Dead at some point
The first thing one notices in the studio of Bergsonist (Selwa Abd) and her husband Greg Z is the preponderance of mechanical roommates. There are so many intricately woven wires, synthesizers, modulars, drum machines, and analog video pieces that their apartment has begun to look like a giant DNA strand pulled from a transformer. It’s so overwhelming, in fact, that one fears that routine noise complaints from the neighbors might end up with them being interrogated by Homeland Security agents. In truth, though, Bergsonist needs very little to create something extraordinary. She has worked on a range of different gear, from Electribes to iPads, but no variation in process ever seems to get in the way of her intensely distinct vision. Whether dipping into techno, house, noise, ambient, IDM, or any other genre, her compositions are always both visceral and intellectual — and they always feel like they are coming from a dimension all their own.
On your recently released EP, Heat (which came out on legendary label Optimo Music), you began to use your voice in a more traditional way than you had previously, going as far as even singing lyrics. Do you feel the inclusion of this extra bit of humanity changes the intent of the music? Do you feel it automatically makes these tracks more personal?
Yes, totally! The voice can be very powerful. It automatically changes a track to a song, andbrings more humanness to a song but also an identity. Using my voice came naturally, I guess, as the feelings inside me were so strong at that time and couldn't get exteriorized via only electronics. I think my voice allowed me to release those feelings.
I remember at that time when I made Heat, I was so broke and very curious to use my husband’s mic. All I had was my machine, a tissue, and a pen. I started writing the lyrics on the tissue and realized that they sounded like a mantra. As they started to get stuck in my head, I decided to make a beat for it.
I think the intent of the music makes it selfish, as I brought an element from my own self, while at the same time, the intent is omniscient, as I camouflaged my voice by down-pitching it a bit so that no one can recognize me. I love when sound sources are camouflaged and not so apparent.
You are Moroccan and have been essentially trapped in this country for a number of years due to visa and green card issues. For someone with such a free-flowing, nomadic way of thinking and learning, I would imagine this has been exceptionally painful. Can you tell us a little bit about how this bureaucratic imprisonment has affected your work?
I love the idea of being a nomad spiritually and not getting too much attached to situations or materials. Attachment always brings disappointment. Sometimes I wish I was a monk. I always try to minimize any of my material possessions.
I wish the world was without borders. Visa issues are the worst as they can block your free spirit and make things so complicated while at the same time putting non-stop stress in the back of your head. All I can say is that it’s been quite a journey. I always try to be optimistic, although I have a tendency to be pessimistic. I’m very thankful that I went through some hard times — it sharpened my ambition to create even more and be alive!
I’m also very grateful for the constant support from my husband Greg — his support feeds my creativity daily! He’s by far one of my favorite humans on earth, I would say. It’s nice to live with someone who loves you and supports you in every step you take. You feel invincible. Love is what matters on this Earth. Material is shady because like trends, it fades.
I’m also very thankful for all the people who have been booking me, supporting my music, as well asDiscwoman who now represents me. It’s pretty amazing to see how music can literally save your life.
New York is an amazing place to grow, even in the darkest times. This feeling of uncertainty that anything could happen for better or worse is amazing — it always feeds my drive to do as many projects as possible, and fearlessly. We all know that we are gonna die at some point, but when you feel endangered that specific feeling of uncertainty or fear makes you want to prolifically explore like a butterfly and just fly everywhere…
I complain a lot, but my goal at that time was to use this ‘bureaucratic imprisonment’ as a means toactually create as much as possible conceptually and accelerate the proliferation of concepts.
I have occasionally sensed that philosophy is possibly your truest area of fascination. Can you tell us a little about what writers or thinkers have provided crucial insights as far as your creative process?
My project, Bergsonist, started with Deleuze’s view on Bergson via his book Le Bergsonism. I liked how Gilles Deleuze presented intuition as a very structured process with its own rules. For him, intuition legitimizes any creative act and proceeds things organically, whereas intelligence treats things mechanically. His thinking gave me confidence in doing music as I do, by following my intuition and avoiding any acquisition of knowledge, especially in sound. I’m always welcoming any new sources of knowledge in sound, but I don’t rush it or push it. It has to come naturally.
Recently, I’ve also been very interested in writings about accelerationism (from Fisher, Lyotard, and CCRU, to name a few). These new thoughts inspired me to self-release all my music and use the media as agents of proliferation. According to those writers, the only radical political response to capitalism is to accelerate its process, not to disrupt it. I found this statement very inspiring and it made me think that as artists we need to use any channel or infrastructure we have in this capitalist society as an advantage so that that we can later destroy it.
