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Serge Bulat, who hails from Moldova, is new to the New York music scene, but his artistry has not gone unnoticed. His debut effort, the 2016 audio visual project titled "Queuelbum," garnered critical acclaim and earned Serge his first award – an Independent Music Award for Best Electronic Album of 2016.
As someone who abhors stagnancy, the producer-singer-songwriter just released a second project - his EP “Third World Walker" coming barely a year after its smash hit predecessor. While this 'traditional' music album differs stylistically from his avant-garde debut, Serge professes that it comes from the same musical universe; it's a story within a story.
Bulat talks about the source of his creativity, Moldovan upbringing, career, and his pure love of the unknown.
Beat: Describe your sound in five words.
Serge Bulat: Emotional, moody, layered, contrasting, hybrid.
“Queuelbum” is an exploration of time and space. Are you a sci-fi geek? What sparked that fascination for you?
If I really think about it, there are two themes I tend to explore: oceans and space, and both appear alien. It is sort of natural to be pulled towards the unknown; it seems more attractive, so easy to fall into the trap of this fantastic bliss, to dismiss your life “here and now." Surely it takes effort to be grounded. But it’s always great to think about other possibilities when feeling down. The hopelessness disappears somehow.
What intrigues me is the unmeasured space of possibilities, undetectable and unseen things like dark matter and dark energy, relativity, chaos and order, recyclable universe and so on. Only a small percentage is shown to us, and the rest is just speculation. What’s even more exciting is that everything has potential to exist, no matter how ridiculous or strange it seems. And this is what fascinates me the most.
What are the differences in performing your vocal vs. instrumental music? Do you perceive the audience behaving/responding differently to the two?
It’s been ages since I performed, it feels like another lifetime. No plans were made for my most recent project (Third World Walker). I made some appearances to promote my tracks, but they were rather symbolic. Once I completed Queuelbum, I felt the need to share the hidden world behind it, to tell the story. When brilliant Michael Rfdshir came on board and shot the videos - the idea to bring the project to festivals felt natural.
The audio visual form, or as I call it “a/v language” - made sense to me. If it triggered an emotion in one person, then naturally, it would affect a few others too. Or so I hoped…
When I hear feedback from people who experienced Queuelbum pieces, I understand that the intimate contact I intended in the first place is really happening. Surely, you can watch the videos online with a set of decent headphones and still get there. The DNA of this project is the atmosphere. That is what matters the most.
What’s your musical training, and do you identify more as a musician or an artist?
Artist, I suppose…and only because it includes many things, thanks to its flexibility. I finished music school, and then enrolled in Academy of Arts, where as we all know you have to be “everything” in order to become anything (slash artist). Putting acting and directing aside, I had to develop skills in speech, ballet, acrobatics, set design and history of arts, etc. At the end of it you have a full package and it’s your mission to prioritize one or the other. My weapon of choice was and is music. Can I just be a musical artist? ☺
You experienced Moldova’s transition from Soviet control to independence. In what ways has that influenced your music, creative approach and career decisions?
That independence caused a lot of suffering. This is where I probably can’t be too objective, as we are the generation that eventually became handicapped by the brutal transformation. I was too busy to actually process what was going on, due to heavy involvement in all the available art schools in town; but the more time that passed, the more the division surfaced. When I grew up, the separation was too severe, as well as the phobia of being different and thinking differently.
The only stable area, where those issues and differences evaporated, was music; that became my submarine. What marked my creative process & etiquette was instability: a constant moving from place to place, and lack of belief in the future. To be more specific – a lack of belief that there was a tomorrow. Creatively, I believe, it constantly provokes me to seek change, challenge myself and never dwell on failures. I learned to glorify the instability.
Putting aside the opportunities that NYC afforded your career, what’s one thing about the Moldovan music scene that foreigners are missing out on?
There are lots of talented and hardworking people - the problem is that Moldovans themselves miss out on that fact. The folklore music is outstanding! The Classical performers are virtuosos. I’m not really up-to-date with the local dance and electronic genre, but things might have changed for better.
Do you have a particular hobby or activity outside of music that you use to rejuvenate your creativity or inspiration?
As much as I adore New York, living here makes me appreciate peace and space. You are desperately seeking it and that, ironically, becomes a hobby. Traveling gives me the opportunity to reload and rejuvenate. I need to be blank sometimes, but not for too long. Then, I start feeding my brain with books and good cinema. Theater, opera and concerts are my best friends, or to be more accurate, saviors. In my opinion, art is the only force which can effectively eradicate unnecessary drama, issues, comfort and boredom.
What’s your favorite ‘guilty pleasure’ pop song?
“Trick me” by Kelis. I don’t feel too guilty about it, she is an amazing artist.
Three bands or musical artists that we probably haven’t heard of (but definitely should)?
Mark Pritchard, Mikael Seifu and Clan Balache.
What drove your decision to embark on a solo career?
We all like to think we have ages to try things out. But then comes the sobering moment, when you realize that none of the things you tried made you happy. Once you know what your happiness is attached to, all it takes is to make “the decision.” That’s all there is to it, really.
With lots of phenomenal music already existing, and so much of it is pure perfection, it gets hard to find motivation to create something of your own. It amuses me how many excuses I had to invent to push this back…from not having enough lifetimes to complete what I want to achieve, to the ambitious high-tech studio I thought I needed to produce great music.
How has your life changed since winning the 2016 IMA award for Best Dance/Electronica Album?
I am truly humbled by the award, and extremely happy the album was acknowledged. It’s always an honor.
I do think it’s too early to talk about it in retrospect; I still live in the aftermath of it. Queuelbum was intended as a small underground venture and shaped into something else. I really can’t give any prognosis yet, as I genuinely feel the project is still evolving.
When starting a journey, you never know where it will get you...and things like the IMAs hand you in a validation ticket, sort of a hint towards the “doing the right thing” alley. All seriousness aside, it’s a pretty damn cool thing for a guy who didn’t exist a year ago or so…
What’s exciting here is the shift in music industry. The absence of labels, contracts, gigantic sales or PR teams behind you doesn’t mean you are not a legitimate musician and doesn’t devalue your artistic merit. I think it’s been proven in underground, indie and even the mainstream world. Examples are everywhere: the IMAs and Chance the Rapper's Grammy win this year. We should all cheer that.
What can we look forward to next from you in one, five and ten years?
We will see. It’s a blessing not knowing your future. This is what makes the whole journey so interesting…