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Life as a journey through music and your own mind

Evilena Protektore

How a person that loves certainty in life suddenly started improvising, or a story about «Klausies.Слушай.Listen» project’s accidental birth and album release

Spoken Word is a genre that became more and more popular throughout the last 10 years, now gaining more charm and intriguing people. All in all it’s nothing new in terms of arts — poetry slams have existed long before today, same goes for jazz, but when you combine both those things, you get something new and unexpected. Spoken word and jazz together is a very exciting thing, because this flow of improvised music, combined with a ready made fine piece of poetry makes a pattern where unexpected meets, well, certainty. In addition to that, when you hear poetry comped by music, you get a very specific image, all the colors are already there, all the emotional messages as well, you just have to relax, open up your mind and take it all in.

Actually, combining Spoken Word with jazz music isn’t a new thing in the world, and, surprisingly, in Latvia as well. For years now monopolizers of than genre were «Orbita» — a union of poets that sometimes invite jazz musicians to play along at their events. But the time has come to broaden the horizons of this tandem, and on May 1st, 2018 a new album was presented to the public! The initiator of that is a young woman that is closely connected to jazz, although isn’t a musician herself, no, she is a poet. For years she has been working to help promote jazz musicians and jazz music on the local music market, and finally she decided to show her hidden poetry to the world, but do it alongside the music she holds dear. Her name is Aleksandra Line, and I persuaded her to spill all of her secrets and reveal the story of how a music manager suddenly became a jazz poet!

Artūrs Dimenšteins

Tell me about the project and about the album!

I first thought about it almost 4 years ago and then we had our first concert some 3 years ago, where it was officially born. It is my poetry in Latvian, Russian and English combined with improvised jazz, ambient, fusion, all together played by three amazing musicians. The idea of our album belongs to Artis Orubs, the drummer, he said that we had to record it and we went into the studio and did it! There are 15 compositions in the album, 5 for each language.

How did you work on the album?

In the beginning I spent a huge amount of time choosing the texts I wanted to include. Then we had a discussion with the guys and decided on the moods that fit into the lyrics, so that the music would go along with the poetry, to complement it, and so that it would all sound like a complete thing. Then we recorded it! Everything from the first take! We had one studio day and then 4 more months of work — mixing and mastering. We did it together with Artis and Ivars Ozols, the sound engineer who also made the recording. The hardest thing was to get both of them together in one place at the same time, because they seem to be the most occupied people in the music industry on planet Earth, and I couldn’t do it without Artis, because he was the producer of the album. For me personally the most excruciating part was to be patient while it was brewing.

Tell me about the design! There is some hidden meaning, a message in it, right?

Well, yes! I couldn’t figure out just one picture or an image that would go with every tune on the album, because the stories in it are very different. The album itself turned out more like a book with different stories. These stories are all about different things and when I gave a couple of my friends a chance to listen to the tracks before they were out, everyone had his own picture that came to mind. And then I suddenly remembered that I know a photographer Arturs Dimenšteins, and I like his works a lot. He mostly works with black and white films and his pictures are mostly about his travels, what he manages to find in different corners of the world and his vision of traveling is very much alike mine. I asked him to pick up some images for the album and I liked every single one he sent me (20 or 30 pictures!), but it wasn’t what I needed, until he sent me a picture of a small house, a window, a door… I’ve always liked windows, that’s why this picture caught my eye. Arturs asked me, whether he needed to look for more and I said that I wanted to think until the next day. That night I saw this house in a dream! Even now when I close my eyes I can see it clearly — the sea on the right, a table with two chairs in front of the house, a bottle of wine on it and me with Arturs sitting and talking about our travels. When I woke up I told him right away that there’s no point in further searchings, that is the one and it will be on the cover of my album!

After that I went to Vadims Kožins, I have worked with him for a couple of years and knew that he was the one person who would make a lovely design for the CD.

There’s another picture by Arturs on the CD, right?

Yes! Vadims thought that that picture was perfect to illustrate what my texts are about. He also thought that the content is bright, speckled, that’s why we decided to add some color to the inside of the CD cover. I think that it’s not always that there is so much work involved into the design, when from real pieces of photographs happen other little stories — there’s a knitted pattern, a sock, ice-cream sticks, 40 cm long cinnamon sticks that I looked for all around the city. Maybe these images will not fit everybody’s thoughts, but I really enjoyed the process.

