artist feature 022: Sabrina Dzugalo
We dive in deep with the very talented Sabrina Dzugalo for showcase #22. Her big push into the realm of electronica began on Vancouver Island in the mid 90's. At the Java Coffeehouse in Victoria, British Columbia, she spearheaded “Paradigm Shift”, a weekly ambient showcase, alongside Yoseff Samchuk and David Bodrug—currently behind Victoria’s Garden City Electronic Music Society. Sit tight as we delve into Sabrina's creative process…
Sabrina— take us back to your early music involvements in the electronic scene.
In my first year at UVIC, 1994, I discovered its radio station, CFUV, and began volunteering right away. I loved working in the background and I took on all sorts of roles there. I also heard music I had never heard before, and new music sent from record labels. I was especially attracted to electronic music like the Orb and the Future Sound of London. When I was offered a radio show, I knew right away that it should focus on that genre. I wanted to share it. I was also inspired by the only CFUV show playing electronic music, and it was hosted by Team Lounge. They introduced me to artists like Spacetime Continuum and Mixmaster Morris. I called my show Wire Shock and I was the Space Monkey (the name of a publishing company on the Spacetime Continuum album, ‘Sea Biscuit’). I had recently discovered Vangelis and his Blade Runner soundtrack, so I started each of my shows with the thunderous energy of his ‘End Titles’ and ended them with ‘Tears in Rain’. In the early days, I was layering ambient and experimental music. But when I heard house and techno from east coast labels like Plus 8, I taught myself how to beat mix so I could add them to my show.
Afterwards, you studied audio engineering in Toronto. What pushed you to move and dedicate yourself to production?
On one of my shows, I interviewed a band called Perfume Tree. They showed me their home studio and it looked like magic to me. I was also interested in science fiction at the time, which sparked my interest in physics and vibrational medicine. A phrase from the track ‘Natural Frequency’ by the Irresistible Force would often run through my head, “All vibrating systems have their own natural frequency”. That made me especially interested in the science of sound and I felt that an audio engineering program had to be my next step. With hardly any internet at the time, there was no Google or YouTube videos with which to teach myself. That was 1998, and I was very excited to make a leap, move across the country to an unknown city, and dive in. Luckily, I met a DJ who had attended the Producing/Engineering Program at the Harris Institute for the Arts in Toronto and he highly recommended it for me. So I was off to Toronto and I loved the school. When I graduated, I worked as an audio post engineer for web and TV in Toronto. All the while, I was still DJing around Toronto, playing music like Sutekh and Plastikman, and learning a lot from the talented DJs there.
Congratulations on releasing your first EP “From the Nest”! Give us the scoop about its creative inception and development.
For years, whenever I couldn’t find enough work in audio post, I shape-shifted into other roles, other careers. That continued when I moved to Vancouver in 2007. While I enjoyed immersing myself in a wide variety of things ranging from holistic medicine to web development, I felt like I was missing something and I needed to grow as a musician, and make use of all the skills I learned at Harris.
About a year ago, I took inventory. Aside from my DJ gear, I had an M-Audio Keystation 88, a CD of the first version of Ableton from 2001, and a background in classical piano and music theory. I realized I had everything I needed for producing music, and so I hit the ground running. In just one week I wrote the sketches for 8 tracks. It was like I had all these ideas, built up over 2 decades, and I didn’t even know it. Writing music was like a relief, like coming home.
Then, with the latest version of Ableton, I entered an international remix contest and made it onto the Hijack EP with my ‘Hello Jack Remix’ (original by Urban Francis & Bolivia), now on Coldwave Records. While working on that remix, I heard that Pete Grove of Woodwork Recordings wanted to release new material. I shared one of my rough tracks with him and he loved it. We decided to release my 4-track EP, which came out in October. I can’t wait to do another, and collaborate with Pete as well.
My EP was inspired by a few different things: the Narcos series on Netflix, a recording of me talking, and a busker in Toronto’s Kensington Market. The name, ‘From the Nest’, came from where I live, on the 5th floor, looking out into a forest, at tree level—it’s like I live in a nest. So these tracks were from the nest.
How did Techno and House become your main avenues for music production?
I love to dance! It’s in my genes. Both my parents are musical but never had the opportunity to develop it in themselves, and they loved disco. I have a memory, I must have been a toddler, of my dad playing Boney M.’s ‘Nightflight to Venus’ album, and I couldn’t help but dance to it. I loved the weird and wonderful synthesizer sounds, with the bass shaking the house. It was so much fun and I love recreating that feeling.
You started to write scores for old sci-fi films. Tell us about that!
Well I’m writing my first one, but I soon hope to say it’s something I do regularly! I would love to collaborate with filmmakers next! This soundtrack is for Aelita: Queen of Mars, the first soviet sci-fi film, which I hope to enter into a film festival in Victoria soon. I’m using the sounds of traditional Russian instruments for the Moscow scenes, playing with strange sounds and things I’ve recorded for the Mars scenes, and sometimes bringing in breaks and house beats when the plot gets exciting. I feel it’s a story of political oppression and hope, old traditions and dreams of change, jealousy and love. It’s a silent film, and so I hope my music will draw the viewers in.
What is your weapon of choice?
For DJing, it’s Traktor. For producing, it’s Ableton, my keyboard and the Push.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
When I began DJing, I was inspired by the music I heard, and very thankful to Boomtown Records in Victoria for always setting aside new albums for me. When I did audio post work, I was inspired by the weird noises I was meant to remove, like breath sounds, clicks and pops. I then heard those sounds in the music of Pole and the Chain Reaction label, which I played frequently. Years later, I was inspired by music with more melodic elements, like that of Pezzner and Kate Simko. Since writing music, I’ve found inspiration in all sorts of things, like the sound of Rey snapping her fingers in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the sound of the SkyTrain, or something I read. One of my favourite concepts is something by S. Kelley Harrell, “Imagine the darkest, blackest cave, and the only visible thing is a teensy flicker of light. In that kind of darkness, the smallest light sources dazzle.” It reminds me of balance in sound design, and creating the space so something can be heard.
Any tips to share?
So far, my philosophy has been to listen carefully to where the track wants to go next, and help it get there. My advice is to avoid packing every idea you have into one track! I’ve made that mistake!
One word to describe yourself?
Finally, the sweet stuff... talk about the sonic treat you wrote for us!
For ADSR, I wanted to make groovy techno, using sounds that were fresh and new to me. So I started with one of my unreleased tracks. I removed all melodic elements, and put each of the remaining percussive instruments through a resonator. I had recently joined a team of researchers collecting sound recordings in Stanley Park, as part of Yu Su’s project with 221A, and we were each given the recordings. I used the sounds from rubbing a leaf, winding a disposable camera, and a hand running along a railing, and ran them through EQs, resonators, and flangers. I was so happy to make the sounds I was looking for. I then added a touch of warmth with a melody, and there we have it! I hope it’s a track that takes you somewhere, with your toes tapping.