Optical Frameworks – The Sound Explorer

One day I was telling someone, about an interesting artist on our label. It was about a guy from Czech Republic under the name of Optical Frameworks. His real name is Martin Dlabaja, born in 1991. He has released 5 releases on Cold Tear Records. It’s difficult to put him into a box of a specific genre, but it’s influenced by dub techno, it’s ambient and drone with a lot of field recordings. He has used reel-to-reel tape recorders, microphones for recording under water, and is also an amazing photographer and visual artist. While I was telling all about that, I realised that he’s probably one of the most interesting artists that we have worked with. Sometimes I even ask myself, is this guy a genius? Therefore, I decided that he deserves a blog post that takes an overwiev of what he has done over the years of working with Cold Tear Records label.

Martin Dlabaja aka Optical Frameworks
Martin Dlabaja aka Optical Frameworks

His first release on our label was back in 2011. It was an album called “Surrounded Fog” that we released both in digital and CD formats. Martin did not send me any descriptions or explanations of what he did in this album, all I have on it is this: “composed & recorded during winter on old tesla b115 reel-to-reel”. It’s an immersive experience to listen to it. You may find it on our bandcamp below.

 

All of the album is oriented towards ambient and compositions with field recordings, and only two tracks have a beat and resemble what we may call dub techno. By the way, as you could’ve guessed already, the cover artwork was made entirely by him self. He also has made a series of videos for some of the tracks. You can check out one of them below, and find more on our YouTube channel.

The same year he released his next album on our label called “Aether Blueprints”. And he asked me to release it under the artist name of Optical Framework. He wanted it to be singular this time, not plural. I didn’t even ask why. I was just happy to have him on board, and I was willing to let him do whatever he wanted, because I believe in his exceptional intellect and talent. For this album he had a proper description. Which we will get into, but first I want to let you listen to the album, which you will find below. Also, the cover artwork is his own work, as always.

 

In the album description he goes into explaining what it is all about:

The original idea was to capture the essence of interesting places with as little use of synthesis and regular waveforms as possible. Instead, every instrument and sound was to be born of field recordings made during a year of travelling. Source material included soundscapes of rainstorms from the beautiful forests of Beskydy; storms over the towns, yards and burnt lands of the island of Brac; the industrial areas of Zlin and late night soundscapes from Brno City. In addition to these soundscapes, further source material emanated from the experimentation of sound produced by static electricity, electromagnetic fields and underwater recordings with homemade Hydrophones.

The final inspiration came from a fascination of psychoacoustics and sound produced beyond the regularly accepted limits of human perception. Sound that can be detected by spectrum analysis but not actually percieved by the ear. The resulting studies, and attempts to catch this hidden sound and it’s effects on that which is perceptible, centered on field recordings of rainstorms.

Each and every track herein began with, and exists within it’s own individual uncut recording. That recording alone fed the processes of building depth and sound, ultimately portraying a reinterpretation of the stories and emotions originally captured.

I believe you can capture more than just sound.

This album is for those who appreciate music which allows the listener space to think as opposed to one which overloads the senses. Also, for those people sharing my profound love of physics.

There are also a few videos to go with the album. One of them below.

It’s interesting to pick his brain reading the album notes. I like that he strived to use only natural sounds for the creation of these compositions. He also mentiones his use of homemade Hydrohpones. I believe that is a microphone for recording under water that he made for himself. Hard to really say anything else about it. Just immerse yourself into this world of sound and see how it changes you.

His next album on Cold Tear Records was released in 2013, named “Little Piece of Perseverance”. Surprisingly the cover artwork is not Martin’s photography this time. It’s an original painting by Viktor Suchomel, who’s apparently also a tatoo artist. I guess you could say it’s a collaboration between two of these artists.

“Little Piece of Perseverance” is an album made in winter/spring 2011-2012, made completely out of field recordings that I collected during this period. Each track represents a set of places visited mostly at night. You can hear tracks made of sounds of snowy, nighty trainstations, people waiting and chatting about daily problems, melting snow, wind and other sounds describing moods of this slow period of awaking in my life.

To me Martin is an exceptionally sensitive person, who has an ability to focus deeply on the subtleties of the sound. And obviously, to him it’s not just a hobby, not just a way to actualize one self in the world. But also a spiritual path.

