Name: Diana Combo
Occupation: Sound Artist
Current Release: Boa-Língua on Crónica
Recommendations: Movimento Perpétuo, an album by Carlos Paredes
Anjo, a painting by Paula Rego
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Diana Combo, visit her website for background information on her different projects.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started a few months after I graduated in Sound and Image and moved to Barcelona. At the beginning of my studies, I listened to a lot of Punk and Oi! music and I was going to concerts of the kind with friends.
Then, at art school, I was exposed and / or introduced to sound art, noise music, as well as music made within digital aesthetics and tools. I stepped into the contexts of experimental and improvised music by going to concerts, meeting people of the scenes and researching about it. Through some of the artists that most inspired me at the time, like John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Éliane Radigue, I realized that it was the transcendental side of sound and music that was appealing to me and the possibility to use that as a frame to reflect about life.
When I started to create my sound work, the combination of these influences pulsed with great force and became very present in all facets of my life.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
It's funny because when I started, I just wanted to be part of the creative side of sound and music, but I had no idea what I could do. I wasn't trained and I also didn't have a great idea to explore or something I really wanted to share. I was very active in listening, researching, going to concerts, reflecting on everything that could be related to the practices. One day, I read in a magazine about an artist who created a sound work using pieces from different vinyl records. I cut out that piece of the magazine and put it away, thinking it was something I could try. So, I started like this, choosing something that had already been done, researching the practice and the people who worked in the field (turntablism, plunderphonics, appropriationism) and then doing more or less the same, just in a different way.
Copying or emulating, molding a specific influence, learning and then developing something through myself, were and are part of my processes and all of this is very transparent in my work. My own voice was expressed through the way I experienced and interpreted other people's ideas. As someone who often feels out of place, it has become a way of connecting with the other, a feeling of belonging. By the way, a few years later, I found that piece of paper and I was already quite familiar with the artist mentioned there. It was Christian Marclay!
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main challenge, as I mentioned, was having no idea what to do. How to get started and why doing a certain thing in a certain way were challenging questions that I was asking myself. I had no idea what I could offer, what was in me that was worth spending time on.
During my studies, I started working with sound editing tools and got involved in a way that I couldn't expect. I had to work with tools that were not taught, so I had to explore them on my own and, at first, I was scared. But then, I was very interested in that. And since then, I feel that what may seem difficult, a challenge, even an impossibility, if I surrender, if it has to happen, it will come to life in one way or another. Today I know what can be a challenge and I choose most of them, just to open the door to a process that will take me somewhere and I really appreciate the small steps I can take along the way. Anyway, I'm still in that place of not knowing what I'm doing, but I'm doing it.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My studio has been my desk for many years! Two turntables, a mixer, a laptop, monitors, headphones and a set of vinyl records. A few years later, when I returned to Portugal after living abroad for seven years, I decided to take drum lessons (an instrument I had left behind) and that led me to rent a rehearsal room, which, incidentally, was in a recording studio. I was going there very often and, almost by accident, I started practicing vocals, too. At the moment, I use records and record players, a recording device, some small percussion instruments, microphone, a loop and effects pedal, and a laptop with editing tools. All of this is very important, it is the set-up by which my solo projects EOSIN and Síria come to life.
I am currently learning two instruments that I recently acquired, the daf and the tombak, and exploring the vocals in different ways, such as through classical Indian music. I can say that these tools became very important too and I hope to dedicate more time to learn and explore them. I found excellent teachers, so I'm all set!
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
My use of technology can be quite superficial, which means that I am not researching a tool too much or looking for the next piece of equipment to be included in my set. I like to work on a level, let’s say, more simple and intuitive, because I feel that my main interest is to refine the basics, which is my listening process, and that goes well with my attitude in life. But there is something on the other side and that is how I allow myself “to be used” by technology, this is, how I let myself be inspired by it and the degree to which I allow technology to interfere and feed the process.
I don't know where one part can stand out from the other. I do not forget that technology is a product of our invention. But I know that technology has this power to transcend us because, between being a reflection of ourselves and between presenting the unexpected, the accident, the error in ways that we do not always understand and / or escape our control, we can achieve surprising results. It has been like that with me!
