Everything Stays The Same: Puce Mary Interviewed
, February 11th, 2015 13:04
Danish noise wielder Frederikke Hoffmeier talks to Ian Maleney about her recent album, Persona, the freedom of industrial music and listening through ears that aren't your own
Photograph courtesy of Jane Chardiet
You could describe the music Frederikke Hoffmeier makes as Puce Mary as industrial noise, but that could mean just about anything. A common thread in her releases has been a predilection for the bleak. Last year's Persona, her second solo LP, is the bleakest so far - and the best. It is a vision of a post-explosion bombsite where the little that's left alive is mangled beyond recognition. The album, like most of Hoffmeier's releases, is released on Posh Isolation, the Copenhagen label and shop operated by Loke Rahbek and Christian Stadsgaard. Rahbek and Stadsgaard's work as Damien Dubrovnik is comparable to Hoffmeier's - they achieve similar layers of textured aggression. There's a track on Hoffmeier's first solo record, Success, called 'Everything Stays The Same', and that title feels pertinent to Persona. The music has evolved and developed, but the feeling of stasis is more palpable than ever. It's like a process of self-combustion, sparks of doubt, fear and anger with nothing to do but feedback on themselves eternally. The result is this odd feeling of intense claustrophobia and searing isolation. There are no walls, but they're closing in all the same.
First of all, can you tell me about the Puce Mary name? Where did it come from? I love the combination of words.
Frederikke Hoffmeier: There's been a lot of speculation about the name, and keeping my cards close to my chest about the origin of it has added much more to it than I anticipated. It's always been something vaguely personal, with a tinge of crass irony. I will say the words are in fact not a combination. Alone their meanings are utterly bankrupt. Puce is a reference to nothing continental; Mary, not our virgin mother.
How did Persona come about? What were the ideas that motivated you in making it?
FH: Naturally, frankly. I started recording Persona immediately after the first solo LP Success was released. It's no massive departure from the previous themes, approach and execution of the project so far. Some of my work evolves organically, writing and developing ideas, going to the studio, working, editing, creating material I'm satisfied with, sloughing off the rest. Eventually a body of work presents itself, and up until Persona those bodies have been small. Other times there are imperatives hanging over my head like collaborations, requests from a label, what have you, but still the process takes a similar form. With Persona I don't think there was any major shift in that process. I did allow myself more space for its composition and the body of work wasn't as small this time around. In my most honest self-assessment, I think my growth as a musician can be measured alongside the growth of my discipline. My first recordings were the most quickly produced and my latest recordings the most critically scrutinised.
What do you think you've learned by making it?
FH: Besides certain technical aspects I don't think this record can be viewed as any sort of learning experience. It's the culmination of years devoted to this practice: this is the product of what I've learned.
The idea of discipline obviously has particular resonance within industrial music, following Throbbing Gristle and, more generally, the futurist idea that music is a craft that ought to engage with the concerns of wage labour, the clock, production, etc. So many noise-centred artists document and sometimes release everything, putting the value in the discipline of making and doing, not in the work's ability to live up to a set of market-driven preconditions. How do you relate to the increasing amount of your own work that doesn't make it into the final product? What happened to the work that isn't on Persona, and were you surprised by what you cut or kept?
FH: I don't know that I can quantify what gets left behind. I think it's a bit of a fallacy to connect this process of writing an LP to wage labour - the lines between production, product and skill are very much blurred when it comes to making music. I save most of what I do. I still use things now that I recorded years ago. Sometimes you get a stronger connection to things because of the perspective you can gain from time, sometime it loses the effect or emotion you intended it to have, or what it had at the time. I feel like it would be impossible to separate some kind of final product from the mass of practice, experience and learning that are part of the process of growing as an artist. With regards to the idea that releasing everything you create is somehow a product of discipline, I would certainly disagree - maybe especially in the context of industrial or noise music. I think discographies of 100+ releases are a passe trope of the genre from a time when maybe artists were a bit too impressed with the idea of what they were doing. I think it's a bit throwing the baby out with the bath water to criticise instrumenting discipline in crafting a release as "living up to a set of market-driven preconditions." Why concede all work ethic to the protestants, you know? I certainly don't coddle my audience - I don't try to cater to a certain 'reasonable' tolerance for noise. For me, discipline also means realising compositions without compromise to external factors. The discipline that I think I'm talking about honing is more about intentionality and raising expectations for the quality of the work, whether that work be a release, a live set or what I get out of practising in the studio.