“Little Piece of Perseverance” features more tracks with beats, but Martin still keeps his music very deep and meditative.

Martin’s creative space, with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and the Roland RE-201 Space Echo machine

His next work for Cold Tear Records was in 2014. It was an EP called “Vibrant”. This time he stays silent, and let’s his music do the talking. Unfortunate in one hand, as we’re always curious to know more about what’s happening behind the scenes, but on the other hand I like the idea of all the required information being encoded in the music it self. With this work he goes back to using his own photography for the cover artwork.

And then his last work for Cold Tear Records was released the same year. It was a full length album this time, called “Vertigo”. It also features a photo gallery, of pictures made by Martin from his time in Slovenia. You get it if you buy the album from our bandcamp. You can also see a slideshow of that photography in the video below, with one of the tracks from the album in the background.

 

This album seems to be more inspired by the dub techno sound. But as I and you know, dub techno and ambient / drone is an excellent combination, that creates a remarkable depth in sound.

 

It is also important to mention that Martin Dlabaja is not just a sound artist. He works with all types of mediums, that include video, installations and technology. If you like his works you must visit his youtube channel, where he has published a bunch of his audio-visual art. Seems like lately he has been interested in computer graphics. Find that on his channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/MartinDlabaja/videos

And for all around info on what Martin Dlabaja is up to visit his website: http://optical-frameworks.com/

There’s one last thing I want to share about Optical Frameworks. I remember that at one point I was interested in using reel-to-reel tape recorders my self. Because in the dub techno history it’s an important element to how the lo-fi dub techno sound developed. Nowadays I just mimick the background hiss of the tape, but back in the day, bands like Basic Channel / Rhythm and Sound had tape decks as an important part of their studios. Perhaps such amount of tape hiss wasn’t welcome at that time, hard to say, you’d have to ask Moritz von Oswald if such lo-fi sound was intended, but now it is a part of the whole aesthetic of dub techno style. Anyway, so I asked Martin about some technical aspects of using the machines, and he made this video where he shows how he generates all those sublime sounds. It’s a fun thing to watch, see it below.

Since “Vertigo” we haven’t released anything new from him. Although my hope is still alive, that we will get a message from Martin once more, asking if we’d be interested in releasing his stuff again. But whatever the future holds, I will always remember his creations as classics of our label.

Wr

Written by Evaldas Azbukauskas

Dub Techno in Belarus

It seems to me, that dub techno is a style that will never be truly popular, and nor it has to. Because it’s very specific and appeals to a specific kind of taste, which can be acquired through studying the history of this style and electronic dance music in general. To someone who’s not a fan of it, it may sound all the same, but dub techno fans have the ability to appreciate very small details and subtle differences. There is a chord with delay and reverb in every track, but every artist cooks it in a slightly different way. Therefore, even in the genre so defined we can have recognizable styles of one or another artist.

Some of you may be thinking, is there any dub techno in Belarus? Well, I’m here to tell you, yes there is. Not an overwhelming amount of artists or labels though.

To begin talking about dub techno in Belarus you have to start from YINYANG label, which is now defunct. Their first release appeared in 2017. So these guys were no doubt pioneers of the genre in their country. I believe it was the first dub techno label. YINYANG was started by artists known as Thomas Carmody, Khlev and their good friend Pavlik Artiushin. They have released a lot of stuff under this label, including artists like Heavenchord, Tender H, Altone and more. However at one point in history, the whole team realized that they have a bit different visions of what they want to achieve, and so they split apart. Khlev and Pavlik decided to get involved with music more suitable for dancefloors, and created the Backside Slice brand, and after that YINYANG was re-branded as Spclnch (spacelunch) by Thomas. Since then, he kept working on the label and it kept bringing new releases without slowing down at all. Since then he also released music by Liuos, Basicnoise, a vinyl record by Upwellings, Vøsne, Special Zip, Ohrwert and many more.

