Tamara Friebel’s I love you is the second of three sound works in the exhibition that are the focus of this series of interviews. They are all related in the way they use spoken languages and their translation to voice intimate stories and desires in the buildings own gestures. In Andy Graydon’s work the walls seem to speak, and for her work, Emma Howes speaks to visitors from the chimney and instructs them how to move around the space. Tamara Friebel on the other hand invites the viewer to sit down in an eddy of domestic furniture within the corridor, and to lean into the tiny speakers concealed within objects like the lute and shells, and watch her film. The voices in her piece are in an indigenous Australian language, Kamilaroi, as well as Australian-English, and local Pomeranian German. The inflexions of pronunciation and translation in these works that include many speakers trying to articulate difficult emotions in another language are heightened to a musical composition in Tamara’s piece.
Khadija Carroll La, Kranich Museum curator and artist, spoke to artist and composer, Tamara Friebel about her piece I love you.
The role of intuition in your compositional process for this piece was central, can you explain a bit how that played out?
I have been spending time hunting down Brolga Birds, the Australian Crane, in rural Victoria, Australia, and it is often that they come in pairs. These birds have an amazingly intuitive way with each other. Their movements seem to be linked with each other, almost in a way that they could have learnt a difficult choreography and have spent years perfecting these moves. This is why intuition, in the sense that it is linked to a palette which explores initial impression and improvisation became a means to trigger my own composition of sound and movement based on this dance of love by the Brolgas. It is effortlessness that one sees when observing the synched choreography of their movements and I was intrigued by this, and the relationship it shares with performance and improvisation. I “re-performed” my filming of the Brolgas in real-time, capturing a film which rendered my own choreography of their sequence – and then recorded some first vocal impressions in real-time, or further intuitions of various individuals and myself observing this filtered-pink world of their intimate gestures. I drew from samples and sound colours that I have been collecting, including a retuned piano, and it is a collision of these samples and intuitions which one hears through the various channels.
There are so many voices interleaved in your soundtracks for this work – from Die Liebenden poem I tuckpointed into the wall around the corner to Kamilaroi language – can you please quote briefly and source each of these? For in my memory they are a stream of intense conversation the way the video is a rapid and jumpy blur of colour.
These multi-channeled voices are drawn from ancient to random sources, representing a myriad of sonic colours that I felt belonged to the dance piece. Brecht’s Die Liebenden, a poem that you have represented behind the wall of this piece, is spoken by a young girl and her mother whose grandfather happens to come from the region where the museum is. There are many first impressions captured, of this same young girl and her twin sister, their mother, who is a soprano singer, a recorder performer, a pianist, and a couple who have been in love for over 45 years! I felt these perceptions need to be heard, as brief moments, as if whispers through seashells, or through an old lute, which used to be played in small chamber music, intimate environments. It is all about intimacy, about sounds and words that maybe shouldn’t always be heard, but which you need to strain to hear, to listen, as if spoken at a distance. My recordings of an old piano, which I retuned according to a proportional system, like the archimedes spiral which informs the shell, were performed as an improvisation to this dance choreography, and have a lightness which can only be found in a small piano built for a family home. There are some emphatic breathing sounds of a Paetzold Recorder and the brief moment of Kamilaroi comes from a longer text I have been working on, as a libretto for a children’s opera, a musical theatre piece which is slowly evolving. These texts have been written in English, and are stories from my own imagination, which are being translated back into Kamilaroi, an ancient Australian dialect. This is an iphone recording that took place in the process of learning this translation, and its aesthetic – gives a hint at the irony of shared communication and the loss of connection with an ancient past, that is part of the loss that we will face if we lose the Brolga Birds altogether. They are already a threatened species in Victoria.
There are many dreamers in my family, we are a long, long line of dreamers, we have been born with the gift, and have always learnt how to use the gift.
How did the site specificity of this installation and the objects you found in Hessenburg and the adjacent art works in the Kranich Museum influence the work?
