WISWOS / HearSay Project 2021
Interviews undertaken by Chloe Knibbs. A composer and sound artist exploring storytelling, theatricality and sidelined voices with a particular emphasis on feminist perspectives. Included in the British Music Collection, her work has been featured on BBC Radio 3 and performed by the Riot Ensemble, Birmingham Opera Company and the Hebrides Ensemble. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Composition at the University of York, UK.
© Image; Chloe Knibbs, 2021
Elastic Parallels - a Taiwan-UK female long-distance sound collaboration
In response to the recent impossibility of travel, in 2021, Ting Shuo Hear Say in Taiwan initiated a project with Women In Sound Women On Sound (WISWOS) in the UK to partner female sound artists for remote collaborations. Their resulting tracks have been published on the recently released album, Elastic Parallels. In a series of three conversations, we learn about the motivations and reflections of the artists in each of the pairings.
Conversation I - Francesca and Li-Chin
© Image; Francesca Simmons and Li-Chin Li, 2021
Q1: Tell us about your artistic practice to date and what initially attracted you to the project.Francesca: I’m a Welsh experimental composer, multi-disciplinary soloist and collaborator, based in Bristol, UK. The project sounded like a great chance to reach out and collaborate with a new artist, a different culture and an intriguing sound world.
Li-Chin: I’m a Taiwan “sheng” soloist and am also a musician/artist. I was attracted to the project so I could be matched to an unknown musician, it was like an adventurous and exciting draw. This also happened to meet my recent goal of collaborating with artists from many disciplines as I hope to explore a different self through the sparks of collaboration.
Q2: What was it like to make work with an international partner and to carry out the collaboration online in the context of COVID-19?Francesca: Connecting with Li-Chin, through sharing ideas and musical improvisations, has been totally inspiring. However, working during lockdown, with many emails and time difference, was tough! It has made me appreciate live playing on a whole new level. I however feel very happy that we created some very interesting ideas despite the difficulties.
Li-Chin: This lucky draw for my online collaborator has formed my experience, and my collaboration has been super awesome. Even though Francesca thought it was tough with emails and time differences, I thought this created another limitation which forms a different creative experience. In this experience, I can see even more possibilities in art-making.
Q3: The concept for your final work was “finding peace in chaos”. What led you to this theme and can you talk about how you used the instruments available to communicate this concept?Li-Chin: We are all currently experiencing a collective worldwide chaos, so we hope to spread peace through music. We used Double Pendulum Theory to enhance our imaginations and to work around a shared concept. We started with Francesca composing with recordings of my traditional sheng techniques and then I responded to what she composed through improvisation.
Francesca:It was difficult to avoid the feelings of uncertainty and chaos that the pandemic had caused, so we embraced it. To kickstart ideas, we looked at the Double Pendulum Theory – a rich dynamic behaviour arising from sensitivity to initial conditions. This helped shape sounds that seemingly pass from ‘chaos to peace’ and back, ad infinitum. I manipulated Li-Chin’s sheng sound clips in addition to playing violin, viola & musical saw.
Q4: In what ways has the project influenced how you view the process of collaboration?Francesca: When working remotely, I think you have to use a bit of ‘sixth sense’ to make up for the fact you’re not in the room together. You collaborate as usual whilst using extra listening skills, so that you move in parallel as you’re creating.
Li-Chin: I agree with what Francesca mentioned about the sixth sense. Due to our limitations, we relied even more on each other responding or feeding back to only what is there in sound. The process was full of adventures, which makes the experience even more unique.
Q5: As a project designed to be a creative space for women, how do you feel that impacted your experience of creating work? Were there any significant differences compared to other projects you have been involved with?Li-Chin: For me, the main difference in this collaboration is the mediations. I had to record on my own then send it to my collaborator, Francesca. We would then converse through music, rather than discussing details in person. There were less struggles in hesitation, and more instinctive decision-making to see if I liked where it was going. I was also very happy to meet so many great female musicians in this collaboration.
Francesca: I didn’t experience any significant differences in comparison to other collaborative projects. I was very happy to work alongside some amazing female musicians, and happy to meet people’s different characters on a creative & personal level.
Q6: Following the collaboration, are there any new ideas, concepts or ways of working that you would like to explore in the future?Francesca:The sounds that Li-Chin can make on the sheng are amazing! I personally don’t think we have a comparable instrument in the UK, so I felt really lucky to enter this rich new sound world. I definitely want to work more on manipulating and editing acoustic sounds to create an organic/digital hybrid sound world.
Li-Chin:Really glad to have met Francesca from the UK. She’s like a musical magician who enriches my world with musical diversity. I look forward to making more wonderful music together in the future.
