Name: Dienne Bogaerts
Occupation: Sound artist, composer, songwriter, oboist
Recent release: Dienne's debut album as a solo artist, Addio, is out via Other People.
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Dienne Bogaerts and would like to find out more about her work, visit the official website of Lili Grace, her duo with her sister Nelle Bogaerts.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it?
I grew up in a small rural town in Belgium where they had a local drum band for kids. I was too shy to participate but my older siblings used to rehearse there in group every week while I just watched them. This was my first experience with isolated rhythm, and I remember being fascinated by the dynamics of all those different drum sounds, which as a child, I thought was magical to experience.
When my brother eventually started studying the drumkit I always went along with him when he attended music academy. I wandered around the hallways and heard all these sounds from different chambers: trumpet, violin, flute … each time I entered this building it felt like I was discovering something new, and I like to think my sonic fascination was formed there.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances using sound in an unusual or remarkable way captured your imagination in the beginning?
Hugo Ball inspired me a great deal, especially his poem ‘Karawane’, which really moved me. His whole ‘breaking free from accepted standards’ was everything I needed to hear at one point when I felt stuck writing. It was one of those artists that formed me as being ‘Dienne’ the solo artist by telling me I didn’t have to use traditional sounds and that I could do whatever I wanted or felt.
Also Philip Glass’ works influenced me with the opera made together with Robert Wilson: ‘Einstein on The Beach’. Again, it’s this whole different way of deviating from typical structures and sounds, for example using numbers as a musical language of fragmented repetition. It’s an absolutely stunning piece which never gets dull, while only sticking to what’s essential to tell the story.
Both artists broadened my vision and gave me some sort of liberating advantage while writing and producing ‘Addio’.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?
From age 20 until now I've been composing music for theater and dance, which shaped me a lot. Working with all those people in different creative areas has given me a widened perspective on art. Because of my roots in theater, I consider an album to be more like a story with various acts or progressions, with every song corresponding to another chapter.
I unconsciously tell this story by using sound rather than words, so every track on Addio is about a certain stage of grief, loss or love. I tried to correspond the right sounds with these specific emotions.
Working predominantly with field recordings and sound can be an incisive step / transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?
Addio is my personal journey, so it was very clear from the start that adding field recordings of my grandmother's home and voice was vital. For example, ‘Casa di Emma’ is all about her being at home, with me sitting at the table watching and listening to her doing her thing in the kitchen.
It was necessary that this song had some clear yet also blurry samples of her in order to reminisce about what’s past. At the end of the album, you can hear this fun conversation we had when I saw her for the last time before covid. It was such a beautiful moment that just needed its place on the record. It’s our final conclusion the listener gets to experience.
Aside from real life sampling, I find experimenting with the tone of my oboe in a non-classical setting very liberating. It usually serves a very specific melodic purpose as a lead instrument, so layering and/or smothering it with effects recontextualizes it, which I think is long overdue.
With ‘Oboe Vento e Rumore’ I tried having two different characters on the oboe, explaining conflicting emotions when losing someone in a lockdown: swinging back and forth between feeling confused and loved.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards music which places the focus foremost on sound, both from your perspective as a listener and a creator?
Mostly by listening to soundtracks. For example, Cristobal Tapia De Veer’s score for ‘Utopia’ carries such weight during certain scenes, making it impossible to imagine them without it.
The way he recycles specific motifs onto a variety of moods for me was confirmation that you don’t always have to adhere to a linear path, or that for example minor scales always have to convey sadness.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and working with sound? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
I don’t see myself as following traditions. When I create, the key behind my approach is to process what’s going on internally by writing it off me, linking the right sound to its respective sentiment.
For this, the oboe and my voice served me in translating those feelings onto wax, something that digital instruments were unable to.
What are the sounds that you find yourself most drawn to? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
They’re mostly hidden in non-musical, mundane tasks like cooking or cleaning noises, or stuff I hear while walking the city. If something catches my ear, it’s just a matter of realizing I need to record it on the spot. The second half of ‘Felicitazioni’ is made up of layers of city recordings with 2 additional kicks as well as some festive (birthday party) samples.
I have a library of samples that I’ve been collecting for the last ten years, most of them were found during everyday living; a guy singing on the subway, an electronic toy at a playground, etc.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, from instruments via software tools and recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you personally starting from your first studio/first instruments and equipment? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
When I was 18, I bought myself an interface, microphone and Logic. Then I got into the theater scene and found effect pedals to be an excellent tool to create new soundscapes with my voice and oboe as input material.
Up until now my setup obviously expanded, but at its core it’s still me and the same instruments and software I started out with, my DAW being more like a crafting tool. Even now I still don't know it that well technically, but to me It’s more important that I can express myself through it.
From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds? Can you take me through your process on the basis of a project or album that's particularly dear to you?
For me it’s a way of processing events that are going on in my life. With Addio it was when my grandmother died in a strict lockdown, during which I felt a deep need of giving my thoughts and tears ‘a voice’. When it has been captured, I can let it go more easily. It’s less premeditated than how I describe it though, I’m usually only getting aware of it once it’s done.
The title track ‘Addio’ is all about saying goodbye through a confusing livestreamed funeral, digital and unreal yet also comforting at the same time.
With ‘Ti Saluto, pt. 1’ I tried to create a cozy room full of people singing to me. The repetition of voices here is important, mirroring grief from a distance.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
They’re all equally important; sound design is one thing but to me it’s also about visualization, a story listeners can ride along with. By means of detailed composition or deliberate silence, certain parts of that journey can be highlighted.
Together the individual scenes are part of a bigger whole, and the same goes for sound, space and composition when crafting an album.
We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of 'music vs field recordings', in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?
I’d say these are mostly situational, as both can be valid means of musical communication. They’re certainly different but I don’t like putting sounds in certain corners, as street noise can be as fulfilling as a pop song, depending on what you need at that point.
From a listener’s and composer’s perspective I can appreciate when these (seemingly separate) worlds collide.