The Immensity of Oceans ~ An Interview With Oksana Linde

Photo by Elisa Ochoa Linde, 2022. Courtesy the artist

Oksana Linde is an artist from Venezuela with Ukrainian heritage, whose recent debut, Aquatic and Other Worlds, presents her electronic works from the 1980s to the public for the first time. Her oeuvre puts the participation of women in experimental and ambient music from the period under a new, productive light. We had the privilege of talking to Oksana over email, an exchange we present below, first translated from Spanish, and then edited and formatted for clarity.

David Murrieta Flores (ACL): I’d like to commence with your relationship with music. How did you become an artist and what attracted you to electronic music in particular?

Oksana Linde (OL): My relationship with music comes from an early age. In my home, we listened to a wide variety of albums from a gradually growing collection. We listened to music from various countries, composers, and bands, folk/popular music from Ukraine, Moldavia, Venezuela, France, Italy, and others. Classical, baroque… a wide variety that I consider important for my non-academic formation. Also present was the sound of the piano as played by my grandmother (who studied under a distinguished composer and pianist, M. Lysenko, in Ukraine), who taught lessons to my older sisters Irma and Myroslava.

Photo from artist’s personal archive. Oksana (left) and Irma (right). Courtesy the artist

I started playing by ear and I practically took no lessons. I regret that, since I would like to play many a complex piece well. I went on playing everything that in the moment was interesting to me throughout my infancy and adolescence, up till the present day. This sometimes made my grandmother uncomfortable, who wanted me to dedicate myself more professionally to music. But my interest for it, which was very high, went along with my interest for visual arts, and always has. They were compounded with my attraction for science. As a student at the Universidad de Oriente (UDO), Venezuela, I was part of a musical group that was then called Conjunto de Música Moderna de la UDO (1968…) (“UDO Modern Music Ensemble”), which included guitar, drums, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, and piano. We played film music, popular songs, traditional jazz, and bossa nova. I had the opportunity to listen to many bands and musicians from the 70s and the 80s.

I never thought about becoming an artist. I wanted to study at least to scientific careers, and keep playing piano not as an artist, but because music is an atracción difícil de evitar (“an attraction difficult to evade”). That is how I started with the cuatro, the guitar, the accordion. The complexity of life sometimes provides a limit.

Electronic music was a fascinating discovery for me. I was attracted to the power to design sounds unavailable in natural environments, nor obtainable through acoustic instruments. However, I love acoustic instruments, birdsong, the sound of streams, of the waves of the sea and the wind… so I also sought to get close to those sounds. To submerge myself in music that would allow me to feel good or to describe landscapes and situations that were perhaps surreal in nature. While feeling that, somehow, employing the sounds of imaginary ancestral instruments I would be able to submerge myself a bit in the collective unconscious. 

Photo by Mardonio Díaz, 1985. Courtesy the artist

Before having to leave my job as a laboratory scientist, which was traumatic and depressing, I abandoned art for a while. Some of the medicines that were prescribed for me had some counterproductive effects. But some creative capacity remained. I had forgotten my career and part of my life (years later, other medical doctors identified what happened due to toxic chemicals: loss of mielin, which is the isolating membrane around neurons, allowing electric transmission between them). It happened in certain areas [of my brain]. There was an edema, and not all the medicines were adequately prescribed. Sleep disorders and the like are exhausting. Sometimes I need weeks to recover.

I suffered through times of long and severe depression. I didn’t even want to listen to music then. Gradually I got better, but also relapsed. And then I acquired a second-hand polymoog synthesizer. Then a TEAC. Then – I don’t recall exactly when – a Casio CZ1. An echo camera, a moog source…

ACL: The liner notes indicate this is your first album. What led you to publish now, and not before?

OL: There was no support for it. I had no economic means to do it myself. Family situations had priority. I decided now because the opportunity arose. They communicated with me – it was not I who started this adventure. At the end of 2019, two young and brilliant women (Cher-ee-lee and Andrea Zarza Canova) contacted me to talk about the possibility of editing an album. Because of circumstances probably related to the [COVID-19] pandemic, the project didn’t materialize. Mana Records, run by Andrea and her business partner Matthew Kent, included me in a digital compilation with another six artists, in 2020. That same year, Luis Alvarado, director of Buh Records, made me a proposal to edit an album with my music from the 1980s.

