It was with some trepidation that we awaited the third installment of AGF’s work on women’s poetry. After Gedichterbe (2011) and Kuuntele (2013), based on German and Finnish poetry respectively, rumour had it that that AGF was working on a Japanese project. We met in early July, just before the launch of A Deep Mysterious Tone. Despite being in the middle of her European tour, AGF has been incredibly generous with her time. Our chat moved from her recent work with an amazing group of collaborators, to her involvement in the Visibility Project and the Female Pressure Blog, and finally to her great work at a local level on the island of Hailuoto in Finland, where she currently lives.
So generous, in fact, that we are presenting this long interview in two parts.
Malcolm Angelucci: Thanks for chatting with us today, it is great to finally have the chance to talk about this great ongoing project that puts together history, poetry, electronic music and, in every new installment, a series of ‘voices’, collaborators that open so many new paths for us listeners… I know that you were working on A Deep Mysterious Tone last year in Japan… was it a particularly long production?
AGF: It all started with the German edition in 2010, where I developed the idea to research and use poetry of the old times to compose new pieces. And with Gedichterbe I discovered that it was beautiful research… I decided to approach it through a female perspective, and I looked for the first known female poem, Frau Ava (1060-1127), a religious woman… so I combined her verses with a rapper and we made a track out of it. It was an interesting methodology, to put old texts and old lives in dialogue with today…
And then I made a Finnish edition, partially because I live there and partially because I wanted to get close to that language… and then I started to understand how different languages have different histories or sometimes parallel [ones], in this sense. For instance, the first poem I found in Finnish was also a religious poem, by a woman who had disguised herself because she wasn’t allowed to write. That happened in the Japanese context as well. In Finnish, the first one I found was from the 17th century. So you learn a lot about language, and history of language and written and spoken language, and also social class… After that I thought that maybe I could do more of these poetry editions where I look into a language… and then I was in Japan a lot last year, because I was making a bigger work for the Sapporo International Art Festival, so I spoke to all sorts of people, had a lot of access to history, and I took the chance to research this along with the work that I was doing anyway … but it didn’t take so long. It usually takes a year to make a record, and until it is pressed and it is out, it takes another half a year, so it didn’t take particularly long for this one.
What I decided for these projects was also to ask other voices to come in, as collaborators. I decided to invite women like me to lend their voice, so in the German version there is Gudrun Gut, Ellen Allien, QUIO, Pyranja, Barbara Morgenstern, Gina D’Orio etc and in the Finnish version I had some of the most known Finnish underground producers like Lau Nau, Lady Islaja, and Matti P. In the Japanese version I asked all these Japanese women producers and they all said yes, Tujiko Noriko said yes, and, you know, I only know them because once we met somewhere, by accident, because we were booked together, and that way is a nice way for me to work, yeah… And I am a fan of Kyoka’s work and so honoured she agreed to give me some time and my friend and collaborator Ryoko Akama, from The Lappetites is on it with a beautiful haunting song.
I put out this Japanese idea, and I also felt that Japanese people would appreciate it very much: I asked people, when I was there, ‘who is your favourite writer, what is your favourite poem’, and it was nice to meet people in this way and talk to people about it, I made connections that nobody would have guessed.
Malcolm Angelucci: How did you build this group of people, did you have collaborators in mind, or was it entirely a journey of discovery?
AGF: Pretty much all of them I met somewhere. I met Ryoko (Akama) at Sonar in 2000 and we are in the Lappetites together. Tujiko Noriko and I were once playing together at a festival in Belgium, and we were both 5 months pregnant. We were the only musicians at that event in Gent, Belgium, it was a really outstanding event, with 2 women headlining, both pregnant and playing their unique music… and this connected us, but then I never saw her again… so I wrote to her again, and she said ok. It was amazing remembering that time on stage, 5 months pregnant: ‘how is your girl now?’, etc. But also I like her music. I asked people whose music I like. She is a strong artist, so I was afraid she wouldn’t do it, amazing that she took the time.
I’ve never met Kyoka in person (now she did… n.d.r), but we have written to each other many times and spoken on twitter. We are going to meet for the first time this year in July, there is a really amazing festival in Berlin, called The Heroines of Sound, and we are both going to play there. The festival is great… you know now we are out with ‘Female Pressure’, the women collective, and we had a really remarkable success. the network is kind of exploding and the festival is about that, many of us never met; 1400 women around the world who have never met. We only know [each other]by email, but this is the first time that we are going to meet face to face. It will be interesting.
Malcolm Angelucci: Did you need any support in terms of language and cultural translation?
AGF: When I was in Japan I met Keiko Yoshida, who is half journalist, half cultural organiser. She actually contacted me first because I was also interested in Ainu culture, and voices of Ainu, who are similar to Sami in Finland, because they are a stateless old tribe… I was looking at their language and narratives. I was visiting the Ainu museum over there, also for the piece I did for Sapporo, and I was also interested in the aboriginal context in the north of Japan; so Keiko contacted me because of that, and then we got to know each other, and she somehow became my research advisor and also a ‘proof reader’. In Finnish I didn’t do that, I just asked around and discussed things with many people, and then I met Professor Kari Sallamaa who wrote the booklet text. I accompany each of these poetry projects with a text, which explains the context and my motivation, and also why I chose those particular poets etc. so I guess that I am getting a little bit better at this, I started to know more what counts… so this time I was a little more professional, I had this woman and I always checked with her, and she kept bouncing off with more stuff, and we eventually wrote the notes together.
