Forgotten Worlds Filled With Magic: An Interview With Oksana Linde

Archival photo by Mardonio Diaz

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I like mystery, but it’s increasingly rare to find or hear something from the past that’s still unknown (and when something does emerge, skepticism kicks in and questions of authenticity are immediately asked). Yet, when the stars align and recordings long forgotten are exhumed and reintroduced to the world, it’s a beautiful thing.

As soon as a promo for Oksana Linde’s archival album, Aquatic and Other Worlds, showed up in my inbox, my interest was through the roof. Linde is Venezuelan, born to Ukrainian parents, and created sweeping, magical cosmic soundscapes that were equal parts emotive and immersive. Using a variety of synthesizers, her music is expansive as she uses intertwining layers to create rich, inviting worlds of sound. Even at 30+ years old, the music sounds as contemporary as ever.

Buh Records deserves great credit for bringing this music to light and sharing it with the world. Linde’s final legacy is still evolving and the ending has yet to be written. Aquatic and Other Worlds is one of the most exciting releases of 2022 so far. 

I conducted this interview via email in March and continued communicating with Linde afterward as she shared a cache of her incredible artwork. Pick up Aquatic and Other Worlds from Buh Records HERE

To start, I wanted to ask about your earliest experiences with music when you were a child. Did you grow up with music in your home? Was there any particular music or certain songs that you heard when you were younger that were especially memorable and made a lasting impression? 

When my family could, they bought a turntable and 78 RPM records. They bought Ukrainian music (not easy to find then), Russian, Moldavan, Venezuelan, classical, etc. Besides Ukrainian songs, when I was 3 years old, hearing “The Engulfed Cathedral” by Debussy impacted me more than other pieces I also liked.

My parents also acquired an old piano. My grandmother gave classes to my sister Irma (Kyiv 1939- Caracas, 1974). My family told me that I started playing Ukrainian songs by ear. I do not remember, but it seems that I wanted to do it that way. My frustrated grandmother taught me the most elemental lessons, and my mother knew that I, being extremely shy, was scared if my grandmother lost patience. They left me to learn my way. 

When I was between 10 and 12, a friend of my sister Irma (1939-1974) asked if I wanted to take lessons with an excellent musician, composer Moisés Moleiro. But my mother said that it was better to leave me in peace until I decided if I wanted that myself. When studying at The University of Oriente in Venezuela, a piano teacher wanted to give me lessons for free. She was excellent it seems, but I was very busy studying and doing other things. It’s a pity I did not accept… 

I know you were born in Caracas, but your family is Ukrainian… How did you find inspiration and influence from these two separate cultures when it comes to your own music? 

I never thought about that. All of it seemed so natural; a kind of fountain of inspiration. A world of sounds, rhythms, codes, so many different possibilities, many genres or styles, different languages (we also listened to French, Italian, Japanese music, and others). It is an attractive environment for someone who loves music. 

I love fusion experiments. Some Venezuelan songs seem to have a resemblance to some Ukrainian songs. When I improvised – and I still do it – I love to mix them, change from one song to another. I can begin with something that sounds like Telemann and continue with something kind of like Bach, then Rachmaninov style, Gershwin, and so on. I improvise and forget what I do. 

Since I did not study piano but only the basics, I am not able to play complicated pieces I love and would like to compose. My grandmother got desperate sometimes when she listened to me playing popular songs because she wanted me to study seriously. Maybe it would have been the better way to play professionally. I was very interested in visual arts and science, too. Playing piano was something that I liked and even needed.

Can you give me some background on your family and how they came to Venezuela?

My family (parents and two sisters) arrived in Venezuela in November 1947. I was born on January 25, 1948. My grandparents (Krychevsky) arrived in April 1948. They had to wait for another ship to Venezuela. My parents came earlier because my mother was pregnant and ships to other countries did not accept pregnant women who were more than five months along. She convinced the company that she was five, not six months pregnant. The Venezuelan government gave them permission months before, but the documents were not done on time in by the Venezuelan consulate. 