Photograph courtesy of Tumblr
I saw you in a recent edition of The Wire, talking about your residency in EMS. It's interesting to me to see the underground noise scene meeting and working with the more academic experimental composition scene, something which seems to be happening more often now. What do you think are the potential benefits of this meeting, both for you and for others?
FH: Compared to other extreme or underground musics, industrial music and noise have a much more distinct and literal relationship to art. Punk, techno, metal: these kinds of underground musics have evolved much more as folk musics with constraints that limit their freedoms as art while remaining within those genres. These constraints are immensely powerful, just as they have been in other, more traditional folk musics. Historical context, social and economic circumstance, have all aligned to create that musical vocabulary, and to abandon it is to abandon the large majority of what is powerful about playing that music in the first place. While there is a vernacular to specific noise or industrial musics - the most obvious maybe being the violent/sexual 'extreme limits of the human condition' of power electronics but obviously other tropes as well - this vernacular lies on a much more grey, intentionally crafted spectrum. It's a continuum that has alway been shared with art, performance art, musical composition and experimental work that has, frankly, been the domain of the academy since the 60s or 70s. The benefits are obvious: financial access, incredible resources, broader opportunity, entry into discourse about composition and process that are harder to access or completely unsupported elsewhere. The validation that EMS has afforded me just on a personal level as an artist is invaluable. There are legions of musicians slaving away on personal projects in the underground without that kind of support, appreciation or reassurance. I'm so grateful. I wish this kind of opportunity was readily available to so many more friends and underground musicians who are at least as deserving as I am. The ultimate validation as an artist, though, is respect from those you respect. In lieu of distinctions like 'the academy' and 'the underground', the main point is to value the communities that allow us to support each other, whether they are residencies, venues or record stores.
At least here in Ireland, there seems to be funding for those from an academic, classical or composition background and never for creative communities working in noise or industrial music. It's often that financial difference that allows people to enter the discourse about composition and process, because it creates time that the less well-off don't have. What do you feel it would take to develop that discourse within more underground music?
FH: Critical discussion about composition definitely develops in the underground. I think the difference is more with the language used and the certain insular way it's learned. I don't want to overstate the importance of something like validity from larger institutions: the underground's DIY ethos has served it well.
Absolutely, but I still wonder about the separation between the academic and DIY. I think it can be crucial to the way the music is heard, not just the way it's made. Something I really admire in artists such as you, and also people like Helm or Heatsick, is the ability to move between the academic and DIY, breaking down the largely illusory barrier between them. Is this something you're interested in?
FH: Crossover appeal to both the academic world and DIY has never been a goal for me, no. I'm not that careerist about my art. I'm in a fortunate position in some sense, but I would be making the music I make regardless of whether the Wire readers gave a shit about what I'm doing or not. I'm also going to shy away a little from lumping myself, Helm and Heatsick all into that same world. I don't know that we are exactly talking about the same thing with respect to critical discussion or about music. I think this kind of overlap between audiences is more a commercial phenomenon and that the context here isn't so much how the music is heard but who hears it. In that respect I don't care what 'world' people who hear my music come from. What I care about is that the people who find my music can appreciate its craft and hear something that resonates with them on an emotional level.
How much does your live presentation differ from what you present on record, and why?
