Maja Osojnik is from Slovenia but now lives and works in Vienna, Austria, as a singer, composer, improvising electroacoustic musician, sound artist, mostly using voice, paetzold bass recorders, own field and unfield recordings, DJ-CD, tapes and other lo-fi electronic devices, toys, trash and found objects. Maja made a name for herself in different musical fields, such as early music, contemporary, experimental, jazz, free improvisation, sound art and heavier music. She composed music for theater, dance, animation movies, film, silent film and diverse ensembles and wrote Lyrics/Texts for different Projects such as Maja Osojnik Band, Broken.Heart.Collector and Rdeča Raketa. She gave Workshops in improvised Music in Austria, Slovenia and Korea. She founded Maja’s Musik Markt and co-organised the 7th Viennese Soulfood Festival in 2013. (from her site)
I had an internet chat with Maja the other day, impressed as I was with her forthcoming debut album, Let Them Grow. A review to come soon. As you'll see, the chat is unedited regarding upper/lower case & other grammatical correctness....
Robin Tomens: Hi Maja - for anyone who's not heard your music, could you describe it in a few words?
Maja Osojnik: ok well i always write now: An anthroposophical striptease of the soul, between dystopian chansons, primordial mantras, and musique concrète. It's dark, melancholic, but also fragile and sometimes funny, absurd, well at least for me... i also like an expression a cinema for ears? Something i like to listen loud and on headphones
RT: Does cinema influence your music in any way?
MO: oh yes definitely, i get inspired by pictures and stories and camera perspectives, the atmosphere or movement
RT: favourite directors, old or new?
MO: oh where to start, hm, david lynch for sure, then jim jarmusch, pasolini...hm wim wenders, haneke. i just saw a movie from sorrentino, youth, a nice one and the lobster, that one i liked a lot. do you know gustav deutsch? he made a fantastic movie 2 years ago, Shirley. inspired by paintings of edward hopper, fantastic. i just have to check who made the lobster, here it is Yorgos Lanthimos . Kubrick also cool
RT: Kubrick is a god. Do you know The Caretaker's music?
MO: no hm, i don't but i will definitely check it out now
RT: His moniker comes from The Shining. He uses old 78s mixed in with his own noise....ambient, ghostly ballroom music
MO: cool, i will check it out definitely...hm... where were we, i love to go to the museum of course, last time i was in London i saw in Tate and saw a fantastic exhibition about Sigmar Polke
RT: I went to that - fantastic!
MO: yes this was extremely well done, i spent almost the whole day there
RT: When did you realise you wanted to make music?
MO: hm, i always did it kind of, already as a child and then first bands in puberty that never saw the light, and stayed kind of in basement, fooling around. i think i was for a long time to scared to admit i want to do it, seriously, to live from it. now sometimes i am still wondering, how all this happened. like really happy realizing: wow girl, who would have thought, you're doing it...you are fucking doing it, wow. i am kind of thankful and happy i went for it, tapping on my shoulder, good girl, you know what i mean?
RT: yes, must be great to realise a dream. Do you make a living from music, or do other work?
MO: i make a living from music, at the moment i am happy, don't need to do any compromises and just doing stuff i want. well, i guess i am lucky that Austrian government still supports weird music a bit... and i am not depended on ticket sale... what helps me of course is, that i compose for theatre, dance, film and other ensembles... and have more bands... i guess it's a combination of it all that helps me to survive... and scholarships, only concerts would be hard i guess...writing that i am thinking of red numbers on my account producing my last record ha ha ha hope to get to the zero at least
RT: Was the album expensive to make? You used a studio, not home recording?
MO: well almost the whole record is recorded at my home, by myself, but then i recorded main vocals outside, and mixing, mastering, and pressing, and design...this had to be paid, i wanted to make it low budget, but shit, when i ask my friends and colleagues to work with me, i want to pay them, i cannot be DIY anymore, i appreciate too much their work, it's always a problem with fair trade in music...i don't think the LP tastes good, people need to pay their rents and buy food...
RT: I'm playing Tell Me (from the album, Let It Grow) right now - is it a response to the broken-hearted My Man-type Billie Holiday recording? An ironic viewpoint of dominance in a relationship?