Hessenburg contains a wealth of artefacts in old furniture and an intriguing space which speaks so much through its walls already. This installation rummaged through various objects, and found its voice was best expressed in seashells and objects which were found there. The old lute was an exciting discovery, as it resonated with the chamber music and intimacy I sought after. The shells, so prolific on the coast of the Ostsee are a universal language – and speak their own worlds to whoever listens, resonating with the miniature loudspeaker environment, and sat well between the other sound works of the museum.
It is indeed an important shift from the surrealism of Hadley+Maxwell’s furniture sculptures to our repurposing of the ‘original’ furniture into our installations in the corridor space, which you recognized and responded to.
Yes, watching the curious world of Hadley+Maxwell develop around the Museum, in subtle and latent ways, and a stroke of surreal artifact in others meant I found new meaning with chairs, used as chairs, inviting you to sit down, in a place normally for passage in the hallway. The lute, which becomes a piece of furniture, albeit an old beautiful one, emerges as a static sound box strung with pink electronic wires, hinting at a sad nostalgia, where it becomes something twisted away from its original purpose, resonating again with the notion of surreal artifact. The cupboard which houses the projector offered a silhouette, a way to cast a shadow which frames the film in its own way, present only when the door is ajar. The unique directional quality of Andy’s piece, where voices seem to hang in mid-air, as though you could touch them in points through space and Emma’s directional, guiding voice in the next room, found me wanting to protect my delicate “miniature” sounds, between these works, and enclosing them in shells and a lute was a figurative means to protect their vulnerability.
You note the exact time that you filmed the love birds, edit them from wildlife documentation into an experimental film format – how did it come to the Brolga’s Tears Opera and to the totemic Australian crane in the first place?
I am often intrigued by the rich history that Australia has hidden beneath its first impressions. It is an ancient land, and connecting to that land is part of honouring the ancient laws and traditions that have existed for hundreds of years. I happened to be born in Cohuna, which means Native Companion, the Brolga Bird. This is by chance, but somehow represents the means for me to find connection to an ancient spiritual past, which I was able to draw from to write my libretto. There are so many ancient stories in Australia but it seems it has a purpose and place for new ones to be written – new music to be heard – and so I started hunting down the Brolga Bird and this video sound installation goes back to that lucky moment where I captured their love. It is not easy to find these birds, as they are very shy.
I’m wondering how this piece fits into your practice at present?
I am intrigued by the process of notation and writing scores and the complexity that is demanded by that practice, and the other related world of working as an electroacoustic composer that is offered by recording and manipulating music and sounds, whether it is improvised or sampled and manipulated to gain effects and colour. My projects often sit between these two practices, and examine this practice, critiquing its often separateness, and finding the place where these components merge. “Notation” is constantly examined, in the sense that I look at a choreography of a pair of Brolga Birds, or a hula hoop dancer or a ping pong ball dancing on a harpsichord and I wonder how that can be scripted, how can I communicate and learn from that gesture, in order to work it into a piece, or communicate it to a performer, to re-perform that sound quality according to my artistic vision. The video and recorded material becomes a means to understand and study these components, and in some contexts also becomes a part of the piece, or becomes a means to an end in a composition. In June I wrote a series of études for a hula hoop dancer, Annabel Carberry, where her choreography in essence produced my score, so it demanded that I work as a choreographer with video excerpts of her movements, cut and edited, to define the sound piece I wanted, Deflections. An earlier project this year was a score written for harpsichord and baroque flute, performed with live-electronics, Instant Memory Trace I, a piece that deals with memory and recall of a heard event, inspired in part by studying the sound of ping pong balls within a harpsichord. My projects are always interested in limitations and constraints, in this case, any external materials placed inside a harpsichord have to be extremely light weight, so that they don’t destroy the delicately strung strings. I am in the final stages of a chamber opera, Tzotzil Metamorph, and will be performing an excerpt of this with mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg in Huddersfield, UK at the end of November. This piece is constructed around its own architecture, a glass house which houses the operatic event. In this sense a version of this piece will become its own metamorphic pavilion, housing an installation, of a pre-recorded version of the opera. It is a dynamic project, which finds a curious link between architectural conception and compositional strategies, of which find its only means of representation in an artistic context. Junctures between these fields create fascinating offshoots, and in the end the artistic work is a product of the research.