Boruzescu approaches electronic music with a different ear than most. A huge chunk of her youth was spent singing, recording and touring the globe in Bucharest’s children’s choir, giving her an understanding of the harmony and construction underpinning hundreds of years of Western classical music. She started DJing shortly after leaving the choir in her late teens and steadily built a style that could be reductively described as the Romanian answer to Salon Des Amateurs’ Lena Willikens, Vladimir Ivkovic and Tolouse Low Trax—indeed, it was Willikens who recommended Boruzescu to Cómeme’s Matias Aguayo.
Boruzescu’s development as an artist has reached new heights with the release of her debut album on Cómeme, A Body. Her voice takes centre stage, but not in the way you might expect given her choral background. It’s marked by striking intimacy and narcotic distance, like a presence whispering in your ear while you’re under general anesthetic. When I visited Boruzescu in Berlin to learn about the process behind the record, I was struck by her dogged commitment to creating music on her own terms. In an age where producers often feel as though they’re fighting for attention, Boruzescu’s attitude reflects a rare degree of confidence and humility.
Did you envision making an album or was it a suggestion from somewhere else?
Well, it wasn’t my idea.
That’s far more common than most people think, though.
I just had a batch of tracks I was working on over the past year. Cómeme wanted to do a new release so I sent over what I had and they answered, “Do you want to release an album?” I was like, “Really?” To be honest, I didn’t see it as an album, but when I started putting it together and reworked the tracks it began to make sense. It was coming from a single timespan and the tracks were telling the same story. Now that it’s mastered and released I can say that it makes total sense from the first to the last track. I didn’t add too much, I just found the right order.
In hindsight, do you think that’s a less stressful way of making an album? Having a preconceived plan is a very different state of mind from creating without an overarching vision.
It’s true, but I can honestly say that when I make music I never think in terms of the release or the format. This is something that I never do and I never will be able to do in the future. I like to stay honest with myself and to avoid artificially sticking things in a box. I think working to a format would suffocate me at some point. I would rather work freely, gather the pieces together and ask, “What do we have here? How can we rebuild this puzzle?”
This sounds like a healthy approach. But many producers get derailed by thinking, “Who or what is this music for?”
I respect everybody’s way of working but you can’t make music with the thought of “Where am I going to release this?” Of course you have to start a dialogue with labels when they want music from you, but I always tell them, “Look guys, don’t expect anything.” I’m not going to deliver something specific that they’re asking for because it all depends on what I’m feeling when I’m working.
Did you learn this from chasing labels before your music started coming out?
Not really. I was making music through those years and I was thinking that it’d be nice to release it. But I never thought with the mentality of pleasing a label in order to have something come out. My first record on Cómeme came about when the label manager walked up to me on a dance floor and asked me to send them music. My first reaction was, “Sure, but I don’t think my music would fit on the label.” It was an honest answer. I could’ve gone home and worked on tracks that I thought would fit on Cómeme, whatever that means. Instead, I said that I’d send them what I have with the proviso that I don’t think it’s going to work out. In the end, it fit. That’s a big thing for me though—if I feel I’m in the wrong place I’d much rather not be there at all.
Again, this sounds like the ideal attitude. But there is a pervasive idea that producers are competing for finite opportunities, so you have to actively pursue your goals in order to get what you want.
I think that at the very start, nobody should be chasing anything. Artists shouldn’t force themselves to bend to expectations, be they self-imposed or from the outside. Because at that moment the art, or whatever you want to call it, loses value.
We have access to such a wide variety of sounds that you can pursue whatever aesthetic you want. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to sound or feel honest. It also sounds like you’re talking about managing ego. Perhaps I am the egocentric one because what I’m doing is in the first place for myself. And I know that the moment I have satisfied myself, it might appeal to others, too. If I’m unhappy, it doesn’t work. If I couldn’t work this way for some reason, I’d rather do something else, like gardening.
Maybe part of the pressure is an economic issue. Some people start developing in electronic music very early and begin making a living out of it quite quickly. At some point, in order to keep doing it, to sustain yourself with it, you feel you need to make a deal with the devil—at least for some people. I haven’t found myself in that position and hopefully never will. I’m trying to stay true enough in order for people not to expect something from me other than what I’m doing. If the day ever came that I needed to deliver work purely to sustain myself, I would find other options to survive. If what I do doesn’t feed me, then so be it.
