Elaborate Intuition: Bergsonist Interviewed by Greg Zifcak

The inventive electronic musician discusses collaboration, method, and digital distribution.

Credits Greg Zifcak

Bergsonist. Photo by Greg Zifcak.

Bergsonist first appeared in my SoundCloud feed a couple years ago. I was drawn in by the stark and rigid surface of the music, but pulled in deeper by an easiness and subtlety of movement between textures that felt refreshing in that context. The profile page offered no clues beyond the location of Slovakia, which happens to be where my great grandparents came from. A little while later, I began hearing friends mention “Selwa,” and then found out they were the same person. When I finally got to know her (through collaboration on a Bergsonist music video), I fell in love with her full-blast investigative passion (and full disclosure: now we’re married).

—Greg Zifcak

Greg ZifcakHow did you get your start making music? 

BergsonistWhen I was a teenager, I remember using a lot of free software I would find on the internet and a cheap keyboard that my dad bought me. Besides the flute that I learned in high school, I had never used any instrument. Outwardly, the keyboard was to have fun making sounds without the ambition of making melodic music. Making music was always kept secret, clandestine.

I started as Bergsonist eight years ago, right when I discovered SoundCloud. It was so exciting to get real-time feedback from friends, artists I admired, and strangers from the internet while still exploring my sound “palette.” When I moved to New York, I was thrilled to go to shows, meet artists I’d only listened to online, and engage in conversations with them while sporadically learning about sound synthesis, gear, etc. This all led me to buy my first drum machine on Craigslist, the Electribe ER-1. My work also folded out of the independent music platform I started: Bizaar Bazaar. It became a sort of archive, where every day I would feature music I found online. Listening to music is definitely a school of its own, training my ears and informing my own music production. What about you?

GZI’ve been making music since I was nineteen. I wasn’t part of a music scene growing up at all and didn’t know any musicians who were active. What got me curious was hearing music on the radio that I could tell was somehow sequenced rather than played by hand (Eurodance, industrial, rap music). This spurred me to dig into some library books about MIDI and home-music recording, and to take community college electronic-music production classes. I started collecting gear from newspaper ads and pawnshops and logging onto the internet from school computer labs to dig into mailing list archives and just research what was possible. I started going to clubs and raves and meeting people, trading knowledge and getting feedback. I didn’t really know how to get my stuff out there in the beginning until I found some DIY music scenes and started performing. Can you talk a little bit about the “Bergsonist” alias, where it comes from and how it relates to your approach?

BBergsonist came from a book Gilles Deleuze wrote called Le Bergsonisme. When I was living in Morocco, I read the book and felt drawn to the way it legitimates intuition as a philosophical method. To Deleuze, intuition is not a sentiment or an inspiration but something far more elaborate. It has strict rules that Bergson appealed to as “precision.” Often Bergson presents intuition as a simple act. But for him, simplicity does not exclude multiplicities or ruptures; it welcomes them. It’s a method set in time that seeks pathways, differentiations. When I make music, I find myself  thrilled only when the act unfolds both organically and instantly in the moment. A serendipity that can only emerge through or with precision, in the limitations I choose to install. When I feel inspired, I make a track, record it in one shot, then I publish it. I don’t overthink it. In this, Bergsonist liberated me from some of the insecurities I had growing up with my body, my self consciousness; it taught me to trust both the process and my instinct.

GZThinking of more material pathways, you have a few vinyl EPs but have recently concentrated on releasing your music online through Bandcamp. How do these channels differ for you?

BReleasing on labels that I respect—Styles Upon Styles and Where to Now? for instance—was a true blessing. I enjoyed working with vinyl labels mostly because of the care they exhibit toward the creation of the final object. And it’s an object with more elements in play than a digital one, which has allowed me to experiment in other disciplines, like design.

For the Solyaris EP, Where to Now? and I collaborated on the cover. At that time, I had just started a new project called 3D bergsonist, which continues my intuitive explorations now into Cinema 4D. I had no desire to learn how to do it. I used my intuition and design sensibility to generate these fragments; then I’d share them on Instagram—the same sort of collective experimentation I used for my music.  It made me realize that the “bergsonism” method can be applied to nearly any discipline and still be relevant and interesting.

I should say, I was lucky that all my releases so far were from labels that I liked. Labels can bring your hopes so high and make you wait for so long to see anything … and in that it can block you as an artist and can bring doubts or make you inactive for a long period of time. As I said, bergsonism has a lot to do with time or duration; if too much time passes, the simple act is no longer authentic and relevant. These experiences pushed me to release all of my music on Bandcamp, which had a sense of immediacy. You recently also self-released a new EP on Bandcamp. What pushed you to do it?

