Janine A’Bear Sounds Strange. An Interview with an Experimental Soundmaker.

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Janine A’Bear spoke to Jude Cowan Montague of The Sunday Tribune about her experimental work in soundmaking – and her love of cookbooks.

TST:   You’ve said at some point you gave up trying to be normal ‘and found myself doing strange and awesome things’. I feel the same myself about my own trajectory in the arts. Can you tell me more about when and how and why you stopped and your life changed artistically? How important was making a decision to ‘give up on trying to be normal?’

JA’B: So the quote is a bit of a play on words- depending on how you interpret or read it.I think it’s something most people can relate to.I reached a point in my late 20’s where I just stopped caring about what other people thought- who I thought I should be, what I thought I should be doing and the general status quo. I realised that life is a really weird existential experience and you only get one chance here- so you may as well try fun things and do what you want to do and make the most of it while you’re here. Not always the easiest choice but by far  the more satisfying. 

TST: Your sound track is full of rich complex sounds you describe as synthy/vocal/techno. Can we have that techy discussion and chat technical? What equipment do you use or are into right now. I myself am more embedded in analogue but your work is more digitally sequenced. What sequencing tools do you use?

JA’B: Ah thanks! I make all my own rhythms and use ableton to program beats and percussion and then trigger them with a midi controller. I don’t like rules and have long given up on trying to create any actual “sound; I just experiment until I’m happy with what I’ve got- at the end of the day it’s you who has to be content with it and the rest will follow. 

For melody and basslines I mainly use the MS-20 – it’s a remake of the vintage one- and it’s a beautiful beast that I still learn something new from every day- it’s semi- modular and has a really rich and well rounded  deepness to it.  I don’t really have any one way of doing things though- there are times when I experiment and use many ableton effects and pads too- keep it minimal and simple and software based. I generally just play around and do what works. Occasionally I’ll hear something in public and I’ll just use my phone if I hear sounds I like when I’m out and about- a drone on the bus, a click of rain or a buzzing drill of roadworks on the side of the street. I like to see what can be done with the sounds digitally- you can make great rhythms out of anything. 

TST: What is your philosophy and rational of sound-making? Do you have an emotional or universal thinking that underpins your practice?

JA’B: My best material or the work I genuinely like the most is the stuff that happens the quickest;  without deliberation and I feel sure it’s good without hesitation. Wether it is or not is another story- but I really feel that it’s important to not compare your work to what other people are doing, and trust your instincts- if you are happy with what you have made then it is good and all that matters! In this day and age we are drowned in sound and so easily distracted and kill our creativity with constant comparison- I”m trying to perfect the art of concentration- it’s a miracle anyone gets anything done these days!

TST: Tell me about vocals. What is your approach to singing and how does it interact with your instrumental practice? Do you like listening to your own voice naked or with effects?

JA’B: I mainly use a TC helicon- and enjoy using the loop function for live shows- I have recently begun singing without any effects except a bit of reverb- but I have to say I prefer seeing what’s possible after treating a vocal-and using voice for basslines and melodies- I love the unique sounding possibilities – putting effects on it and  and warping it into melodies to fill a track. I don’t really have any rules to how I do things- I work more so on a feeling and go with what feels right at the time. 

TST: What books have influenced you? Are there any writers that you think has influenced your work. Any favourite poets or novelists or speakers who try to make sense of the universe that have affected your approach.

J A’B: I love all sorts of books- including cookbooks. just wish I had more of an ability to sit still-  In the last year things that have stuck with me are Yuval noah harari’s homo deus- the sequel to Sapiens.- Alice in Wonderland, anything by ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna, Bhuddist writer Thich Nat Hanh, The yoga sutras of Patanjali, Limmy’s biography and The first Bad Man by Miranda July. Funny and philospohical is the way forward. 

TST: Time. I see a consciousness of time passing and slipping through the hours and seconds using sound making equipment. Do you have any thoughts on the time we live in? Time past? Time future? Do you see it as linear? How do you think time moves.

J A’B: The future doesn’t exist- it hasn’t happened yet. All we have is now… or was it just then. We are merely a cosmic memory so use it wisely and don’t waste it! 

TST: Does your work tie into ideas of sound and performance as therapeutic and healing? If so, please expand.

