina seems to be concerned with the question of God. What does God mean for a modern man and you?
A R.: In Retina God is presented as a network permeated with beauty. But its concept is understood in a much wider sense: it is an infinite, living and virtual network, consisting of a network of people (alive and dead), their values and rules, which in turn relies on even greater diversity of sequences and connections all associated through the fundamental values of a good and beautiful life. Despite the simplicity of these supporting points, the network is large, flexible and not easily broken, hence – it is invincible. You either choose to become part of it, or attempt to dissociate from it. And here I am mostly concerned with the element of human will and choice.

E. S.: I am still looking for an answer. I am fascinated by people who speak from experience, rather than quoting books. I meet many people witnessing God. I realise that at the same time I also witness and negate God’s existence. But all those thoughts that my mind is preoccupied with are but a faint attempt to understand this undeniably existing network that Aivaras is talking about. One soul mate of mine once said that our mind is imprisoned by itself, while the experience of God is only possible outside the boundaries of the mind. It is hard to describe this in words; it is much easier to express all this through music. 

Radvilė Nakaitė

Radvilė Nakaitė interviewed mmpsuf on January 2013, but it is the first publication of this interview, after a hiatus of more than two years.