First mother, my grandparents, and sister Irma (1939-1974) were evacuated urgently from Kyiv to western Ukraine, to Lviv, in 1943. My father Iván was a Nazi prisoner. After a year he was sent to do forced labor, digging tunnels in Germany. He could meet the family in… I’m not sure, around the end of 1942 or the beginning of 1943. Then, he escaped with other Ukrainians and Russians from the forced labor camp. He was sure that they would be shot. 

When he finally could reach the family, he, my mother, and Irma went to Lundenburg, Mies in Sudetenland. Mother was very ill and in that hospital, she helped the allies when the war was over. There, she was volunteering, taking notes from those who were dying that were freed from Nazi camps. There were many people from different countries, and she helped them to send letters to their families. She already was fluent in some 10 languages. 

Before, my mother knew that her parents were leaving western Ukraine due to the advance of the Nazis and that the family was on the list of intellectuals and scientists to be shot by the Soviets. She hurried to meet them and saved her father during a bombardment on an open train that was used for cattle. 

Then it’s a long story. They traveled to Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany until they reached Paris, where one of the four sons of grandfather’s first marriage was living in a tiny apartment. They moved to one small apartment with no bathroom, my grandparents to a boarding house. Mother worked with the American allies as a translator and secretary, plus painting scarfs, and other things. She left the office because my sister Myroslava was born. My father was in some geology works (he was a geological engineer with experience in minerals prospecting, kaolin, and geophysics) He worked on some temporary projects but the income was very small. 

So, was there a certain moment, a spark, that guided you toward wanting to create your own original works? 

Since I was maybe 12 years old, and after, I was always creating songs. Almost always, I hear several instruments in my head, but when I play, the sounds are flattened and you feel the lack of the presence of other sounds I would hear within because I can play only one instrument at the same time. I used to mostly play what I listened to. Of course, I did not follow the correct techniques and as I said, I am not able to play the complicated pieces that I love so much. Then, when I was at the university, I joined a group. We used to play film themes, bossa nova, classic jazz. The instruments we used were guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, battery, and piano (me). It was really a nice experience. When playing jazz, you know that you can do more or less what you like and can do (logically, with limits). 

When you were getting started, what were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome? 

With piano, my lack of discipline to play professionally. With electronic music, the need to learn a lot, and the constant interruptions because I had to dedicate so much time to my family. I was also part of ecological movements and dedicated time to design educational material, translating environmental and scientific articles from English to Spanish. I was having side effects from medicines. I abandoned treatments many times because of that and had to rest. I left the labs at 33 because the toxins made me ill. There were many types of toxins, and some can have interactions inside the body. Toxicology is not an easy field. Due to the wrong medications, I had more added damage that already suffered in the labs. But it could have ended much worse.

Some of Oksana’s Artwork

Something so striking to me about the music on Aquatic and Others Worlds (1983-1989), is how the music becomes like a sound painting of different landscapes. When I listen to your work, I feel like I’m transported to beautiful and interesting environments, away from where I am. How do you think music can be a medium to create new worlds and take us places in our minds? What journey do you hope to take listeners on? 

It is wonderful to read how you feel the music. You describe, somehow, the way I feel about music that makes me immerse, too, in a surreal world. Listening to some songs/music, I have to close my eyes and I can see the music moving, not in known environments, but in landscapes that can change colors and shapes and make me forget where I am. 

I can hear music inside me sometimes when I paint and draw. I try to make music that can describe feelings, environments, and moods. I do not always know what will result or how a song will end. Sometimes, it is only music. Sometimes later, I find it different. It comes from inside. But anything can inspire me. Nature, animals, situations, sounds, feelings, visual artworks… I do not intellectualize about it. I simply “make sounds and music.” 

A psychologist (who also lived parapsychological events since he was a child) liked some of my songs and used to have his patients listen to “Mariposas Acuáticas” and other pieces. He told me, “You have to go to Germany, they will appreciate what you do.” Of course, being a mother of children, married, and my own mother not in good health, I would never leave them to begin a musical adventure abroad. 

Beyond the way your music produces so much visual imagery for me, it also flows with deep emotion. I think that aspect of it has made such a deep impression on me. It’s as though not only am I transported to this new place, I feel an emotional attachment to it like it is already part of me and it’s as though I have some memory of it. How important is the emotional part of your music to you and how do you, personally, connect with your work on an emotional level? 