Since a few years back, women who were dedicated to experimental, electronic and electroacoustic music even in the first half of the 20th century have started to come out of anonymity. Just like in the world of science, in which women were a fundamental pillar in complex issues, they made great contributions. And there’s probably a lot more to discover yet. So all of a sudden, surprise! I appear as a woman that a long time ago made music with synthesizers in this continent. In these countries, a significant number of people were dedicated to experimental, electroacoustic and electronic music in the past. The interest for the work of women has emerged or increased in the past few years. 

Image from the artist’s personal archive. Courtesy the artist

I was devoted to reading, studying, writing, painting, digital art, to non-formal environmental education (through translations and notes for local magazines), ecological activism, and other things, to family situations. I could do almost nothing with my equipment, now damaged. A few things with virtual media. And then there’s my pieces of the 80s and 90s, stored in boxes in some shelf; I open them, and the cassettes, most of them well-kept, must be digitized (a few works had already been so in past years). Some of them broke down due to trying in an old player that was not functioning as it should, so we commissioned Caterwú studio to make the digitization, a considerable part of which was then sent to Buh Records.

ACL: In general, what kind of music were you listening to and what kind of art were you experiencing when you composed these pieces (1983-1990)?

OL: I was listening to a lot of musicians and bands that employed instruments of all kinds. I was also dedicated to the visual arts. Back then I made works that were mostly mixed technique, drawings with ink, pencil, watercolors, mixes. Oneiric, surrealist, abstract. 

I had been immersed for some time in the works of Escher, Pancho Quilici, among others. Of course, there was also Roger Dean. When I saw Dean’s art, I felt like some sort of dizziness, because it “reminded” me of things I had never seen (and it was similar, in a distant way, to what I was doing).

I listened to music by composers from the classical and baroque periods, symphonic music, instrumental, ensemble works. I listened to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jean P. Alarcén, Genesis, Yes, Tangerine Dream, Jarré, Vangelis, Neuronium, Oldfield, Kítaro, ELP, King Crimson, Van der Graff Generator, Alan Parsons Project, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Camel. I was also listening to Venezuelan musicians and bands such as: Inocente Carreño, Antonio Estévez, Vytas Brenner, Miguel Noya, Vinicio Adames, Ángel Rada, Jacky Schreiber, Guillermo Carrasco, Soledad Bravo, Frank Quintero, Los Impala, La misma gente, Esperanto, Ficción, Serenata Guayanesa, Quinteto Contrapunto. 

ACL: Looking back, how would you see yourself, or what would you say is the place of your work in the context of Venezuelan electronic music in the 1980s?

OL: Probably, in some tangential way, it is on the same wavelength of the work by some Venezuelan musicians back then: Noya, Adames, Rada, Caraballo, Brenner, Fernando Yvosky Morales, José Ignacio Lares, members of Músikautomática and others. But it is hard for me to judge my own work. I cannot answer that question, it is better suited to those who have studied the history of electronic music of the time.

Courtesy the artist

ACL: I would like to start getting into the musical themes more specifically. What does the synthesizer represent to you? Is there are relationship between what you did with the piano, the cuatro, etc., and what you do with the synth?

OL: Yes. I like to use keyboards. Sometimes, while playing or improvising something on the piano, I take the ideas to the synthesizer. I always have electroacoustic music in mind – to do it with any sound that might be interesting. There are many acoustic sounds that have always been attractive to me. Like the adagio from the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Rodrigo, in piano, with guitar and orchestra.

Also, a synthesizer allows you to achieve sounds that are different to acoustic ones. That is how I got nearer to the things that attract me most: oceans, seas, lakes, waterfalls, streams, animals, space. The unknown. Anything that crosses my head and inspires me. Imagination is something unlimited. I have also used keyboards with prefabricated sounds, generally speaking. Rhythm boxes and effects processors as well.

Oksana Linde, “Other Worlds X”, 1982. Mixed media, courtesy the artist

ACL: The aquatic and internal worlds that you present in the album seem to articulate a bridge between art and the observation of life, both external and internal. Is there any relationship between your work as a scientist and the art that you’ve practiced since?