FH: When I started playing live shows about three years ago, mainly in Copenhagen and Sweden, I didn't release very much material. The set was always a new, rehearsed one but left a lot of space for improvisation. When I recorded, pieces would mostly come from something I'd performed. I would practise a set, play it live and then I'd go and do more or less the same thing by myself in the rehearsal space, and then have a better idea of how it should sound on a release, what to change or what not to use. A lot of things that work in a live setting don't work on a recording, and vice versa. I did this because I benefitted so much from a live set to audience - it can change how you feel about the sound while you play. To listen through ears that aren't your own is crucial sometimes. You can change your mind about something in the first couple of seconds you play it to other people because you always experience the sound differently when you're not alone. When I started releasing more, naturally the interplay of live and recorded material changed. I also grew to recognise how I heard my own work more when I'm alone with it. Now I mostly play 'live versions' of pieces that have been released or things I'm working on to be released. But, I still always leave space for pieces that are only meant to be played once and will never leave the room they're performed in.
Do your performances adapt to the spaces where they're performed?
FH: Mostly the performance adapts to the audience and not the space. But often a space stipulates a certain audience, so it's hard to assign the blame entirely to one or the other. If you can transform a room into reflecting a specific mindset, that is something to go for. I played a show at something called the Mimer in Norberg, Sweden. It's a massive old iron ore mining factory that was shut down and abandoned in the 80s. There's a natural reverb in there of eight seconds or so. I played on one of many massive concrete floors that are open. Like a stage that is autonomous of the other floors. The audience was at least 10m away from me and I couldn't see anything. The sound in there was overwhelming. I had no idea how what I was sending out was going to sound or how it would sound to people standing 30m away in a corner on the sixth floor. So there was pretty big pressure on having to adjust every single sound to the room. I had a very interesting and powerful experience. It felt like playing to a building instead of to people. I have no idea how the audience received it. I had a great time.
How important is the live element of live performance - the ability to react in the moment - to you? Many artists I know find it difficult to move from the recording to a live setting, because there is no way to "play" their music, it's more like they present it by re-ordering clips or loops or whatever. Is that a challenge for you? How much can you control during a gig in terms of how songs develop and how particular sounds work?
FH: I know what you're saying but the process you are detailing in this question just isn't the way I have ever really composed. My recorded material has really followed from a practice that evolved in creating live sets. The first pieces I recorded were things that I had rehearsed for performances - cohesive moments that emerged from a set I'd played a couple times, sequences of sounds or sonic gestures that I'd become fond of in certain parts of a set I had played maybe a handful of times. I think that recording and practising like that has served me well. It's very different to that common tradition in experimental music where a final recorded piece is mostly an editing job, a collage of the most successful of a series of experiments. I think writing and recording like this has played a significant role in developing my ear, so to speak. Now, as I work longer and more often in the studio, I have keener sense of what I want to do and how to figure out how to do it. That in turn keeps my live performances interesting. This I think is truly experimental - having a controlled set of variables and a system that is able to bear reproducible results. That is what an experiment is, getting lucky a bunch of times and making a backing tape that contains something that you did once, happened to sound good and never really happened again… It's not how I work or perform though and that frees me from that kind of immobility that you're talking about where people can't 'play' their music. I don't feel tethered to prerecorded material. Just because a piece has been published doesn't mean that I feel the timing and exact tones or whatever are trestles I can't stray from. I rely on my ear and an intimate knowledge of my gear to craft what happens live.
What makes a good live show for you?
FH: Playing clearly, concisely and with power. I personally get most out of playing in a small space where the crowd is forced to be close to you. The intimacy is very important to me. I want it to be physical, loud, almost invasive. You never really know what the crowd is going to be like, if they know what to expect or not. Not that I care for people's expectations but it's a completely different experience playing for someone who's never heard noise music before than to preach to the converted.
Persona is out now on Posh Isolation. Puce Mary live dates are:
Sat 14 - Mayhem, Copenhagen, Denmark
Fri 27 - Kulttuuribingo, Oulu, Finland w/ Jaakko Vanhala & more
Sat 28 - Vapaan Taiteen Tila, Helsinki, Finland w/ Jaakko Vanhala, Gunk & Jukka Siikala AV presentation
Sun 1 - Rooster Pub, Lahti, Finland w/ Pain Nail & Jukka Siikala AV presentation
Fri 3 - Astrohall, Tokyo, Japan w/ Lust For Youth