Berlin-based sound artist and electronic musician Jessica Ekomane explores the interplay of psychoacoustics. She creates the perception of rhythmic structures, the transformation of sonic waves, and the interchange of noise and melody. She practices live performances as well as sound installations. She was one of the artists who contributed to the installation of the Natascha Süder Happelman for her installation at the German pavilion of the Venice Biennale 2019 alongside Maurice Louca, DJ Marfox, Jako Maron, Tisha Mukarji, and Elnaz Seyedi. She has been presented in various institutions across the globe and participated in festivals such as Ars Electronica (Linz), CTM Festival(Berlin), Dommune (Tokyo), and MUMA (Melbourne).
What is your approach to the sound creation process?
It’s a really hard question for me. I always have a different explanation for each person that is asking me that. It’s definitely not life cutting. I just use my laptop and I use max/msp but the patch I already coded. I’m mostly changing parameters within a concept that I created. This is for my live performances and I would say it goes more in the direction of music. I used to do more sound installations which I do less now. I concentrate more on live performances. This is how I would frame what I do.
Does it mean that you identify yourself as a musician?
I used to say I’m a musician, but actually, when I worked with more traditional musicians, I realized that the way I work is totally different. I guess I’m not really a musician, maybe a composer in a way, because I compose sounds. I am also a sound artist because what I do, doesn’t limit itself to music physically. So sound artist has a wider meaning when you don’t necessarily work with these traditional musical parameters.
Sometimes the lines are very thin, and sound artists can be called coders as well.
I don’t see myself like this. It’s the medium that I’m using, but I don’t really have a technological background. Also, in the end, a lot of what I do is not about the technology itself. Sometimes I really code simple patches, so it’s really more about the effects and the idea behind them. I am coding, but I’m not a coder.
Can you say that this field is heavily dominated by technology?
I wouldn’t say this in general, but the fields where I’m working is really tied to technology and a lot of people are linked with science. Historically psychoacoustic and sound itself a scientific phenomenon. My focus is never really a science. I’m more focused on having a discourse about the way humans organize themselves. Science is part of human production. That’s what science means. What kind of ideology you have behind science is a question that is more interesting for me. For example, because I don’t really believe in the neutrality of science. For the general audience, the figure of the scientist is a kind of hierarchical figure, who deals with truth and can explain everything. But actually, there’s a lot of hidden ideology behind scientific theories. You can see this if you look at all these different studies that have been conducted by private companies. You have all these politics happening behind and this I find more interesting.
(Photo) “Digital Musics and Sound Art” for Light / Movement (as part of the exhibition Pulse ‘Lab II: Works for Wave Field Synthesis’, initiated by Robert Henke), Ars Electronica. Student works by Christoph März, Edgardo Gómez, Rafael Santiago, Volodomyr Taranovych, Silje Nes, Jan Brauer, Christian Losert, Dusan Bracic, Anna Bogner, Nicolas Probst, Michel Wähling, Jessica Ekomane and Thomas Maier.
“György Ligeti is composer that was most influencial for Ekomane”
So it is a sublime way to reflect on systems and constructs?
What I can say about this construction. Yes, I’m interested in concepts or systems. For example, you have a group of people that move together. If you deconstruct and you look behind the surface of their movements and what does it mean in terms of their social positioning, maybe politically there’s something involved, maybe genderwise as well. They have obvious aspects in just the tiniest situations.
Do you consider your performances as political acts?
I would say not directly. If you come to my performance you won’t get anything political. But I would say maybe in the philosophy behind what I do, there’s definitely some political aspects and philosophical ones as well. So it’s more certain ethics that is informing my practice I would say.
Technology plays an important role in contemporary life and it grows its presence in art as it becomes more digitalized. What are your thoughts on modern technocult?
I don’t like technology fetishism. When you are using the computer or when you work with electronic music, you are kind of tied to a certain economical, political system and you can’t really avoid that. Unless you’re using open-source software, but still. So just being aware of this thing and also building my own patches from scratch, not using pre-made solutions, incorporating errors in what I do. This is against the tendency in contemporary music production for having really loud and really clean sound. I like to incorporate some kind of failure and not hide the failure and not hide the vulnerability.