Artūrs Dimenšteins

What are the stories hidden in your poetry?

Every text happens for a reason — sometimes it’s the feeling I get, sometimes a story about me, but most of the times it’s a story about someone else, what happens around me, or maybe a story inspired by some certain person, and the story transforms in a way I can no longer influence. Sometimes my friends, when they read my poetry, recognize themselves in it, but also get surprised by the ending of it, because it begun with them, but finished with a completely different person.

What is this album about?

If I had to choose one, I’d say it’s about travels. Not always the physical ones, also travels inside your mind, your city, other cities. Life is a huge journey all in all, a road. A journey with music or into the music — I get inspired by concerts a lot, or by certain musicians. When you listen to the music you travel as well, just inside your head.

For how long have you been writing poetry?

Since early childhood. I can’t say for certain, really. I never said that I used to write, but my parents found some draft texts that were written when I was around 6 years old.

Do you remember your first poem?

I’m not sure it was indeed the first one, but from those childhood drafts there was something about polar bears, North pole and penguins. It seems that even then I was prone to travel.

Do you remember the one poem that made you realize or admit that you are indeed a poet?

It could have been a beautiful story, but no… I was writing constantly. I remember that when I was maybe 13 years old, I found out that there was this service «stihi.ru» (poems.ru), and because since childhood I’ve been writing in both Latvian and Russian, I decided to upload my Russian ones there — maybe that was the moment that I admitted to be writing poetry.

Do you call yourself a poet?

I don’t really like when anyone calls himself a poet nowadays, and I don’t like to label myself that even more.

Who is a poet then?

This term always seemed to me a bit full of itself, a bit grotesque even. I’m probably wrong. Poetry is just another form of arts, a way to tell a story about the world around you, just as a musician does it, but a shorter way of it, maybe a more precise way to do it, often, but not always, with a certain rhythm and rhyme, maybe a little limited way of storytelling.

So, who are you then, if not a poet?

A «poet» is a beautiful word. Simple and beautiful. It doesn’t work for me in a way that «I have to write a poem right now!». If something comes to mind, then I put it on paper. That’s it. There’s nothing more to that. I don’t know, maybe somewhere deep inside I’m scared, that at some point it will all end. Maybe I’m a little scared to call myself a poet because if the moment comes when it all ends, who will I be then?

Evilena Protektore un Vadims Kožins

When was the first time you showed your poems to someone else?

Probably the moment I posted something on stihi.ru. At that time it was a pretty active blog community in Russia, different activities happened then, everyone shared their opinions and comments on the poems, you could find authors from different countries there, some were younger than me, a lot of them older, up to 90 years old! The moment I was personally contacted by a poet Konstantin Kedrov, who’s poetry we studied at school at the very same time, during Russian literature lessons, and who was one of the founders of this huge site with a millions of followers, when Konstantin approached me with a proposition to submit my poems into a competition «The Poet of the Year» and to participate in the readings, I realised that someone really reads my writings and someone is interested in it! I didn’t get a chance to read my poems there because there was no time to get a visa, but I was indeed nominated for a «Poet of the Year» title.

When was the first time you have read your poems to other people?

The first time was through a recording. I shared my text with a friend whose name is Vladimir Tuzov, and at the same time he was composing something of his own and he said that my text would fit perfectly with his tune. He had an idea and asked me to work on the poem a bit until it meets his requirements and then we recorded it at his place. That was my first experience. Completely live readings though were only with this project.

What motivates you to go public?

A lot of my friends were nagging me, said that I write so much that I could publish several books already. That idea stuck and I thought that maybe I could develop it into something. I even had some negotiations with a publishing house, but we were met with financial issues which were never resolved. Then there was Vladimir and I thought again — the genre exists already, there are people like Grishkovets, Polozkova, Orbita with our Latvian guys… And due to the fact that I work in the music industry every single day, I thought I could try combining my work with my poetry, that’s how the project was conceived! To be honest, at first I thought that it would be best to find some other person to read my texts, like an actor of sorts, because I have never read publicly before, but then decided to give it a try. All in all, I was the one who wrote it, no one knows better than me which parts should be emphasized, which emotional vibe would fit the text more, I know better what it’s all about.

Why improvised music?

