What is music?
That’s the theme of our interview with Arswain, the electro-alter-ego of musician and producer Freddy Avis. We threw him some pretty abstract questions, and he handled them with ease.
Having heard his music, we shouldn’t be surprised.
Arswain’s recent release – a bombshell of an album called Partitioning – is more than just music. In a lot of ways, it’s a comment on the peculiarities pertaining to the human condition of the present.
Partitioning’s cornucopia of synth swirls and sometimes-dancey rhythms provide just that. Get ready to ride a wave of aural smoothness life a few others.
Listening to as much music as we do, it’s nice when we get something that doesn’t just sound like music for music’s sake. Hey, don’t get us wrong, that stuff’s great, but every now and then we want some room to breathe and get our other senses involved.
Keep reading to find out exactly how Arswain accomplishes just that.
Why did you decide to merge your music with climate change conversation? It seems like a bold choice.
At its core, I think climate change is a story of loss. A lot of people talk about saving the planet, but it turns out the planet will be fine – it’s life on earth as we know it that’s changing. And like any loss, you need to find a way to process it emotionally if you want to find a way forward. We talk about climate so much through science and politics that we leapfrog the essential questions of humanity and belonging. Once you accept that premise, the rest of the story becomes much clearer, almost poetic. So I wrote Partitioning to join that conversation.
At what point did climate change really hit you as an important issue?
I read a book called The Great Derangement two years ago that more or less changed my life. It asked why art, music, literature, and film have largely ignored climate change as a serious discourse despite it being the single most existential topic of our time. He calls out our obsession with humanism and petty topics of civilized life, and our estrangement from our own habitat, as if “nature” is separate from “civilization.” That was the light bulb moment for me after which the album pretty much wrote itself.
Did you use any sounds of nature or record outdoors for this album? For which tracks?
Absolutely. In “Water” I paired recordings of a river with clanking glass to create a sense of fragility. “Partitioning” features the sounds of construction and heavy machinery, especially toward the very end. “Visionless” has birds and whales. And “With Ease” has the sound of a cardboard box being opened.
Is music a pleasure, or does it fall into a different category?
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It depends on what you consider art versus entertainment. I believe art asks something of the consumer, whereas entertainment doesn’t. The majority of music people hear is entertainment. It exists to please, hit certain metrics, and make money. I wrote Partitioning to ask a series of questions, to invite people to process the climate and their own fate. And you can probably tell I didn’t write it to make money!
As for “Pleasure” specifically, the song is exactly about the paradox and hypocrisy you’ve just alluded to. On the one hand it’s about heartbreak and anger. A previous relationship and the climate were jumbled up into this big ball of anguish for me at the time I wrote it. On the other hand, it’s about guilt because I’m a big participant in the carbon economy. I felt ashamed of being so unhappy because I live this cushy western lifestyle.
What musicians or artists do you admire that have also embedded real-world problems into their artistry?
Nicolas Jaar’s “Sirens” in part deals with immigrant identity in the age of Trumpism. Of course, Radiohead with “OK Computer” and “Kid A.” I also really admire a group called The Knife for their climate-minded music. They wrote an electronic opera called “Tomorrow In A Year” that, looking back, undoubtedly planted the musical interpretation of climate in me.
Describe this album’s influences.
There’s obviously a heavy electronic influence, so I’d point to Nicolas Jaar and Apparat as two of my heroes there. But there’s also a rock and songwriter influence. I use guitars, I sing, and I had drummer Jacob Lauing play on the penultimate track, “The Great Derangement.”
What would you do differently for your next album?
Have a little more fun (laughs). Partitioning was a necessarily dark writing process, almost self-indulgently so. I’d like the next record to feel a little less self-destructive.