To be honest, I consider you to be quite the philosopher yourself, as I often leave our conversations reassessing previously held thoughts, opinions, or beliefs. Do you have any type of personal manifesto that guides you when you create?
Oh wow, thanks so much. I think we get along quite well because we are both very sensitive to humanity, aesthetics, and people — maybe this makes us philosophers of life? It’s funny, though, I always think that I don't know enough and feel that I need to read more and cultivate my brain more, but I think being a philosopher is not just related to possession of knowledge or citing books in every conversation. Ithink it’s related to compassion, empathy towards each other, and ability to create impactful aesthetics that will keep the inspiration alive.
When I create, this manifesto always manifests itself:
Stop thinking, just go for it! You’re gonna die!
You studied Communication Design at Parsons — this was always hard for me to imagine because I think of you as having more of a lateral rhizomatic style of learning than a traditional hierarchical one. How did you find the approach to higher learning in the United States?
Higher learning in the US was great. All my life was structured by the French education system — I felt coming to the US opened my horizons in terms of learning. It formed my head instead of filling it with useless knowledge.
In Morocco, I was studying in a French high school, and the amount of homework was insane. I barely had time to live my teenagehood. Studying at Parsons was great as I was able to use the traditional hierarchical style of learning in my own way — I made sure to take as many classes not related to my degree as possible, so I ended up taking lots of classes in sound art/design and at Eugene Lang. Three of my favorite teachers were Zach Layton, Spencer C. Yeah, and Stephen Decker, who now are friends! Parsons also allowed me to take classes at NYU. I learned so much in Dafna Naphtali’s class. I love how in the US you are your own chef — no one is dictating you a menu du jour.
My only complaint is the ridiculous amount of money this experience requires. I’m lucky that I found a way to get my education sponsored. I wish art schools in the US were more like ones in Europe, more affordable and democratic. After few years of unemployment, I also wish I was trained with skills that would allow me to survive in this economy.
This injustice pushed me to start curating workshops alongside Via App and Voice Training in which we invited skilled people to share their skills with a small group of friends.
You and your husband Greg Z have collaborated on a number of music videos. Has this persistent consideration of visuals changed how you work on audio?
Actually, that’s how we met! After a live set at Bossa Nova Civic Club, Greg asked me if he could make a video for my music. I kind of knew his name because of the video he made for you (Gaul Plus) so I said yes. Since then we’ve collaborated on every video/release I’ve had. Collaborating with Greg is always exciting as we tend to take new directions each time. Honestly, visuals never affect audio. I always make songs first and then we work on the videos based on a conceptual plan.
You are a true facilitator within the New York City underground, always looking to connect and expand minds through your digital platform, bizaarbazaar, as well as through events such as the Pick Up the Flow Swap Meets. Can you tell us a little bit about how you first started interacting with this city’s music community, and how/if it has changed your outlook in any way?
My first interaction was as a curious listener. When I was studying at Parsons, in the first years, I had no friends. It was hard to connect with people who had interests in shallow things, so I chose to be a loner and reserve my time for music. I loved music so much that every weekend I was going to parties in Brooklyn.
During that time, I discovered Richard Gamble’s parties as well as Alex From Queens’ Capriccio’s parties. They changed my life. I remember one time I posted a track on Soundcloud, then Richard Gamble reached out to me and asked me to play live alongside Katie O’ Sullivan, SSPS, and Kamron Sanie at one of his Etheric basement parties at Trans Pecos. I was so happy and scared as it was my first live set! Afterwards, I was always trying to go out and feel inspired while at the same time make my own music. My musical journey through bizaarbazaar and Bergsonist brought me amazing people, friends. It’s crazy but everything seems so connected...
Pick Up the Flow came to life naturally as an extension of this desire to connect like-minded people to each other... When I created the group, it only included my good friends in music and some friends who regularly come visit New York. Then quickly more and more people joined it. It grew so fast and became very functional and helpful. I’m always happy to connect like-minded people and channel good vibrations because this world is so fucked and can be depressing. I’m very thankful for New York’s music community and my friends. Many people in the music community are so talented and very genuine people — if we all had an outlet to connect on a regular basis, I’m sure we could make our daily lives better but also channel more opportunities to each other.
What do you have coming up?
If my Schengen visa is granted, I’m hoping to tour Europe this coming February.
I’m also planning on releasing bizaarbazaar compilation #2; a listening session will occur withZweikommasieben at Motto Berlin.
Regarding my musical project, I have scheduled releases with Borft (EP) as well as an LP coming on Optimo. I’m also excited for March 2019 — I got invited to curate a Pick Up the Flow workshop/swap at Moma PS1.