Krakow-based artist Martyna Basta’s diaristic sound creates a delicate atmosphere that is at once lush and haunting. A classically trained guitarist, the Polish composer escaped the academic world at the age of 18, replacing her guitar with a synth. She soon developed a unique way of composing, using modulated voice, electronics, and field recordings. This year she released the much acclaimed album Slowly Forgetting, Barely Remembering, her second via Warm Winters Ltd. Catch her at schiev festival taking place in Brussels early October.
Memory and an observational, diaristic view of the world seem to be a common thread running through your sound work. Your latest release, Diaries Beneath Fragile Glass, was recorded during long and solitary days in Finland. Could you talk about how you translate memories into sound?
First of all, the choice is always very intuitive. I’ll struggle for weeks to come up with something and then wake up one morning and almost spit it out. It’s like a feeling of discovery, like I’ve found that thing I’ve been looking for and at some point it just materialises. It’s almost a cry of ‘Yes, this is it!’ How do I know it’s the right one? I don’t have a clue, but the significance lies in the authenticity of that feeling. There exists a peculiar harmony between my choice, myself and the music, a connection that eludes precise explanation.
From what I’ve observed – because I believe that being driven by intuition means that you also learn about your practice on the way – my albums evolve as a culmination of emotions, sentiments, or images experienced during a particular period. I never start a record with a blank page, but rather collect some sketches for a while, see what they’re about, and only from there I start to weave everything together, adding some new little narratives here and there. It’s very interesting to me because it shifts your position from being a maker, a musician, to being an observer. I like to think of music not just as a product of my making, but as something mysteriously materialising before me, originating from some magical realm.
It often helps to leave what’s familiar and comfortable, like your home. I went to Finland alone and didn’t really talk to anyone for the whole month I was there. The reality was at once isolating and begging to be filled with something. I walked along the river that runs through the town where I stayed, dampening my microphone in its current, sometimes running, sometimes frozen. The landscape, blanketed in snow, rendered everything a bit muted, yet the omnipresent sun dazzled, blinding from its surface. The aquatic sounds resonating in my ears pulsated with a newfound vitality, and it was this sensory experience that inspired the compositions.
Is there a memory you would like to sonify but haven’t yet?
I don’t think I’ve ever sonified a specific memory – it evokes the action, but it’s more a feeling that leaves a trace in the music. When I revisit my past compositions, it’s like flipping through old photographs, revealing fleeting glimpses of emotions. This is the essence of how my compositions unfold – I often blend field recordings from different times and places into a cohesive whole. I like the fact that each field recording I use is made by me in the reality in which I find myself, because it feels a bit like I’m building a new sound world out of the little sonic worlds I’ve experienced. This authenticity means a lot to me, sometimes I almost feel like it makes me honest with my listeners. You know, like I’m not playing games.
In terms of technical aspects – you work with field recordings as well as voice, which are very evocative of certain atmospheres and feelings. How do you compose your work?
The very first take is the one I often choose, even if it’s not perfect. When I recorded the zither on ‘Podszepnik I’, I intended it to be just a sketch that I would record again later. Then I realised that I just couldn’t repeat it anymore. There’s a rawness and genuineness when I’m unaware of the recording process, making it the most authentic for me.
There is no one way I make music, it happens a little differently every time. I often start with a line – be it a zither or voice melody – and from there I start building layers around that initial thought. I like to find field recordings from my archive and play with them, take a micro-element from the line and then listen to what happens. There are usually no half measures, so it’s either a disaster or I feel like these recordings were almost meant to be waved together.
It may sound like fun, but I hardly ever have fun making music. Most of the time it’s a real struggle for me. It’s often emotionally draining, but the process of getting there makes it all worthwhile. Those feelings are somewhat fulfilling that I don’t really care about having fun. And playing live is a real joy in the end.
You are classically trained in guitar, and at the age of 18 “escaped academia”. Do you remember this rupture with the classical music world and education?
When I finished music school I went to the exams for the music academy and got in, and when I heard about it I decided not to send in my papers, which are needed to start studying. They called me in the summer, just after my 18th birthday, to remind me of the deadline, but I told them I was not going. The reaction was one of shock, but deep down, I sensed it would be the most significant decision of my life. And indeed, it was.
At that time, the stress of performing on stage had reached a point where I would experience stomach pains a week before any live event, even if it was just a school performance for family. As time went on, I really started to feel very overwhelmed by the perfectionism that had to be embraced in every detail. I wanted to experiment, but there was nothing like that at school, so when I dropped everything and decided to make music on my own, I had no idea how to start. I had to take a break from music for a few years and start from scratch. So the first thing I did was tape looping, deconstructing the material, almost as a symbolic gesture to the past. I started to embrace imperfection and mistakes became a source of inspiration to me.
You’ve since started incorporating acoustic instruments into your work too. What is the interplay between the electronic and acoustic instruments?
What I like to do is record the acoustic instruments and then manipulate them electronically in software. I don’t like to use MIDI because they sound a bit dead to me. I can’t play violins and I don’t own any, so what I do is borrow them from some friend and clumsily play a few notes to capture something workable for later use. If a desired instrument isn’t within my reach, I simply don’t use it. It is somewhat limiting, but I see it as a precious thing. It’s so easy to get lost in the world of too many possibilities, so I prefer to build some frameworks within which I can move.
You have a busy year behind you. With a recent performance at Unsound in New York, and several releases, the album Slowly Forgetting, Barely Remembering being widely applauded (Pitchfork included it in their top experimental albums of the year). How do you reminisce about it yourself?
It may sound naive, but when I released my debut album two years ago, I honestly didn’t think anyone would listen to it. Or at least I didn’t think about it. I remember being so happy to finally make music that was all that mattered and I didn’t even think about what might be next. When my friend Mateusz Olszewski (aka Zaumne) asked me to support him in Warsaw after I released my debut in 2021, I almost immediately said no, but decided to sleep on it and luckily changed my mind. I wasn’t really ready to perform it. It felt very intimate and I was vulnerable to expose it to the world.
I’m really grateful for everything that has happened and is happening in my life, the wonderful people I’ve met along the way who support me in what I do. I feel very privileged to be able to live in peace, have a roof over my head and do what I love on a daily basis, especially when there are devastating wars going on in the world and so much suffering. It is so unbearable that a few men in power destroy the lives of thousands of people and I’ll never be able to come to terms with it. I feel very helpless as a bystander, so I try to focus on the reality around me and try to be a compassionate presence for others, honouring nature and navigating events with empathy and kindness.
And since we are nearing the end with the start of the new year on the horizon, what is on your horizon for next year?
Accumulate new feelings for the music material that is slowly growing within me. And pet my dog a lot.
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova
Photo by Filip Preis