Interview with Kate Carr

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Kate Carr is a sound artist whose work investigates our relationship with the natural world, and explores place and non-place, being and imagining. Her music is often composed using field recordings and sounds sourced from location. Besides her recorded output and live performances, she has contributed to artist residencies that have taken her all over the world. Originally from Australia, she is now based in London and runs the Flaming Pines label.


Darren McClure: Kate, I first encountered your work when you curated Listen to the Weather which used water sounds as its main concept.  What first drew you to focus on found sounds and field recording in your sound art?

Kate Carr: I think Listen to the Weather, which was a project I did for Ear to the Earth, sort of lent itself to field recording, and lots of the participants in it worked with recordings of water. I had already done some soundscape recordings of my own by that time in Hong Kong for the masters course I was doing, which were very urban, and had been aware of the more nature-based sound incorporated by some of the artists on the 12K roster. So I think field recording was there from the beginning as something in the mix. As I did more work I realised the qualities of field recordings, the randomness, unwieldiness, the situated nature of them, gave elements of surprise and dynamism to my work that was very important to me. I noticed I often began a composition with a set of recordings, and so for me field recording became a bigger and bigger focus. 

DM: “Listen to the Weather” was the first release on Flaming Pines, back in 2011.  The label has been highly productive since then.  What are some highlights from the last 8 years of releases?

KC: That is a tough one. In terms of my own personal satisfaction and enjoyment, I’ve really liked doing the series, so Rivers Home, Birds of a Feather (which you were on Darren!) and now the latest one with the Tiny Portraits series. They have been nice because I have used them to work with artists around themes which are really interesting to me, the way we conceive of our relationships with place, or with other species, via sound. The label has been quite busy it is true, I would say there are over 100 releases now over that eight year period, some of which were series of singles, so didn’t get their own catalogue numbers, which has made things slightly confusing, but it is quite a bit of material.

I guess I am most focused now on the most recent releases, so I’ve been really pleased to work with Arash Akbari, Nhung Nguyen and Igor Yalivec to put out the three series showcasing experimental music scenes in Iran, Vietnam and Ukraine, respectively, and this year I am really excited about a lot of the releases, Mergariam by Enrico Conliglio and Nicola Di Croce was a super interesting exploration of industrial Venice, and had a great launch concert at Cafe Oto in January, and coming out soon is a great tape by Mark Vernon based on a trip to Thailand, and his discovery of a cache of old cassettes there, and following that is a fantastic album by Pouya Pour Amin. The last few years especially I think the label has put out some really strong material, last year with Broken Chip, Siavash Amini and Umchunga‘s collab, David Vélez and Gamardah Fungus‘ new release all came out one after another, all were just really strong albums. I could obviously go on and on, as I know all the FP stuff really well, and like it all!

DM: That’s a really international roster of artists you’ve worked with through the label.  Also, you’ve traveled extensively in the course of your work, how well do field recordings and their presentation capture the different locations and cultures that you capture sounds?

KC: Well I think this word ‘capture’ is quite a problematic one actually, and sort of brings with it a whole set of connotations which I don’t quite agree with. With the label and its roster, the work that interests me is that where artists are approaching the soundscape as something which they don’t encounter and capture, but as something which they are part of and engage with. The soundscape is something we all make together, and that is one of the wonderful things about it, it isn’t something which exists separate to us. It is a sphere which works in this such interesting way, to shape us, to shape our experience of place and space, and which we always are contributing too, even with our silences, we are shaping the soundscape, and it is this double action that the soundscape has which I find particularly interesting and inspiring.

In my own work I don’t ever approach a field recording as something which ‘captures’ a particular culture or location, but rather as something which imperfectly renders a particular subjective experience, which keys a particular way of thinking or narrative, and this is why for the label as well with the different series that I have run, tiny portraits series, rivers home, birds of a feather, I never ask the artist to portray a particular location, but to use sound as a way of telling us the audience about their relationship to a particular place, a particular river, a particular bird species. To pick just one piece from Tiny Portraits for example Luminous Streams of Dawn by Siavash Amini, the location he chose to explore with his piece is a small park in Tehran, where he recorded birds and foxes. But the piece is not an attempt to depict the park itself, if this were even possible, but rather to tell us about his relationship to it, that it is near his house, that he goes there very late at night and spends time there before he goes to sleep, and it is these relational aspects, the way the park fits into his life and habits, which he outlines in the liner notes, which form the content of the piece, and give it its power. 

