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REALMA

RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW REALMA WHAT HAPPENED?

Hiya Realma thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.

What made you decide that music is a thing for you?

It’s probably weird to say, but it’s almost like this path was decided for me. First and foremost, I was lucky enough to have an amazing family that allowed me to cultivate my artistic skills and passions from early on. Beside music, I studied everything from oil painting and classical drawing to acting, dancing and martial arts.

However, though I was surrounded by music and kept creating music, I wasn’t really planning on releasing any of it (any soon at least) and honestly, becoming an independent musician never really crossed my mind before Covid hit. In fact, I was doing a joint-honors BA degree in film and drama at the University of Kent in the UK – a course I found to encompass the wide array of my eclectic interests.

At that time, I was crazed with physical theatre and cinema instead. Long story short, at the time lockdowns were starting, I had a traumatic police mishandling in March 2020 upon my arrival from the UK back to Serbia.

Together with a month-long self-isolation period, it really broke me as a person. It’s then I re-discovered the power of music in helping us transcend our given circumstances. That is when my multi-genre songwriting and composing efforts provided me inspiration to dream about these different realms, stories and characters.

Music-making truly served as a remedy to re-claim my shattered identity, resulting in my punny witchy alias ‘Realma’. The project really came alive when I started collaborating with visual artists, most notably animator Mihajlo Dragaš and visual artist, photographer and videographer, Milica Staletović, who both helped turn my concept stories into tangible animated and live music videos.

Some of our artistic efforts were recognized in various publications, including Rolling Stone India, Calvert Journal, Notion, Zile si Nopti, Vreme and similar, while our animated music videos have been selected for various international festivals, like Lift-Off, Animest, Flipbook, as well as MArte Live art competition (semifinals). From there on, I just never looked back and kept walking this path, you know?

Introduce us to you and your musical history.

So, hi! I’m Ariadna – the person behind ‘Realma’ (my artist name is a pun on the word ‘realms’). As I mentioned, I started studying music early on in my childhood, though my formal training hasn’t been as linear as it can be for most.

My first instrument was accordion taught in primary school in Beijing, China, but I only played it briefly when I moved to Serbia and started studying classical violin. I had some amazing teachers, including private violin tutoring from Sanja Jović, a soloist at the Symphony Orchestra of Niš and Bojan Stanković, who was providing me intensive lessons in counterpoint, harmony, musical form and composition.

Though I’ve ultimately decided to study film & drama in the UK instead, at uni, I was still actively engaged in the modules dedicated to the use of sound and music in theatre and cinema, often composing incidental pieces and soundscapes for our student productions.

In parallel with my main studies, I also completed a part-time composing and stylistic techniques course at OCA (part of UCA), as well as a singing and songwriting course at Pointblank and mixing and mastering course at ICMP in London.

Furthermore, I attended a summer school for musical theatre at Guildhall School of Drama and Music and received private lessons from the virtuosic pianist Ljubica Stojanović, who unlocked the expressive potentials of performing on the instrument for me. 

With all that and adding the influences of different cultural environments I lived in, it’s no surprise I write eccentric multi-genre music that’s otherworldly, experimental and cinematic in nature.

Each of my songs I released as Realma so far is set in its own sonic world and also includes an animated music video accompaniment, as well as alternate live versions, as I love to re-interpret and re-arrange my own music for different live session situations.

Moreover, I like to think of songwriting and composing as weaving sound spells that recall distant lands of the mind… Whether it’s the moon-charmed landscape of my debut release ‘A Hint of Pink’, the noir cityscape of ‘Wandering’, the vibrant fairyland of my third release ‘Ashgrey Butterfly’, or the intergalactic action vistas of my newest track, ‘Down the Railway Spine’, I definitely think my music contains a thousand facets and is dedicated to all the dreamers and fantasists out there.

And together with my animated music videos, which are created in collaboration with the award-winning artist, Mihajlo Dragaš, there is certainly something in my music that breaks not only contemporary musical conventions, but also the boundaries between music and visuals. 

What was life like for you before music?

Hmm… I can’t really say, since I believe music has always been there with me, always present in my life. Thinking about it, it’s always been just something hugely intuitive. If you ask my family, they’d say I’ve always been very reactive to any rhythm or melody since my earliest childhood.

And from as early as I can remember myself, I just always made-up melodies, whether it was whistling tunes or tapping rhythms that seemed to just come out of thin air – music would just always come to me intuitively, like an imaginary friend singing into my ears. 

What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?