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I can give an example: one day I go to the rehearsal room thinking that I want to play and record something on the drums. When I arrive, that room is occupied, I go to another in the same studio. Different acoustics, different vibration and, suddenly, I feel like singing. I start and realize that the snare drum in that room is resonating and it is affecting my voice as an effect would, and I take that to my performance. I record everything with my recording device and listen at home as someone listens to a practice session only to realize that I have something to work with. And a track is created from those recordings. Síria's second album, Boa-Língua was created around happenings like this one.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaborations are very present in my creative work and play an essential role. I had the opportunity to collaborate with musicians, sound artists and artists from other areas who had an impact on how I do things, how I perceive the world and myself. A collaboration can be transformative, in terms of artistic practice, relational experience, etc. Jamming, talking about music as a way of talking about life itself, are things that can be very fulfilling for me.
Recently, I have been working on remixes of tracks by musicians that I admire and I love to do this! It is a combination of appropriation and composition, it is like playing together, but from different domains, it is finding our voice through the other.
I am generally happy to collaborate with people who also work with sound in one way or another. My experiences in other fields have had results that left me less satisfied, not with the results of the work, but with how I felt being treated or how I perceive what may be more important for some people. Sometimes, egos can get in our way. I don't want to generalize beyond my own experience, therefore, this is more a description of the facts than a judgment.
If I try to make sense, keeping in mind that all these experiences happened in Portugal, where so-called performance artists feel they are neglected by the state and other institutions, I see that frustration can cause people to do exactly the same thing that they are complaining about, and there is no project I worked on in which demonstration of power, segmentation and inflated egos were not ruining the experience. There was a time when I just wanted to get it done and this is sad. While in my collaborations with other musicians, it doesn't matter if in Portugal or abroad, we were together with the same goal, from beginning to end. And the more consolidated the artists, the more humble, generous and adventurous they were. It makes me sure where I want to be, who I want to be. As a person, as an artist.
Finally, collaborations are labs of life, a study of the self in relation to others. I really care that everyone I work with is feeling good. If we get a result that makes us happy, for me, that is part of the game and it is no more important than how we relate, how we feel along the way. At another level, the relationship that I have established with some teachers has been experienced as a collaboration. Even though it does not have the purpose of presenting something to an audience, what happens to each of the parties (student / teacher) is perhaps the highest expression of what a collaboration implies.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I understand that some people turn a button on and off to move from one experiential area to another, but it is a fact that the tendency to separate and classify is a projection of ours - an almost impossibility, if we think that everything is combined through us, it doesn't matter the apparent gap between the things we do.
In one of the radio conversations between Cage and Feldman, if I remember correctly, Feldman was talking about external interruptions to his creative work, like when he was sitting at the piano and his wife started to vacuum, and Cage came out with the idea that maybe he was the one interrupting the flow of life. Something like this! It's wonderful, because it made me embrace all the pieces of everything that happens in my life without thinking that some things block out others.
I shouldn’t forget something very important that helps me in this process, that is the absence of an exhausting and inflexible job that takes away time and energy for my creative adventures. Among other things, of course. Honestly, I don't think I would ever dive 100% in music making as it would have to become my main or only source of income, a pain in the ass in our relationship. We, music and I, want to be as free as we can be.
Currently, I work as a curator of music and sound arts in a theater in Lisbon (Teatro do Bairro Alto) and I am in the last year of my yoga teacher training. One day in my life, if I don't have to go to Lisbon for meetings or concerts in the theater, is like this: I don't have a fixed schedule, but I'm well organized and I start the day like a sponge ready to absorb new learnings. First I practice some yoga cleansing techniques, then, during breakfast, I spend some time studying one of the languages I am learning or something related to yoga. By the way, it was through music that I came to practice yoga and yoga has been of a great help in the course of my creative life.
The following depends on appetite, urgency and agenda. There are the curatorial tasks - to which I dedicate myself as I do to my own creative work; the instruments I'm learning, the vocal exercises, a specific project or a remix that I can have in hands ... I don't spend many hours on something, I work in blocks with breaks and that's how I am able to feel that I don't leave anything behind. I'm not expecting the perfect combination of things to get my hands on something. For instance, if I have 30 minutes, I play for 30 minutes. Anything that could be a distraction is used as time to reflect, to rest, to take some distance just to come back with a sharper eye or ear. House stuff, going to the street market to buy groceries, cooking and enjoying a meal, a walk in the park or by the sea, etc. all of this is welcome and is included in my routine. I spend most of the day (if not all day) alone and in silence and enjoy my social life when I travel to visit friends, take classes or play concerts.