Step Right Up: Resina
Interview with Karolina Rec (Resina).
“…it is some kind of story about our ambivalence in experiencing nature: a simultaneous feeling of both beauty and anxiety (at nature’s power and unpredictability).”
—Karolina Rec (Resina).
Words: Mark Carry
Resina is the alias of Karolina Rec,a cellist and composer based in Warsaw, Poland. Recently released on the prestigious Fat Cat imprint, 130701, Resina’s s eponymous debut album contains enthralling cello-based compositions, whose quiet bliss and eternal solitude awakens with each of the seven singular works. The pivotal sister companion pieces ‘Tatry I’ and ‘Tatry II’– which form the vital heartbeat to part A – evokes the timeless sound of Icelandic cellist & composer Hildur Guðnadóttir such is the soaring beauty that ascends into one’s heart and mind.
Another hallmark of this remarkable record is just how closely the music feels connected to nature: a purity resides deep within Resina’s cello works – augmented by the gifted musician’s rich, intuitive playing – which feels akin to towering mountain peaks above and vast deep blue seas below. In this way, earlier Colleen records – such as ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’ from 2007 – could be a reference point to the musical trajectory that is masterfully explored by the Polish composer. In similar ways to Colleen’s third studio album, Resina’s compositions are highly personal as the focus is moved to the natural tones produced by the cello instrument (the viola da gamba in Cecile Schott’s instance), whilst the music is largely unadorned.
Resina’s hypnotic voice is added on the utterly transcendent album closer ‘Not Here’. Rhythmic pulses are wonderfully employed on the looped strings of ‘Nightjar’ (reminiscent of Brooklyn-based composer Julia Kent) and the enveloping darkness of ‘Dark Sky White Water’ unleashes the rawest of human emotion (think ‘Never Were The Way She Was’ by Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld). Resina’s highly impressive debut forges a deeply immersive experience.
Resina’s eponymous debut album is out now on 130701.
Interview with Karolina Rec (Resina).
Congratulations Karolina on your utterly captivating and enthralling eponymous debut album. One of the striking qualities to these cello-based compositions is the quiet bliss and eternal solitude that awakens throughout the album’s timeless journey. Please take me back to the period of time in which the album was written and recorded? As this is a debut record – and seeing that you have such a rich body of collaborative projects also – I imagine some of these compositions have been blossoming over a considerable length of time?
Karolina Rec: The process of composing pieces for this album started before I moved from Gdynia and was finished after I settled in Warsaw. It all started around 4 years ago, and probably was somehow influenced by slowly leaving behind a favourite place and specific feeling of suspension between past and future, known and unknown. Gdynia is a coastal city full of truly amazing forests and moraine hills around it, which is rather unique – for the first time in my life I felt strongly connected to the nature. However, that movement and also some key changes in my personal life helped me to decide I wanted to focus on my music now.
The process of being a solo artist took some time. Being involved in all those bands and projects, working with brilliant Polish artists was something I really loved and felt I can do really well, at the same time developing my own skills and sensibility. I knew that one day I would try to do my own music, but was waiting very patiently for the time I would feel truly ready for that. Maybe that was the reason the composing process didn’t take so much time itself. Another key moment came when my friend Michał Biela (from Polish band Kristen) announced (after he heard that I was working on my solo) that I would play a show, sharing a stage with him at a very popular Warsaw venue. I was frightened, nothing was fully ready yet, but I agreed and that was enough sign for me that I can take a risk and finally have huge motivation to develop and speak my own language.
A rich, intuitive quality resides in your playing that immediately makes a profound impact on the listener. I would love for you to explain your compositional approach and to what extent does improvisation play in this?
KR: I’m happy you mentioned that! Yes, my composing process is strongly based on intuitive qualities. I believe in intuition because (as science confirms) it’s not magic, it’s a sum of our experiences, predictions and sensibility. It’s a kind of knowledge sometimes hidden in these parts of our mind / brain which are not so easily accessible (but can be). I like to play with and work on archetypical motifs and feelings, digging for them as deeply as possible.
Mostly, the compositions for this album were based on some simple ideas, sketches which had an inspiring potential to improvise on their basis. And I watched where that improvisation would lead me. Very quickly I was able to decide if something captured my attention and had this potential or not, and this decisive process was 100% intuitively. I’ve always tried to improvise first, not to write scores. Actually, it is impossible for me to play any piece twice in completely the same way…and that was the point. I came to the recording studio with some clear ideas but every recorded version was usually quite different from another (however we tried to record in not more than 2-3 takes).
Another thing is that to fully follow my ideas I often had to cross my own comfort zones and find some non-classical techniques, which in the most natural way comes from improvisation. Challenging myself to find other ways of expression in the instrument was (and still is) one of my favourite parts of playing cello. I must admit that only when I left all thinking about any aspect of classical playing did I feel free and really close to the instrument’s fuller possibilities and wooden, organic nature.
The range of possibilities you generate from your chosen instrument is quite staggering. A rich tapestry flows in a beautiful ebb & flow throughout the record’s narrative. Can you talk me through the layering – and looping process – of the cello instrumentation and indeed the mindset and approach when it comes to live performance? I love this live aesthetic that forms a lovely dimension to these tracks, which really feels as if you’re playing a live set once the record begins to play. What is your actually live set-up, Karolina? I presume it’s from quite a minimal framework (which again must be another source of inspiration for you when it comes to composing?)