GZI’ve had similar frustrations with waiting for labels to make decisions, and the promise of nearly cost-free distribution has been an attractive concept to me since the dawn of MP3s, but it was really your experience (and your prodding) that was inspirational in moving toward those platforms. Bandcamp seems like an effective tool, partly because of the reasonable percentage of the profits they take compared to other distribution platforms, and partly because the listeners seem motivated to seek new music. 

Bomb Silicone, 2018. Bergsonist. Video by Greg Zifcak and Selwa Abd.

BDo you consider yourself an accelerationist? 

GZNo. I don’t know the technical meaning of that term, but the way it’s used implies someone who wants to push society toward a collapse that is assumed to be inevitable, not considering the damage that would be done to vulnerable people or groups in the process. Why do you ask?

BAs someone who has been an activist and true to your own values for a long time, joining Bandcamp surprised me. You get the feeling that maybe the only solution that we have is to embrace these hegemonic platforms, be part of it so we can accelerate its cells; thus by degenerating, a brighter future could happen.

GZI don’t know if I consider myself an activist either; I join street protests in response to specific problems that need to be addressed, but I don’t think I have a cohesive enough ideological identity to say I’m against capitalism or in support of some other concrete form of economic organization. Frankly, Bandcamp seems like the easiest way to share my music with people. I haven’t put any thought into whether it’s an act of resistance against the tyranny of traditional music distribution channels, or whether it constitutes further submission to the tyranny of capitalism. Maybe as I use it these thoughts will come up. Other social platforms definitely give me the creeps. But I’ll ask the question back to you: How do you see your creative identity fitting into the contemporary modes of social interaction that happen across corporate-controlled platforms on the internet?

BI used to be anonymous; some people thought I was a man from Slovakia. But as soon as I became honest and perspicacious with social media, people were more interested in my project and found me more approachable somehow. I think you need to find compromises inside those corporate structures in order to détourne the status quo. I often think of social media as a currency that allows me to make transactions among different people not always or only financial, but transactions of thoughts embedded in sound. Equally, I find social media to be a functional tool. I hate it, but I find it very helpful. Again I find it best to navigate it intuitively.

Thinking about collectives, working together … we’ve collaborated so far on different videos. When we did the video for “Bomb Silicone,” it was amazing to see how fast and intuitively we moved from concept to production. The relationship was effortless.  Whereas, when we made the video for the track “Fidel Gastro,” it was harder to find a consensus; in fact, we had to change directions multiple times to the point that we almost gave up.  What do you think were the compromises? 

Fidel Gastro, 2018. Bergsonist. Video by 3DB & Greg Zifcak.

GZI find myself doing a lot of tentative searching and second-guessing until I find something exciting, whereas it seems like you like to rapidly explore and then capture. Sometimes we catch each other in a moment where those coincide, and we work very fast. When we don’t it’s hard to push through it because I want to hold back and you want to push forward. When I watch you work, even with gear that’s unfamiliar to you, I’m always impressed with your ability to poke at lots of different angles and then quickly filter them into something that is both exciting and consistent. Is this an aspect of your approach?

Yes, exactly. That’s a method I’m always trying to apply every time I’m making music. I learned from my experiences that when I overthink a problem, I become very self-conscious, trapped in my own thoughts, and start having blockages. Every time I’m in those kind of situations, I just put my bergsonist hat on and act like a naive child but still following the aesthetics I cultivated since I started this whole thing. I’m still learning!

For instance, having access to SoundCloud was a great tool at one point as I was able to publish in real time any of my sonic explorations, but now I actually  hope to leave the platform. I just started a new archival durational project which consists of migrating my SoundCloud archive to Bandcamp, re-releasing the work in short, self-released EPs.

Deleuze described the living as beings that have problems and resolve them at each instant. The purpose of creation is only discovered in the act. Most of the time we think that knowledge is required to solve unknown problems, but I realized that I can’t wait to acquire knowledge in order to pursue my sonic journey. Time is fleeting and education is prohibitively expensive; I need to nourish my creativity everyday, so I had to find a direct method—intuition.

Bergsonist’s latest EP, ث, was self-released on Bandcamp on September 20.

Greg Zifcak is a musician and artist whose work crosses boundaries between club music, video processing, and stroboscopic light manipulation, often combining and conflating these media using custom-built hardware. 

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