Simina Oprescu is a composer, video and mixed-media artist living in Bucharest who has focused on sound and composition for the past three years. In 2015, she graduated from the Department of Photography and Dynamic Imagery at the National Art University in Bucharest and from 2017-2018 she studied at the acousmatic composition department of the Royal Conservatory in Mons, Belgium. She focuses on several concepts, including an analysis in how the fixed image and the moving image are mutually reinforcing*, being interested in how the background depth can be used as a tool for remodelling our perception of environment and movement and the use of sound as a way of expression, with or without an image as part of the environment.(*Like sound and silence).
When I first saw you play – at Rokolectiv, in Bucharest in 2019- , your sound stood out in the nightclubby environment. You started with a radio play and continued for several hours, into a more techno environment. Is this interplay between a more aesthetic/sound-art environment and a more functional/dance one something that you feel is part of your work?
Haha yes, I remember, I started with the radio play Il Colombre by Dino Buzzati, which can be found on my Soundcloud. It’s my idea of creating a space inside a totally different space and demonstrating that it works. It’s creating a different environment, having in the back of my mind the deconstruction of the sound, or its decomposition (and when I see decomposition or deconstruction from a more complex point of view), our thoughts are not always linear, so sometimes they involve a thought that gives us pleasure, hope or it can give us anxiety and panic attacks. It’s the same with music and decomposition in my view, you can manipulate to feel and move with the sounds that you choose to use. So this is why the space for me is a space for playing, actually playing with it, to have an experience that isn’t like a gymnastics club experience (though that can also be really liberating). It’s also about trust. On both sides of the scene.
You graduated from the Department of Photography and Dynamic Imagery at the National Art University in Bucharest. What is the relationship between sound and image in your work? Do both translate into the other?
Sound and image can be intrinsic. We have movement and vibration in both. It just depends what you choose to be first for you, not scientifically, because sound is the first to be perceived. So here it’s a matter of choice, it’s just where you are positioning yourself. To the sound? Or to the image? One can influence the other, but in my experience I’ve seen that sound is clearly superior to image.
Can you talk about your use of “sound objects” in your composition? In one interview you mentioned “the sound of aspirin in a glass of water”, which is very evocative. Do you get inspired by these random sounds, or do you rather create them? How do you discover sound/s?
There is a ‘vocabulary of sound’ as I call it. In 2018, Anette Vande Gorne almost gave me an epiphany with her Treatise on Writing Acousmatic on Fixed Media; which helped me a lot to arrange all the sounds in little folders in my head, on textures, dynamics, velocity, colours, timbre, montage…and how to find them in day-to-day objects and then record them. Personally, I found it absolutely fascinating. Because for the first time, the medium was not constraining me. It is everywhere, a sense of freedom. Image felt like a prison.
In that sense, is sound something that is something internal, or does it rather come from the outside in? How do you process it?
It is radically internal for me. Sometimes I hear a sound or a form of montage or effect (but always in others compositions not pure sound) that can inspire me but for me sound is the story of oneself and then the story of the soulless environment let’s say. The room is the body, the sound is the soul and emotions passing by, and you are the brain. This is how I see it. The textures and the intensity come to me from the feeling which I alone attribute to that sound; the sound is just a sound, a vibration of molecules. I get inspired a lot by stories, poetry and mythology.
You recently participated in a project that aimed to score silent Romanian films from the early 20th century. How was this experience for you?
Yes, it was ‘Possible Sounds of Early Cinema’ made by Image and Sound which was formed by Emilian Mărgărit and Elena Dobîndă.
It was intense, and working on a silent film, I felt the freedom of the image and all the possibilities of manipulating it but, for the first time, I chose to actually use diegetic sounds to recreate the atmosphere of the Drăguș village. I wanted to feel it alive, and alternating with a fictitious sound, tried to catch the inner ensemble of the movie, the whole general atmosphere, and then work on it by chapters.
It is about the first sociological and ethnographical documentary in the world, Drăguș – Life in a Romanian Village, made by Professor Dimitrie Gusti (1880-1955, founder of the Sociological School of Bucharest) and his team of trained sociologists and students.
