In Love With Contrast: Interview With Producer BÀLINT DOBOZI

I wanted to make this a concept album, also sonically.
27 October 2020


Just the other week, we reviewed Avarnes , a truly refreshing concept LP from neoclassical composer / producer Bálint Dobozi. To be fair, his music has very little to do with most of the releases that drop daily, donning this particular label. It’s definitely heavier emotionally then most of them! It also doesn’t pretend to emote things that aren’t there which, unfortunately, has sort of become a thing for the genre. And conceptually it’s also pretty damn tight! To answer some of the questions that have been floating around our office since the day we pressed play on this one, we decided to reach out and find out what is what from the source.

We present you with a transcript of our short conversation with Mr. Dobozi. 

Although this is the first record bearing your real name, it’s not the first one that you’ve been involved in, correct? 

Indeed. I was twenty one when I made my first record. It was for one of Switzerland’s early hip-hop groups. After that, I was involved in some dance/electro productions with fellow producer Manuel Mind for A Touch of Class, this was under a pseudonym. I also worked on Kalabrese’s early material for Perlon. I produced music for Swiss rapper Big Zis, toured extensively with Kalabrese, and formed electronic duo Pacifica (Drumpoet, Get Physical) with Domenico Ferrari. 

Why the decision to cut a solo record, after all these years? 

It was about time. I had collected hundreds of drafts, and I felt I was really over due on finding my own voice. Also, in electronic dance music, where I somehow found myself along the way, it felt that this deep and tech house scene had somehow reached a stasis. In contrast, the younger generation’s wave and electro-infused productions are much healthier in terms of finding new ways, which work for them, but to me they sound too much like the 80s. I simply had to leave the dance floor for a moment.

How was the process of putting this material together different for you from a collaboration? What are some of the pros and cons?

The process had all the pros and cons of working by yourself, I think it’s the same in any field of work. You’re free to do what you want to do.  It’s not a dialogue, not the process itself, nor the music, it’s all very self-referential all the time! You talk to yourself a lot! (laughs) It can really get kinda creepy. I suppose that via composing you create a dialogue within the music, between the motifs and melodies, and the different sounds.

Most of the sounds we hear on this record were actually recorded on a very old piano. First of all, tell me a bit about this piano, because it’s rather special…

It’s a Bechstein from 1912, my mother, who is a concert pianist, got it after she emigrated to Switzerland from Hungary. I learned to play music on it, I know how it sounds inside-out! When I started recording this album, I decided to make it the main sonic character. Not only by playing it conventionally, but also by preparing it, by sampling every possible sound that could be made on it – by knocking, tapping, brushing, dusting it – and feeding my drum computers, samplers and granular devices with it.

Why did you decide to limit yourself to this particular instrument and process? 

I wanted to make this a concept album, also sonically.

Was there a moment you wanted to discard these self-imposed limitations? 

Yes, and I did discard these limitations as I got to the point where I thought that it became too much of a conceptual work. It’s like with contemporary visual art: you look at something and you realise that yes, it’s conceptually consistent, but then you ask yourself, is it also good, or interesting, or even touching? Well, far too often, it’s not. Plus, there is a lot of piano music that is made this way, especially, these days. It’s nothing new and, apart from staying true to the concept, it’s often just not very elaborate. I didn’t want to be trapped in that particular back alley.

These songs were written around a harmonic concept called the circle of fifths, can you tell us a bit about that? 

The circle of fifths is the basic concept in western music in regards to how different keys and scales are related to each other. If you move your root note one fifth down, or up, you only change one note in the scale, and you got the same type of scale again. So you move the key, but the tonal material remains very close to the last one. I tried to compose and arrange the tracks in that order, by moving down a fifth every track, to slowly reach a shifting tonal character, and change the key every time. I came close, there are eight different keys in nine tracks, I just didn’t reach twelve – according to the twelve half-tones in the western chromatic scale – because I felt some of the tracks weren’t worth putting on the record. Again, discarding the concept for a better result.

Why was it important for you to approach these compositions from this angle? 

I love different keys, they sound different. You arrange bass, harmony and melodies differently, and thus they have different effects on our perception.

Are you happy with the results? Looking back on it all, would you change anything? 

I’m happy with it, and it represents the actual state of how I feel, how I hear things. Would I change anything? Nowadays, you could keep editing a record forever, but does it make it any better? Which recording and editing steps are really essential and which simply make the music just plain boring? I feel like I changed enough in the process. Then, there is the fact that finishing a record also means letting go. Releasing it means creating space for new things. And I’m also happy about that.

Avarnes is a misspelling of the word “awareness”, what stands behind this word and why did you choose it as the title of the record? 

The spelling just came to me. Much later, I realised it could be read as a misspelling of “awareness”. I like that word, awareness, because it’s also related to composing and performing music. And since the misspelling reads the way someone from Eastern Europe would pronounce the english word “awareness”, and because I have Hungarian roots, it felt fitting. Serious, but also somehow funny. I like contrasting feelings. And, as a last hint, I love that YouTube video of Jean-Claude van Damme where he talks about being aware. Again, that’s that combination of seriousness and complete nonsense, and this excites me.


Photo by Florian Kalotay