by Courtney R. Thompson
Winnipeg, Jun. 2013: I met crys cole when I repatriated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada via Chicago in the Fall of 2012. She was—and still is—director of an experimental sound festival, send + receive, that I became a part of (I am a current board member). She is also a busy sound artist herself with many collaborative and solo projects that take her outside of North America. Her performances and installations create environments of active listening; an acoustic ecology that involves contact microphones and the amplification of objects accessed by the artist including tables, foil, brushes and more recently, the addition of “breath and hissing” with a vocal microphone.
Her installations expand from tabletop dimensions to work with her body and its interactions with interiors. For example, in tracings (2012), the gallery itself became an expanded field, creating a sonic architecture through condenser, and directional microphones that recorded her gestures enacted through skin and steel across stone, brick, and wood. Listening to the exhibition at RAW Gallery of Architecture & Design, a chorus of 100 year-old building creaks accompanied the piece, creating a spectral soundscape that was both past and present.
She will be presenting two site-specific works as part of the group exhibition At the Moment of Being Heard, curated by Simon Parris at South London Gallery, opening on June 28.
I asked cole a few questions over email as she performed across Europe this spring.
crys cole, Tracings, Spanien19c, Aarhus Denmark, 2013; Photo by crys cole.
Courtney R. Thompson: What has been the highlight of your time touring this year?
crys cole: Wow, this is such a difficult question to answer… this is the longest period of time that I have spent abroad focusing on my practice (six months in total) doing concerts and exhibitions, and this period has been so incredible for many reasons.
The most valuable thing about it all is simply being in a consistent state of creative stimulation. I am constantly developing new works, trying new things in concert, seeing and hearing the work of other wonderful artists and having the most interesting conversations with people around the world. When I have a solitary moment to pause, say on a train or plane or in between, everything that I have been experiencing settles and ideas take form and epiphanies strike me. I’ve been thinking a lot about how integral all aspects of this period are and how they feed into each other. Sometimes when you are given a two-week residency and you are expected to use this time efficiently in order to present a fully formed work at the end, it doesn’t always work. So much of the creative process, at least for me, is activated subconsciously during the doing and talking and absorbing, and it can’t be forced per se, to culminate in a piece when you ‘have to’. Though of course, sometimes you do have to work this way!
My time in Australia and Japan was very special, as I had a chance in both places to continue collaborations that were begun in recent years as well as find new creative partnerships that I am very excited about. Working with Australian musicians Joe Talia and James Rushford has been a great new partnership. They are exceptionally talented artists with very open creative minds and the music that we have been making together has been really interesting. Additionally, I have been recording with my friend Tim Olive in Kobe, an ex-pat Canadian who has been living in Japan for nearly twenty years. Tim and I began playing together two years ago and on this trip we spent three days recording for an upcoming cd. The process was so enjoyable! Wake, have breakfast, sit down together and play for a few hours, then go for a walk to climb up the beautiful hillside in Kobe. Next day, continue… so special.
A very important aspect of this trip is that I am presenting my installation work here in Europe for the first time. In April I presented a new piece titled Unraveling at a new concept space, Gallery Díra, in Prague. Just now, I spent a week in Aarhus, Denmark creating a site-specific piece Tracings, Spanien19c, Aarhus Denmark, 2013 for the SPOR Festival. This piece is part of a site-specific series that I began last year in Winnipeg at the RAW Gallery of Architecture & Design. The new work came together really beautifully and I am so happy with the final piece. It [ran] in Aarhus until early June.
As my personal practice has many different facets to it, [so] I like to arrange my trips so that they encompass various types of projects. Performing and recording solo and in new and ongoing collaborations and developing new sound works for unique site-specific settings keeps me challenged and stimulated and forces me to constantly look at my work from different angles, asking questions and trying new ways of expressing my ideas.
sweeper from crys cole on Vimeo.
CRT: I’ve caught you at a residency at Q-02 in Brussels. Can you tell me a little bit about the residency itself and what you are working on?
cc: The residency at Q-O2 was an absolute gift. Q-02 is a wonderful artist driven space that was created to facilitate workspace residencies for artists and musicians to have the space and time to focus on their work without the expectation of a concert or exhibition at the end. To have two weeks in one city, (and Brussels is not a bad place for this at all), to experiment and actually have the space to think and write was a godsend. With an installation in Denmark immediately following it, the timing couldn’t have been better. I think that I got all of the stress and neurosis out of the way at Q-O2 as I’ve found that I was exceptionally calm during the creation process in Aarhus!