Oof… It’s hard to recall precise songs or compositions, since my parents always played a lot of records and cassettes at home, ranging from classical to pop, jazz, country, etc. They are such music enthusiasts…

Though I do recall my first time hearing Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, live at a concert in China. I was perhaps like 7 years old? And I was so immersed in the composition’s crescendoing mystique, washing over me through the astonishing timbral combinations of the orchestral instruments.

As the heated gradation of the piece pushes the audience over the edge in the final bars, I recall just being frozen and breathless – completely in awe. According to my parents, I also loved listening to film soundtrack compilations every night before sleep.

Listening to those legendary compositions or songs, I would then dream of performing and composing, so it’s definitely worthy of mentioning. 

REALMA

Where do you feel you currently sit within the music industry?

I’d say I definitely sit in my own little witchy & multi-media corner on the independent side of the music industry. With a hugely varied background and catalogue, I’d say I completely go my own, niche way. On one hand, it’s liberating. On the other hand, this is the era of the algorithm and AI, where streaming numbers and views favour formulaic content.

So, it’s difficult in that sense to do your own thing, if you want to attract an audience. In that sense, back when I’d just started releasing music, I saw this interesting thread on Reddit, where the state of the music industry was compared to the selling of shovels during the California gold rush in the mid-1800s. Back when there was this craze to dig gold, the whole industry was thriving because economies were set up to exploit this desire to get rich quickly.

Except in music, it’s maybe not even so much the desire to get rich quickly, but more than anything, get as many streams as quickly as possible. And I don’t know… I found this very defeating. However, I’ve since learned to just embrace my niche and I’m glad I was compared a few times to artists who have similarly ethereal auras like St. Vincent, Goldfrapp, Kate Bush, Mitski, Bjork, etc. It was encouraging to see, because they truly always did their own thing too. 

What’s the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry?

Weirdly enough, it’s not an intentional lesson or a well-meaning one, but the biggest thing I learned was from a sound recordist, who basically cancelled last minute when we were shooting a live session video of ‘A Hint of Pink’ at the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Eastern Serbia, Felix Romuliana.

Though it was close to my home town, I brought crew members and musicians from another city and we were more than 20 people waiting to shoot this video. It was really a nightmare scenario and I’d invested a lot financially too.

But it’s this terrible occasion that has gifted me the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as an independent musician and artist – the importance of finding a reliable and supportive team. It’s during these scenarios that you learn not only to be resourceful, but learn how important it is to be surrounded by people who truly care about the project you’re doing together.

So, with amazing teamwork and support, we somehow managed to create a lovely live session in spite of the situation. Sure, it would have been much better if things went according to the plan and the sound recordist didn’t cancel, but I’ve learned to be extra prepared for any situation now, all with the amazing support of a wonderful team.

Tell us Two truths and a lie about you.

  1. I can beatbox pretty well and have surprisingly managed to achieved those low basses unusual for girls. 
  2. I can’t ride a bike.
  3. I speak 6 languages, to varying degrees.  

If you could wish for one thing to aid your career, what would it be?

Such a tough question. I almost want to say nothing that I don’t already have. In fact, I’m glad I wasn’t given an easy way in. I don’t have a family with connections to the music industry, nor do I have a budget that is anything close to that of a label budget for my productions. And I think it’s these types of limitation that teach you a lot…

For example, you have to then build connections yourself, build a team, a network and an audience, but it will be something that lasts. If you don’t have a big budget, you then get an opportunity to find creative solutions to achieve great results, even with little resources you have… You also have to write your own press releases and this is also a great skill to have. In general, I’ve been involved in all areas of production – from recording and arranging, location scouting, to filming, buying lights and electrical sources, camera equipment, etc.

At the same time, I own my masters and I have all the control of my brand and how I present myself as a musician. At the end of the day, I like the catalog and everything else I’m building and investing in. For me, it’s the long game. And even if I never reach what people call ‘the top’, I am proud of everything me and my team of collaborators have achieved.

I’ll be left with not only fond memories, but also invaluable skills and infrastructure I’ve built along the way. And with all this, you get to slowly improve too and it’s great to look back and be like, look how much we’ve achieved despite the small budget, despite the cheap equipment and despite how small the team is. Look how much we’ve grown. That is my main point – in situations like these, you can grow. So, yeah, my answer is – I have all I need. 

Do you ever worry about people taking things the wrong way or cancel culture? Discuss….

Hmm, interesting, I definitely wasn’t expecting this question. I tend to just mind my own thing in general, to the degree most people would say I live under a rock and they wouldn’t be wrong in a way. I love dedicating myself to the craft, whether it’s getting lost in making music or any other forms of art and I find out about trends and stuff going on much later than most usually.

