Alex Stooshinoff, ambient musician, on how walking the Camino de Santiago shaped his recent work

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Alex Stooshinoff, a Canadian ambient musician.

Alex Stooshinoff is an ambient musician living in Montreal and studying at Concordia University with a focus on philosophy and electroacoustics. So far, he has released two albums: Stasis and Patient Hands. His most recent album Patient Hands, released November 2015, is notably influenced by his journey across the Camino de Santiago.

1. I’ve interpreted Patient Hands to be a collection of spiritual tracks, was this an intended theme of the album?

 Patient Hands is really about trying to reconcile my (mostly) negative experience walking the Camino. You’re not incorrect in interpreting it as spiritual, because the Camino was a spiritual experience.

2. You wrote the album while journeying across the Camino de Santiago. Why were you there, and how has that shaped the album?

I actually wrote the album upon returning home to Saskatoon after the Camino. My parents have a cabin [nearby] Jackfish Lake, and I took all my gear up there and wrote the album. It was very romantic: There was no running water, and the heating was insufficient, so I was using a wood-burning fireplace. I mostly went for long walks at sunset, and I read Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

I walked the Camino for a really complicated reason. I met someone on a boat in the Peruvian amazon in 2013. He was 43 at the time and I was 18, but we became best friends for a short time. He had walked the Camino three times, [eventually] meeting his wife on it. He raved about the value of the Camino. Later, we did Ayahuasca together and it was the most formative experience of my life. I came home, and I felt like I had “the force.” I was [an] extremely sensitive, empathetic and vulnerable person and I loved it.

That was the best period of my life: I developed such rich relationships with friends and family. That period lasted for about eight months, until I got some kind of still undiagnosed illness that I think was latent malaria just after the new year. I was sick in bed for weeks, but my energy wouldn’t return for almost a year. My liver, spleen and lymph nodes were severely enlarged and the doctors thought I had cancer; that was a comically existential period for me, I was reading all kinds of [works about the] philosophy of death…The illness totally changed my personality. I went from this peak of open-ness to closed-ness in some kind of fucked-up Hegelian dialectic. I became a really stoic, [guarded] person and I hated it. Its really strange to dislike who you are and to have no tools to change it.

In the end, I decided to take a term off of school and to walk the Camino. I wanted an experience that could bring me back to who I was. The connection between the Camino and my former self was [through] that friend that I met in Peru. In the end I didn’t succeed. The experience, though valuable, left me with more uncertainty than when I had begun. The upshot is that I had some incredible revelations on the nature of forgiveness, and my perennial struggle to forgive.

So to come back to your question: The Camino shaped the album in the sense that I had all of these recordings of it– these recordings literally are the Camino – and I used music to express my feelings about it (*wince*). But I intended to make a really positive record. I wanted to make Patient Hands the reconciliation of my bad time on the Camino.

3. How did you record the naturalistic sounds while journeying? Where did you get the vocals for “Breath Across the Mirror?”

I recorded the sounds using a Zoom H4n. I like to record the places that I travel to. I don’t take a camera I take a field recorder. I would usually stop a few times a day to meditate wherever I was. During this time, I would set up my Zoom and record the sounds of wherever I was. Sometimes I just found amazing sounds that I couldn’t pass up, like the goats on “Breath Across a Mirror.”

The vocals for “Breath Across a Mirror” are mine. I just did a vocal improvisation and that’s what I ended up with!

4. What artistic creations did you try to achieve in Patient Hands that differs from Stasis?

Hmm… Stasis was such a curated record. I slaved over it. I knew exactly what it was going to be. Patient Hands was much more open-ended. I wrote it in about a week, recorded it in five days, and mixed it in three. It was actually really nerve wracking because I had forced myself to make creative decisions very quickly, whereas with Stasis I spent months re-recording tracks, it took six weeks to mix, etc. Other than that, I just wanted to make an ambient record. Stasis is ambient, but its more singer-songwriter. The focus is on my vocals. With Patient Hands, the focus is on the field recordings. Really what the difference is, is this: Stasis was a ‘life or death’ record – it mattered so much to me – Patient Hands is just not as important.

5. So, you’re studying electroacoustic and philosophy at Concordia University. How has your academic education influenced your artistic expression?

This is a really good question. I made Patient Hands before I started electroacoustics. Philosophy has influenced me so much; I don’t even know where to begin. Mostly, it just made me much more intelligent.

I’ve always been an extremely critical dude, but philosophy has honed my skills. Studying philosophy of art especially. I’m so tired of all the art-speak that I find in music, and it’s nice to have a learned way of criticizing it. It will be interesting to see how electroacoustics influences my work. At the end of the day though, my music is about what it’s like to be me, and it’s hard to pin-point exactly how my education has shaped me.

6. The slogan on your website is “purposive without purpose.” Is this a philosophical reference to Kant’s aesthetics? How does this slogan relate to your music?

I’m so glad you noticed! This is indeed a reference to Kant. I actually just updated it a few days before you reached out for this interview. It’s more of a joke than anything. “Purposive without purpose” refers to judgments of the beautiful, so I was kind of cheekily calling my work beautiful (as opposed to the mere “agreeable”) by using this slogan. I really didn’t think anyone would notice!

Want to check out Stooshinoff elsewhere? Click these links: Bandcamp, CBC.ca and Facebook.

Have a band you really love and want to share their story on A Quarter Young? Let us know!

 

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