Interview: Daniela Orvin

Daniela Orvin is a musician and photographer based in both Berlin and Tel Aviv. At one point in our interview, she notes that all of her photographs are self-portraits – even those that depict landscapes, or objects, or tree stumps. Similarly, her debut release on Gravity’s Rainbow Tapes – Untitled (2014-2016) – transmits the self through passages of neoclassical piano, obscured field recordings, delicately exhaled voices and the music of Beethoven. For someone for whom movement seems so prominent, it feels apt that Daniela conveys the self through the constant exchange of artistic emission and sensory receipt. We are always in flux.

Below, Daniela and I discuss classical music through the veil of alcohol and trance state, scoring for film, and finding her home at the piano.

It’s clear that your relationship with sound and composition takes many different forms. These pieces encompass abstract and autumnal spaces, passages of vocal harmony, hints of neoclassical piano work…there’s even a piece in Hebrew at the very end that takes on a more solid song structure (albeit one whose edges are slightly smeared by the hints of dream pop). I understand that Thomas and Benjamin from Gravity’s Rainbow tapes helped curate and select the pieces here, but how did you find the process of pulling together the tracklist for this release? Was there an intention to encompass all of the aspects of your musical “self”?

In fact, the Gravity’s Rainbow Tapes boys found my music online and sent me a proposal, which already included the chosen songs and the tracklist. I was so positively surprised from the way they curated my music. There was a lot of thought behind it, and I would not have chosen it myself in the same manner.  It was as if they captured and showed me a new perspective, and this is what good curators do.

I do feel it captures all the aspects of my musical “self”. I can be versatile and I enjoy listening to so many genres which influence me, but I don’t think the intention was to show the versatility of my work – rather, to follow conceptual ideas they had in mind. Personally, I see this release as an exhibition of self portraits, or paragraphs from a diary.

The EP starts with the clang of a bell. It warbles slightly, as if I’m hearing it from within the depths of sleep. Did you record this sound? If so, where was it captured?

I wrote this piece after I was in a hospital for two weeks. It was a very strange place, a former old monastery with a church and I recorded the bells of this church with my phone. I’ve recorded all the sounds in this piece.

There’s a beautiful version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata here, subtitled “drunk and alone on Saturday night”. I hear the piece so differently when it’s framed in this way – I find myself imagining the lighting of the room, and I listen more intently to the pacing of your performance. Am I right to assume that this subtitle describes the time and circumstance of the recording? Could you tell me about the evening on which you recorded this piece, and what led you to feature this version in particular?

You are very right – it was a wintery Saturday night and I felt very lonely and found comfort in this piece. I played it maybe 30-40 times in repeat that night, got really into a trance. Luckily I recorded it, so it is authentic.

I would have never dared to feature this piece in an album of mine by myself. But Thomas and Ben did choose it and to be honest, for me, it is the most important piece in the album. Featuring my Beethoven performance just closed a circle in my life, which means a lot to me, and the guys didn’t even know it when they came with their offer. So I believe it is more than a coincidence.

What is it about this Beethoven piece that you particularly enjoy?

Well, it’s a beautiful and brilliant piece which I can’t get enough of. And when I play it, I enjoy it even more. it’s the challenge and the journey I go through while playing the notes, and I tell myself stories about love during this journey. It’s a romantic piece, and one of the greatest pieces ever written. I really feel honoured to be able to play it.

 

I sense a lot of movement and change on this release. I understand that you’re based in Berlin and Tel Aviv, and that you’ve studied in both Tel Aviv and London. This release also includes a photograph you took in Iceland. Furthermore, the listening experience is driven by transition: from vast soundscapes to solo piano works, from wordless voices to lyrics in Hebrew. Do you think your work is at all influenced by the presence of movement and change in your life?

Absolutely. My music, especially this release, has a straight forward connection to those movements and changes and reflects what I’m going through. I get inspired by situations, events, also by music and art but it mostly comes from an inner place.  

You’re also a photographer. Do you see there to be any intersection between your work as a photographer and your work within sound? Is there any thematic overlap between the two, or does one inform the other in any way?

I guess they both come from the same inner place, and express who I am. I see my photography works as self portraits, even when I photograph a tree stump in snow cropped in an unusual way. I also see my sound works as self reflections, in a different more intuitive and abstract way but still, they are both coming from me.

It doesn’t mean that my music will continue to be so self reflective in the future. I’m in constant progress. I think there should be a concept or a background idea, even if the intention is not always to make it obvious to the listener, but it just helps me to compose the music.

You’ve been playing piano since the age of six. How has your relationship with the instrument changed over time, if at all?

Yes, I did start playing the piano at age six but quit when I was 14 , after a trauma I had while playing in a concert. I made a mistake at the end of a piece and didn’t forgive myself. I thought I wasn’t a good enough performer so stopped playing completely; I was really hard with myself. I just “kicked” my beloved  piano away. At that time, music and the piano were my life, and I just became insecure and went in other directions. Although I always kept on being an enthusiastic music listener.

I actually started to play again three and a half  years ago, when I finally got the courage to start composing my own music. Surprisingly, it was just like riding a bike. My fingers never forgot pieces I played when I was young. “Moonlight Sonata” was a piece I learned to play when I was about 12 years old, so featuring my version as a piece in an album, making it officially published is just a symbolic assurance for the little girl I was, that I’m a good enough performer. It seems that my path in life is really strange. For such a long time I was looking and longing for a physical place that I could call home, and when I got back to playing the piano, I instantly felt thart I’m home again.    

You’ve also written music for a documentary by Kamil Markiewicz titled Maker Of The Sky, which examines the tensions between people after the economic crash. How did you find the experience of scoring for this film?

It was very interesting and hectic to work with Kamil. I think he is a very unique artist and filmmaker who has important things to say. I was mostly working with verbal instructions and descriptions of the scenes and a few visuals, and saw the full film at an official screening. We became friends in the process, and hopefully we will work on new projects together as well.

What records have you been listening to lately?

I rediscovered Orbital! I haven’t heard their music since 1997. In Sides is my favourite album right now. I think they own timeless melodies, amazing  productions and sounds, and the music keeps me happy.

Israeli musician and pianist Yehezkel Raz’ beautiful album För Nils, which was released last year.

Sven Laux’s Paper Streets. Breathtaking soundscapes and inspiring ambient pieces. My favorite atmospheric album for this winter.

Skyence Untrodden Soil. My jaw just dropped when I heard this album for the first time. The melodies are so moving, so heartbreaking. Experimental soundtrack electronica at its best. It’s really an epic album.

What’s next for you and your music?

Hopefully I will get over my extreme fear of performing. Although I’m more of a behind-the-scenes person, so I prefer now to concentrate on composing for films and finishing my next albums. I’ve started working more with other musicians and have a new Minilogue which is my first analog synth so getting interested in this direction as well. Therefore I also have a new sound palette integrated in my music and I’m excited about that.