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LISTEN: New Jacqueline George
Christian Eede , June 20th, 2016 15:56

We speak to Flaming Pines' Kate Carr about the label's Tiny Portraits series; stream a contribution below

Tiny Portraits is a project that invites producers to create music with a focus on sound mapping. Those that contribute are encouraged to offer a soundtrack to a specific area often tied to a certain time period or memory. Above is a piece from Jacqueline George, entitled 'The Same Sun', which is rooted in the Cairo neighbourhood of Shobra.

Shobra, George says, "is a coptic word which means 'the manor or village'. Muhammad Ali Pasha created it in 1809 and it was not originally part of Cairo, but today it is in the heart of the city and replete with people and stories, life and pain, noise."

Also featured in this latest wave of contributions to the Tiny Portraits series is a piece rooted in Paris by 9T Antiope, a composition by Andrea Ancira, who produces as aag, which takes its inspiration from the street protests that took place in Mexico City in late 2014 and a piece by Josten Myburgh about a large wall near his locale of Perth. To find out more about the Tiny Portraits project, click here and read on for our chat with Kate Carr from Flaming Pines who are behind the project.

Can you tell us a little about how the project came together? How did you select artists?

Kate Carr: I've been interested in soundmapping, and net art for quite some time and particularly the potential such projects have for building ongoing networks. In my own work, and that of the label I have always focused on the relationship between sound and place, and a few years ago I made my own sound map about getting lost in Doi Saket in Thailand, so Tiny Portraits just grew out of those interests. I've been lucky enough to travel quite a bit over the past few years and I am always amazed by how many experimental sound artists there are working all over the world, and I wanted a way to bring some of that work together in a platform which was particularly able to give space to artists working outside of the traditional sound art centres of western Europe and the USA.

I had an idea of a sort of global map focused on playful sonic explorations of obscure sites, but I had no real clue how to put it together. However in talking with some possible artists about participating Arash Akbari, who is a sound and multimedia artist, said he was interested in building a site for it, so that was a fantastic development and with his participation the project was able to move from being simply an idea into a reality.

As for picking artists, there are now 12 with works online, but overall there are probably more than 30 who have either submitted, or who are developing pieces and I've reached out to them in various ways. The first four artists were Siavash Amini, Zenjungle, Sound Awakener and Yuco all of whom I had already worked with or had contact with through Flaming Pines, and with Siavash and Phil (who is Zenjungle) in particular we had already discussed some of the concerns of the project around being playful and humorous, using sound to tell a story, and the visibility of artists working outside of western Europe and the USA. I loved Sound Awakener's idea of a Hanoi street corner portrait, and Yuco makes very whimsical beautiful music. I suppose what I have been looking for is simply artists who like the idea, but who are also willing to question some of the tropes of the sound art world by being a bit cheeky or irreverent, and who want to use sound as a way of exploring the idiosyncrasies of their own neighbourhoods.

What do you look for in a piece that's more than just the raw material of its sound?

KC: For this project I like pieces which are surprising and vivid, which offer an unexpected take on a particular place. In the second set of four singles I love, for example, that Gamardah Fungus, a Ukrainian band, did a piece on the Carpathians which in some ways with a focus on nature is a fairly traditional ambient topic, but that it is framed as the Carpathians seen from a small front yard porch, so in a sense it is a piece which meditates on a view, which I find interesting. I like that Peter Terner when exploring his home-town of Budapest focused on the screech of tram wheels, no doubt a sound which is not terribly popular, and the humour of Sound Meccano and Jura Laiva playing along with the clangs of a working harbour in Latvia. The project is very open, and I am by no means a very directive curator so each artist has a lot freedom in terms of what they want to explore. The framework of the project is a jumping off point for many different directions and concerns.

What was the biggest surprise?

KC: Well every piece is a surprise really, but also I think the response to the project overall has been fantastic, and it is really exciting to have been contacted by such a diversity of artists from around the world who want to take part. I've been very blown away by the enthusiasm and humour the artists have brought to it, and also how engaged and interested in its future development they are. Certainly I am not taking credit for it, but personally I have found it massively exciting to have been involved in this project, and I find the ways it opens up the world via sound pieces traversing a small park in Tehran, to a tiny island off the coast of Tokyo, to a Hanoi street corner a very intimate way of engaging with the vastness of this planet. The latest four singles just released are thematically focused on streets and streetscapes, and offer sound pieces presenting street noise or views from Cairo, Perth, Australia, Mexico City, and Paris, and offer a real range of perspectives on street sounds, with calls to prayer, market bazaar’s, protest songs, a Parisian business park, and a meditation on a large brick wall all in the mix.

Why did you want the portraits to be 'tiny' specifically? Was it about bringing intimacy to vast spaces, pinpointing specks on the map?