Malcolm Angelucci: Speaking of collaborators, Misumi Mizuki is a poet, more than a musician/producer… and it seems to me that her track is the one in which voice is less manipulated and ‘produced’…
AGF: Misumi Mizuki is a young contemporary poet, she is the only voice I didn’t know before. Keiko recommended her to me after she saw her at a poetry reading in Japan. So I wrote to her, and communication was not easy in English, but we started to follow each other on twitter and then she said yes. So I chose a text from her website which was already translated and asked her to record it. And she is very happy about the collaboration, she has written to me a few times now, I will try to meet her in person when I visit Japan the next time. She recorded the track in her studio, and sent me the file. The way in which she delivers it is very intimate, so I captured her voice just like that. I just thought it is beautiful the way she speaks and that. It is quite striking.
Malcolm Angelucci: You told us that you do research and then come up with a corpus of poems. How do you work with a language that (I assume) you don’t know, did you follow the structure of the poem? Did you follow the sound, did you translate it?
AGF: Well, if you work with a language you don’t know very well, you have to work with a translation… I had lots of books and online material, and I really do ask a lot of people… ‘what is your favourite poem, and why is she your favourite poet, why do you like her’… so, the author of the war poem (Ibaraki Noriko) for example… one woman who was producing another event told me about her. Then I researched her, checked all the texts, found the text I thought was good and then I worked with the translation. I mostly choose poems because of the poets, or the poetesses, I choose them because I find their life particularly interesting … of course every poet has thousand of poems, and some of them are better then others, so I look for connections to myself of course, and also I like the history part, the story they tell…
Malcolm Angelucci: ‘Poemproducing’, as you call it, is voice and text as one and a whole in the electronic music production… with Gedichterbe I assume that there is a lot of work on the sound and the style of the poem, and this is close to you as your mother tongue is German… I am wondering if engaging in a very different language changed your music or your approach.
AGF: In the German version I was also adapting typically “German music”, for instance for Gudrun Gut I produced the track specifically for her. I used techno elements, and when I was thinking about the Japanese edition I decided to work with noise music because I really like the Japanese noise scene. I think of ways to connect with the electronic aesthetic of a place as well, so it is a bit like that. I thought to work mainly with noise, and then for instance the track with Kyoka is all fragmented and fractured, it is built around her voice a lot. Of course in the end I don’t understand 100% what I am doing when I deconstruct a language I don’t own, I cannot judge the out-coming effect, probably ever. For instance, in the last song on the record I sang in Japanese myself. I knew the translation of the poem, but I didn’t even know exactly how to pronounce the original. I’ve been enough in Japan to know how to pronounce Japanese, but, I just sang it in the studio, and than I played to my advisor, and she said: ‘oh my god, it is amazing, you are so free’… that’s what she said, so, more than this I don’t know. I don’t know how it would feel to a Japanese, I am curious actually, because I am going to go back to Japan, so I am going to try to find out how they feel about it. Which is not an easy task.
Malcolm Angelucci: This seems to be a project that comes out of a fantastic openness to dialogue. I was wondering how could you play it live… Are you planning to have all these guests with you at some stage?
AGF: That would be amazing, but I don’t know if I can afford to organise it, to produce it, and have all these people together, but it would be amazing.
Malcolm Angelucci: Compared with Gedichterbe, which was closer to your scene, so to speak, this feels like a bigger journey…
AGF: Yes, and I hope people see this. I was also thinking about things like cultural appropriation and so on, you know… I am coming in as a ‘white’, again, taking Japanese culture and making something out of it… so I was thinking about it, but I really hope that people can feel that it is my love and respect for that. And also, pure interest in this culture… I hope that it comes across…
Malcolm Angelucci: The risk, in these cases, is to be paralysed by the problem and do nothing…
AGF: I agree with you. The next project will be investigating Russian language and culture. I was also thinking about this as a dialogue, because in my opinion Russians are also quite isolated. You know, there is stuff happening and people go and play there, clubs etc., and it is becoming a bit more open, but I also think that it is a problem that it is so isolated, and I think communication…I don’t know, I feel like that it is important that this dialogue happens. I really generally feel it is important that we talk like that, that we try to understand each other. It sounds pathetic but it makes a difference, a really big difference. I will again try to find the first known Russian female poet and I will go upwards and look at what I find then. And of course this is not academic stuff, I am just going by heart, kind of…what I don’t get I don’t get. In the end when I was working with the Japanese version, I had millions of options because once you go deeper into it, it is like a goldmine, the world opens more and more, and you don’t know how to stop, so at a certain point you have to stop and say ok, this is just a little contribution to that dialogue…
Part 2 of the same interview can be found here.