CRT: You’ve toured extensively throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan. As your work addresses the notion of active listening in quotidian soundscapes, I am curious to hear how this notion of the everyday manifests itself when you inhabit these different places.
cc: In a sense it isn’t terribly important what country I am in when I do a performance or an installation, in that it doesn’t overtly influence the choices that I make in the piece. The pieces are intimate and personal and respond more directly to the space that I am in, the materials around me, the energy from the audience, the capabilities of the sound system, the size of the space etc. This said; the overall feeling of a city impacts my general state of mind and how I approach the work. Since I have traveled to so many different cities in the past five months (twenty so far) I have been acutely aware of the different energy in each place, the way people behave and the uniqueness of each city’s aural landscape. As I mentioned the nature of my work is quite intimate and it directly engages with the audience. Because I work with low volume and small textural sounds that I generate in the moment (no processing or looping etc.) the energy and actions of the audience directly become part of the piece. The notion of active listening is fundamental to my practice, both in how I develop pieces and how the audience engages with the work. What this means is that what the listener gives (time, silence, noise, restlessness, disruptions) directly feeds into the work, and their experience of it.
In an installation, I am listening to the space and responding to it with my sounds and actions and the way the room responds to my sounds impacts what I do next. In performance I do the same with the addition of the audience as an active party to the piece. If the audience is tense, it affects my playing. If the audience is calm and relaxed it changes the mood and flow. Additionally, sounds that occur beyond my control become part of the piece and play just as important a role at times. Sometimes I battle them though!
CRT: You are the director for send + receive: a festival of sound, an experimental sound festival in Winnipeg, Manitoba that is entering its fifteenth year. As a sound artist yourself, what do you find most rewarding and conversely, most challenging in this role?
cc: I really feel very lucky to be running send + receive. It is really a perfect fit for me. As someone who grew up nerding out about weirdo experimental music and art I really never imagined that one day I would have a job that completely relied on this! How amazing! But really, sound in its many forms has always been fundamental to my life and interests; being an artist myself and running the festival, feels to me to be a truly symbiotic relationship. When I travel, I constantly have the opportunity to meet and witness the work of others, and the relationships that I develop in this forum are integral to the festival. Additionally, participating in exhibitions and festivals expands my knowledge and allows me to reflect on how I approach the programming and structure of s+r.
Bringing in artists from across Canada and around the world is also so incredibly valuable for the local community in Winnipeg (and nearby). It injects new creative energy into the arts community, stimulates a much-needed dialog on audio art and builds important connections between local artists and our guests. This is really invaluable. I really depend on this exchange and seeing the impact of this on local and national artists is really remarkable.
The challenging part is wearing two hats. Being perceived as a curator is one thing and an artist another, and at times this can feel a bit strange or blurry…but ultimately I find that it works very well as it gives me a unique understanding when I work with other organizations and a kinship with administrators and curators. The real difficult part is that I simply cannot invite all of the wonderful artists that I meet during my travels to Winnipeg for the festival. We are such a small non-profit fest that only a few international guests can be invited a year and this can be frustrating and also hard for some artists to understand.
performing as part of Oren Ambarchi's Knots Ensemble in Oslo, June 2013; Photo by Lasse Marhaug.
CRT: What upcoming sound projects and/or releases are you most looking forward to this year?
cc: I am really looking forward to an upcoming group exhibition at the South London Gallery that opens in late June titled At The Moment of Being Heard. I will be creating two related site-specific pieces for the show and my work will be shown alongside some wonderful sound artists that I have long admired. I will be sharing the main gallery space with Rolf Julius, a very special German sound artist who passed away just last year. I have long been an admirer of his and it’s really an honor to be showing alongside his work.
Additionally, I have finally completed a solo record that will be released later this year on Polish label Bocian Records. The LP will consist of an older piece from 2004 but the B-side will be a brand new piece that I completed in Australia this past February. I will also have some great collaborations coming out this year but I am really excited to finally get a new solo release out into the world as I have really struggled to release my solo work over the years. I’m not a perfectionist by any means, but the permanence of a release always makes me overly critical of my work. I am learning to accept things as they are, to let them go and have a life of their own. This has been quite liberating and feels like a very welcome new stage in the production of my work.
—Courtney R. Thompson
ArtSlant would like to thank crys cole for her assistance in making this interview possible.