Is your identity as an artist limited to the software/program you use?
Some music I do could be adapted for the instruments but for me is really practical to use the computer to make music because for example maybe I wouldn’t have this knowledge, the classical knowledge of making music. So I can’t write music on a piece of sheets and arrange for an orchestra. But then all these different tools of the computer allow me as an amateur let’s say to possibly create this kind of music. So this is why this is actually a good tool for me. I believe that there is something behind that could translate to other mediums maybe and not fetishizing it. I build really simple patches so it’s not about building a really impressive-looking machine it’s more about what it’s actually doing.
Is your artistic freedom defined by the software you use?
I wouldn’t say it like this, but definitely very some kind of feedback
going on. There’s some kind of exchange going on with the machine, because normally when I start the piece rarely I have an idea of what I’m going to do. So I need to explore it first I need to make my mistakes. So in a way the interface is a little bit dictating what I’m doing. Because these mistakes come from the fact that I’m a human using it basically. So there’s a kind of dialogue I would say so it’s not replacing me but maybe we are together in this process. Also, what’s interesting when you use also generative processes I do is that if I would write music in a classical way, I would go from certain structures that I know and it’s saying that a little bit expected in terms of my knowledge. And so sometimes when I make these mistakes or when I have this really strict rule then it allows me to challenge myself in this way. Maybe try to challenge these kinds of structures I have in myself. So in this way, there’s also communication happening.
How do you evaluate the feedback you get from the audience?
I don’t know how I feel about it, because I try to not self-reflect too much about my image. Because otherwise you can really get lost in expectations from someone that you don’t know. Sometimes I get some messages from people and it’s really nice to have that feedback. But basically, I try to not think about it too much after my gigs.
Why do you choose to use Gestalt psychology as a method? Does it fit in the digital era we live in?
I started to get interested in this I think while I was studying sound studies through different research I went into gestalt psychology. I thought it was interesting because it’s a kind of pseudoscience in a way it’s not really acknowledged as a science. But then it’s kind of explaining certain perception phenomena in a really direct way, which I like. And it’s really easy to experiment with this when you work with sound or with visuals. For artists, I think it’s really inspiring. I also found it interesting to think about this moment when things start to have a meaning actually and the fact that it’s based on the previous knowledge that you have and all these preconceived ideas. For me, I’m interested in science when it’s open enough for me to integrate possibly this kind of social-political narrative beyond this kind of scientific effects happening. And I found this in Gestalt psychology. It’s just a good tool for me to use because sometimes it’s not so important for me if it’s true or not, as long as I can use it for certain discourse or I can use it practically.
In this machine-human coexistence who is the author of the piece?
There are a lot of things that I composed even though it sounds a bit different every time. Well, I still feel quite the author of what I do because there are strong concepts behind it and I prepare my own patches. I mean, of course, my music would sound different if I wouldn’t use this software, but then I think anyway whatever you’re creating you’re never creating in a bubble. There’s always a different kind of influence that generates your work. So in this way, I don’t think the question is so different than other mediums at least in my case. And I don’t have so much problem with this idea of authorship. I don’t feel like it’s unfair but I claim to be the author of that. Once it’s done for example I really enjoy hearing peoples’ interpretation. I feel like even if it’s different from something I would ever imagine, I just like it. It’s yours to project yourself into and this is something that I really like. Because if something is bigger than yourself, people should be able to project themselves in it basically. So this is where I let my authorship free a little bit (laughs).
When you dictate how your audience should perceive your sound, does that violate horizontal and open relationships?
I think it’s quite open. I’m not necessarily striving for music that is 100% done for the audience because I also care about the result. I sometimes think it’s good that someone is giving a direction. There’s this dimension where you can move around in the room and then it would sound a little bit different. I am the one who gives this direction, but you can release the control yourself and you let yourself flow. You can do this by adding loudness for example. Where it’s really about physicality and about letting your mind go. The fact that I’m dictating some things is not so problematic for me.
Check artist’s website www.jessicaekomane.com