Zen Zsigo is the driving force behind a great many creative projects from labels (Sunyata Recordings, Strange Rules) to music (Maths, Life In The Dark, Livimorket), and Life in the Dark has really just crushed me this year with some of the best music that I have heard. There have already been a multitude of releases from this one man outfit, with more in the pipeline to keep me excited. On hearing Hushed Bloom, I wanted to hear a bit more about the project from Zen because a bunch of the sounds and their genesis were both intriguing and maddening at the same time.
Zen Zsigo: There are never any aims or goals, or even defined ideas in my head, when it comes to the musicality of anything I’m involved in. Mood plus concept are key. These are almost always the focus for me. Negative emotions create the sound of Life in the Dark. Conceptually I have many ideas, but these need to remain with me for now!
Scene Point Blank: Take us through your writing process. Do you start with improvisations or do you map out the path of a composition beforehand? Do you start with a particular instrument first?
Zen Zsigo: Synthesizer and keyboard are the core components. Each release is different, but the most recent Hushed Bloom was a combination of improvisation and composition. Improvisations happened first, with many ideas and sounds being created. From there, I constructed the tracks from these improvised scraps. Hushed Bloom was heavily reliant on post-production and tweaking until things felt right. Originally that tape was to contain two 10-minute tracks. However, over time I became distanced from what was set. The final release contains parts of those two tracks combined to create the side A material, with side B containing an ambient track that I had been working on separately for some time.
Scene Point Blank: Do you record in the tape medium or digitally? How do you think that adds to the sound of the project?
Zen Zsigo: Both. They both have their plus points and it is just a choice to make before starting a recording session. Release wise, however, sound isn't really the reason I prefer cassette. I just want listeners to have that interaction with it: turning over to side b, holding the sleeve while listening and reading any accompanying text...It is an important aspect of some Life in the Dark releases.
Scene Point Blank: Limbs In Gloom sounds like a long piece broken up into movements. Was this intentional or did it evolve that way?
Zen Zsigo: Limbs in Gloom was recorded as one continuous piece. It is basically one piece of music.
Limbs in Gloom came from a short piece of writing I did around 18 months ago. Pre-natal depression is fascinating, the concept of being broken down emotionally by what is growing inside of you and is part of you. The idea of child death is for some reason more shocking than the idea of adult death. This distinction means nothing to me for whatever reason: death is death. Death is an eventuality and quite a beautiful one in some ways, when looked at from a lifeline perspective. The idea that a children could die inside the womb of a mother who takes her own life has a sense of tragic beauty to me. So, from the piece of writing, more like a poem than anything else, I conceived to soundtrack such an event. And so you have Limbs in Gloom.
Scene Point Blank: Where did “Tight and Black” come from? What inspired its writing? How did you write it?
Zen Zsigo: Its writing was a consequential part of recording Limbs in Gloom. However it had no specific thought behind it individually...
Scene Point Blank: The woman’s voice in “The Sunya Is Rising” adds such an element of gloom to the piece, where did you find that?
Zen Zsigo: It is a poem by Anne Sexton that I had admired when initialing discovering her work a few years ago, although I had forgotten it existed until a friend showed me that recording of her reading it after I had recorded “Sunya” but before the final mix. Instantly, it felt right. It fit perfectly into the existing sound and, once I heard it, I knew it had to be used. I think it sums up the entire outlook presented on that recording better than any words I could write, only sounds I could create.
Scene Point Blank: Anne Sexton makes a fitting compliment to Life In The Dark. Do you find inspiration from other poets, writers, visual artists, etc.? If so, what are some of the more important ones?
Zen Zsigo: I do have some interest in the "confessional" poets. I find Anne Sexton particularly engaging, although really I prefer to completely escape from reality while reading long-form fiction. You are more likely to find me reading the science fiction works of William Gibson, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov, or the fantasy of Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Roger Zelazny than anything else.
Scene Point Blank: Describe each of your three releases (excluding the 5 way split for a moment) in 140 words or less (like a tweet synopsis).
Scene Point Blank: The Sunya Is Rising:
Zen Zsigo: Self-loathing in a “modern world” sense.
Scene Point Blank: Limbs In Gloom:
Zen Zsigo: Self-loathing of the inner self.
Scene Point Blank: Hushed Bloom:
Zen Zsigo: Loathing for others, a desperate attempt at escape.
Scene Point Blank: Is there anything that you would change for any of your releases (production values like mixing or mastering, artwork, etc.)?
Zen Zsigo: I would release Sunya on cassette tape originally. CD is valuable as a means of more widespread distribution, but Life in the Dark is not meant for a widespread audience…or maybe even any audience. Production wise, of course there are always tweaks I would make, but I rarely listen back to my own output once it is released, so I haven't made any real decisions in my head about large-scale changes.
Scene Point Blank: Have you been surprised by any of the response to your music with Life In The Dark then? What has been your reaction to how people have received the releases?
Zen Zsigo: I am not really sure of the response. I only know of a few reviews I’ve seen and none of the response was surprising, per se. I was glad that people didn't refer to "liking" or "enjoying" Life in the Dark material, as it is not made to be listened to in that way. Perhaps some musicians or artists or consumers feel they should be able to listen in any way they would like, but I think the context is as much a part of the creation as the sound itself. Selfish of me, perhaps, but I would rather have no one hear Life in the Dark than say they "enjoyed" it.
Scene Point Blank: How did your contribution with the 5-way split Dans L’Isolement Solidares come about? Give us some background on the two tracks that you have on that.
Zen Zsigo: A band I play in occasionally had released an LP through the small label Dog Knights Productions, who are based in the south of the UK. I am unsure how my contribution came about exactly, but “Aokigahara II” was already recorded before being asked to participate in the release. 'LoveisnofutureL was written specifically to lead into the track which comes after it on the record, although what track that is I have no idea off the top of my head. I have never listened to the record since its release, so I can't say how I feel about it on the whole…However the artwork is very nice and I am happy to have Niels of Sequences work on anything I am involved in.
Scene Point Blank: Speaking of Niels, how did your collaboration with between your project Livimorket and his project Sequences come about? Did you trade files back and forth through the internet? How was writing for this different than writing for Life In The Dark?
Zen Zsigo: I had recorded an hour-long improvised guitar-based drone track back in 2009 and it had just sat unused for months before I approached Niels with the idea of him "finishing" the track. He added much—lots of subtle touches and many very important elements of the finished track—and I then mixed and mastered it. There was no “writing” involved for me, but perhaps Niels had more of a plan in his head when it came to the collaboration.
Scene Point Blank: What’s next on the horizon for Life In The Dark?
Zen Zsigo: I am constantly working on new ideas and sounds, perhaps these will be released as Life in the Dark, perhaps not. The only thing certain right now is a new/old demo tape that will be made available only in a private edition for Sunyata Recordings mailing list members only.
Scene Point Blank: Do you have any plans of playing live with Life In The Dark , perhaps even making it to the States?
Zen Zsigo: I would hope to play more shows eventually, but for now I am content to only play occasionally.
Scene Point Blank: Is Life In The Dark live a similar animal to Life In The Dark on tape?
Zen Zsigo: Full volume.