Along the noisy London Road in Brighton, a couple of doors away from Dominoes Pizza, I walked into the ONCA gallery to watch Más Hangok. The duo were setting up their collection of FX/loop pedals, homemade instruments and whirring electronic devices. A few people sat around, chatting amongst the art being featured. As well as the story of a cardboard duck, trees with wrapped plastic bases stood as a shrine with bright red dust at their feet. Más Hangok then introduced themselves and began the show.
At first, I watched Guoda using a loop pedal to record what looked like homemade instruments and a cymbal to create a loop of thundering distant drums. The loop was so dynamic and subtle that even though it continued throughout the performance, it was impossible to notice it repeating. She picked up her homemade shamisen/cello hybrid and tapped the strings with a rubber beater, creating zen-like rhythms. After a while, Guoda picked up a bow; the instrument’s timbre morphed into the voice of a soulful Arabic violin. Maja had watched intently, but now she joined in. Hungarian folk tales combined with the mythical metallic warps of the hybrid instrument and the thundering distant drums. Soon I closed my eyes and the music blurred out the noise of taxies and buses outside. What did I see? All I can tell you is that I witnessed the body of a dragon the size of Beijing sliding through an ocean of red smoke. The rest is my own. Naturally, I felt compelled to ask the people who gave me access to thoughts like that a few questions. So, I was glad that they were more than happy to speak to me after the show.
First of all, that’s a really interesting instrument you’ve made. Could you give me a bit of background on it?
Guoda: So, I was in my second year of university in Brighton, and I took the opportunity to visit Japan for 6 months through an exchange program. I had a lot of experience with instruments before then. Once I got there, I was told that I needed to create and exhibition and they just said, “what do you wanna do?”. So I said, “make an instrument.” And they were like, “OK!”. So, I went to the woodcarving class and carved it myself. The concept of the instrument itself is like a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures. It’s a combination of a shamisen, a cello and I also added a drum bit which is, well I’m not really sure where it’s from, but it’s just there.
And that fusion goes into your singing for Más Hangok?
Maja: Yeah, I guess the formation we’re performing now is trying to meld as many cultures into each other as possible. I’m from Hungary, so a lot of the Hungarian singing is based on Hungarian folk, or it’s improvised. This time there was some Russian as well. I’m a quarter Russian, but I don’t speak it fluently. I did learn for a few years though.
Guoda: We’re kind of trying to break the walls between cultures.
So, that’s almost a sentiment behind it?
Maja: Yeah, we’re trying to be as globalized and multicultural as possible. That’s what we’re working towards in the future as well.
Is your set fully improvised?
Guoda: Yes, it’s really improvised. We’ve found that it’s too difficult to plan everything that will happen.
Maja: We tried to cue it for our previous performance. So, we’d try to time it where at three minutes we’d move it to something a little different. I guess its not entirely improvised due to the lyrics – some of them are entirely made up on the spot, while sometimes they’re words from genuine Hungarian folks songs. A lot of the tunes are taken from those as well, so its kind of chop and change, cut it up and make something new.
And all the chop and change is done live on the spot?
Maja: Yeah, but this time we basically just agreed on approximately twenty minutes and we’ll see where we go from there. We didn’t actually plan any of the cues or changes, just because it seems to work better that way.
I noticed that your eyes were always focused on what Guoda was doing. You both seemed so in sync, conscious of the other’s movements.
Maja: Yeah, it’s very intriguing, that’s the thing. I’m not really listening to what Guoda’s doing to see what i’m gonna do, but more like – damn that sounds good! *laughs*.
With Fringe coming up, where can we hear more?
Maja: 20th May we’re performing at Gallery Lock In.
Guoda: Recorded music? we’re working on it *laughs*.
Maja: We’re trying to bring out a tape release – going really retro. So, keep an ear out over the next few months.