Now defunct, YINYANG imprint logo
Spclnch logo. A label run by Thomas Carmody

What’s great about all these people in Belarus, I mentioned above, is that they are enthusiastic about making great electronic music events. I’ve been booked to play in their events twice my self and came back with great memories. It’s cool to watch how they are doing it all out of passion for this music. There is a very nice video recording of one of their events, which includes live sets by Alexander Bogdanov and Special Zip. The latter has also released two EP’s on our label, but more on that later. You may enjoy the video:

Let’s talk about specific artists. I’ll start with Thomas Carmody, because in my mind he is the main person now in Belarus when we’re talking about dub techno. I’ve already told what he does a bit, so I’m not going to repeat my self. But he also has a solid catalog of his own productions released via his own label, others, and I’m happy to say that on Cold Tear Records as well.

Thomas Carmody

The next artist I’d like to mention is Special Zip. The interesting thing about this case, is that Special Zip released his first EP “Method” on Cold Tear Records in 2017, not on a Belarusian label. And at that time YINYANG / Spclnch weren’t even aware of this artist. I told about him to Thomas Carmody when I was playing in Minsk. So now he’s a part of Spclnch and also releases stuff on our label. I’m happy how music can sometimes connect people. Since then Special Zip also released an album called “Patterns”, which you can check out below.

Special Zip

One more artist who also cannot be ignored is Tender H. This producer is uncommonly prolific with his music. He’s been making multiple releases a year, since he released his debut EP “Dub Time” via Cold Tear Records. And it doesn’t look like he’s planning to stop. I’m intrigued to see what is ahead of Tender H.

Tender H

Let’s also talk a bit about Alexander Bogdanov. I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard much about him until quite recently. But when I listen to his productions, I understand that he might be one to watch in the next few years. So far he has one EP on Spclnch called “Contact”, that features two tracks by him and two by Special Zip, and one EP on Hello Strange called “Arcanum“.

Alexander Bogdanov

And last producer I will talk about is Khlev. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, he was involved in Belarus as a pioneer of the style together with Thomas Carmody when they started YINYANG label. He has released a lot of stuff on that label, now branded as Spclnch, which include his solo EP’s, as well as collaborations with other artists and a remixer. He now works as curator and event organizer at Backside Slice team.

Khlev

I’m sure there are more people, putting together dub techno tracks in their spare time, in their cozy bedrooms, just for fun, without any big aspirations maybe. But that’s about it for dub techno from Belarus. You couldn’t say there’s a lot of it, but it found it’s place in this country as well.

Written by Evaldas Azbukauskas

Dub Techno scene in Lithuania

Dub Techno is a genre loved by some, and to others it’s just too much of the same. But it’s a certain kind of aesthetic that fans of the genre fetishize. However, I have to admit, because the style is so defined, a lot of mediocre artists and labels appear. Yet true fans of the genre can tell the difference between a good and interesting dub techno track and a bunch of chords with a lot of reverb and delay mashed together. It cannot be just that. It’s supposed to be a subtle art of being able to put all these sounds together in patterns that make your soul dance.

It is really a niche style and there aren’t that many labels and producers who put out this kind of music. However, you will find a few names who are doing a great job at that. So my goal is to look into that. I want to see, what every country in the world has to offer in dub tech. And I will start with my own homeland – Lithuania.

When speaking of dub techno scene in Lithuania, two names pop up immediately – Giriu Dvasios and Grad U.

Let’s start with Giriu Dvasios. Ok, I won’t talk about my self in third person. It is me. Sorry for shameless self promotion, but I am one of the better known dub tech artists in Lithuania. I began this project back in 2009 and after a successful promo campaign on MySpace (a social network that was big at the time), I quickly earned my status as one of the best. The same year at summer I played in most of the electronic music festivals in my country. My most notable album was “Ratu” released in 2015 via Cold Tear Records. It became a hit in Lithuania and was mentioned in blogs like A Strangely Isolated Place, Igloo Magazine and some others.

What this album struck a chord with people about (no pun intended), is a combination of dub music and a traditional Lithuanian polyphonic chanting called “sutartinės”. Something ancient and primal about it resonated not only with Lithuanians, but with people from all around the world as well.

Giriu Dvasios performing at a club Pelėda, in Vilnius

My track “Turėja Liepa” from the album “Ratu” has accumulated over 160k views on YouTube. Which is maybe only a fraction of what the big names can get, but to me it is amazing to see. My tracks have also been played in DJ sets by Deepchord a few times, which to me is quite flattering as well.