OL: Somehow, there could be a relation. One can find inspiration in many events and observations. To imagine how do events that we cannot see take place. In meditation, one can penetrate those non-existent worlds. Each in their own way. Worlds that contain other worlds, that interact. To imagine what happens in a chemical reaction; how the catalyzers act, what happens when ozone encounters fluorocarbons, what happens inside particle accelerators, a supernova, a meteorite that is closing in. Birds flying, animal or plant communication, the movement of tectonic plates, anything at all…

By the way, in documentaries and in science fiction movies we have already heard an immense quantity of sounds like these, mostly realized with the media we are talking about.

Oksana Linde, “Undersea Landscape”, 1982. Mixed media/wood, courtesy the artist

ACL: To talk about New Age seems relevant in this respect, moreso when you explicitly dedicate a piece to Kitaro. What is New Age, for you?

OL: Actually, let me tell you what happened with that piece for Kitaro. It occurs to me to do something because in my head a melody starts developing, so I sit before my instruments. Since I am not used to writing down the things I do, because most of them are inspirations or improvisations, I do something and then decide to extend it, going back to the beginning then, shifting the tone. I then finish the first track. Afterwards, with the second track, I finish the piece. I think I only had two tracks. Maybe three. And then I listen again a couple times to see if there’s something else to add. I think… this reminds me of Kitaro. Therefore, simply, I name it “Recordando a Kitaro”. It could’ve been a temporary name, as I do with a few pieces. But I left it with this one.

I don’t know if that piece is located in New Age or ambient. New Age seems to have more than one definition and I have read that it is still subject to discussion about which one could fit better. Sometimes I make music that can be used to meditate or relax. Is that New Age? I do not know. I generally call “ambient” part of what I do. The concept is also very wide. It is surprising how many musicians are tagged under that label. I do not know how to define what I do, because I have no training in classifying electronic music. At some point I was classified as ambient, and it seemed like a flexible enough term to me. I have made pieces that have been classified under progressive electronic music, minimal synth, minimalism, New Age, from the Berlin School, futurist (?), cinematic, and others. So I do not know where my music is located…

Oksana Linde, “Evolution 28”, ca. 2010. Digital image, courtesy the artist

ACL: Does this kind of music, in its similarities to certain New Age, represent the possibility to connect art and science in musical expression? Something like the deep connection between modernity and (new) tradition, perhaps?

OL: To me, connecting modernity and tradition is interesting. Human beings, from different parts of the world, could be somehow related when it comes to the preference for or attraction towards certain sounds, rhythms. And if it’s not that way, then establishing relations of musical types is something that has garnered the attention of musicians in different countries. Sometimes they discover things that provoke thought, because of the possibility that they are, in some way, resonant with areas of the brain that have remained the same throughout evolution. There’s been proof of genetic memory, which we ordinarily do not identify. That is why I sometimes think about what Jung denominated the collective unconscious, which has united us in different ways for thousands or millions of years. In the so-called animal world it is evident.

Art and science can be connected through personal preferences and visions, probably. In fact, they are connected in various aspects. Science handles certain laws that are accepted while it is not demonstrated that they do not describe what we believe is reality. You know that if you put your hand in the fire you will get burned. That if you throw something fragile to the floor, it will break. And so on and so forth, with infinite examples. It is rigid when it comes to the possibility of handling laws to our discretion. You can’t do that. Although, it seems, there are people who have managed to do it in a certain measure. The yogis in India manage something extraordinary when they slow down vital functions. Uri Geller apparently could bend metals and many people corroborated to it. Now, that depends upon the scientific terrain from which a connection can be made.

Art allows us a lot of freedom, variations, innovations. We can move from one way of doing art to another without catastrophically disturbing anything. If you make a mistake in the laboratory, and mix up substances without knowing their properties, you can produce an explosion or vapors that can poison you. These are only some examples. If you do not realize the calculations to launch rockets into space, with total precision, then the rocket can blow up and its crew die. In advanced calculations of this kind, by the way, there have been women collaborators to whom no recognition was given at the time, and of whom we only came to know recently. Anyway, if you make a mistake in a concert, there’s no harm done. Only some people will be disturbed by listening to something that should sound differently.

I do not know if there is an equivalence when it comes to deep connections between modernity and new traditions. There probably is.

Photo by Carlos Ochoa. Courtesy buh Records

ACL: I think the theme of vitality is clear in this album. Would you say the music is a representation of nature?