But then, even I can certainly appreciate that the whole political climate today is very polarized and tumultuous. Yet, I wouldn’t say I’m personally that worried about things like online culture wars, as I keep to myself mostly and just love living off the grid and IRL.  Social media and its algorithm love controversies and outbursts of emotion surrounding them, while I, on the other hand, love to steer clear of all that. Plus, I am really no authority to talk about certain topics.

Though, it’s also important to know that, while they seem like novel issues, culture wars aren’t anything new really and, on that topic, Kliph Nesteroff’s book Outrageous might be an interesting read. It not only outlines decades worth of controversies (since 1890s up to today) and delineates how show business and the culture wars have always been bedfellows, but highlights how racial representation has always been a contentious issue.

There are examples in the book that show how there had always been fights around what is and isn’t appropriate to say. Social media has probably amplified all that, but certainly didn’t invent the phenomenon. 

Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories? If not why not?

Hmmm, I can’t say I subscribe to any conspiracy theories really, but then I can’t say I blindly believe absolutely everything I read/watch in the media either, since there are always political biases and stuff like that playing out.

And again, with social media and the internet, we’re more than ever bombarded with loads and loads of information from all sides. It’s really difficult to distinguish what is real and what is not anymore. I find it almost impossible to guard my own critical thinking skills when confronted with all that…

Personally, I am quite overwhelmed with this information noise going on, so much so that I became a bit of a sceptic lately and will doubt everything I hear or read, ha ha. I will say though with AI, things are getting even worse.

I mean Google search function is almost unusable to me at this point. Recently, I searched for some mundane information on ways to get a stain out from a certain material. I went through several websites, when I realised that these were all pages with AI-generated material, where I honestly couldn’t get to the actual information I was searching for, but instead, got stuck in language loops that seemed to provide this information, but actually offered nothing of substance.

So, I don’t know what to tell you… So I don’t know what to say. I guess it’s time to quote Oscar Wilde: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” And shall I add, maybe we’re all set in The Truman Show (1998), ha ha.

What was the worst experience on stage?

I guess I’m lucky to say that since I’ve started my project and started performing as Realma, I haven’t really had any experiences on stage that were that bad. Other than maybe a phone that rang during a more silent part of the song or an annoying sound technician that diminished the vibe before one of the shows.

But for the most part, I enjoyed all of them. If I look farther back though, I had this really bad thing happen during a martial arts demonstration event, so maybe I’ll mention that one. Basically, I was in my teens when we were performing some Wing Chun techniques and my friend and I were rehearsing for a while and never had any issues.

However, on the stage at the theatre filled with around 300 people, I was supposed to grab his head towards my knee, but this time around I felt his skull slam into my knee. Then he bounced off and flew down onto the floor. The whole theatre exclaimed and I was frozen.

I checked on him and we managed to continue as planned. Afterwards, the area around his eyes changed all sorts of colours. I felt really bad about that one, especially with many peers mocking me, ha ha.

Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about.

Those really close to me know that I have an adventurous, daredevil-type of a streak… But usually, people I don’t know that well are surprised that I have a PADI license for scuba diving and had some circus training – mostly in aerial silk and trampoline. I tried flying trapeze too, but found it a bit too much at the time. I’m pretty occupied with music at the moment, but hope to do more training in the future.

What are the next steps you plan to take to reach the next level?

So, other than creating new music and new music videos, the biggest step I’m planning to take is to work on the exciting prospects of developing the stories and characters from my animated music videos, or, as I call it – my audiovisual universe – into longer-form artworks/content like comic books or maybe even games and tabletop RPGs.

Or, in other words, I’m working on expending this audiovisual universe of mine into a successful and powerful franchise and brand. In the meantime, I’ve enrolled in some game design/writing courses, so I hope I’ll get to unveil some of these in the future, as well as find more collaborators to make this huge idea come true. I’d also love to work more on performing and maybe even touring. A dream would be to perform with a live orchestra – but, one step at a time!

What’s your thoughts on Elon Musk’s contribution to the world?

I don’t like to comment much on what other people do, since it’s their own thing and business, you know?

Especially since a lot of rhetoric surrounding Elon Musk is quite political. If we get that out of the equation and talk purely neutrally, one thing I have noticed is that a lot of technical innovations Elon had promised to investors over the years have been proving more and more to be what Thunderf00t and many other youtubers called out as ‘vaporwave’… At least in the version ultimately delivered to customers. Obviously, I am no authority to talk about this, so I’ll leave it at that.

I hear you have a new music, what can you tell us about it.