MO: in this song i am playing with ambiguity. personal relationship on one hand and the society on the other hand, wow this might take longer to explain...you can read this lyrics in both ways...there are often mistreats in relationships, whether partnership, or family or friendship, it doesn't need to be physical, all the misunderstandings and words put in your mouth, interpretations, projections...on the other hand, the society needs a really simple description, cause people need definitions and labels, and trademarks, recognition value, sustainability all these pregnant terms...then they feel less scared...........it's like this also in the music, you need simple terms, to put people in the boxes, i have a bit of a problem with that and get sometimes bored...........it's like, listen, this is who i am, what i say is what i mean, do not need to read me between the lines, just fucking ask and you'll get an answer...so yes, i have a bit of a problem with definitions for the archives and catalogues...also personally, he is like that, she is like that, bla bla
RT: I know what you mean. people need categories for comfort, just as the masses prefer formulaic structures in music. Those who can listen to music that's 'free' will always be in a minority. Have you encountered any apparent prejudice, being a woman making music?
MO: especially playing electronics. now and then happens that something doesn't work, cause i mean lo-fi devices can have its own life sometimes, of course, and yes, sometimes there are broken cables in the game, but still it happens, that people want to teach me how to connect the cables of my own setup correctly, so for example, imagine, a festival, needs to be a fast sound-check, my electronics seem not to work, stage hands, technicians are checking if the girl connected correctly her cables, input - output, "you're sure you did it right"? till they realise after 15 minutes, that the main mixer is on mute...i also heard from a guy not short time ago, that he can listen to the stuff eyes closed and say if the composer is a female or male, cause the difference is in quality, i have to laugh, i surely cannot do that, can you? or another one, male is more straight to the point, women like to go into the details, oh man having a blast, seriously 2016? but i do not see any difference working with my bands, we're all in it, and don't think sex at all, girls, boys we all get a long just perfectly and love to work on stuff together...
so again yo see, depends on where you move, which scene, which world, all i can say is by what i see happening in the world: doesn't matter which rights, but any rights humans fought for, can be taken away before we even realise. nothing is self-evident and achieved forever, there are always bad people who can take that rights away, again
RT: There's a strong anti-authoritarian streak in your lyrics yet you have a few scholarships. Were you a rebel when studying?
MO: of course i take the money from the state, i see it that way, better to give it to artists then to make corrupt business, to pay wars...but i also feel obliged to point out things that are messed up..and yes i have always been a bit of a rebel, i just learned lately to choose fights....that's important, to choose the right ones i guess
RT: A rebel with a cause? Of course. In England, artists are left alone, unsupported. You starve making any kind of art here.
MO: well i think the authority needs to be deserved...till then i question it...yes, that is fucked up, i don't believe in the statement: the good art happens only through a financial struggle. i do live modestly of course, you know, today i am supported and featured, tomorrow maybe not, so i try not to depend on these stuff...how do you survive?
RT: Art is not needed by governments, good workers are needed to keep the corrupt economy going, workers who must do a job to survive and meet material demands. I survive working part-time. The rest of the time I write and make art. Are you party-political minded, or free of party beliefs?
MO: hm, well i am Slovenian and live in Austria, means i cannot vote in Austria except on a really district level in the city...i would like to have a freedom to vote in the state where i live cause this state decides on how my life will look like...i think it is necessary to vote at least against the right wing radical system...if i am honest, i am not reading newspapers every day, cause the shit repeats all the time and makes me depressed....hm, so i guess i am free of party beliefs
RT: It is depressing shit - like the TV news. As The Veneer of Democracy Starts To Fade by Mark Stewart & The Maffia - have a listen - my politics are non-party these days. I no longer believe. democracy gave us a stinking Tory government. Not that I have an alternative system.
MO: yes exactly, how to believe in a democracy which is happening right now in Europe? it's all kind of neo liberalistic failing systems...hm lets change the topic and leave politics, as we both hate it, or we start crying
RT: What are you reading right now?
MO: well of course we come from the record, i do sound pissed sometimes, but also disappointed, i hope you can hear parts where i get hopeful now and then ha ha ha i believe in these little circles, structures, where we can get along and build little systems for ourselves...just finished reading Schlingensief, his last book, well published by his wife, after his death...now starting Stanislaw Lem, Sterntagebücher, let me check the title in English....of course the star diaries...you? what are you reading?
RT: I've only read The Investigation by Lem (and Solaris). William Burroughs is, to my mind, the best sci-fi writer ever. I'm reading The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler and a book about Stockhausen.
MO: yeeeeees, love love love burroughs...
RT: Your lyrics are very 'poetic'. Who are your influences?