Conversation II - Elaine Cheng and Sheryl Cheung
© Image; Elaine Cheng and Sheryl Cheung, 2021
Q1: Tell us about your artistic practice to date and what initially attracted you to the project.Sheryl: I am a sound artist working with ideas of ontology, materiality and agency. I often work with found sounds of power from within the body and beyond the body to reveal vulnerable states of openness.
Elaine: I am a composer of drone music, using analog and modular synthesisers to create my sounds. I was trained as an electroacoustic composer prior to moving my practice to drone music.
Q2: What was it like to make work with an international partner and to carry out the collaboration online in the context of COVID-19?Sheryl: We started with many ideas and potential common threads, from everyday sentiments to academic interests and things organically developed into one direction. I loved how we managed to be quite transparent with each other during the working process despite being physically far apart.
Elaine It was something new not being able to physically be in the same room as the collaborator but we made it work, even with the time difference. We were paired according to our compositional styles and it seems that this worked effectively. We had folders to drop sounds and edits of what we made and met virtually a few times a month to go through ideas
Q3: During your collaboration you carried out a number of live mixing sessions. What was it like to collaborate with one another in real time and how did this affect the overall collaboration?Sheryl: Live mixing was definitely helpful for us to listen to the work together in real time. It also allowed us to pause at particular segments to listen again. Originally we had dabbled with several different DAWs and setups to allow more equal access to the working file. After much exploration, we ended up with one person being in charge of the file while the other person gave verbal suggestions during these live mix sessions.
Elaine:The live mixing sessions were very useful to work on the track in progress. It gave us time to listen, work, and re-listen to the edits we made and I made suggestions that Sheryl then put into place. There was some waiting around for audio inputs to be adjusted before we could chat properly but overall, it was a valuable way to work on the collaboration.
Q4: In what ways has the project influenced how you view the process of collaboration?Elaine: Before, I always collaborated with people ‘in the flesh’. But now, especially as we have the technology to allow it, it’s made me realise that regardless of where your collaborator is based it’s definitely possible to work with someone halfway across the world. Even if the time difference doesn’t work out for a collaboration, it’s still possible to work with people as you can communicate via email and drop ideas and sounds into a shared online folder.
Sheryl: Collaboration comes with a lot of openness, trust, and with the distance in between, there was also a lot of letting go on both sides. We were very fortunate to build these qualities into our process and the organizing bodies also helped facilitate this working relationship. The residency had a very simple structure, which also allowed space for us to find our own structure of working as a pair.
Q5: As a project designed to be a creative space for women, how do you feel that impacted your experience of creating work? Were there any significant differences compared to other projects you have been involved with?Elaine:I’ve never collaborated exclusively with one other person on a project like this before. I’ve found it to be a very positive experience on the whole and it’s been so interesting to see and hear how someone else works, especially when they’re in the discipline of experimental music. I feel immensely proud of the track we’ve produced and feel confident to add it to my portfolio for future applications to projects like this or for residencies. Compared to other collaborative projects I’ve done with larger groups of people, there wasn’t the timid feeling of putting an idea out there as any idea was a good idea. It felt an open space to work in which made it an easy task to collaborate together.
Sheryl:In the past I’ve mostly collaborated in a way with more defined boundaries, and would say that this time around, it was an experiment of intersubjectivity. To allow each other full freedom on the most part and at times, also allowing the other person control of your hands. We started off with a few common threads of interests then slowly developed a way that allowed us to learn about each other’s unique ways of working through open methods of sharing. Definitely an eye-opening experience and a fruitful exchange.
Q6: Following the collaboration, are there any new ideas, concepts or ways of working that you would like to explore in the future?Elaine:Having been an electroacoustic composer before, I would like to revisit composing in that style/genre. Doing the field recordings made me realise how much I enjoyed reduced listening to mundane sounds and manipulating them in the production process. I would like to continue working with people across the world on new projects as it’s been clear it can be done.
Sheryl:The process has inspired many new ideas, from new ways of structuring a compositional process to potential experiences of listening and performing online. Would definitely be interested in future collaborations for compositional and performative exchanges
Conversation III - Manuella Blackburn & Chloe Yu Nong Lin
© Image; Manuella Blackburn & Chloe Yu Nong Lin, 2021
Q1: Tell us about your artistic practice to date and what initially attracted you to the project.Manuella:I am a composer of electroacoustic music and create predominantly fixed media (acousmatic) works.I’ve been composing for around 15 years, and I love recording, editing and transforming sound. I was attracted to the project as collaboration was at the heart of this work. Everything I make has an element of collaborating within it, so I was keen to have this opportunity to share sounds and to build a new track with a person who could bring their expertise to the table.
Chloe:I am a pipa musician, improviser, and sort of experimental composer?! Interactions with others are always significant to my projects and allow me to focus on the interaction of the present time. Thus, this exciting project for creative women sounded right for me and gave me the chance to work with new friends and talented artists worldwide.