OL: Mostly, these pieces are personal representations of nature. Some of them have a strong ingredient of personal perception, and they tend towards daydreaming (not only the piece “Ensueño”, or “Daydreaming”). To immerse in your self is a journey towards one’s own interior, but it can also be a journey to the bottom of the sea. Or a dream, an enigma that remains beyond comprehension. Orinoco, our great river, with its torrents, its immensity, and a delta that ramifies into hundreds of little islands…

ACL: Is there a connection – perhaps natural, perhaps symbolic – between the synthesizer and that natural vitality?

OL: The connection could partially exist, perhaps. Synthesizing natural sounds is probably not possible in any precise manner with any synthesizer. Probably you would need to employ specific sensors, instruments capable of registering what we want to detect and even then we don’t know how much we’d need to discover. Maybe in the future it will be possible. I am thinking this on the cellular level, what happens with the mitochondria, other cell parts. In terms of if they can assure that DNA can change with sounds, and that, through resonance, cancer cysts can be destroyed (as indicated by researchers like Anthony Holland, et al)… with the advances achieved by science in many areas, or the achievements of the CERN accelerator, the imagination flies. 

In any case, when I listen, for instance, to “La mer”, by Debussy, that beautiful symphonic impressionist work, I almost feel at sea. The synthesizer allows one to achieve certain sounds that, without being exactly what one would want, approach that possibility of reflecting what one perceives from nature, or some other environment or situation. With sophisticated amplifiers, they’ve achieved recordings of plant growth, of communication between plants. Or events of the ilk of glacier meltdowns, or events from outer space, to give an example. It is probable that something similar could be achieved with acoustic instruments. But with a synthesizer you can possibly get something that we consider even more similar. We’ve listened to it for decades now in sci-fi films, games, documentaries…

Photo by Elisa Ochoa Linde, courtesy buh Records

ACL: What is the role of fantasy and imagination in this?

OL: Fantasy and imagination play an extremely important role. If we refer to the process of sound synthesis that allow for us to “represent” or describe what we try to communicate, such as feelings, sensations, images… in general, in art both fantasy and imagination are always present.

In science, you need imagination to interpret what you sometimes observe, whether with our limited means as humans or instruments utilized in scientific research. That scientific imagination needs to have solid bases. Why do I say this? Well, because there are many charlatans who invent things that make no sense. Years ago, that’s how the stupidity that was the “photon belt”, for instance, expanded to many countries, and many people asserted that something that made no sense was true. It was due to the ignorance around its implications, a lack of knowledge about what we are getting closer to. Which is not precisely the center of our galaxy.

ACL: There is a piece that stands out in the album’s fantastic-natural panorama, the “Estudio para una sinfonía folclórica ucraniana” (“Study for a folk Ukranian symphony”). Is this “Study” related to these fantastic forms of life?

OL: Maybe. Generally, folklore has to do with ancestral knowledge passed on through generations, and tends to have an origin in mythology, or in experiences orally passed on through generations. It is a rather sad topic, I feel. It reflects the complexities of an arrival point that shows something about what a history has meant [for those generations]. I had ancestors that were museologists, ethnographers, archaeologists, artists.

I read a short article written by someone from the Netherlands that, when listening to those peculiar sounds that to their ears were aggressive (they are alike to machine-gun blasts, I don’t know why I used them in 1983-84), wrote that the album’s launch coincided with the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine. As if I had known then what was going to happen.

A big influence was Vasyl H. Kyrchevsky, associated to a whole epoch of spiritual Ukrainian renaissance. His creative influence is imprinted in every branch of the arts, and in each of them he acted as an innovator and creator of the Ukrainian national style. The current he led was founded upon profound knowledge and study of ancient Ukrainian folklore. As Dr. Prof. V. Shostya said: “the profound study, the influence of Ukrainian cultural heritage, imprinted upon the artist the sacred code of that people’s art. That is reflected in the work of the great master as a genetic trait. The universality of the creative interests of VHK was realized in various directions to great success.”

A lot of information about Ukrainian culture was burned in the last century, as it is now being burned again, in order to prevent the knowledge of the truth and to eliminate every vestige of Ukrainian identity.

Oksana Linde, “Círculos EV 3”, 2019-2020. Digital image, courtesy the artist

ACL: The sea and the great movements of water have always been both an enigma and a character in a wide array of cultural perspectives. What does the aquatic mean for you? How does this find its way in your work?

