A collective task
The relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema most importantly - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
We’re pretty versatile as a group, literate in other creative practices including fine art, film-making, dance, and software programming, so our collective language is not limited to music alone. We’re lucky enough to have had the opportunity to create site-specific works, film soundtracks, and installations in the course of our time together, and this has enabled us to move between art forms and see what they open out in each other. Audiences often respond to the pictorial or filmic quality in our music and though we enjoy visual play in performance, we understand that a listener can engage just as well, seeing just as many colours and pictures, with their eyes closed.
There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?
We’d probably position ourselves somewhere in the middle. We definitely have an appreciation of and a belief in the tangibility of a made thing, but as music ultimately gets to ears through air, digital distribution seems somehow fitting! While we conceive of albums as whole artworks, intended to be experienced track by track and in their entirety, we understand that sometimes people just really like and only want to download one particular song. You can’t be too precious about it. Hopefully, one track will introduce them to the rest, and eventually they’ll see the light! Formats do probably affect the listening experience, but again, you just have to hope something communicates and get on with doing what you do. Apps, games, the release of virtual stems for remix etc are all experiments open to music-makers, the full creative potential of which is yet to be explored. We love the tactility of a beautifully, thoughtfully packaged record, but we’re definitely up for trying new things out too.
The role of an artist is always subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
As a group we are teachers, mothers, creatives and researchers. Our task is to make the collective of Collectress work as a symbol of what we take to be important in combination with our lives. Our work with the archive of Martina Bergman-Österberg (pioneering Swedish physical education instructor and women's suffrage advocate) strongly resonated with us as practitioners, for example: you could say historically and politically Bergman’s feminist project enabled us. This commission allowed us to reflect on our past work and produce new work using film, composition, drawing and installation. We would say the tasks we are set through our involvement outside of pure music-making, make us a richer collective but it is not our main goal to be socially and politically led. Being creative allows us to deal with those issues intuitively.
Music-sharing sites and -blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today? In what way does the abundance of music change our perception of it?
There is certainly plenty of debate. The promised democratising power of the web seems to have created a world where people expect to listen to a whole album before even considering whether to buy a copy, but hasn’t music always been abundant and ubiquitous? It’s interesting to see attempts to counter this, to frame music as a ‘priceless art object’, like the Wutang’s planned release of a single copy of their next album in a hand-crafted nickel and silver casket. The current situation whereby musicians struggle to make a living from their craft is frustrating, to say the least, but the idea that music is something performed by Experts for Audiences is in itself quite new and quite niche (as in, limited to Western Art Music of the last few hundred years). More upsetting is the prospect of reducing music in the education curriculum, and the impact on live music threatened by licensing regulations.
How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences?
It probably needs to be heard live. And those making it need to find a community of like-minded makers and appreciative fans (because there will be some), and stick at it. Certainly film soundtracks enable little known voices to be heard, and there is a rich history of radical, experimental music being carried to wider audiences via the vehicle of film. It can be a great boost when progressive sponsors recognise the need for more experimental voices to be heard, and dig into their pockets. Maybe wide audiences are not always the answer though. Diversity is important in music-making and in listenership. Shining gems existing outside of the sometimes co-opting and oppressive mainstream can be completely right just where they are.
Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
We wouldn’t be the first to say that audiences complete the work in any given performance; performers and listeners together make the experience of the music. This is literal as well as conceptual! The quality of a listener’s attention can create the space for music to happen. In some of our recent performances listening has been so meticulous that it has affected our playing: it’s not particularly esoteric, just as in conversation you can tell if you’ve got someone’s attention and their responses direct the course of the conversation, so on stage you can absolutely sense if people are with you and this has a very real and direct effect on how you feel and how – and what - you play. New things can emerge musically when you’re playing to an appreciative listening audience. They have a responsibility in that respect, or at least where they’re invested in a performance, they’ll get a better show! People have told us our music has a spacious and narrative quality, which allows their minds to wander and create while they listen. We bring the music, but they bring their ears and imaginations.
Reaching audiences usually involves reaching out to the press and possibly working with a PR company. What's your perspective on the promo system? In which way do music journalism and PR companies change the way music is perceived by the public?
It is easy to be scathing of divisive press-releases and lazy and/or clever-dick journalists; the ubiquitous need in digital distribution to categorise (usually from a pre-populated drop-down list) can definitely build preconceptions. These may have a positive or negative effect. But twas ever thus. Humans need to categorise and understand new things by relating them to the familiar. We just hope that audiences get to hear our music, come back for a second listen and that the music stands up for itself and goes beyond any words with which it was packaged.
Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.
Visit The Collectress online at collectress.co.uk