Yes. My latest release is called ‘Down the Railway Spine’. It’s definitely my darkest track yet. Which isn’t that surprising, considering that it’s dedicated to all of us who’ve battled trauma and PTSD. The title of the song stems from the nineteenth-century term ‘railway spine’, when doctors encountered unexplainable symptoms experienced by passengers involved in railroad accidents – unaware it was an early form of PTSD.

Within such historical context, ‘Down the Railway Spine’ represents my own ongoing journey confronting what I call ‘a giant roller coaster of mental health symptoms’ – often opposing and clashing – ranging from depression to anxiety and emotional numbness to irritable panic attacks. I’ve transformed this conflict both lyrically and musically into an intense sonic experience with the irregular 7/8 pulsations and action-packed orchestration dominating the track, at points recalling the feeling of a filmic boss battle.

And though it paints those dark times when I’d been fighting a whirlpool of emotions in episodes of mental deterioration, there is also a heroic undertone to this release, something undefeated, where I address those pieces of us that remain courageous and continue to defy even the eyes of the worst downward spirals. My long-time collaborator, the award-winning animator Mihajlo Dragaš, took my ideas a step further in the 3D music video.

Reminiscent of futuristic, neon-clad visuals seen in films like Tron and Blade Runner (both released in 1982), our animation tells the story about an interstellar racer on a mission to save his younger sibling, going against cataclysmic monsters across three different planets.

Perhaps, we’ve taken things a step even further in the live session version. In this video, the track has been transformed into a hardcore/gothic-rock power anthem, featuring notable Serbian female performers such as Aleksandra Stamenković (the frontwoman & guitarist of the speed/thrash metal band, Jenner), Marija Uzunovska (bassist of Nevreme & Noćni putnici), as well as Monika Pajazitović (pop/r’n’b artist, better known as La Monnique) and Tanja Marković (rap artist and DJ, better known as Cookbeat).

What was the recording process like?

So, the cinematic version of ‘Down the Railway Spine’ was basically crafted in my modest home studio environment.

And it’s really interesting to think that such a small, confined indoor space could actually end up as the birth place for this experimental-sounding grandiose action track. To achieve this, alongside the recorded keyboard and vocals, I’ve utilised an unlikely combination of orchestral and synth libraries in the production.

This allowed me to discover peculiar textures that ultimately granted me freedom to paint a distinctly atmospheric whirlpool of an ambience, perfectly depicting the neon-tinted odyssey in the animation, far surpassing the limitations of my home recording setting.

Meanwhile, the rock/hardcore/gothic version was recorded in the proper studio in Belgrade, though guitars were recorded separately, so it was a bit weird perhaps. However, it was such a blast when we finally added Aleksandra Stamenković’s guitar arrangement, which was almost flaming with some surprising Balkan-esque runs, yet also had that Iron Maiden-like vibe. It truly made everything come together in such an exciting way – be sure to check her out on socials @alexandra.lioness , she has some amazing content there.

Finally, the live session video for this version was also so fun to shoot – we found this abandoned building, which went perfectly with the atmospheres and the dark riffs of the song. The biggest issue was that we had to bring our own electricity, which I worried about a lot. There were also these huge gaps on the floor and we were recording on the top floor… We really had to look out not to fall and make sure to call out if anyone was on the edge. It all came together though – super proud of this one!

What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?

Hmm… I’d go as far as to say that every song has its own learning curve, so I always learn new things. For my songs, it’s even more true, since I base each song on a new story, a new realm and thereby, a new genre or blend of genres to make alive or embody.

Even my live sessions often venture into new territories too, so in a way I have to re-learn and re-conceptualise what I thought was familiar. In any case, each song of mine brings a new set of particular challenges to tackle. Of course, there are things you have to fall back on, from theory to practical things you use to carve out your music.

But after I find the soul or the heart of the track, along with the basic skeleton, the biggest learning curve for me is how to make it into an experience that will also be able to tell a visual story. And that part for me is all play (I’ll mention briefly that I really like Huizinga’s theory of Homo Ludens). Often, people are afraid of mistakes. For me, it’s all about embracing them in my process, while welcoming experimentation.

In a way, I don’t think I have a learning curve that might be as solid or as linear as for some. For me, it’s dreamlike and vague – and there is beauty in that. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for me.

Would you change anything now it’s finished?

Yeah, for the original/cinematic version. At the time I was producing this song, I was quite new to using synths and didn’t have the best samples to be honest. I’d change some of the synth-y elements, but in a way, I never consider my music fully finished and hope to have re-mastered editions in the future.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?

I’ll just end with saying that the reason I love making music and listening to music is its power to transport us and sweep us towards new adventures. So, keep dreaming everyone & follow the enchantment… And to those who’ve been following me – thanks for all your support so far. 

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