MO: oh, for the lyrics? hm wow a difficult one, i do not know if i have anybody in mind particularly or direct connections, subconsciously many i guess...i think they happen digesting the surroundings, talks, listening to the talks, films, music, books, internet, streets, my fantasy....well they do have to do something with isolation, so well, there is a photographer, whose book of photos i was looking at a lot: francesca woodman...hm, it's kind of my personal dystopic diary...dreaming the possibilities, playing with words, watching how they move and work.. little influences or quotes here and there, like john cage: no silence is silent or william byrd: "tallis is dead an music dies" but i change it into "the time is high and music is dead" or is this maybe laibach? hmmmm. you see all these little parts of sentences, who do they belong to, me, others? yes scrolling images, it's the same with music. music is time... and if you don't take time, you don't get music...
RT: Life is a cut-up, as WSB said - also, perhaps, a Godard film...minus the glamour!
MO: ha ha ha nice one...godard - another good one
RT: Forgive me if I'm wrong, but something about your music reminds me of Brecht/Weill - are you a fan?
MO: ha! well i do know his works...and have some cds rolling around...yeah that's a good question that i can never answer, what am i a fan of? are you a fan? i mean i know a lot (passively ha ha) and I've seen a lot but i think i am no expert on anybody... i do not think that i know the whole work of one person for example...
RT: perhaps it's just your accent and tone, which I love, by the way. Dagmar Krause. I love those songs...the melancholy state of mind.
MO: ha, thx for my accent by the way, glad you like it, there was a time, where i tried so hard to have more neutral accent, then i realised, shit man, i am not blessed with this talent, so Balkan it is...
RT: When you sang Jazz did you cover the classics in the style of Sarah Vaughn etc? I mean, sing them in a similar way to them.
MO: hm yes Sarah Vaughn i loved to listen, next to billie, i liked also how chet baker was singing....hm i guess? i think i am not such a good imitator, so even if i tried i sounded differently. maybe that is why i also have an accent, i am too lazy or not interested enough to copy or to imitate. but i really tried to sing jazz of course ha ha ...learning some techniques...but then i left it, cause i got bored and the lyrics were mostly really shallow, except some of the ballads, there are good lyrics, again billie holiday, strange fruit, or don't explain, or hm i like the lyrics the thrill is gone... nina simone she was also a good one...hm just listening to the link i sent you (Billie Holiday singing Don’t Explian), so crazy actually, how powerless and resigned...
RT: haven't we all felt powerless in a relationship at some time? If you've lived long enough...
MO: yes exactly, so many times, and it's so interested, how different, sometimes combined with kind of wanting it, enjoying it, then with a complete "freeze" feeling of fear, till complete breakdown, like you don't even exist any more, like evaporating in the air, becoming transparent
RT: That hasn't happened to me for a long time, thankfully. 'Will I ever know again who I was supposed to be?' (lyric from Maja's song, I Was Dying, So I Am Now Probably Dead). You speak well about identity and the loss of it in a relationship or society in general.
MO: hm, i think this was a time for me, where i questioned myself, do i live the way i want, or do i live what surroundings expect from me, out of traditions, family, habits... the question of how to be emancipated in this society, not as a woman, as a person...it's kind of checking again who you are and are you talking it, or living it...
RT: I know what you mean. My whole life has been a struggle to seek identity as an individual whilst almost being crushed by society, it's expectations, work... my rebellious nature.
MO: yes exactly... you know how to communicate, when is the time where you try to understand everything, in sense of: the opinion is the sum of trying to see things from more perspectives, hannah arendt like, and when you say: fuck that shit, i don't need to understand everything, i fucking don't agree, live me out of this fuck..yeah three times fuck in one sentence, a powerful word
RT: yes - it fucking is! but don't fucking overuse it, otherwise, like the word 'love', it loses its fucking power!
MO: ha ha ha yeah your right, so i use bollocks instead for next few minutes
RT: never mind the bollocks...When are you playing 'live' next?
MO: hm next concert will be first a release private party at the end of the month and then the official release concert on 20.2. in Brut Vienna. after that crazy time is coming up, some nice festivals coming up...i would of course love to come to London to present the record, i wrote to café oto, let’s see, if i manage to get it...
RT: Oto's a good venue. I go there sometimes.
MO: i am trying to help around as much as i can, providing venues with good tips of musicians i hear and like, to connect people, suggest people to the venues, where i've just played, do listening sessions live but also on facebook, as you see at the moment, i think this is the only way, getting more personal again and taking people by the hand... internet is a space you get lost...
(brief chat about my art)
RT: Art is one of my pleasures...no money in digital art, of course. But I hate the art world anyway and have no connection with it. I write and make nice pictures.
MO: hey, yeah i mean that is the best, like not to be depended on and not to have to explain anybody why you do something the way you do... or get censored cause the sponsor wants to have it his/her way...if i would depend on that, then i would stop for sure...