Cxemcast 067 – Zoë Mc Pherson
How did you record this mix?
It was an audiovisual show recorded in Utrecht for Uncloud festival. It was pretty amazing: 360° visuals and sound, the people were surrounded by this screen all over. Me and Alessandra Leone, my partner with visuals for String Figures, did it for the first time in this kind of set up.
Your mix for Radio Quantica Labareda includes a song written by your mother. She is a folk singer, right? I can assume that you grew up in a very musical family.
Yeah, I do come from quite a musical and creative family indeed. The blues in my mother’s voice influenced me very much, as she was writing songs and rehearsing from home when I grew up. She is 69 years old and has been writing and performing for the past 50 years, now she focuses more on teaching singing in the south of France. Her energy, sincerity, and generosity with which she performs touch me very much.Of course, she brought me some passion for blues and folk, as she collected traditional Irish songs in her youth.
Also, Nana, my dad’s mother, who was living in Harlem, NYC back in the ’80s and ’90s, transmitted me her passion for jazz and soul music. My father is also a musical person. He would put The K&D Sessions over and over in the car when I was a kid, he managed my mother and plays the bodhran (traditional Irish drum).
How did your early musical explorations look like?
Looping my voice on a red 4-channel Boss pedal and mixing layers of voice recordings in and out. Also, drumming on my toms without using any cymbals (at least, without hi-hats) as long as possible, just ’cause 3 toms together sound so sick and it can go on forever.
In the previous interviews, you’ve said that you’ve always been into transmedia stuff: performances, crossmedia and audiovisual art. What was the starting point?
Well, I studied both visual arts and music in high school in the south of France. I was pretty much interested in everything: photoshopping, analog photography, Miles Davis paintings, sculpting, but mostly obsessed with Matthew Barney’s The Cremaster cycle. At first, I couldn’t decide between choosing music or “arts plastiques”, as we call it in French, but both rooms were next to each other anyway. So, I was just constantly hopping from one room to the other and then going back like “Okay, now drums” and “Okay, I need to finish this drawing”. It was a boarding school, but the teachers were the chill ones, they all knew me, so that would be totally cool to go at night. Yeah, it was the best moment of growing up, we were very lucky and experienced freedom. For sure, this kind of crossmedia connection is obviously present in my work.
This constant dialog between those fields is very prominent in your audiovisual album String Figures. Tell us how this project works.
So, it is an LP, and it is a performance. We play a live audiovisual performance, sometimes we have a dancer, such as next time for Meakusma in Belgium. In general, it is a concept album with different chapters that tell different stories about the relationships between traditional recordings, organic textures, electronic sounds, and visuals.
String Figures narrates about contradictions between organic and electronic, folk and futurism, earthy and otherworldly, local and global, ancient and contemporary, dance and experimental music. We explore boundaries and outer categories, trying to find links and oppositions, and then an exchange place for them. This joins dualities and creates the liminal space in between. It is a very complex project. So we’re not bored!
String Figures is based on your anthropological research on Inuit culture. What was the main question that intrigued you enough to start it?
Actually, it was not a question, but rather a fascination. This little game I would play as a kid has, as it has turned out, so much more significance! It is amazing that when people did not have telecommunication they were, sitting at different places of the world, actually doing that same thing. I’m a little bit romantic, so that is the emotional part. Also, it is fascinating to find out about all the different kinds of figures. For example, if you lived in Australia, you’d make very different figures from those you would make if you lived in the Arctic.
It depends on the context: what you see outside, what kinds of animals are there, what situations you experience. I like all that very much, it’s diverse, but it’s the same. It’s kind of what I stand for in general, from an ethical point of view. Therefore, it is present in my music and in our audiovisual project.
What were the main insights of your research?
The group aspect is what I enjoyed the most. String figures is not only a solo practice, it can be something that you do to someone. And it is a shamanic practice as well, many legends were told about String Figures. For instance, about Tutarjuuk, the Inuït spirit of string figures. They would heal, help grow plants and feed communities. It is a tool, not just a game.
I was also very touched by the video on YouTube, which you can check on my website as well, where grandma Margaret tells a story with a series of string figures. At some point, you see the string forms a triangle, and then a part of the string is flowing down as if it was separated, although it’s just one string loop. It’s a whole show!
How much time did it take to complete the project?
And how many people in total were involved?
Wow. Apart from performances, String Figures exhibition was opened in Melbourne and the visuals at Inouï (and Free) were shown in film theaters during Berlin Independent Film Festival. Was it an intended outcome or the project expanded naturally?
It was exactly what we were planning to do. I feel like it took one year before people actually understood what we mean with this transmedia project. String Figures is something that you can watch as a movie, listen or watch on your phone, it can also be a part of an exhibition, as well as a live performance.
What other forms can String Figures take?
It is in the form of ideas that transmit from one to another. It is ephemeral sculptures in art and music. There’s still so much to do with this concept.
Do you have any plans on releasing a new album? Will your new album be transmedial as well?
It's cooking, I'm exploring textures, vocals, intense awkward rhythms that are actually danceable. I’m touring a lot these months, though, so, to be honest, this question doesn't make me comfortable. All I can say is that I work hard, I like working and I like quality and deep stuff. Taking the time you need is a part of making quality music, art projects — any kind of project.
As for transmedia projects, we’re pursuing our collab with Alessandra into developing String Figures, but I don’t think we’ll start another conceptual album from scratch right away. It is a lot of investment and time. I don’t want to wait another three years, I’m more focused on new music to be released soon!
Interviewed by Tanya Voytko