Grey Areas – An interview with +plattform

The last time I saw Stian Balducci he was hard at work trying to get the attention of a Resident Advisor editor to review his most recent +plattform release, tm22. He had fashioned a cardboard cut-out of the man and proceeded to get the avatar’s picture taken all around Oslo with a variety of folks, including me. “How did that work out for you”; I ask the electronic music artist a few months later when I call him up in Kristiansand. “Not really well, that didn’t happen.” I pause, waiting for more information, but Stian is not forthcoming and I don’t press the matter, sensing hesitation in Stian’s voice about the specifics. I leave the matter without resolve in eagerness to get talking to the Norwegian / Italian artist about his music instead. He was in the middle of band practise when I phone him up, which had come as a surprise to me, since the last time I saw him perform live, it was as a solo act. I immediately find out this is for another project and suddenly it reveals a side to Stian Balducci that belies the simplistic nature of the style of Techno he makes as +plattform and suggests that there is a lot more to the artist that lies underneath the surface. The band-project is still under wraps for the most part and although Stian can’t go public with it, he tells me that his role in the project is made up of “mostly sampling and lots of live sampling. I take the stuff the other guys play and sort of fuck it up.” This project is part of an exam at Kristiansand conservatory, where Stian is studying under the tutelage of Jan Bang. “I’ve been immensely lucky to have Jan Bang as my teacher. He keeps opening lots of doors for me as well as imparting priceless knowledge, artistry and ideas.” This world might seem an incredibly separate one from the world of layman’s Techno born out of the a repetitive loop, but for Stian they are one in the same, and unsurprisingly their origins are Stian’s origins in music, born out of an educational video game called… music. “I guess everything you listen to, try to decipher and emulate should also be considered education” he remarks later in a written correspondence after our initial conversation. Although this laid the foundation for an interest in music production at a young age, Stian’s interests in club music only really came along when a 19-year-old Stian moved to Italy to study philosophy. During his stay his new flatmate Andrea (Buro), planted a seed in the young and impressionable Stian, one that would see him look towards club music and its philosophy instead. “I wasn’t too good at reading Nietzsche in Italian either so I ended up trying to make music at home becoming more and more influenced by the stuff Andrea was playing.” Stian’s instrument of choice was the computer and through its signal paths and processes he fell upon a style of music that spoke inherently to him and his instrument. “It felt like this is what you make with computers, what you are supposed to make with computers.”

His formal musical education started shortly after in 2009 with teachers like Peter Baden, Alex Gunia and Helge Sten (Deathprod). His classmates included other future talented artists like Mathias Stubø and Bendik Baksaas and during this period, his focus shifted from production to “playing with other people in a ‘real’ manner” and imparting a live dexterity to the often, stiff world of digital studio-music. “These two facets (live/studio) are no longer separated for me. They go hand in hand.“ It’s in this grey area between the dichotomies of musical styles, performance rituals, and compositional practices that Stian Balducci’s creative personality seems to exist and filters into every musical project he approaches especially +plattform. “I’m really interested between the crossing point between more elitist music and the club culture stuff. The connection between Steve Reich and modern minimal Techno, which is really similar, but one is performed in concert halls with people dressed in suits, and the other is in Berghain with people on drugs.” It’s not really that +plattform embodies this ideology wholly, but that it becomes part of a broader picture with Stian in the foreground removing the line of separation between a project like +plattform and Gullberg/Balducci. Like a Marvel comic’s interlaced universe, these two projects occupy the same world and one project can certainly affect another, while they are still two highly different experiences.

The former project is of especial interest and came into existence around 2012 with the first release on Australian label Gynoid Audio. “I’m not a DJ”, says Stian over a crackling telephone connection “I can do it, but that’s not where I come from. It was clear to me that there was something more to pursue than just the Techno thing.” +plattform is Techno, informed by Stian’s musical background, and in tracks like Tailer, which adopts a 7/4 time signature, it’s definitely present, but it’s disguised as something that negates any highbrow intellectual consideration and even something as avant garde as a 7/4 time-signature only really dawns on me when Stian mentions the existence of the device. “It’s hopefully a good thing that you don’t pick up on it”, says Stian before adding “+plattform is just trying to do Techno which is relevant, but seen from a slightly different perspective.” The project, although quite clearly a Techno project, borders that division between kitsch- and informed music with elements of both informing the end result, but not necessarily appropriated by either bloc. As such Stian needed an exclusive vehicle to get this idea and in recent months has set up Gråtone to reflect the unfair separation of these two factions in music. Gråtone was the force behind +plattform’s third EP, tm22, but at the same time it’s future is more than just a label, it’s a facilitator.

“Gråtone is meant to showcase the grey areas between musical expressions and camps”, explains Stian. “I am particularly fascinated by the, sometimes absurd, shift in perception that comes with the way music is presented. If John Cage makes drone shit and Steve Reich does repeating loopy stuff, it’s considered high art and should be witnessed in a grandiose concert hall. Whereas Stanislav Tolkachev’s absolutely next level stuff is still regarded as lowbrow in that context. At least that’s how I see it from my perspective, from inside the musical institutions here in Norway. Hopefully Gråtone will serve to tie some of these ideas up against each other. Techno juxtaposed to extended jazz and more abstract expressions.” Gråtone marks yet another new edition on Norway’s ever-expanding Techno “scene”, one that “Ploink paved the way” for in Bergen and Void is hard at work pushing in Oslo. ”It feels like a lot of us that are representing Norwegian Techno right now, come from separate, isolated places. It’s not really been a community thing until now.” Born out of isolation, music like +plattform’s tm22 is not something that you could usually pin a specific regional sound to, but certainly when it is experienced in the same context as an artist like Nordenstam or at an event like a Void a picture starts to form. “It becomes a picture of a picture”, says Stian due to distances this music travels, but a picture none the less and one that effortlessly pulls into focus with +plattform’s music and websites like Monument all working towards the same thing. “They’ve put out two podcasts from me and have been both helpful and important for the new wave of Norwegian Techno.” It’s a scene we also see growing incrementally, especially when an artist like +plattform and Void come together for the first time. The last time +plattform performed in Oslo is still clear in my memory.

The live aspects of it were much more tangible than any other computer-programmed performance I had witnessed in the past, and his set had a very organic flow to it, existing somewhere between impulsive human instincts and the precise execution of a machine. “I’ve made it quite difficult for myself” says Stian of his +plattform live show, “so there’ s quite a lot of variables. At the end it’s more important what the audience gets, and it’s not just a machine jam.” Here Stian once again occupies that grey area between aspects of live performance, something undoubtedly with its roots in his clubbing experiences, but also refined in his educational discourse. There’s nothing fixed in the creative personality behind the music and the results are mesmeric. Listening to +plattform, there’s very little you can pick at that will unravel a thread connecting these two seemingly disparate worlds. It’s only when you get to know Stian Balducci, and the various musical spheres he occupies, that you get to know the grey area between these two disciplines in music and you begin to question its very existence.