Q2: What was it like to make work with an international partner and to carry out the collaboration online in the context of COVID-19?Chloe:This collaboration was exciting but also challenging for me. I am still a newbie musician and haven't had too many international collaborations before. Luckily, I paired with Manuella. She is always focused and very patient, and acceptable to what I share with her. And whenever I received her clips, Manuella's creativity was like a living waterfall pouring into my drained heart, which collapsed by COVID-19 and everyday life.
Manuella:I have worked with international partners before in a similarly remote way, although this time it was much more extreme since there was no opportunity to eventually meet or do a residency together. Being entirely separate was hard, but we all understood this. The barrier of distance was there but we negotiated it well, focusing purely on what our ears were telling us. We both seemed to navigate the project with our ears, not a plan or score/structure.
Q3: The final work you created fuses together improvisatory and freer sounds with beat-based music, what led you to exploring these contrasting elements and how did you approach bringing them together into a cohesive work?Chloe:At the first meeting, we discussed me sending Manuella bunches of sounds to work with, which would be a good idea since she is excellent at manipulating and transforming different sounds into her creative samplings. Then, BOMB! Sort of "puzzle pieces" together seemed to be fun and lots of contrasting elements coming out; we could ice-cream them all together. With Manuella's excellent composing skills, I could overlap my pipa improvisation along with her merged piece. Then we ice-cream again and again, and it finally became our Double Scoop Ice-Cream with ElectroPipa Flavor.
Manuella:I used this project as an opportunity to try something new. One of the earliest steps in our project was for me to transform some of Chloe’s pipa sounds which she sent to me. I sent Chloe a number of different ideas and she highlighted two that were her favourite, which included a beat idea. Developing these ideas then transformed something small into a longer section. I remember talking with Chloe over Zoom about our ‘puzzle pieces’ in reference to the different ideas that were developing and how we might puzzle them together – they seemed so eclectic at the time and probably too different to be in one piece together, but somehow we managed to bring the contrasting elements together. The value of the beat in the end was that it provided a frame or constant for these separate ideas to live in.
Q4: In what ways has the project influenced how you view the process of collaboration?Manuella:I think it has just verified how important collaboration is to me. It is also a reminder about how hard it is to collaborate. The dynamic and personalities of the duo are important and I’m lucky to have had Chloe as my partner who has always been super focused, positive and made beautiful sounds on her pipa. It’s not always easy to share new ideas with a collaborator, but this time I have felt safe and comfortable to do this. The process has helped me consider more deeply what it means to collaborate, where leadership roles fit within this pairing, and the necessity of effective communication.
Chloe:This collaboration allowed me to get to know myself more and understand how significant collaboration is to me. It also gave me a chance to learn more about how to collaborate with other artists to accomplish one project quickly. Our collaboration is a beautiful balance, and respectful space where everything is balanced, and the listeners can hear our individual unique sounds. Also, the time difference and meeting limitations helped us work efficiently to focus on our goal, and between the meeting break times, it also gave me the space to listen to the piece itself and just let the sound sing to me.
Q5: As a project designed to be a creative space for women, how do you feel that impacted your experience of creating work? Were there any significant differences compared to other projects you have been involved with?Chloe:It has been a very positive experience for me to be involved in this project designed a creative space for women. I could directly talk with Manuella about my ideas and feelings without worrying about being judged or feeling competitive with each other. It encouraged me to work faster and leave more space for me to focus on the piece itself. We all have that awareness so every meeting always cuts to the chase and focuses on our music and process itself.
Manuella:I have felt less pressure to deliver on expected results in this project than in previous collaborations. This time, I’ve felt less like I’m in a competition or within a ‘battle of wills’. It’s hard to make strict comparisons, but here I felt free to get on and create rather than negotiate power relations and I haven’t struggled to find a window or space to share my point of view. I do put this down to the dynamic and contributors in the experience.
Q6: Following the collaboration, are there any new ideas, concepts or ways of working that you would like to explore in the future?Manuella:I would like to work with Chloe again. We had an idea for a second piece which was partly done. We ran out of time to explore it fully, but this experience has helped me see Chloe’s aesthetic, tastes and personality more to assist in going forward with this. In this second piece Chloe had made a pipa part first, where I would put materials around it as a ‘decoration’. We felt that we had done the opposite approach in the first piece and we wanted to try out the reversed approach.
Chloe:I would love to keep working with Manuella. She gave lots of possibilities in the project and let me foresee that our collaboration would not end on one track. As Manuella mentioned in her response, we did have some materials ready to work on the new pieces left in the experiment process. And I am really looking forward to our collaboration performing face-to-face together in the soon future too.
Chloe Yu Nong Lin