Your first record came out barely two years ago but you’ve been DJing for much longer. I get the sense that you didn’t rush your move into production.
I started DJing in Bucharest when I was 19. It was maybe about three years ago that making electronic music became my main thing. Before then I was in a research stage—it was more on a hobby level. I was DJing quite often, but I wasn’t living off of it and never considered music production as a means of sustaining myself.
You said research there. What do you mean specifically?
Research sounds quite deliberate but it was more unconscious in reality. I learned Ableton Live years ago but finding my own language and voice took much longer. After a certain point, it’s not so much about learning the software but finding the sounds that feel representative of you. Once you discover the sounds then the rest can fall into place.
Do you remember coming across the sounds that felt representative of yourself?
It’s tough to say because obviously it’s hard for a musician or producer to have an objective vision of their own sound. You might have a clearer idea than I do or see certain ingredients in the sound that I don’t see. I know there are elements that contribute to the character of my music but I don’t hear it in the same way the listener does. I honestly can’t tell where the sound is coming from.
What about figuring out production techniques from groups that inspired you?
I’m not that geeky. I listen to a lot of music but I never looked at the skeleton of it with this type of detail in mind.
Do you think that attitude is important for how your music is today? For some artists, this type of hyper-specific production knowledge infects their artistic sensibility and affects their way of thinking about music for the worse.
It might sound naive or clichéd but I don’t believe in genres. So if you ask me about, say, the snare reverb on a Fad Gadget record, I don’t care so much. I can appreciate and observe these types of things but to answer your question honestly, my basic inspiration is coming from the Baroque period rather than the ’80s. Obviously this is a period where recording and production didn’t exist. I understand that you hear EBM, new wave, techno or whatever in my sound but I am not approaching it with this in mind. It’s hard to put your finger on it but I think the basis of my musical self was built between ages six and 18 when I was singing in a choir.
What was the repertoire?
It was diverse but mostly classical. We were the children’s choir of the national radio and television in Bucharest. Besides our own repertoire, we were singing with the national radio orchestra. We also sang religious music and stretched back into the pre-classical era.
Pretty complicated stuff for a six-year-old, no?
Yeah but when you start early it gets imprinted on your brain. I didn’t tour in the choir until I was nine, though.
But this must have been an intense period of learning that required a lot of dedication.
The repertoire would change every year, so it all adds up over time. It took me maybe three years to properly prepare myself. But it came quite naturally to me, it was like I’d lived this life before somehow. Being in the choir was like having two schools or two educations. We were also recording very often so I was in studios from a young age. We’d tour three times a year.
Where would you go?
I toured for 12 years, from age nine to 18. We went to the States, Japan, all over Europe. We had permission to take time off school to travel. We rehearsed three times a week when school was on. In the summer holidays, we’d do every day for two months straight. We had one month free a year. While the other kids had their three months of holidays, we were in the recording studio. It’s a hard regimen for kids. Many friends dropped out because it was too much. But I really enjoyed it.
Interviewers like to try and make direct connections between your time in the choir and your music. But the “evidence,” for lack of a better word, isn’t so clear, unless you know where to look.
I’m not one to describe my own music but I feel there is certainly a strong strain of classical elements in there somewhere, even in the techno tracks.
The chords in the middle of “Sympathy For The Suspicious” almost have a late Romantic feel in the way they pass through and resolve dissonances.
Yes, for sure. But I don’t want to tell you how to listen. This is just where I’ve come from. Maybe with this knowledge you’ll notice different things in the sound. Or not. The function of melody and harmony is very important to my ears.
You set scenes in your music in quite a vivid way. Does the picture appear to you while you’re making it? Or do you have a vision before you begin?