KC: Definitely it was about bringing intimacy to a format, mapping, which is not so much associated with such a thing. I like the way in which Arash's map also doesn't zoom in to the extent which say google maps does, so you have this quite large dot which in reality perhaps takes up 100 kilometres of the globe, but in the world of the site is representative of just one tiny park, or one tiny street. I also like the humility of focusing on something small, overlooked and perhaps a bit taken for granted, and the ways these perhaps less grandiose sites introduce a less obvious side of a city, and make you think about it in different ways.

The Paris-based Iranian band 9T Antiope for example have a piece on the next set of Tiny Portraits which is focused on a business park in Paris, a very corporate high rise area on the outskirts of the city, and the piece presents the noise of workers ascending and descending the escalators there, which is such a different take on Paris to the typical cafes, berets and Eiffel Tower. Every Tiny Portraits participant introduces their single in their own words, which is included as an insert in the sleeve. And 9T Antiope’s is particularly vivid, band members Sara and Nima describe Allée de l'Arche as being “filled with footsteps of thousands of employees every day early in the morning, swallowed throughout the day, who then become thousands of sucked-out souls spitted out at dusk. This huge demon functions on the coals these robot-people feed it; It takes in everything they have to offer and gives back millions of tiny whirlwinds from within its bowel-like stomach, which makes this whole area the windiest area in Paris.”

In the first set of singles I think there is also a wonderful intimacy to Zenjungle's piece on a public square in Athens in which he played as a child, even down to it being named after a piece of graffiti located there. I am hopeful that the small personal, story telling nature of these pieces brings a sense of slowness and consideration to thinking about difference and culture, the ways the world connects, and also does not connect, and the different ways we exist and interact with ideas of home, place, and sites of significance.

Why did you ask the artists to be playful?

KC: I suppose it is an attempt to make some of the concerns of sound art and field recordings accessible and interesting to non-sound artists, but also I think a playful approach suits something as grandiose as attempting to produce a global map of sounds, and I like the tensions between the hugeness of our world, and the very small marks we leave on it. I like the idea of sound artists as urban explorers, and also the ways such an approach opens up different ways of thinking about sound and place, and the connections between the two, not just in terms of valuing overlooked sites, but of using sound itself as a way of exploring place, of playing sites, of making something new out of ideas of place and home themselves. I think it opens up new and interesting ways of thinking about sites we both know and don't know, and the ways we explore or ignore where we live. As I've said I wanted to get away from the very sombre and nature-heavy focus in ambient music and I like the playfulness of bringing that fairly serious meditative approach to a site which is not say a beautiful waterfall in Iceland, but a beaten up old park, or a busy street corner. The Chinese field recordist Sun Wei for his piece has submitted a sonic portrait of a creaking sewer pipe in Chengdu which I hope to release soon, and to me there is something fantastic about a sound portrait of a sewer pipe. In the latest series Perth musician Josten Myburgh has composed an intricate episodic homage to a plain brick wall he spots on his daily commute.

Having said this though, of course not everything is playful, or whimsical. And the project with its overarching themese of sound and place, and sound and space is also able to incorporate pieces looking at the politics of sound and space. I have always been interested in the links between politics and sound, and between sonic, political and cultural geographies, so I am really pleased that this latest set of portraits includes a piece by aag, a Mexican artist, which is based on phone-recordings of protests in Meixco City about the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa Normal School which have taken place since 2014. In another exploration of sound, space and political, religious and cultural geographies, Egyptian sound artist Jacqueline George has composed a piece plotting a journey in the Shobra district of Cairo, which presents the different ways commercial, religious and political agendas compete for sonic space in the streets. As she describes it in her written introduction Shobra is a district “replete with people and stories, life and pain, noise, rapid and fickle change, soul, killing time and presence”. For me all these approaches represent such interesting and important ways of thinking about cities and space, and about the ways we use sound to demand things, to occupy and claim areas, to attract and to repel.

How will the Tiny Portraits project evolve?

KC: Well as I said there are a lot of submissions already in the pipeline for the project, I have quite a few portraits in which sound artists are exploring sites as outsiders, so I am thinking the next set will be themed around the idea of visiting, with all the partial knowings and unknowings, missteps and errors such a status infers. Probably the biggest development however, is that Arash and I are in the process of adding an extra dimension to the map which allows users to plot a course between sites, and traverse the globe from tiny portrait to tiny portrait, emphasising the project’s themes of connection and disconnection between these disparate, and idiosyncratic sites and moments . I love the idea that a listener will soon be able to program a sonic journey which connects such disparate moments and places as Foresteppe’s explorations of fog in Berdsk, Siberia, Josten Myburgh’s meditation on a brick wall in Western Australia, Jacqueline George’s introduction to the district of Shobra in Cairo, and Yuco’s watery Shikinejima island-inspired Marine.