It just happened somehow… Just happened. I like certainty in my life too much it seems, I feel safe when I know what tomorrow brings, what’s going to happen in an hour or next week. But somehow our first time was exactly the opposite — with improvised music and suddenly I liked it! It’s not always comfortable this not knowing what’s going to happen, who’s going to be playing a solo next, but it’s incredibly interesting and I’m learning to enjoy the process and not stress about it. A wonderful trumpetist Dominykas, who joined the project just recently, said that in life it’s very important to learn to improvise, and somehow this project, even if the texts are not improvised, is like a huge improvisation itself.

While we were recording the album, the hardest part was being in a separate room where I couldn’t see any of the musicians, but they could see each other, communicate with their eyes, some gestures, talk with each other through their body language, plan ahead, same as on stage during a jam session. Me on the other hand, I had to rely mostly on my emotions, of how I felt the music they were playing, to understand their musical flow and how to integrate my word into it, or when to stay quiet. They also couldn’t see me and didn’t know when I would suddenly start reading, when will I finish, maybe I would add something else. When we were recording the last track on the album called «Slushaj», at one point they all suddenly stopped playing while my text continued and that was a huge surprise to me. For a moment my voice wobbled, because I couldn’t figure out whether they were going to start playing again or am I going to finish this solo. That was… interesting.

Which language you write in more often?

Mostly in Russian and Latvian. A little less in English.

How do you choose the language?

I don’t. In my everyday life I mostly speak Latvian, but I don’t really choose the language of my texts. I just get the urge to put the words together in a certain one, that’s it.

When you write your texts, do you try to make the rhymes more complicated in order to make it more interesting?

Sometimes I just follow the thought and I don’t really know where it would lead me. Sometimes I want to play a bit with the form of the rhyme, with the ways to decorate the sentence. It’s different all the times. And it’s different with the languages.

Whom do you write for?

I do it for myself. Life feels easier when I put on paper everything that happens to me. And here my favorite topic of every discussion begins, that every product of arts wouldn’t be complete without it’s target audience, these quarrels about whether an artist could be called an artist, if he creates a painting but no one ever sees it, except for himself. I want to believe that the people who attend our concert or those who will listen to our album will get the impression that what they hear will be in tune with what they feel. That’s why it would be awesome if it was for someone else as well. I’d be glad if so. But I can’t stop writing, no matter if people read it, hear it or not, that means that I white for the sake of me.

Do you reread your texts after you wrote them and try looking at them from the listeners point of view?

I try, that’s why not all the texts are published or played at the concerts. I don’t write because I want every single text to be read by someone, but those that go public, I want someone to read them or to listen to them and hear them. Not everything I write has to be read, I just can’t stop.

And how do you decide that a certain text deserves to see the light of day?

I wing it, when I feel that I did a good job. There is no certain criteria to that.

Evilena Protektore un Vadims Kožins

The project has such a name, in a form of… an order. Why, who created it?

At the beginning, when we were writing funding applications with the publishing house for the book with poetry, we had to give the project a name. The publishing house couldn’t figure out a cool name, that’s why I had to take it on myself. The publishers liked the idea to include poetry in all three languages, without translations, there would be about 70 texts, it was hard to think of something that would be short and fine. It took me a while to come up with «Lasi. Читай. Read.». After that, when things didn’t work out with this project but evolved into a musical one, the usual story happened: we had a date for the first concert, we had to make a poster, no one had any idea of how to call it, so I took the idea of the book and transformed it. Personally I don’t think that there could be a better name to better describe what happens on the stage — I read, musicians play, and you have to listen to it, that’s why «Klausies» in three languages. Some people say that the name is quite unforgettable.

Aren’t you afraid to do texts in three languages at the same time? Not all the listeners might understand everything?

Yes, it is a bit dangerous, but I want to. Concerning the fact that we live in a country where people often use all three during their everyday routines, why not? In any case there are going to be people who will miss out on something. But I want to. In the future maybe I will target it more specifically.

Does this project have any other forms?

Yes, there is an acoustic version with different instruments, and I like it a lot, the fact that I can play with other musicians as well. We have this project called «Tagad» (Now). There is a violinist Ilze Gagaine, we go way back, so she read one of my texts and contacted me, saying that she liked it and wanted to play with me. We got together, figured that we could make a trio. For a long time I had an idea that I wanted to do something with a pianist Artjoms Sarvi, because I like how he plays, a lot, so I called him and he agreed. We decided to call it «Tagad», because it is about improvisation that happens here and now. It’s pretty amazing how you could turn things around sometimes.