Screaming and breathing are transformative acts with liberating potential for the Prague-based musician and producer Ai fen. Ewelina Vlček-Chiu took her Chinese name for artist name when she embarked upon solo endeavor parallel to being a half of the witch house duo ba:zel. Her solo work has become an act of coming to terms with facets of her identity that remained distant throughout her life in Europe and North America.

Of Extremes

Elements of drone, ambient, screamo, techno, and darkwave emerge as you move through experimental soundscape full of unexpected turns. Ai fen thoughtfully weaves these components to create an environment that is sometimes harsh and bleak, other times her voice comes in tame and tender. Quieter passages provide a shelter from the storm, but they might as well be a disquieting moment of calm before the next dislocation, elevation to the next sonic ground.

Every so often, her delicate vocal erupts into a fierce scream. Ai fen found pleasure in alternating between vocal extremes, sometimes in quick succession, when she was able to let go of the fear of having her voice perceived as aggressive or unpleasant. Vocal experimentations are the core of the project, the means of examining connections between voice identity and ways in which we communicate our inner selves to the outside world – or hold ourselves back from doing so.

Just Breathe

A desire to return to the present moment and its infinite potential by focusing on the breath permeates the track I Like Breathing. Starting as a gentle whisper, it gradually turns into an urgent appeal to rid yourself of any unnecessary ballast: “Inhale, exhale out, everything else is just a story we tell ourselves”. An ethereal voice hovers above a fragmented electronic background on This Analog Desire (Makes Me Slow), and the wish to decelerate, invitation to momentarily take a step away from the constant whirlwind of your mind, resonates here even stronger.

Both songs appear on her debut postforever, which came out in February 2020, weeks before the pandemic profoundly and unprecedentedly disrupted our routines and plans. The album plays with our tendency to slice up history into an easily digestible concatenation of defined eras, as well as our private desire to draw a line, dismiss the past and start anew in a way that is never ultimately possible. postforever points towards a confusion in our understanding of time and order and it investigates the meanings these categories implicate.

Far Beyond Forever

Photo by Natalie Kuznetsova

Unable to re-experience her work in interaction with a live audience, Ai fen invited six artists to remix five of the tracks, as a way of developing her music further under unusual conditions. The cooperation with the producers Kkraus, MA’AM, Jested, Tropical Vampire, Dikolson, and Evil Medvěd resulted in the remix EP post postforever, out on 20th of January. Imitating our own perception of time growing fuzzier over the course of the past year, post postforever takes the premise of the original album an incomprehensible step further.

As if to reiterate that despite all our attempts to set clear lines, nothing ever is clean-cut and final. The collaborative result is a swarming electronic landscape with individual fragments spilling into one another. The remixes further amplify the pre-existing alternation between sonic extremes and destabilise the notion of time as a linear succession of events. Merged into a pleasantly challenging assemblage, it is upon first listen not always clear when one track ends and another starts.

New Dimensions

The EP opens with the remix of I Like Breathing by Kkraus, the Prague-based solo project of producer, musician and promoter Pavel Kraus, which juxtaposes the original call for inner calm with a paranoia-inducing electronic rattle. The song reappears once more on the EP as remixed by Tropical Vampire; darkwave inspired project of Swedish producer Anna Helmersson. Her interpretation partially recovers the gentle atmosphere but stretches it out into yet new dimensions. Dikolson seemingly restores a degree of familiarity by introducing guitars on Not As, a reincarnation As I Thought, at the same time introducing a foreign element into a song which revolves around keyboard melody and electronics.

Very much in tune with the times, post postforever begs the question: What comes next? While the question remains unanswered, it is clear that Ai fen is an artist to keep on the radar for experimental electronic fans.

post postforever is out on January 20th.