OL: The sea symbolizes feelings, multitudes, the collective unconscious. Our evolution – I am unaware if there has been any definitive scientific conclusion about this – began in our oceans billions of years ago. Every cell inside living organisms carries memory with it, a group of memories. Human beings, before being born, find themselves in a safe environment, the amniotic liquid. Do we sometimes feel the need to return to that safe space? The sea can be very dangerous, but the majority feels something difficult to describe when facing the sea. The immensity of oceans is overwhelming and hypnotizing. The oceans and seas withhold mysteries yet. Humans have reached the moon and sent rockets and vehicles to other planets, but we are yet to explore fully what occurs at the bottom of the sea.

ACL: Do you see any relationship between the context of the 1980s in which you developed your work and today’s, where certain notions of new age (like healing music) acquire relevance once again? Are our spiritual needs related to those back then?

OL: Many times, the spiritual is confused with situations whose origin is found in the field of neuroscience and other specialized fields like medicine. I am a firm believer in the existence and influence of spirituality – which is not necessarily religion – in our lives. However, it is important to understand biological factors. It is probable that spiritual necessities are similar then and now. Today, of course, considering the vertiginous changes and advancements in technology, new impacts could have increased anguish levels and there’s also new tensions.

Photo by Carlos Ochoa, courtesy buh Records

There are people whose ailments are not adequately identified, sourced in a health disturbance product of aggressions from instruments and equipment employed today. Sensitive people are stigmatized for symptoms originated in technologies or food consumption which expose them to an excess of chemicals, perhaps in their home, or their work. Some foods have additives that alter behavior. Electromagnetic fields affect a lot of people. Stress, for whatever reasons, takes its toll on the nervous system. And the right music can help restore, at least partially, the equilibrium.

Emotional problems rooted in neuropsychiatric processes and others are sometimes labeled as spiritual. But it is difficult to diagnose people before exactly knowing what is happening with them.

In relation to the aural factors studied by neuroscience, advancements have apparently been long-term (if complemented with the Feldenkrais method, probably even more complete). If New Age in aural healing is conceived through the orientation derived from the research and expert achievements like those of Dr. Michael Thaut, and other scholars of the fields of neuroscience, psychology, biophysics, biochemistry, and so on, I would say that only after having studied what is necessary to treat people with some affliction, trauma or condition that could have an organic, neurological, psychological, or spiritual origin, could someone attempt to heal or balance other people.

A psychologist that treated me made his patients listen to “Mariposas Acuáticas”. He commissioned me (as a favor, I wouldn’t charge him and I wanted to do it right) some pieces for relaxation, for feng shui. I have some experiments from about 25-30 years ago, kept in cassettes, so that one day I can edit them, because they do not sound like they should.

In any case, training is rigorous for anyone to become an expert in this field, and it lasts for a very long time, normally years. In this case, if music and sounds [that heal] belong to a New Age current, what matters is their efficacy. A well-prepared clinician that works with aural therapy could, from my point of view, even come to reasonably charge for their services. This is not to exclude, however, intuitive people who quickly catch on to [the relationship between sound and healing] – some cultures have used sounds, songs, and mantras to proven results, as we know.

ACL: Just to start closing the interview, I would like for you to talk about your future plans. Do you have any more archived music you’d like to release, or would you like to publish something entirely new?

OL: I have more archived music. I have to correct a part of what is digitized and what is not. I have ideas for something new. The little equipment I have left is all damaged, however. I had to sell some of them recently, among them the keyboards, the very useful TEAC recorder. My moog source was stolen, as were MIDI cables and other things. The computer I have works for only a few things. I have to wait for times to get better, [que los tiempos mejoren] as we say here.

ACL: Thanks for your time, Oksana, sincerely. Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers, before we conclude?

I wish you all the best in this convulsing world. May you find peace, harmony, and everything necessary to move on. May you care for your health and eat well. These are tough years, not only because of the atrocious wars going on in various places. We are also exterminating biodiversity without which the world as we know it will no longer exist. We are all interconnected in this planet. We form a part of the biosphere. Apart from the ravages of climate change, deforestation has left nearly only a 5% of wild species alive, pollution has left us with infinite chemical compounds, microplastics present from the Everest and beyond all the way to the seabed and in every living being. There’s little time left, and actions must be taken by every individual. We know there are many people who don’t know this, that don’t have acess to serious means of information, that have to survive in hostile environments. I won’t say more about what we all know… power, decisions, are in the hands of a few.

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