Stavanger born, Berlin based vocalist Stine Janvin Motland works with experimental music, sound and audiovisual performance. Through a diversity of projects such as the live radio play In Labour (2014), the collaborative performance installation The Subjective Frequency Transducer (2015), field recording adaptations duo Native Instrument (2015) and her most recent beat based solo project Stine II, she explores and challenges the physical features of the voice, the acoustics of her surroundings and new performance strategies.
Where are you at the moment?
I’m in Bergen for Borealis Festival. I’m here to do an installation called Incorporate with filmmaker Greg Pope and musician Lasse Marhaug.
Is it a new project?
It’s a commission from Borealis, but the initial idea came when Lasse and I were making my solo record In Labour, which was recorded in different sonic environments. This work with the voice and external surroundings made us interested in what is going on inside the body, and how this could be used as an accompaniment to the voice. We got Greg Pope to join us with the video and in the end the installation became a spatial audio visual construction of eight soaring speakers, cables and 42 spinning projector shutters.
You basically have these more permanent projects like Native Instrument that operate on a band sort of basis and new projects/commissions.
Native Instrument is definitely a band. That’s my ongoing collaboration with Felicity Mangan. There is also the performance installation The Subjective Frequency Transducer and my solo projects In Labour and the more beat based Stine II. I also perform other people’s music.
Were you always interested in working with the voice?
I´ve been singing most of my life and later on I got formal music and vocal education. However, I think I’ve always been interested in experimenting with sound, and when I was around 17 I got into the idea of using my voice in more unconventional ways.
Did it come from a need to deconstruct this traditional vocal training and delivery? The way you use your voice it becomes something unrecognisable, it’s an instrument.
My main interest in the voice is that it could sound like something else. I was hearing instrumentalists playing with what you call an extended technique exploring their instruments and I thought maybe I could do the same with my voice. I got interested in how to work with the voice as an instrument and a tool for improvisation, that was the start. Eventually I got more and more interested in performance and how to experiment with the performance format and communicate music. I was always aware about how to present music and I got increasingly interested in it in recent years. I’ve been working more with the performance format rather than conventional concert setting where the performer is on stage, directly communicating with the audience.
You’ve also played hidden, behind a curtain.
That’s my In Labour concert which is a live version of the record that I released in 2014. I wanted to see if it was possible to have a concert without a performer – a live performance with nothing to look at on stage, a pure listening experience. Sometimes it can also be a kind of a social experiment because people seem to be confused as they don’t know where to look. Their normal concert behaviour is challenged, which is basically what I wanted to do, to open up new ways of how to perform – for both me and the audience. But like the record, I´m moving through different rooms during the performance, transmitting the sound with a wireless microphone so I´m not just hiding behind the curtain.
A lot of people associate the voice with something soothing – as a baby you hear your mother’s voice and it calms you. In your performances, the voice can sometimes become scary.
I never intended it to be scary or provoke those kinds of feelings. I just work with the voice in an abstract way. Maybe it’s been a sort of dogma that I didn’t want go too far into these emotional provocative sounds that we associate with pain, joy or crying. Now I’m even more interested in working with this ambiguous aspect of sound and the idea of making sounds with my voice that sound electronic or mechanical. You can make sounds with a computer that sound like a voice, and vice versa.
Do you also work in the opposite way – creating synthetic voices?
I have been imitating a lot. I try to find ways where my voice can sound less like a voice. I also like to work with electronic sounds. But I don’t create sounds myself. I use recordings of the voice and I modify it with simple effects and filters to make it sound even more strange.
Are you inspired by any vocal traditions?
I’ve been listening to Siberian singers a lot. I’m also fascinated by Norwegian folk music and Sami traditions. I’ve been twice to Tuva in Siberia where I took some classes and attended a throat singing festival. I also like yodelling and techniques that are part of expanding the vocal potential. There’re so many things that you can do, but the Western classical vocal tradition is so limited. I try to experiment with all kinds of things and traditions and strange concepts.
You are planning a new record with Lasse Marhaug.
We are currently trying to gather the material. Hopefully it will be out by the end of this year.
Will it also include a performance aspect?
I am definitely working with the material with a live perspective.
How does a project translate into a performance?
It works in parallel. I’m thinking about it as a whole all the time. When I get one idea I see this could be great on a record and as a live performance, too. At the same time, I see the record as a piece on its own which will be finished when it´s printed and released. A performance can always be developed.
Can you talk about your piece The Subjective Frequency Transducer?
This is also a continuation of the In Labour project. After using all these external surroundings – outside my own body, in different rooms – I became interested in exploring the potential of combining the voice with my internal environment. When I started the research I also found a lot of theories and practices of these esoteric scientists who claimed that you can heal your body by playing certain frequencies, for example to your liver or heart. There are treatment methods called sound therapy and sound healing. I found this quite fascinating.
My first thought was to make something really clinical, almost medicinal. I wanted to see if it was possible to measure what sort of frequencies the body responded to and whether there was a sound inside us. But then I realised in order to do that you have to add information to find new information. So that’s how it became The Subjective Frequency Transducer because you can’t gather this kind of information objectively. I wanted to see if my voice could be accompanied by frequencies that I found in my body. With the help from artists Fredrik Olofsson and Marianne Vierø, I built an instrument that measures and regenerates body resonance. The live performance is interactive, and ends up inviting the audience to have their own body measured and the sound of it played back as a chord.
As we age, our voice changes too. Do you take this into consideration?
I was thinking about this the other day because I played a show and I was feeling tired in a different way than before. It will definitely change. But as with any instrument, you have to keep practising regularly to keep the voice in good shape. It’s like working out.
Marianne Faithfull’s voice famously changed due to her lifestyle.
It happened to lots of people, like Billie Holiday, who obviously lived a rough life. When you compare her early recordings with her later ones, it’s a very different sound. My interest in the voice has also changed – I used to do really pure, acoustic, vocal performances, with quite extreme sounds and techniques. A few years ago I got a little tired of this, and wanted to work more conceptually and minimally with my voice. At this point I think it´s time to combine these two approaches.
Do you think you’ll ever go back to this more traditional way of singing?
I’m interested in ambiguity. Something that could be many things. I like this idea, especially with the voice. Because usually it’s such a recognisable sound. Even within a wall of white noise, you can recognise it.
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova
(photo: Camille Blake)