Artist to Artist: Sapphire Slows and Maria Teriaeva
An encounter at RBMA Paris in 2015 first brought Japanese producer Sapphire Slows and Moscow-based producer Maria Teriaeva together, a meeting that would result in a beautiful friendship and several collaborations over the following years.
After Maria introduced Sapphire Slows to the Buchla, a unique synthesizer invented by Don Buchla that Maria had been experimenting with for some time, the instrument became something of a blueprint for their musical explorations together, as well as going on to prompt Sapphire’s own solo pursuits.
After coming together to collaborate for our Pen Pals compilation, which challenged artists to collaborate remotely within 10 days, Maria and Kinuko (Sapphire Slows) discuss their relationship with the Buchla, fond memories of RBMA and inspirations outside music.
Sapphire Slows: Maria, first I’d like to share the special story about our friendship and musicianship to everybody here! How can we describe it – Our first encounter at RBMA Paris, experience in Tokyo and Moscow, and several collaborations over time?
Maria Teriaeva: Yes, that’s true, our first encounter happened at RBMA in Paris, we have a collaboration song as confirmation of this! I think the Tokyo meeting after three years was no less amazing. We had changed since then, I’d already played the Buchla, and you invited me to your home studio, and this was a new level for our further collaboration. I remember with great love our first collaboration performance in Moscow on the big stage with new music, amazing.
Sapphire Slows: So now, I’d like to ask you some questions about your Buchla, which is your main instrument for both of your live set and creation. Well, actually I don’t like sometimes people focus too much on your gear than your music itself though, it’s known as a very special synthesizer and it’s a big part of your music. What is Buchla for you as an instrument? What fascinates you about it?
Maria Teriaeva: I absolutely agree with you, I love Buchla and respect it, but this is a means to achieve musical goals for me. And at the moment it’s a perfect instrument for my tasks. I’m close to the concept of the Buchla and its sound. I like this way of working with it, I feel independent on live sets and in the studio. It inspires me.
Sapphire Slows: Your new album ‘Conservatory Of Flowers’ is composed of Buchla sound as same as your first album ‘Focus’. What do you think the progress or difference of the concept between 2 albums?
Maria Teriaeva: Within three years working on the album I understood the Buchla more of course, and I developed more consciousness in my work approach. Nevertheless the first album was the first six months of testing Buchla. There was a lot of intuitive and random work, more ambient tracks when I enjoyed the timbres. I tried everything and I didn’t limit myself. Thus I realized that I want to develop the concept of Conjure track (from Focus album) in my new album. It seemed to me I found a good combination of percussion and wind-string melodies.
Sapphire Slows: For me ‘Sprits’ is one of most impressive songs on the album. That song has an ensemble with orchestra instruments like cello and trumpet. I also saw the video you collaborate with drums. What’s the concept about collaborating with acoustic instruments?
Maria Teriaeva: The concept of such collaboration is a really good match. There is one thing: when I create music I imagine live performance and, of course, connecting live instruments to the gig makes it richer. And the collaboration with a drummer was initially an idea for a live project, as it has different energy, 2 real people play live, drums and Buchla is a hell powerfull combination.
Sapphire Slows: Also, I remember you were playing an electric guitar on lots of stages includes festivals before. Do you think those experience help you to play Buchla on stage?
Maria Teriaeva: I think that experience helped me a great deal. This was stage experience, not matter which instrument I used. I’d like to note that now no alcohol unlike the time with my guitaring haha.
Sapphire Slows: Maria, I respect you not only as a producer but also as a player very much. Because as a musician I feel I’m more like a composer or an editor than a player or a performer, and sometimes… I still can’t be fully confident when I’m playing instrument, especially Buchla on the stage. Do you have any advise about it?
Maria Teriaeva: It’s interesting; I suppose my guitar experience helped me with that as well. My advise is to perform as often as possible, because it’s difficult to design such a stressful situation at home.
Sapphire Slows: Do you have any inspirations other than music?
Maria Teriaeva: Traveling! I was very inspired by the d’Orsay Museum in Paris on my last trip.
Movement! Ideas come along the way when I’m flying on a plane or walking in the forest.
Well, all the same, music remains a powerful source of inspiration, while traveling I try to visit classical concerts at local Philharmonics.
Sapphire Slows: How’s it like in Moscow now in this situation? It seems everybody has to stay home in pretty much every places in the world right now, what do you feel exited about in coming days?
Maria Teriaeva: Now the situation in Moscow has stabilized, I’m very glad about that. I look forward to seeing my mom at the sea cost in the coming days.
Maria Teriaeva: You have already played the Buchla for two years, how has your attitude to the instrument been changing over time? How have you been integrating the Buchla in your music before and now?
Sapphire Slows: To be honest, first I couldn’t feel familiar with Buchla at all. For me it was something almost majestic, unknown, like the cosmos where so much is undiscovered. Still I was very happy, I appreciated the fate that brought me to finding this instrument and owning it. But I was not confident enough to handle it.
Still, I started using it in my production shortly after. Again I was not confident to play it but Maria and her friend who makes Buchla-style synthesizers gave me good guidance and advice on how to start playing, so it was not too difficult to record the sound, and edit them into my songs. When I use Buchla’s sound, my songs become very rich and new ideas consistently come up to surround them. It’s a huge piece of inspiration, so I’m very happy to have it in my music life. Some of my tracks made using Buchla have already been released – The track I contributed to Hivern Discs’ compilation features Buchla bongos at its centre. The track I made with Maria for Pen Pals compilation by Ransome Note is also made mostly with Buchla. My upcoming EP has a lot of Buchla-produced sounds too, so I’m also thinking of making future ambient works with it.