For me it is this emotive power, this storytelling capacity of soundscape composition which is so interesting, and which also contains some important political elements. Perhaps through all these different sonic acts of storytelling we can find areas of commonality about how places exist in our imagination and experience, how we experience cultures as both insiders and outsiders, how we listen for difference, how we experience the different acts of both sounding and listening from which we build our relationships with each other, and with the world in which we live. 

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DM: That’s a really interesting perspective, Kate.  I like how you’re interested in presenting field recordings as something that the recordist experienced.  Do you always present the recordings as they were made, without any processing?  What’s your opinion on processing those recordings into something else, using the original found sounds as sonic building blocks that are malleable?

KC: I don’t have a problem at all with processing recordings, using them as a texture, EQing, editing, pitch shifting, or whatever. I am not someone who subscribes to the view that a recording presents some type of pure objective truth, and I am always surprised at people who take the approach that they would never process their recordings because that would ‘change them’ from some sort of authentic source material.

The combination of recording device, mic, mic placement already hear and record the soundscape so differently to the human ear, then we go on to edit that captured audio further to get rid of whatever aspects of the recording are deemed unwanted, so always there is a process of editing, selection and composition, and for me it does not make so much sense to delineate between aspects of modifying the recordings which are ok, or not ok. I find it far more useful to use the material gathered as something to work with, rather than a final complete form not to be altered. Having said that, of course I think it is also completely valid to not modify field recordings in some instances or for some purposes, but to hold onto that as some kind of absolute compositional principal is not something I do. 

DM: I share your opinion on the modification of found sounds, sometimes the obscured origin of a reprocessed field recording can add a bit of sonic mystery to a piece.  There are some artists whose work with field recordings tends to lean towards untouched sounds, but I think there is room for both approaches.  Speaking of other artists, you’ve collaborated a couple of times with other people, but your discography is mostly solo work.  Do you prefer to work alone when it comes to your recorded output.  And have you collaborated during any live performances?

KC: I haven’t done many collaborations for sure and it is something I would like to do more of. I think doing a lot of solo work has mostly been a product of circumstances rather than something I am totally committed to in my practice. I really got super active around my sound work when I moved from Sydney to Belfast and then did a lot of residencies and a lot of my albums came out of those, however even though I met a lot of interesting artists through these travels, they were for the most part not working in sound so there was not this really easy terrain for establishing collaborative relationships.

I know a lot of people in our scene do embark on collaborations just over the internet without meeting, and even though I know a lot of good work has come out of this sort of thing, I never felt so comfortable or it did not ever feel so right for me to do this for some reason. I felt more like I would prefer to meet someone in person and have collaborations stem from that, for me that felt like a bit more of a meaningful way to collaborate. So with Gail Priest and I, we have known each other for quite some years and used to live in the same city, so we did a split album together, and I met Joda Clement in Saskatoon last year and he and I are talking about possibly making something together this year, although we have both been a bit busy in other areas of our lives so far to make this happen.

I think now I am more settled in my day to day life and not just traveling so much as I did when I lived in Belfast so I am a lot more open and it is much more possible for me to set up collaborative type things both live and studio work, so it will be cool to see what pops up in this regard. I am making a 10 episode radio show on field recording over the next year with the sound artist Luca Nasciuti, so that will be quite an epic collaboration, and I played my first live show with other people recently which was with Jesse Perlstein‘s Braided Sound project, and that was quite a fun experience, so slowly I am becoming slightly less solo which is nice. 

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DM: I hope that collaboration with Joda Clement comes about, I think his work is really good and I can imagine you guys complementing each other well.  I’m looking forward to hearing the radio show, that seems like quite a project.  To wrap things up here, are there any other future projects you’d like to mention, either your own work or new releases on the horizon on Flaming Pines?

KC: Yes, cheers Darren. Joda is great and hopefully it will come together at some point, even if it takes a while. And yes we are just starting to nut out the first episode of the radio show now, so I hope it will be good, and people will find it interesting. As to future stuff, I would really like to draw some attention to a few Flaming Pines things which are forthcoming: three great new releases coming out in the next two months: Mark Vernon‘s found tape collage based on a trip he made from Glasgow, where he lives to Thailand, with the material composed from tapes he found in Thailand, alongside field recordings.

Pouya Pour Amin‘s very important album Prison Episodes which investigates the state of being a political prisoner, and the Vietnamese collective Rắn Cạp Đuôi‘s tape Degradation which is all about water. In terms of my own stuff I am working on a new record which comes out of an installation I did exploring sound and space in the London suburb of Thamesmead, which is an area facing a truly massive redevelopment plan, and this will be released by the gallery that hosted that show TACO! and a tape for the Indonesian imprint which I am a big fan of Hasana Editions. Hopefully both of those should be out later this year, but a bit of work to go on them!

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