Name: Jasmine Guffond
Occupation: Artist, composer
Current release: Jasmine Guffond's latest two albums are Microphone Permission on Editions Mego and The Burrow, a collaboration with Erik K Skodvin via Sonic Pieces.
Recommendations: "Debt, the First 5,000 Years" – book by David Graeber; "Exterminate all the Brutes" – documentary by Raoul Peck
If you enjoyed this Jasmine Guffond interview, visit her excellent official website for more information. She is also on Facebook, Soundcloud and bandcamp.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started learning classical flute at a young age but before learning a musical instrument I remember being fascinated by a 7inch recording of the humpback whale that arrived with my father's subscription to National Geographic magazine. I would turn off all the lights and lie down in the middle of the lounge room floor to listen to this eery, mysterious and fascinating sound.
Then in high school a friend introduced me to Robert Fripp and Brian Eno's album No Pussyfooting. At that moment I hadn't heard anything like it. It felt like time had tangibly slowed down.
For most artists, originality is 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?
As much as I enjoyed playing flute, particularly Bach, I only ever played music written by other composers. So I stopped because I felt it wasn't a medium for me to be creative in. At the time I (naively) wanted to reject my musical education because I thought it was blocking me from being creative. Then I picked up a bass guitar and taught myself to play and ever since I've had an auto-didactic approach to making music. Though I realised later that my classical music education informs or underpins what I do now, that you can't unlearn, at least not totally. In fact I'm very grateful for having had the opportunity to have a classical music education.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Probably largely access to resources. Now I can do everything with my laptop.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
When I borrowed a friend's sampler, an Akai s900, it was the moment I started to make electronic music. At the time it felt very exciting, to be able to make music from any sound in the world and not be confined to the notes on the strings of a guitar. That's when I started working with Torben Tilly and we formed the duo Minit which led to releasing a couple of LPs, an EP and 7inch.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I think whatever instrument or equipment you use to produce music it is going to influence or shape the music in some way. Even if you are coding, the coding language is going to guide the outcomes to some extent.
I usually work within the parameters defined by Ableton Live or MaxMSP, not to mention the human hearing range, though I would like to explore infrasound more. With MaxMSP I still have so much to learn but it does feel like there is the potential to execute any idea I might think up, and from that perspective is less defining than music software such as Live. However this involves learning its language which inevitably influences outcomes. In this way there is a collaboration and shared agency between composer and machine.
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?
When I was playing bass guitar I played in a lot of bands and we wrote and created music together, and with Tilly we collaborated as Minit for ten years. I don't have a preferred methodology except to be in the same room as the person I'm collaborating with.
I only started producing solo music later, after moving to Berlin and I very much enjoy a certain freedom from not being dependent on other people for my creative output. However, there is something very special about musical collaboration; it pushes you in new directions, the process of developing a mode of communicating or language together is very interesting and contributing to something that is bigger than yourself can be extremely rewarding.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
At the time of writing, I have just submitted my PhD dissertation. That process has been taking up the majority of my time over the last 18 months. Music and art projects have mostly been scheduled around that focus.
I’ve been fortunate to go straight from an intense writing phase to composing music for a dance piece (by Anna Nowicka), a puppet production (by Tibo Gerbert) and a residency at GRM in Paris. At GRM it was a truly great experience, having 24/7 access to a nice studio with a 10-channel system. That’s an ideal working situation!
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I’ve never really considered my practice from the perspective of “breakthrough” moments or work. But shifting to creating electronic music was important, it’s something that really made sense for me.
During my Sound Studies masters at the UdK I started working with sonifying surveillance data which was the beginning of an important body of work and research. I was motivated to provide an audible presence for tracking technologies in which we are increasingly immersed but for the most part don’t register in a tangible way, such as facial recognition technologies, Wi-Fi, GPS, and most recently my custom-made browser add-on that sonifies Internet cookies in real-time as one browses the web.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
That's a big topic I haven't considered before. Certain music can be calming or facilitate a relaxed or meditative state, which I can imagine could have healing potential. Music can also have a cathartic effect, bring you joy or make you dance, all potentially healing effects.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think people should be free in their creativity and also aware of their own privilege at a personal and systemic level. I think it is important to try to consciously understand and appreciate where one’s own power lies in relation to others and work respectfully with those dynamics and importantly, towards changing and transitioning away from historical and ongoing social, racial and gender inequalities.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I like to work with low frequencies and the haptic potential of sound to physically touch our bodies.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
With my art projects that sonify surveillance technologies the idea is to create an aesthetic awareness of everyday surveillance and also explore the potential of sound to engage in contemporary socio-political situations. Hopefully by producing a sonic awareness of tracking technologies in real time as they unfold, such as Internet cookies monitoring our web browsing, that experience encourages a reflective listening, generates discussion and potentially change.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Sound and music effect and affect in ways that words do not. I don't think this is something we can necessarily measure or quantify.