KR: My current set-up is very simple, which was determined by the fact that I never wanted to change sound of cello itself, but to make a new, unexpected quality by using its natural sound in layers. Referring to that I need only a hardware looper and a reverb+delay. I don’t use a laptop on stage as I didn’t use it during composing process. That was also another idea for this album – to make it possible to play every piece 100% live. From a technical point of view, I wanted to keep the feeling of the creative process each time I played them, and the looper is a perfect tool for that. I try to stick to the most important parts of the composition but also to improvise every single time I perform it. Every time I try to learn a little bit more about the pieces: check what makes them better, moves them further; try to move the border and squeeze out more. Even to make some kind of ritual from that process. Hopefully that helps me keep the intensity.
The album closer ‘Not Here’ is perhaps my current favourite and forms a fitting close to a stunningly beautiful record. Can you talk me through this composition and your memories of writing ‘Not Here’? I just love how your voice appears here, just as the record is approaching the sunlit horizon. Also, the sound from the cello sounds almost like a gamelan, and love then the layering of strings that are placed on top.
KR: It was one of the first pieces I wrote for this album, just after Tatry I&II. I was still living in Gdynia, but just about to move to Warsaw.
“Not here” could be a good example of combination of two things I was talking about earlier: an archetypical aspect and very personal attitude at the same time. It’s also the least “improvise-able” and most predictable piece from the album, but that was the concept – to keep it simple and clear, to take a breath, to wake up from a strange dream. Taking this path – we can look on it as on a tale or a picture, and mine was like that: sailors at sea in the night searching for the right way but finding only voices (which finally disappear). Looking from my own very personal point of view: it’s a song to the lost sea, a piece written from my nostalgia for the left-behind landscape. To emphasise that dreamy, unrealistic atmosphere I decided to use my voice in a form of choir (and I think I will try to explore it more in the future). The funny thing is that I made some small changes just before the recordings and just after I came back from Indonesia, so possibly I incorporated some part of the gamelan scale or characteristic structure unintentionally.
‘Tatry I’ and ‘Tatry II’ form the heart of part A. Were these sister companion pieces conceived during the same space in time I wonder? Also, I love the slowed-down and gradual flow to ‘Tatry II’, which forms a wonderful counterpoint to the opening ‘Tatry I’. Are there certain motifs or melodic patterns that connect these two, Karolina?
KR: Yes, they came around the same time and in the same order as on album. What really connects them is not even a melodic motif but an atmosphere, which in my opinion causes specific cello techniques. A lot of very high notes occurring simultaneously – flageolets played on a drone base (but in the case of Tatry II much more minimalistic). In both cases the way of building melody is similar: from the notes which seems to be only a part of drone at the beginning but finally all together create some kind of melodic line at the end.
I would love to gain an insight into the album’s main themes and what you feel connects all these seven cello compositions together? Were there any challenges during the making of the record that you felt was a struggle to overcome in any way?
KR: I found it clearly after the album was finished, but yes, we can say there is a connection between all seven pieces. The album as a whole plays with feelings, memories, imagination, experiences, archetypes which the listener carries and which can be “turned on” as the trigger (music) appears. I always say that I try to take people to some places – but where particularly, that depends on them.
The second common aspect to all seven pieces refers to my own personal experience: it is some kind of story about our ambivalence in experiencing nature: a simultaneous feeling of both beauty and anxiety (at nature’s power and unpredictability).
The third idea – and the first which appeared in my mind: to use the instrument in a very organic way, to try everything which can help create, also using non-typical, non-obvious cello techniques; be open to absolutely all instrument possibilities, not only traditional sounds. And to stay close the wooden nature of the instrument.
Please take me back to your earliest musical memories and the events that led you on your own musical path? Also, I would love to hear of any defining records, musical voices that you feel were hugely significant for you that in turn led you on this solo cello musical path?
KR: My parents aren’t musicians. They had no musical background at all. the first thing I remember were my mother’s lullabies and my own vocal improvisations – I think my father who was recording that on a tape recorder still has these tapes somewhere… Let’s say “professionally” it had started “by accident” when I was 8 and for the first time heard my friend was playing the school piano. I came home and I forced my mother to take me to the piano teacher. I think she was just as happy as afraid because in my whole family nobody was a musician. But later my mum admitted that when she was pregnant she was listening a lot of Chopin. Chopin’s Polonaise F sharp minor is actually the first music piece I remember (performed by extraordinary Polish pianist Witold Małcużyński).
Getting a typical classical education led me to learn about all the classical composers and pieces. However, I felt that classical music didn’t have to be only a clear ideological concept, or a form, but can be also type of a landscape, pattern or something much more irrational, subconscious when I heard “Gaspard de la nuit” perfomed by Martha Argerich, when I was 15. And then all the other genres came…I feel I’m influenced by nearly every genre of music: at the same time by the aleatorism of Lutoslawski and minimal techno, by gamelan scales and avant rock cacophony.
However, one particular album eventually convinced me to record a solo thing – it was the second solo album of Colin Stetson. That was a final, decisive proof for me that still it’s possible to do something extraordinary, original and powerful even if you’re alone with one instrument and you cannot build any interaction with another artist. I think that my aim was always to find extremely personal, internal language which could be somehow readable for many.
Resina’s eponymous debut album is out now on 130701.