J A’B: So on the side of being a sound artist- I’ve also trained to be a gong practitioner and recently a yoga teacher- and intrigued by varying states of mind which can be induced using certain sounds .I have some upcoming workshops in London the next few months – where I’ll be providing meditative sounds for yoga workshops. These include a soundscape class- where i will be manipulating loops live using voice and synths, mics, pedals whilst a yoga class is being taught- and the other being a yin yoga and gong workshop. yin is a very static based practice holding poses for roughly 3 minutes. As an artist I feel I shouldn’t be limited to how I use sound- the more opportunities and diversity, the better! it doesn’t always have to be a Saturday night scenario club scene to get the full effects of enjoying sound and I’d like to explore and share that as much as possible. 

TST: Tell me about Bodyvice. What is it, and where has it been performed?

J A’B: BodyVice is my mate’s Natalie Sharps latest creative concoction-  in collaboration with DIY queen synth builder Tara Pattenden aka Phantom Chips. Two humans I find hugely inspiring. To put it bluntly- it’s fucking brilliant. I was honoured to be a performer as part of her stage show at End of the road festival- and perhaps will reappear in the not too distant future. The show is an expression and depiction of living with chronic pain in a modern society- it’s a confronting and mesmerising hypnotic experience and an assault to the senses as it should be- no one is doing it quite like these two- combining audiovisual, costume, vocal , DIY synths, dance and performance art. I met Natalie crowdsurfing at supernormal- fell in love with Trifle and soon after became one of her “Arseonist dancers” where all all sorts of mayhem broke loose- spraying the crowd with fake cream whilst dressed as a lobster or fluorescant demented drooling sumo wrestler. You know, the usual.  Good times! 

TST: Collaboration is important to so many experimental artists. Who have you collaborated with and in what way? I think you’re working with a fellow artist I admire, Lia Mice. Tell me about what’s happening there. Lia is a good friend, phd student of instrument 

J A’B: Lia is a talented electronic musician, composer and instrument designer. I was lucky enough to be asked to join her on stage to play her own creation which she names the “prism bell.” I strike it with a mallet- and knowing my background with gong she thought I’d be the ideal contender for the job- also a devout sequin lover it was a no-brainer for me.

 It’s a futuristic looking giant synth that keeps on evolving. It has sensors on each rod that communicate with a sound- generating algorithm, meaning that the tone changes depending on how hard you hit it. We have done 2 shows so far- the first experiment at Supernormal, and the second at Islington Town Hall supporting Objekt to about 1000 + people in the crowd- it was electric and transcendental experience to say the least! It felt great to be pioneering something no one has done before.

TST: Janine, you’ve done so much, where are you going next? You’re a very curious artist, shifting and changing. Fluid and bold. How do you feel right now and what will be happening in your art in the near future? 

J A’B: I’d really like to be fully self sustainable and perhaps upskill-  be able to create my own music videos for my upcoming releases next year. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d like to host more workshops for  young people using Ableton, teach them to DJ and encourage creativity and build communities. And host more experimental club nights!

TST: Do you have any unrealised ambitions in art? Please tell me about at least one of them.

J A’B: Yeah loads- I feel like i’m a bit of a latecomer to the party and still trying to figure out what it is I do- learning everything as I go… I want to spend most of 2020 putting my music out and releasing it as it’s been in the pipeline now for sometime and I’m finally getting ready to let it out and get it into the public sphere. I would like to be part of more collaborations and am open to new possibilities and experiences performing my show live in as many weird and wonderful places as possible!  Oh and be the singer in a band- that’s always something I’ve dreamed of !

Thank you Janine A’Bear for sharing your thoughts with the Sunday Tribune. We’ll be following you on the internet. What sites should be checking out?

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/abearsounds/

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/a_bear_sounds/?hl=en

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/janineabear

SOUNDCLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/abearsounds

Jude Cowan Montague is an artist and broadcaster. She produces 'The News Agents' for Resonance FM, a weekly show experimenting with international story and the arts. She worked at Reuters Television News for many years as an archivist and this has informed her poetry and some of her art. She's an award winning printmaker and a composer. Her graphic memoir 'Love on the Isle of Dogs' is available from Central Books.