I should also mention, that I am a founder of Cold Tear Records digital label. I started it in 2010, and since then we have released artists like Heavenchord, Echo Delta, Vejopatis, Monodisc, joergmueller and many other one’s from all around the world.

To check out more of Giriu Dvasios music, visit the bandcamp page: https://giriudvasios.bandcamp.com/

And now let’s talk about Grad U. And there’s a lot to say about this guy! Not only he’s one of the best in Lithuania, he has also got some recognition internationally. Very soon he’ll be warming up the stage for Jeff Mills in Strasbourg. He also has released a record on Echocord and made a remix for STL’s vinyl release on the same label. These achievements are probably a dream of any up and coming dub techno producer.

Grad U playing a DJ set in Klaipėda, Lithuania

And that’s not the end of a story. I have a big respect for him, because I see him as someone who just gets shit done, no matter what. He is running two labels – Redscale and Greyscale. With Redscale Grad_U releases vinyl records with his own productions only. And Greyscale features digital, CD and Vinyl. He is a powerhouse. Grad U’s productions and live performances are focused on using analog hardware, but he is also a very experienced DJ.

To check out everything Grad U has been doing, visit his label’s bandcamp: https://scale-limited.bandcamp.com/

Another name worth mentioning is Vejopatis. He released his debut album called “Taškas” back in 2012 via Cold Tear Records. Since then he was consistently bringing new stuff. However, his sound has been moving further and further away from what you’d call dub techno, yet the dubby chords and some of the dub aesthetics are still there. His most successful album so far was “Versmės”, released in 2016 on Cold Tear Records.

Vėjopatis has performed his music live in many summer festivals here in Lithuania and other venues and parties during the rest of the year. I’d describe him as an exceptionally creative composer. He doesn’t just make dub tech tracks, he makes complex compositions, with arrangements that not only make your soul dance, he brings you to some sort of a fantasy land.

Vejopatis performing live

To hear more of his music visit his bandcamp: https://vejopatis.bandcamp.com/

Let’s keep moving. You cannot talk about dub techno in Lithuania without mentioning Sraunus. A super talented producer. His productions to me seem to lean more towards deep techno and ambient, yet the dub tech aesthetics are still there.

Sraunus performing live

Seeing him occasionally performing live in various events around Lithuania is not a surprise.

He has released a couple of albums on Grad U’s label Greyscale, but it seems like he’s mostly focused on putting out his stuff via his own bandcamp page: https://sraunus.bandcamp.com/music

Another name worth mentioning here is Vytis. Born and raised in Lithuania, but currently based in Ireland. He debuted on Cold Tear Records in 2012, with a full length album “Mind Voyage“, but really stormed into the scene in 2013 when he released his album “Deepchord Avenue“.

At the time he won the love of many dub techno fans around the world with his endless creativity and productivity. However, after that he went away for personal reasons. But it seems he’s coming back though. In 2019 he released a new album on Cold Tear Records – “Silver Field Dubs“, and re-released his old album “Gliding“, which was previously presented under the now defunct DeepinDub imprint. There’s a new album coming up from him for the next year.

Recently, a new name appeared in the Lithuanian dub techno scene. It’s dubonautik. Currently based in UK. Great artist, very technology oriented. His live sets often feature a complicated hybrid of software and hardware.

Dubonautik hasn’t been releasing a lot of music, but he has recently put out a mini album on Greyscale called “Hightened State“.

And now let’s talk about Echo Delta. He might be the most secretive artist of all reviewed in this article. Yet what he was able to achieve is remarkable. He debuted in 2014 with an album called “Digital Lifeforms” on Cold Tear Records. Despite it being his first release ever, it became one of the most successful one’s on the label, and still is.

After that he released two more albums: “Blu Eon” and “Within“. Also a collaboration EP with Mikrokristal called “Summer Rain“. All of them, more or less very appreciated by the fans of his sound, which you could describe as atmospheric, floating and chill.

Echo Delta playing live at Revolution festival in Lithuania

Echo Delta has not done many live performances, but he is a good DJ.

I believe that’s it for the Lithuanian dub techno scene. I hope you enjoyed the read. I’m also planning to review Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, United States, Greece and any other countries that have at least a few names to mention in the dub techno world. So stay tuned!

Written by Evaldas Azbukauskas

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