After I played it for a year or so, I got an iProgram Card that allowed me to make some basic presets, then I started playing it in my live set somewhat. For now it’s more like my sub-live project though. During that time, I met the artist Benjamin Skepper who plays avant-garde music with his cello, mainly in Japan and Russia. We played our instrument together in a studio as a trial and it was magic! It was the first time I’ve had the pressure of live improvisation, and it felt so real. Because until then I was thinking I’m more like a producer or an editor who’s better at perfecting a sound at home. Fortunately I got the opportunity to play festivals with Benjamin in Bali and Melbourne soon after. Being on those stages made me used to playing Buchla in front of people.
I’d like to use my Buchla both for writing music and performances from now on. I think it’s a fantastic instrument that I will never feel bored of playing, even after many years. I’d like to learn and treat it well as a good partner. I’m looking forward to it!
Maria Teriaeva: I’m a fan of your music and really waiting for something new from you, do you have a plan about this? Could you tell more what to expect from the new release?
Sapphire Slows: Thanks Maria! Actually I have a lot of release plans this year. One is my new EP, ‘Emotion Still Remains’ on Nous Discs. It’s a minimal, melodic ambient EP of pure synthesis. It was originally going to be released in May or April but because there were some press issues, and of course the corona pandemic, we decided to delay the release. We will see but it should definitely be released sometime this year. I also have a few small releases – a split EP on Whities Blue Editions, a remix for Wraetlic, and two other projects that are in progress. If everything goes well they will all be released this year, so it should be a busy release schedule!
Maria Teriaeva: You remixed my song Spritz on the plane between Tokyo and Moscow, is it favorable environment for creativity for you? Generally, what stimulates your creativity?
Sapphire Slows: I appreciate you remember that haha! I would say the most important thing for my creative environment is to have two contrasting sides: freedom/limitation, random experiments/built plan, something new/something familiar.
At the beginning or middle of creation, it’s not about geographic space but a space with fresh inspiration. So it can be new places and new experiences while I’m traveling , or a new field or deeper discovery in something I’m familiar with. Randomness and limitation also helps – it’s sometimes important to have a deadline too, haha.
But when I have to finish songs, I need a comfortable place for editing and mixing, which is mostly the small studio set up in my bedroom. It’s always nice to work in my studio with familiar equipment, without interruption. I’m learning everyday and all the built-up knowledge, skills and plans help in this case. So it’s a balance of the two sides.
Maria Teriaeva: Your top 3 of places of power in Tokyo!
Sapphire Slows: My cozzy home, Big Love Records and Curry-No-Mise-Udon (My favourite curry restaurant).
Maria Teriaeva: What is your brightest memory at RBMA?
Sapphire Slows: The biggest thing I realized at RBMA was the idea of continuing music in my life.
In 2015, when I participated in the academy in Paris, personally I was in the middle of a big shift in my life, which was like an unexpected storm. I was even not sure if I could still pursue my music career the same as before. But I was chosen from thousands of applicants, it was a big chance given to me, so I pushed myself hard and made it to the academy. As a result, through the RBMA experience I could look back on my music career and deeply think about the music industry and life as a musician. So it was a good opportunity to re-start. Also, of course I really appreciate us connecting there, to have met you and the fact we are still collaborating!
Maria Teriaeva: Tell me please about your first gig as an electronic musician?
Sapphire Slows: Oh… it’s a good question! I remember well about my first ever gig as Sapphire Slows. It was ’100% Silk Night’ in March 2012 in Los Angeles, with artists such as LA Vampires, Leech, Peaking Lights, Suzanne Craft, and SFV Acid.
It was a few months after I released my debut EP ‘True Breath’ on Not Not Fun records. The label is based in LA and they have lots of label family and friends in different cities in the United States, so I did my first US tour including SXSW with their help. To be honest it felt unreal, because until then I’d never even played in Japan, and it was so rapid from when I had started making music in my bedroom in Tokyo with junk keyboards, to releasing my record, then playing a show in LA with the label’s iconic artists I admired. I was super, super nervous and my first performance was probably a bit awkward. But, the NNF family gave me a very warm welcome and company. It was an unforgettable experience.
Maria Teriaeva: Do you have any favorite Russian artists? (any direction of art)
Sapphire Slows: Wassily Kandinsky is my favourite artist in modern art, so I was very happy when I saw his collection at New Tretyakov in Moscow.
Around the same time I saw the exhibition about critic and philosopher Mikhail Lifshitz at Garage Museum, which was very interesting. I didn’t know about him at all and it’s difficult to search about him in Japanese, but I was quite impressed that this forefront contemporary art museum didn’t present any artworks, but instead only Lifshitz’ philosophy and thoughts about the essence of art, using only his letters. I liked the exhibition a lot, because I think much of art is based on ideas and values, and the exhibition expressed that very well.
Maria Teriaeva: Dear Kinuko, what is your favorite waveshape?
Sapphire Slows: Interesting! I got the same question from Atom™ a few months ago when I had the opportunity to chat with him. And I thought it’s a good question when communicating between electronic artists. At the time I said the sine wave. The Sine wave is probably not the most interesting or practical waveshape in creation (especially as an oscillator, I always like it as a modulation wave shape) but I like the concept: simple, pure, and organic. Also I have a conceptual image that in the wave shape you can tell where you are in connection with space and time.