After six years since his last album, Gregg Kowalsky is back with a new LP, Eso Es (meaning ‘that’s it’ in Spanish). Set to release on October 27, this new release is a thrilling immersion into FM synthesis and a puzzle of MIDI data. During the pandemic, the now Los Angeles-based artist moved to the Everglades and Miami, where he sampled sounds from nature including animals chewing vegetation. With no specific intention in mind, he tried to “recapture the feeling of making music just to make music without any goal or endgame,” he says in this interview. Today, we speak with him about his upcoming LP, sourcing material non-stop, and his love for Spanish phonetics.
What was the writing process like for this album? Are there musical and/or conceptual themes that informed the writing/guide the album as a whole?
I started playing around with a sequencer just for fun while riding out the pandemic in Miami in 2020.  I’ve always been trying to recapture the feeling of making music just to make music without any goal or endgame in mind, which I found difficult over the years. I started making music twenty years ago by programming sequences on those old Boss Dr. Rhythm. I had no clue what I was doing, and that is my sweet spot.
I moved away from long-form, meditative drone minimalism over the years because I was in a different headspace and searching for something new and immediate: shorter compositions with more structure. I took the sequences and layered them with Yamaha DX7 patches, which were then fed into audio-to-MIDI conversion software. At that moment, looking at thousands of confused MIDI notes from the converted synth patches, I knew I was in the sweet spot, having never worked with MIDI. I also like using tools in different ways than intended.
Two elements shaped the music on the album: process and place.  The process was utilising MIDI data for the first time in my career, and the place was the Everglades and the beach in Miami, where I retreated to make field recordings to avoid the literal and metaphorical noise. The process was one of discovery, both in field recording and working with MIDI. Feeding synth patches into audio-to-MIDI conversion software resulted in thousands of notes that became a puzzle I had to decipher and edit for hours at a time, but all I had was time. I just started feeding loads of recordings into the software to see what I would get because it was always a surprise.
That was exciting to me, as was recording with hydrophones in the Everglades and listening to animals chewing on vegetation underwater. It was my way of tuning out the world and just listening, which I believe put me in the headspace to finally work on music consistently for months.
When was this record conceived, written and finalised? Did the process differ from that employed on L’Orange, L’Orange?
I started recording the album once I created all of the source material in 2020-2021. I started mixing the record after moving back to Los Angeles in 2022. The process was completely different from making L’Orange, L’Orange. To me, the results sounded unlike any of my other materials structurally, in that it’s the most active material I’ve created with syncopated layers along with percussive elements. I think I tend to have consistent emotive content in all of my music, from solo work to my band Date Palms. There’s usually a warmth to the sounds in tone and feeling.
Further to that, can you tell me about any influences (musically, visually, etc. and maybe any not based in the arts) that helped inform this album or that continue to inspire you overall?
I made this album in a vacuum. I moved away from listening to electronic or electro-acoustic music over the last few years in favor of ECM jazz, dub, Americana. I think that is why I can’t figure out where this music lands, which is okay with me. I had no style or genre in mind. I knew I didn’t want to make stereotypical ambient music, though some might consider this ambient music. If anything, it reminds me of electronic music from the late ‘90s and early 2000s when I started while living in Barcelona.
Aside from hanging out in nature every day in Miami, the visual elements I thought of often while making the album or listening to the material were the visual music animations of Oskar Fischinger and Jordan Belson, but especially the geometric patterns and saturated colours of Oskar Fishinger’s work.
How, if at all, has the voice, POV, or narrative stance changed on this record? Where are you coming from? Who is speaking to us now?
I think there is a vulnerability in the music layered with darker tones than I’m used to using in my work. These are the times, though. L'Orange, L'Orange was a good-time album I made while hanging out on the coast in Malibu watching the dolphins swim by. This was definitely a darker time for me, for the country, and for the world, so I didn’t avoid using minor chords, which I almost always avoided in my music. Once I developed a new process, I did have a renewed spirit, which I think is embedded in the music.
Why Eso Es?
It rolls off the tongue, first and foremost. I like the way it looks on paper, similarly to L’Orange, L’Orange. I love mixing different imagery, language, and concepts. I love the way Eso Es sounds when spoken in Spanish. Sometimes expressed as just ‘eso’. I also remember thinking when making the album and the state of the USA that this is it! If we are going to turn this thing around, it’s now or never. The ‘thing’ being life, country, environment, and political discourse, etc. ‘Eso es todo’ would be the full expression, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue. This is it! That is it. That’s all, folks. When spoken phonetically, it has another meaning in English that can be applied to the same subject matter.
Do you think there will be a live iteration of this album?
I’ll be playing a few special shows in Los Angeles. One at the Vintage Synth Museum and one outdoor show curated by Feels Like Floating along with a possible in-store performance at Estuario Records, which is a new music store in my neighborhood that focuses on LPs from around the world, eclectic reissues, and is generally a great shop run by great people.