You are very sensitive. Memories come sometimes when a sound reminds you of something you could feel (or have felt), even as a newborn maybe, or before… Spiritual connections, even feelings your mother had when pregnant. That is my impression. I am connected with my work. I feel emotions when I listen to some of my songs, and many times the work I do is filled with deep emotions. 

And as I wrote above, some of us perceive something that we feel/believe has to do with us. Maybe there are some ancestral codes that we are unable to recognize and cannot analyze, only feel. The inability I have had many times to express in words what I want to say has been an important factor in some songs. Maybe it is a way to express myself. Although some pieces, no one has ever listened to. 

Sometimes I feel shy, or intimidated, and cannot talk or explain things to people. Sometimes I’m unable to explain feelings or opinions, and even simple things. I am unable to not be worried because the world is a terrible place for so many innocent people and animals. Music is a place to immerse ourselves in and look for help, although if it makes one sad, it can be dangerous. I am sure that strong feelings could have been a spark for the works of, for example, Brahms, when he composed the dramatic concert nº 1 for piano and orchestra. He lost a loved friend, a great musician, Schumann. And the life events connected with that inspired him. One of my favorite concerts. 

Building from that, memory and sound have such an important relationship in my mind and as I said, I think your music really taps into this. How do you think about the role music plays when it comes to your own memories and how do you think music and sound enhance, or even change, our memories of places and events?

You have, surely, intuition; answers to understand some key elements that are involved in a complex equation. Some are very important in healing through music, for example. We know that some religions include chanting. The Tibetan monks employ mantras, chanting, meditation with music (as many of us, occidental people, use to do). Mothers can calm their children by singing sweet songs. 

Like other factors that influence the mind, music is very important. In fact, music can change your mood. And it seems that some frequencies can heal some maladies. On the other hand, very low pitch sounds can make some people feel ill. Some sounds repeated with a frequency higher than that of your heart can accelerate the beat and you could have an arrhythmia. When I hear a song that we used to sing as students, I feel that I am in that past. Association of music-memory is real. It seems that children learn easily when some lessons are songs with music they like. 

I also have read studies about isolating groups of people (I think that the experiments were done with groups in their 70s – 80s, for some weeks, in an environment with old furniture, old movies, the music they listened to, say, 30-40 years before. Many feel younger and their bodies begin to perform as if they were younger.) We now know that people with dementia-Alzheimer’s can remember some things when listening to songs that they used to listen to years before. As I understand, studies about that have been carried out to help find some solutions. 

Photo by Elise Ochoa Linde

What is it about synthesizers and electronic music you find most fascinating? 

The sounds that we cannot find in the world that we think we know and understand; being aware of only a very tiny portion of what seems to exist, and synthesizers allow us to expand the range, type, quality, or characteristics of sounds that we never had the experience of listening to before. 

We are partly blind, deaf. Many animals have a wide range of sensory abilities to perceive things about which we have no idea. Sounds that drive you to different kinds of other worlds, undersea, cosmic, fantastic realms. Sounds that seem to touch regions of the brain that reverberate and can maybe help us to understand some things or awake forms of consciousness we’ve never experienced before. 

In the words of the great Laurie Spiegel: “What we do is inhabit the extreme edges of the known sonic universe, to dwell there and listen, to find and reveal or realize what may be there, to postulate and to populate those spaces, to listen openly to our individual imaginations 3 and sonic sensations, to feel for what is so subtle or so complex or so fundamental or so authentically meaningful that it still evades being focused on, captured, described, expressed or shared.” 

How did you first get in touch with Luis Alvarado and Buh Records to set off on this journey to issue these works?

He found me on Facebook. He told me that he read a comment of Angel Rada about me, and he tried to contact me, but you know that, sometimes, Facebook can hide messages. He finally reached me around October or November 2020. 

Has going through this process of getting these archival works released inspired you with any new projects or music you are working on? Will we see new Oksana Linde albums in the future? 

Sure, I have more inspirations. I would like to have the opportunity to make music with synthesizers again, to have a small home studio as before. But with the kind of equipment that is currently used and all the new technologies, I would need to learn a lot. There is almost nothing left from my former home studio. 

As for the possibility of a new album, I think there might be another one if the scary and extremely sad events taking place these times allow it. 

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