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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

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MAY 2020 Issue
Music

No Joke: ehh hahah's Non-Generic “Kreativitet”

ehh hahah. Courtesy the artist.

The notion of genre is an awkward tautology. Conceived in an easy formalism engendered partly by the exigencies of the market, it honors best that which is easiest to classify. The Kraków artist ehh hahah agrees that the genre question is worth reflecting on, if only for a moment, and with some apprehension. “The case of [genre] often returns to my mind, but I am still not sure what to think about it,” he comments, cagily, as we settle into our first conversation over the phone and SoundCloud DMs. “But what I think is most important is the search for non-obvious connections.”

That answer looms large in part because, though existing somewhere along the imprecise limits of “experimental” and “electronic,” ehh hahah’s music is perhaps best characterized by its seemingly conscious avoidance of broad generic statements. Discursive, but not disjointed, it circuits freely among the tokens and trappings of digitized pop, bass music, bit-crushed drone, and electroacoustic music, while offering the necessary shibboleths of none. It retains a spirit of re-contextualization, and what all remains constant is an original experimentalism that endows the music with a distinctive personal valence, despite the lack of vernacular orality. To put it simply, his music fits no easy taxonomy.

Even in conversation, ehh hahah—whose real name is Wojtek—is resistant to classification, preferring to define his work simply by what it is not. “I don’t like that ‘deconstructed club’ thing,” he miffs, not without reason. “It’s just a very broad label for music at the intersection of post-industrial, IDM, and progressive electronic…it’s all just a reinvention of the wheel.”

But it is in tacit opposition to the perceived rock-like rigidity of mono-generic scenes and outfits that ehh hahah also seems his most effusive, his most comfortable. “I just want to mess with binaries, to mold them together,” he says, “and I try to shed the social limits and expectations that come with them.” And so on each of his releases there likewise exists a considered attempt to bridge the discursive gaps between personal narratives and regional colloquialisms. The music is similarly expressed in high-relief against the full weight of global aspiration.

In fact, he seems eager to extend his purview beyond the comfort of home. “In Poland, we are all just a circle-jerk, everyone knows everyone!” He laughs, half-serious. “Truly, Poland is often seen as third-world, and we don’t have the same privileges as other Central European producers. I’ve often heard that it’s hard for a Pole to get a booking in Berlin, despite that it’s not so far away, geographically. So we are a small closed group, but not because we choose to be.” In that vein, each release explores language and texture in some uniquely macaronic way, while still retaining a certain domestic patina, a kind of national, West Slavic auto-recognition. Though some of his tracks have Polish titles, stylistically they draw from regional clusters of ideas that ultimately reflect a heightened worldliness and a generalized interest in foreign milieus.

And despite his third LP’s titular Kanye West/“Flashing Lights” allusion—and the weather so breezy, man, why can’t life always be this easy?—the references are hardly cheap, the influences never opaque. (“That Kanye West follow-up title, by the way, is just an attempt to be as honest and understandable, easy, simple, whatever as possible,” he points out.) As a result, a track like so breezy opener “Kreativitet” doesn’t ferment into pastiche. With its half-sincere but always interesting stabs at pro forma worldbeat gestures—the tweaked marimba timbres, the unpredictable percussion, and the un-obviously sampled accents—it eschews simple mimesis, as well as arbitrary distinctions and limits. It almost feels like a gentle, intertextual parody of generic stylistic choices. “I’m just searching for the sounds that will be produced in the process,” he makes clear, recognizing his work as a culmination of elimination and addition.

Though he is somewhat modest about his early material—“on my first, Kaseta (2016), I was 16 back then, and I just wanted to create sounds”—these initial experiments still yet retain an individual personality. And here, too, one gets an impression of a precocious ambition. “At the time, I was amazed [by] spectralism and minimalism, [Horațiu] Rădulescu and Steve Reich most notably[…] Autechre's ‘Jatevee C,’ too, inspired me to just start searching for sounds.” The method by which he “made noise,” he notes, was forged through a focused trial and error, and maybe a bit of copy-and-paste. “I just created my own synth presets in Ableton and experimented with automation lines,” he explains. “I sampled Steve Reich at least a few times on that record.” His later work indicates a maturation of process, though; “I create logic gates and conditional statements in Bitwig, treating all the sounds as mathematical signals that can be added, divided, multiplied, and so on.”

In a process of reclamation and self-interrogation, some of his entries incorporate elements of the literary and the quasi-personal. “On my second release, netia genialna rozmowa z klientem (2018), I tried to draft some kind of narrative about a long-distance relationship,” he says, almost unassuredly. But other references are more oblique and transitive, like those of his chthonic remix of Charli XCX’s “Porsche” (2017). “Now that was inspired by Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1869)[…]but I can’t really show how that book inspired me,” he laughs again. “It’s just something about that eerie mood, it affected me, and the song.” Beginning with a drum and bass-infused rhythm track that pulverizes itself into liquid metal before virtually dissipating, the piece is hardly recognizable by its extended acapella climax. It reflects, like with tracks like “Kreativitet,” a discursive process-orientation that can lead to utterly unpredictable results.

So, as with so breezy, he feels free to comment on pop with his remixes. But it is in an evasively original way, one that rejects the tokens of formal critique. He maintains that his music doesn’t bear a dialectical relationship with pop, nor does he claim to work in a process of any “condescending détournement.” “I honestly don't wonder about pop and all that… discourse about music being mainstream and all these things,” he says, dismissively, “when and if I comment on pop, it’s purely because I’m expressing a kindred desire to create simple and easy going music.”

It’s not a comment made flippantly. But even at his most accessible—as with the remixes, or on so breezy—ehh hahah is not simple, not even deceptively so. The music is progressive and remains challenging. As someone who claims to be inspired by sound synthesis practices, Eugeniusz Rudnik, and generative music, he comes across obscurantist in motivation, maybe a little academic in pretense, literally: “The University and my studies [in computer science] have a very big impact on my work,” he reflects. “And I cannot run away from the more algorithmic and ‘logical’ thinking in my creative process.”

But when asked what he’s looking forward to, he gives his most emotive answer, indicating a connection with the music that extends beyond the physical or formal. “Something that I dream of is a group of people that would like to hear my music, regardless of the style that I choose.” He pauses for a moment, then adds, “with regard to the music that I’m making now, I can't complain about being heard.” Though nominally cheeky and a little elusive, ehh hahah’s name foregrounds something beyond a commitment to keyboard-conscious self-amusement. He is certainly no joke.

Contributor

S. David

S. David is a writer and artist from the District of Columbia whose focus includes art, history, politics, and the relationships people share with institutions. He has written for Tiny Mix Tapes, among other publications.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

All Issues