“I don’t trust anyone who says they don’t like pop music!” Inne Eysermans on new adventures in sound art.

Inne Eysermans (1988) first entered the spotlight as the composer, producer and frontwoman of Amatorski, with whom she has built a strong international reputation since their appearance at Humo’s Rock Rally finals in 2010. After a string of hits, three albums and a number of acclaimed soundtracks, the band has recently been put on hiatus while Inne focusses on her sound art performances and cross-disciplinary collaborations with like-minded artists such as Saskia De Coster and Katharina Smets. We caught up with Inne in her Borgerhout hideout to talk influences, her monthly show on The Word Radio and the liberating effect of not being tied to any release schedule.

Photographer Joke de Wilde (c)

Did you already have previous experience in radio before joining The Word Radio?

Not really. I’ve made several guest appearances on the Icarus show on Ghent’s Urgent.fm, and I’ve always enjoyed assembling mixtapes. The Word Radio’s roster of resident hosts is top-notch and, given the direction I want to take my musical practice in, it’s a great opportunity to explore some new paths. Amatorski as a band is on the back-burner for now, and I’m doing a European post-graduate in Arts in Sound (EPAS) at the Ghent-based KASK Conservatorium so I’ve been looking for that perfect middle ground between my sound art and music and radio’s the perfect medium for doing just that.

Do you approach your shows with a specific theme in mind already?

Well, the original idea was to start with a sports theme which is also present in another project I’m currently developing. I was always somewhat of a sporty kid, playing soccer, tennis and volleyball from a young age. Lots of ball games. So in a way, working on sports is my way of making two childhood dreams – to become an athlete, as well as a musician – come true in unison. And I do see many similarities between music and sports. Recording songs and juggling a ball both allow you to lose yourself in the mental and physical repetitive actions. They also both start with a drive to learn a skill, and to perform. And then there’s the social aspect: you’re an individual part of a team, where you have to wait for your turn, build on the actions of others, make quickfire decisions. My original idea for my show on the radio was to focus solely on female athletes, but in the end I decided against it as I didn’t want the concept to become too restrictive. It’s not my goal to make some kind of grand statement – I’d rather keep the project as inclusive as possible. I want to approach each performance as a “game” starting from the listening experience in a specific public space, which will be unique every time. I want to interact with the already present sound environment and incorporate new and unusual sounds into that space.

I like to mix very concrete sounds like field recordings, sound effects or environmental noise with synthesised sounds that are recognisable in a musical context.

What specific sounds are you thinking of?

I like to mix very concrete sounds like field recordings, sound effects or environmental noise with synthesised sounds that are recognisable in a musical context. Like the combination of a kick, snare and hi-hat. The American sound designer Walter Murch has this interesting theory about a spectrum of sound colours that moves between two poles of encoded and embodied sounds. A clear example of encoded sound is language, while music is, typically, embodied sound, experienced immediately. But there are plenty of sounds that can be situated between those two extremes, and you can experiment by using musical sounds as if they were encoded. For example, by stripping them of traditional concepts like rhythm or melody – and vice versa.

How do you then assemble the sounds for your projects? Do you gather material that’s linked to the chosen theme, or do you try to work on a broader scale?

I find a lot of sounds online, or make my own field recordings. Vinyl records are an obvious source, and sound effect compilations also hold a special place in my heart. I process and manipulate all these sounds into microsounds and textures that I can assemble into multiple sound layers stacked on top of each other. I’ve recently started using a multi-speaker setup in my performances, and I use it to juxtapose different sounds that I feel are related to each other in a way, although they may sound very different. I also make use of any other data that I can gather: visual or tracking information, statistics, strategies – you name it. These can be applied to performance art as well, as long as it’s not just a direct translation of the dataset. Ultimately, it all depends on the chosen environment.

Can you clarify that a bit more using the sports theme?

By focussing on female athletes specifically for example, I want to bring their presence and voices to the urban space. Or even make them literally heard by amplifying their corporal sounds when in action. In general, there are many sounds that convey a sense of movement and rhythm, which is an aspect that has already been expressed plenty of times in other arts – sculpture, photography, video and so forth. My point is to incorporate the input from visual artists, and even writers, philosophers and scientists into my sonic art. In previous collaborations I started from a set narrative, but I’m currently more interested in subverting that expectation. What happens when you don’t build a sound environment around a presupposed narrative, but rather reverse that dynamic and consider it as a starting point for others to build upon? It’s a totally different and fresh perspective for me – an alternative method of gathering input for a performance in a free and unconstrained manner.

How do your shows for The Word Radio fit into this work?

I originally planned to gather sounds from different people using the methods I just described, but I’ve realised I need more time to develop the idea. In the end, I’d like to make soundscapes for the radio show – but it’s a lot of work to fill two hours with original sound! So the first few broadcasts will focus on artists and tracks that inspire my working process. Musicians like Mica Levi, who composed scores for Under the Skin and Jackie, and also makes pop music as Micachu. Or experimental sound artist Ben Vida, Laurel Halo and Julia Holter – artists who work in the space between sound art and music, incorporating elements of pop music into their work. Another huge influence is Yannis Kyriakides, and his 2006 album Wordless. Working off an archive of recorded interviews with Brussels-based residents, he cut them up in such a way that the words become unintelligible. And yet, the end result still conveys an impression of the nature of the original conversation, and he builds musical textures around these abstract voice samples. I’ve also recently joined forces with Liew Niyomkarn, with whom we created the persona Velma Spell. My January show on The Word Radio was actually her first outing, and we plan on using her for future projects too – if she’s up for it of course. We’re only just getting to know her ourselves.

What happens when you don’t build a sound environment around a presupposed narrative, but rather reverse that dynamic and consider it as a starting point for others to build upon?

Where did she come from? What’s she like?

That’s a good question. I suspect she was the one to find us, while looking for a space for her performances and place for her own projects! It’s still pretty vague, but we know she’s an elderly lady with plenty of character and seemingly open to anything. She recently performed a DJ set in Bar Leon, a neighbourhood bar here in Borgerhout. She’ll play anything from experimental to pop music, and even sound effect records. Just the way I like it myself, in fact. I don’t think music or art should ever be elitist.

You don’t want your work to become too “highbrow”?

I wouldn’t even look at it like that. Admittedly, my own taste ranges between pop and experimental, and I don’t trust anyone who says they don’t like pop music! That’s my problem with a lot of traditional media today: everything’s become so compartmentalised, and there’s a tendency to underestimate the audience. That’s also why I’m so glad to be part of The Word Radio. I think musicians should take more initiatives in exposing their audience to new music and sounds. I think it’s only logical – after all, we already have the knowledge and background. There’s so much exciting and interesting stuff out there that’s being neglected, purely because of rigid ideas about what should be played on radio, television or online. And while Amatorski was able to escape such confinements to a certain extent, I’m still glad I don’t have to think about that anymore. I do intend on releasing a single every once in a while, because I still enjoy writing pop songs. But I don’t plan on making another album – or rather, I won’t be following any kind of release schedule. I’m finally in a place where I can work with anyone or anything, and that’s tremendously liberating. As far as I’m concerned, my playing field is wide open now.

Inne Eyserman’s show on The Word Radio runs every third Wednesday of the month, from 10h to 12h.