Translucent Expressions of the Digital in Sound and Art.
From Roland Barthes influential text, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1981), the theorist, philosopher, and semiotician writes: “[u]ltimately, photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.” Likewise, Azzuz affirms in this exclusive SONDUKE interview: “what forces me to create comes from a dark place, a feeling of despair, discomfort. That’s like a starting point, but then it could be and is anything.” Merging and crossing multiple senses, Azzuz operates in various spaces of articulation—those planes of expression permeating her diverse cultural background seamlessly with her cross-functional mediums of art that make us think.
Below is our digital conversation with Diana Azzuz
MS: You’re often introduced as a “Syrian/Ukrainian artist.” And after doing a bit of background sleuthing online, I understand you’ve lived in China for a bit. While such categories may seem prescriptive or limiting—as a transnational and multicultural artist, do you find yourself inserting your cultural background into your music? Is it ever a conscious effort?
DA: Yes, definitely. I think I wasn’t aware of it before, but a lot of the things I do in terms of creative process, always come from the place of reflecting on and observation of what kind of baggage I carry and how I can manipulate that into something meaningful. Even if it is just a specific feeling I want to translate into music or evoke. Now that the war is happening in Ukraine, and I had a first-hand experience of it, I feel even more responsible, especially as an artist, to be more self-conscious as to what kind of narrative I choose to push.
MS: I understand and sympathize fully (especially as an Arab myself) that this question is sensitive. And I fully understand if you respectfully decline to answer. However, in this current political climate—as someone with roots in Syria and Ukraine—what do these places mean to you beyond their identification of what many might regard as “conflict zones”?
DA: It's complicated to strip myself from this context no matter how I try to think of it. it dawned on me what these places mean to me in terms of the war. Both places are very dear to my heart. I think, most of the time, we define and constrain ourselves by the spaces that we live in and choose to decide to belong to. This choice—the ability to choose this belonging to any place—is of the utmost importance. Many of us have been stripped of this choice, as we were forced to relocate to other countries under the threat of war.
One could argue that my cultural identification is shaped by Ukraine, which isn’t a lie. Even though I did go to school in Syria, most of my adult life I spent in Ukraine, but that doesn’t change the fact that I feel even more rooted into these places if that makes sense.
MS: Where do sentiments like nostalgia, experiential memory, and authenticity come into play in regards to your cultural background and artistic process?
DA: For me it’s so interesting how one single event can build your character, shape your inclination towards how you see things—the perspective it starts to give you. No matter if it’s a traumatic situation or a very random occasion that turns into a piece of memory. You can start to work with it as a unit of information and trace how it leads you to create certain things in a certain way. And I believe that because of my childhood that I spent in Syria, I became a very nostalgic person, and have this longing to have these experiences that I find familiar, also, precisely because they will never be within empirical reach.
MS: Where do you find or mine for inspiration when composing?
DA: There is no certain thing or rule that works for me. I could probably say that what forces me to create comes from a dark place, a feeling of despair, discomfort. That’s like a starting point, but then it could be and is anything. My focus is constantly directed at my work even when I’m not working. The incessant observation of myself and my surroundings sort of govern my creative process which in turn sculpts my focus in these observations.
MS: What comes first, sounds or visuals?
DA: Probably sound, but because I work with visuals, sometimes it’s that since it could be my main focus.
MS: Talk to us more about your first project, Sui Noxa (2020), an audiovisual collaboration with Kyiv-based interdisciplinary artist and friend, Rina Priduvalova, released on Standard Deviation. How did you two come together, and what was the process and narrative structure behind the work?
DA: Before Sui Noxa, on our previous collaboration I’d work on the visuals and Rina on the sound, be it her music or a dj set that I would make visuals to. After we were approached to do this audiovisual album, this time both of us wanted to collaborate on the visuals and the music equally. At first, we sat down and articulated what it is that we want this work to be, and it was actually very precise. We had a story written out as to what the video should consist of without also being too obvious.
MS: Following this initial collaboration is your solo EP, Anastrophe (2021)—also released on Standard Deviation. How was this solo venture, creatively speaking, different from your initial collaborative one?
DA: Working with someone has so many exceptional aspects because it helps give you a different perspective on things and/or not to get stuck on a particular detail. Humans are amazing creatures because everyone’s brain works in so many different ways, and it’s fascinating to see what the other person can bring to the table and hear what they have to say.
However, it is no less alluring to be in total control of your own process knowing you are fully responsible for the outcome. I’m a control freak so for me an ideal situation is when I make all the decisions on my own. At the same time, it could definitely become a trap, so I have to make compromises with myself as well. The power to explore how far you can go with your artistic expression at a certain point also gives you an outlook for how you want to approach the process next. You work with your own audience—that is, you.
MS: Do you have an affinity towards or particular preference for an instrument or sound? Any that you have yet to experiment with? Instrumentally, can you describe your process? What tools and sounds do you find yourself recurrently gravitating towards or influenced by when composing your music?DA: Since I have started my way into music with playing guitar, there is definitely a need to work with the guitar sounds more. If they did make a way in some of my tracks, they have been changed unrecognisably. It would be interesting to see how I can use that to make electronic music in a non-obvious way. So there is that. I get bored easily and I’m not a fan of repetition which isn’t necessarily a good quality, it just is that way. Process-wise, I just do a lot of experimenting and see where it leads me. More often than not, everything comes together accidentally.
MS: Apart from being an accomplished musician, I understand you’re a visual artist and have dabbled in jewelry making. Can you talk to us more about your creative inclinations beyond sound?
DA: I always had an inclination towards visuals. When I was doing my studies in university, I wrote my master thesis about the concept of photography through the prism of works of Walter
Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag. Only years after, I dived into video-making and CGI [computer generated imagery]. To me it’s so mesmerizing that you can create anything in the digital world. Even with the jewelry, it was sculpted in a program, and then 3D-printed.
That said, I like to work with my hands which is also a very grounding feeling physically and mentally, which is why I like to knit and sew, and eventually explore the process behind making jewelry in the future. I never got any technical training in any of the things I do professionally and enthusiastically, though I’d argue both are intertwined for me, so part of the process is finding your own way to learn and solve problems.
MS: How does one creative medium and process lend itself to your music and vice versa?
DA: There are so many gratifying moments when you’re trying to translate a thought or an intention into a certain final result and finding the tools at your disposal that help you articulate whatever you’re trying to say. I find it as an impeccable consolidation of using different media that complement each other where one form sets off and harmonizes with the other.
MS: What’s next for Diana Azzuz? What can we look forward to?DA: The war set me back for a while and I couldn’t find ways to get back into doing things I love. I still struggle with it a lot, but I know that to be able to help and get stronger I need to constantly be in a creative process. More music is coming for sure.