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Video Premiere: Ybalferran – Karadi, unsettling scenes of digital sublime

Text by CLOT Magazine

Video still from Karadi, Ybalferran (2023)

We are premiering a new video from Ybalferran, a project of Linz-based researcher and sound artist Błażej Kotowski, who released his fourth studio album, Karadi (Hurt By The Sun, 2023), earlier in February. The audiovisual work we present today is for the track with the same title as the album, Karadi. 

The Ybalferran project allows the artist – who also produces media art installations, writes on the intersection of art and technology and forms a part of several collectives focused on publishing music and organising cultural activities across borders- to focus on the exploration of interdisciplinary sound phenomena with aesthetics that ebb and flow between the territories of drone, neoclassical and noise.

Blending a texturally rich collection of droning synths with the delicate subtlety of field recordings, Ybalferran delivers experimental soundscapes that span from the comfort of caressing intimacy to the brutal intensity of unhinged noise.

The artist tells us that for this release, he had the idea to take whatever he found most characteristic of his music and push it to the extreme. He wanted to experiment with a more erratic organisation. The field recordings are still there, but they’ve been digitally processed to their core. The continuous flow of droning structures is now interrupted by pivotal events that mark the transformation I have already described.

The video track Karadi takes us into unsettlingly eerie industrial digital latitudes suiting the melancholic droney sounds. As if we were immersed in a post-post-modern episode of Kieslowski’s Decalogue, the communist-style buildings are opposed to a soft purple sky that contrasts against the grey harshness of the constructions’ material. 

When asked about the intellectual process behind the conception of the video, Kotowski says that one of the themes that guide both his artistic practice and research is the emancipatory quality of the speculative process.

Speculation is a powerful tool of our imagination that lets us weave narrations that break free from the constraints of the status quo or what is given to us as fixed/determined. By imagining possibilities beyond the current social, political, and economic structures, speculative art can inspire people to envision the past, the present and the future, challenging the dominant narratives that limit our understanding of what is possible.

In my practice, I enjoy creating alternative environments where reality can be anything you want. I like to approach it from a poetic perspective, where the objectives of imagination don’t have to be specified. I suppose there is a bit of a Deleuze in it, or at least I wish there was. Weaving eccentric visions as a weapon against the normalisation of reality. Sci-fi is good at it, immersing us in more unhinged imaginaries

Same thing with fantasy; although while sci-fi is most often associated with the scenarios of the future, the gaze of fantasy is directed more towards the fantastic, magical, pre-technological and indigenous world; more specifically, Karadi was a narrative vehicle for the artist: A way to engage with an alien world, not solely in the narrative sense, but also the technical one, since the work was primarily conceived with the use of the computer, as opposed to nearly all my previous works. I wanted the visual realm to reinforce the impression. I wanted it to be extraterrestrial, although maybe not in the most obvious sense. Aerial perspective is already pretty good at conveying the notion of disconnectedness and uncanniness, but I also like the bare fact of shooting it with a drone. Drones might be one of the few elements of our contemporary reality that we have initially imagined in the past visions of the future

Although mainly used as a weapon of modern warfare and invigilation, drones also offer this unique alternative perspective on our quotidian landscape that we could not easily access without their help, he also says. I was first really drawn to them after watching “Jessica Forever” by Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel, that does, by the way, serve as an inspiration on many other levels to me, and I can sense it on the album. One is the question of melancholy and vulnerability in these calculated times, continuously simulated, predicted, and evaluated by the machines.

Going back to the subtly woven narrative and interplay between image and sound, Ybalferran says tha for him, it is related to the act of memory. Remembering is a mixture of reconstructing and reimagining. Our memories are never complete, and since we always have to fill up the missing parts, why not do it playfully? The images on the video are filmed in the places where I have spent my adolescence. These places are among the first ones I remember when remembering my hometown. Not only the literal locations but the general characteristics of them. The plattenbau apartment buildings, uniform grey sky and a steaming industry. Some sort of melancholia of an Eastern European of my age. The track was very cinematic, and I wanted the video to reinforce this quality.  

Also, transformation is something the artist is talking about all the time. It was a big part of his process of working on this album.  I was trying to align my memories with the transformation of my musical aesthetics. The theme of mutation also led to the work on the cover art that my good friend Bálint Budai created. I explained the idea to him more or less in the same way, and he came up with this fantastic amorphous, fleshy cluster that also ended in the video. I think he did an amazing job; honestly, his visual ideas have inspired the aesthetics of the video quite significantly. 

Another of the themes the artist was interested in, from the sound-oriented standpoint, was noise and its disruptive potential of noise, and exploring it on the digital ground, as generating noise digitally feels very different to him, probably because the process has much more to do with a design than with a free, bodily expression that he would associate with more conventional genres of noise, often being an outcome, nearly a side-effect of intense performative action.

One challenge for the video was to do everything correctly, aiming to reimagine familiar landscapes differently and create an uncanny atmosphere. The video features places I know very well, and it is difficult for me to see through the eyes of someone who does not recognise them

On final thoughts, the video also delicately touches on the idea of the sublime, an aesthetic concept popularised amongst German romantic artists during the 19th century, mainly using nature’s epic as an expression of the sublime. For the artist, the sublime represents an overwhelming, awe-inspiring experience beyond our normal understanding or comprehension, this idea of encountering something so powerful that it can create feelings of wonder and fear. 

With Karadi, I wanted to create an atmosphere that was enchanting and unsettling at the same time. Digital technologies provide excellent tools for creating immersion and overwhelming sensorial experiences. In Karadi, for example, I only want to perform on powerful sound systems because I think it’s all about this intensity that cracks you open and lets the awe in. My goal is to take the listener somewhere beyond the limits of comprehension, where making sense doesn’t work, values fall apart, and you need to reconstruct them from scratch.

I think about the intense heat and pressure that builds up inside a volcano before it erupts or the overwhelming power of nuclear fission that wipes everything off the surface. It’s this idea of a massive, unstoppable force that’s capable of bringing about radical change. In a personal tone, I have used Karadi to confront and embrace the unknown and break free from the constraints I have previously built for myself.

(Media courtesy of the artist. The main image is Karadi album covert art designed by Bálint Budai )
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