The answer is A. As I mentioned earlier, I work very instinctively and don’t plan ahead at all. I just start. It doesn’t matter if the first idea is a beat or a synth line or whatever. You’re after an element that draws the other parts toward it. I can’t say beforehand how many instruments it’ll need or what direction they’re going to go. Somehow, it begins to grow on its own. This is where a symbiosis can happen between yourself and the machines—you start to have this kind of flow. You begin with one sound and it leads you somewhere, like a conversation almost.
What machines have you had this kind of relationship with?
Any analogue synthesiser can give you this sort of thrill because you have this wide beach of possibilities to explore. And it always happens in the moment so it’s hard to reduce it to one machine or the other. But my first synth was the microKORG and it’s a great place to start. It’s not too expensive and it offers exactly what you need to get a taste for finding out more. My big love right now is the Moog. My Minitaur. It only has one sound but it just goes and goes.
This one has a limited pitch range. Isn’t it sold as a bass synthesiser?
Yeah, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t need it to do more than it’s doing and I’m sure I’ve only covered about a quarter of what it can do. I think it’s endless—now I’m sounding like a proud parent. It marked a new era for me, in a way. There isn’t a huge difference in my sound between what I released before the album and what is coming next. But you can feel that there is somebody new in there.
I wanted to ask you about “Infatuation,” because it draws together sounds from different sources in a striking way. It sounds like someone’s hitting a sheet of metal in an empty space, then there’s this down-pitched, heavy breathing…
That’s my breath. It’s leading the whole track actually. It has a rhythmic function but it gives things this heavy, weirdly sensual vibe, which is half creepy, half sexy. I didn’t have a hardware drum machine so I only used VSTs and a big bank of samples. The bass is just the microKORG.
What about this metallic sound?
It’s just something I pulled from these sample banks. I didn’t get this stuff from a specific source, it’s usually folders I’ve swapped between friends. Some of them are dedicated to industrial, clanking, metallic hits. I’ll mesh these together into a single rhythm with more recognisable machines, like 808s or 707s. This is why I like making beats digitally rather than with a drum machine—I might make a pattern out of three abstract noises and five different drum machines.
Really, though, I’m not paying too much attention to what the sound is called, where it comes from or whatever. When I’m working on the track and I need a kick drum, I’m just scrolling through searching for the sound rather than caring what the sound is. Maybe it’s disrespectful to the maker but I’m just interested in the effect. I might even have a bank of Kraftwerk sounds but they’re just starting points. Simply changing the frequency has a big influence on the character.
One school of thought says that how a sound is made is of vital importance. Another finds it totally insignificant, if not needlessly distracting. As time goes on, the second perspective seems more and more persuasive.
Yes, the source doesn’t matter at all nowadays. It’s about what your ear hears. Whether you take your kick drum from a branch snapping in a field recording or from a generic sample pack—I don’t think it matters. The point is that it fits well into whatever structure your brain hears it in. You enter into a sort of trance as the pieces come together. Every time I’ve set out with an intention thinking, “I’m going to do a track like this and it’s going to sound this way,” it doesn’t work.
When the rough tracklist for the album was decided, did you realise that elements were missing that needed to be added? Or was it rather a case of subtracting from what was already there?
It was mostly subtractive. I pulled out a track just before mastering, actually. I did add a sort of intermission, which came out of an experiment. It can be taken as a track in itself but it’s there to glue two things together. It supplies more common ground for the album’s narrative.
What was this experiment?
Anyone can reverse sounds but I was very curious about how a melodic part in one of the tracks would sound backwards. I’m not going to say which one. I liked it very much but I don’t know how perceptible it is on the album. There’s an echo of a track that you’ve already heard in full. It’s just an invention for giving the album a through-line of continuity.
Did you think a lot about the experience of the listener who’s digesting the record in one sitting?
Of course. I grew up listening to albums and knowing them back to front, from the first track to the last. It’s not just a longer timespan of music, it’s a journey for the listener. It needs to have a story. With a film, you write a script and you can shoot it as a short or a feature-length piece. It needs to unravel and show itself over time. Maybe it’s delusional to think that people still listen to albums but that form of experience is very dear to me.
I asked the mastering engineer to cut the record in such a way that there are no breaks between the tracks. They all flow into the other so it’s actually quite difficult to play in a club—we have files for that. But the record itself, it’s a story.
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