Name: Theresia Philipp
Occupation: Saxophonist, composer, improviser
Current Release: Theresia Philipp is one of the artists contributing to Damian Dalla Torre's debut album Happy Floating, which is out via Fazer. On it., Damian joins forces with a string of like-minded spirits from the German and UK jazz scene, further including Ruth Goller, Alex Binder, Heidi Bayer, Antonia Hausmann, Jan Roth, and Markus Rom.
[Read our Ruth Goller / Vula Viel interview]
[Read our Markus Rom interview]
[Read our Damian Dalla Torre interview]
Recommendations: What is Love? by Liv Strömquist (book); Soap&Skin: From Gas to Solid (album)
If you enjoyed this interview with Theresia Philipp and would like to stay up to date on her activities, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing/playing 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 have been making music since I can remember. I am a thoroughly creative person and music and also other art forms have been a vehicle of expression since my early childhood. I think that's also what attracted me to it. Not a style of music or anything. Rather it was this creative opportunity to express myself and grow.
My parents recognized that and encouraged and supported me from the beginning.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
My approach to music is totally variable. It extremely depends on the music and my condition.
I am a very emotional and sensitive person, which means that music has a great power to me if I let it. Power to connect, to trigger different emotions, to take me to past times or experiences. Sometimes it triggers a physical reaction.
Of course, this also influences how I write or play music and what I want to transport in a moment or with a composition …
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I think the development as an artist and especially the development of my own voice never stops.
Although I composed my first pieces as an early teenager, my school years were marked by a very disciplined practice routine. This was very important and yet somehow I lost my creative flow during this time ... It actually took me my whole college time to find it again.
When I think about it, it still lasts until today. My interests have changed of course … what music I am listening to and things that have an influence on how I make and write music. It's always a balancing act between learning new music, techniques and possibilities and forgetting everything, finding and feeling who you are or what you want. Also it´s a balancing act between being motivated, just doing it, analyzing, allowing doubts and going through it ... all this stuff. And: taking one's vision seriously without taking oneself too seriously.
Of course there are sometimes difficult challenges; prejudices or discriminations or something of that sort. But actually the biggest challenges are my fears and doubts. I can definitely see a big connection between my personal and my artistic development. I had the biggest breakthroughs when I found the courage to do “my thing”, to turn off the ego and then other people gave me their trust in the process.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
The question of identity is a very big one! Ultimately, it often boils down to the question: Who am I and what am I actually doing here?
Part of my identity is determined by external factors. My origin, my gender, my colour, my appearance, my socialization and in this context also the "class" I come from. These factors bring privileges, opportunities and also discriminations. Of course, this also has an influence on how I make music and how I approach working processes, but also primarily on what music I come in contact with.
Another part of identity is much more internal. What is my religion or what do I believe in? How do I think? What happened to me and how can I deal with it? That's a big issue for me, in general but also in relation to me as a jazz musician. Jazz is my musical home and also somehow identity, especially in the sense of freedom. But polemically speaking, as a white woman from Saxony, it's not my musical cultural origin.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Expression, growth, togetherness, humour, creation
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Everything creative takes time. Still, I get bored quickly, so it's important to me to create something exciting and innovative and not to imitate anything. But of course it's important to be aware of tradition, to understand and learn it.
Of course, I'm not going to reinvent the wheel, and one is always a child of one's time.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Coffee and journal writing, meditation, office, and then either practice or composing. At noon I like to go for a walk as a break. Of course only when I don't have any appointments like rehearsals, etc.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
First there is the idea, a vision or concern. Like for example with my project and album Pollon with Strings.
I had the vision of the line-up and the sound of the band long before the concrete planning of the project. Then it simmered inside me for a while - I did a lot of research on what music already existed, listened to and analyzed a lot.
Then came the writing process. That always takes a long time for me. Clear ideas of the vision always come to me little by little. And then you always have to go through this first phase of composing. I'm sure many people know this … staring at the white paper for ages and procrastinating until you finally get into the flow. The common thread was always the question: Which sound is the essence of the music?
In this project it was very important to me to find the smallest common denominator of the music, the basis that all musicians can use for a free and individual approach. By the way, I compose on the piano and saxophone in the first step and then move on to Sibelius on the laptop …
The last step is the realization with the musicians. That is of course the most exciting part ... and one hopes that the idea will work out! In Pollon with strings the musicians bring their own soul into the music and sometimes they make something completely new and unique out of it, so they make the music come alive. In these moments I am very grateful to be able to play with such great musicians.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
For me it is both! At the moment I love the isolated process … the work alone in the quiet chamber. Being exposed to the process and to yourself. That is so honest. And I can follow my own energy. That feels really good to me. Exactly the same with listening.
But collaborative creating is just as important and great - passing the ball to each other and getting into a flow together. On stage, I definitely prefer to stand together with other people!
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I think music plays an extremely big role in society. It has a great power - for good and for bad. It has a great responsibility and at the same time it is essential for a society.
Sometimes I think that being a musician is very egoistic. It's a lot about self-realization, expressing yourself, etc. ... You just don't directly do something for others. But we all need art in some way - we felt that now especially during Corona times.
I got this gift or talent from God or the universe and I want to use my part of it. For me, music is also always political. I know that not everyone thinks like that, but for me it is - Music always has a message!
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
For me, art is inseparable from life and the processes, emotions, thoughts or dreams that go with it! Everything is connected with each other.
In any case, I cannot imagine having to deal with everything that life brings us without the arts. That would be extremely bleak.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Well, you can look at music scientifically, e.g. neuroscientifically. There are some studies on how music affects the processes in the brain and what effects this has on physical or mental health.
But that is not my approach to music. That should rather be explained by scientists. (laughs)
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think it's about a form of communication. A certain way of communicating something to the world or to other people. Similar to facial expressions, a look or even speech. Just in a musical way. For me personally, music comes from deep inside the soul - unlike everyday things.
But of course you can do everything in life with a certain attitude. With autopilot or consciously with open ears and eyes. Without drive or with attention to detail etc ... whether it is music or a cup of coffee.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
The question could be approached scientifically or spiritually. I have no explanation, only conjecture or my own experience.