Sound interweaved in the structure of life

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In advance of the Nocturnes for a Society at Music Centre De Bijloke in Ghent, we set up an encounter between sound artist Myriam Van Imschoot and multidisciplinary artist Justine Grillet to have a conversation on how they discovered the beauty of sound and how it has followed them in their lives. The twelve-hour-long nocturnal experience occurs at the church of Great St Elizabeth Beguinage in Sint-Amandsberg.

Hi Myriam and Justine, happy to have you both here. Let’s start with how you would introduce yourselves.

Myriam: I'm an artist; I work with sound, voice, and listening as a vehicle. This brings me to different disciplines, media, and collaborations, such as film, installation, and performance. In my work run two veins. One is the work I do under my own name and the other is the work I’m doing with a vocal ensemble, the YouYou Group in Brussels. It's a group that grew from a performance that I made with 12 women who do the zaghrouta, a particular voice technique that can be heard in Brussels amongst various communities from the diaspora. In the YouYou Group, we build work around a shared interest in loud voices by women. [laughs]

Justine: What do you call this voice?

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M: We call it a trill or ululation. It’s one of the oldest voice forms of expressive signalling. I’m interested to know what it is that you do.

J: My work is sculpture-based with a focus on installation. I use a lot of ceramics and find the sound it produces fascinating. Performance became a big part of my work. I do sound performances with ceramic sculptures and I've recently started food performances too. I did a show at Pizza Gallery where I made dinner for five nights. It was a four-course meal with wine pairing, in an installation. I’ve made everything you need for a meal. Every food course was a spell for good fortune, paired with wine. I also sang the ‘Witches Reel’.

M: A ‘Witches Reel’, what is that?

J: It’s a  Scottish song that I found in the book Daemonology by King James. They used to think that witches sang it naked in the woods. It’s a beautiful song and the lyrics also inspired the name of the expo: Ring-a-Ring-Widdershins.

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Myriam, what inspired your performance Nocturnes for a Society?

M: It was inspired by Pauline Oliveros, an American composer, who was also an activist. Instead of solely using her scores, we felt that we needed to live in her spirit and be as radical as she was. Nocturnes for a Society is part of a trilogy where I am investigating what it is to sound together. We make sounds and sing collectively with everyone in the audience in a dialogue with the space we’re in. It’s revolving around a series of actions that bring connection and togetherness.

It’s about the action of togetherness that brings connection

We felt that we needed time to create this and time to make people feel at ease, that’s why the performance is twelve hours. Often my works are strongly linked, they make an oeuvre. You don't start from a void, even though there are a lot of unknown things.

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J: Interestingly, you mention that because I feel like I've been doing this too, making an oeuvre. That the thing I did before comes after the other and it's all, kind of, on the same line. But I’ve always felt as if I needed to create other stuff and reinvent myself. I'm starting to realise that it's fine to just keep on going on the path that you're on, reuse stuff and let it flow.

I'm starting to realise that it's fine to just keep going on the path that you're on, reuse stuff and let it flow

M: That’s why it’s so great to be a visual artist. You get to work in series or reuse the same ingredients. I feel like, in general, that way of working is more accepted in the visual arts than in the performing arts.

When did both of you actually discover sound as an art form?

J: I discovered it when I was in school and started doing ceramics. I began to see the possibilities of the sounds that these objects could make. I was fascinated by it and started recording sounds made with my sculptures. I started to make arrangements with them. I created metal installations for my sculptures resulting in industrial sounds.  Together with my partner Mathias Mu, we produced a sound piece, consisting of three chapters. Which I later performed, as my first performance, at Table Dance (by Michelle Woods and Roman Hiele)

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M: To be honest, I relate to what you're saying because there is no big distinction between life and art for me. Our sense of wonder and the little miracles that produce aesthetics, it's in all of us. For me, two important moments led to my fascination with sound. One, there was always recording in our household. In the early 70’s, my dad bought a Revox magnetic tape recorder and it took a place in our lives, in our household. Listening to those recordings together was a cherished moment of togetherness, a family moment. The second experience was the first time that I was in a theatre play. It was called De Bremer Stadsmuzikanten and I played the rooster. I just had to cackle or let out a rooster cry, but instead, I burst into an unexpected, high-pitched sound that came out of nowhere. I didn’t know that I was capable of that, it was a moment of extreme joy in my young life.

There is no big distinction between life and art for me. Our sense of wonder and the little miracles that produce aesthetics, it's in all of us

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J: I experience this too during my performances. I can execute things on stage that I can't achieve when I’m by myself in my atelier. The physicality of it, that’s what I love about performing. The adrenaline and excitement make you able to attain your ideas.

The physicality of it, that’s what I love about performing

M: Exactly, you reach some margins of yourself, pockets of being. Something in that heightened moment of intense collective attention makes you access those parts of yourself.

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<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @debijloke / @myriamvanimschoot / @justine.grillet </div></div>

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