The documentary tracks the activities and customs of the mountain village Drăguş (Făgăraş county), later established as a special site for Romanian sociologists and anthropologists. After intense field research, the shootings took place between 15.07 – 15.08.1929 and were supervised by Dimitrie Gusti. Cinematography and film editing were by Nicolae Barbelian, while Paul Sterian and Nicolae Argintescu-Amza were the directors and screenwriters. The absolute premiere of the film took place on the 4th of December, 1929, at the Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest, and the official premiere was on the 5th of March 1930, at the National Theatre of Bucharest. The film projection was accompanied by a work by Constantin Brăiloiu, based on local songs collected by Harry Brauner and performed by musicians brought from the village of Drăguş. In the 1930s-1940s, the film was presented abroad (France, Germany, USA) illustrating lectures by Dimitrie Gusti. All the movies, including this one, can be found with subtitles in English on www.imageandsound.ro
Bucharest has an interesting artistic scene, with a fascinating legacy of spectralism (Iancu Dumitrescu, Horațiu Rădulescu, Octavian Nemescu, etc), as well as contemporary non-academic electronic experimentation. Could you talk about it?
And also, Anamaria Avram, she was a major force, a great loss… Yes, all these great composers had and still have a major influence, mostly on a sort of common feeling of sensing the possibilities of the impact of sound and music, also this phenomenological sound which creates a different space, transforming it entirely. So I think this legacy is well established in our blood. It is a common feeling, a powerful drama in our souls eager to be heard, a story that needs to be told. I’ve met Iancu Dumitrescu and Anamaria Avram, who always said “Forget the rules! Forget everything you learned!”- but my input on that is – you have to first know the rules and then forget them; and Octavian Nemescu along with his wife, Erica Nemescu who helped him with realisation and engineering most of her life.
There is also Corneliu Cezar about whom Octavian Nemescu wrote: “In 1965 the first studio of electronic music in Romania was born. It was imperfect. Corneliu Cezar was the first one there, he was a fascinating, complex and universal personality. He was a composer, poet, painter, astrologer, a kind of Romanian Jean Cocteau. He made the first electronic Romanian song; it was called “Aum”. He was one of the pioneers of the music avant-garde from Romania.” It is impossible for the Romanian to escape a kind of poetry and story in their sound. I see us being expressive and really wild in our souls, and time and space for us just means that we know we are eternal, and have nostalgia for a past life; if you like it, good, if you don’t, we won’t stop doing it. We are old Latin souls, we are intense. It’s not nationalist, it’s about ethos. But so far, we have lacked venues, these we don’t have, and they are absolutely necessary for a community to form.
Can you talk about your project ‘The Hidden Environment – The Feeling of the Cave’ at this year’s Musikprotokoll?
It started from an idea I had while I was in quarantine and self-isolation, in that energy of solitude which at times almost felt suffocating (now I kinda miss that absolute silence in nature because of the lack of people), that we are all connected but we live and feel different experiences on the same planet, on deeper levels.
As Andy Clark and Donna Haraway argued, we are natural born cyborgs which means we are capable of changing and inventing, using technology as a tool for growth and exploration of the hidden environment that is our mind and future. It is believed that the use of voice in singing, chanting or gargling can be a healing method through the Vagus Nerve – the trauma nerve. Reflecting on trauma reminded me of this feeling that more or less all of us have felt, a feeling that the old ways of the world can’t continue as before, thus finding ourselves reinventing new forms of proprioception and communication all alone. While this reinvention is committed to a stable point, we find ourselves in a schizoid dichotomy between the old environment and a new one. This feeling reminded me of two expressions of Leo Frobenius in Paideuma: ‘open space mentality’ and ‘cave mentality’, which describe the dimensions of the possibility of having a conception of the world as soul dimensions, meaning ‘the open space of the world’ and ‘the’ ‘cave of the world’.
“Cave mentality” is characterised by a narrowness of consciousness, by a permanent uneasiness, by a feeling of a lack of freedom and therefore by fatalism, by uninterrupted pressure and under such pressure, by explosive discharges in the form of fanaticism. On the contrary, nostalgia and a feeling of infinity push towards constructive deeds; a convincing impulse towards creation and natural joy in the freedom of the world. Both fundamental conceptions are only manifestations of a soul way – so-called ‘Inner sounds’ – sounds you hear as part of your conscious and unconscious mind, similar to but different from an inner voice. We exist in a duality – soul space and living space.
Therefore, inside this hidden environment lie the monsters, the angels, the shadows, the hope, the mystery – the universal complexity of thought inside the speed of sound. By the way, it’s funny and I was happy to find out that the theme of this year’s Musikprotokoll is ‘Hidden Sounds’. It goes perfectly with these concepts.
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova.
Musikprotokoll takes place between 7 and 11 October, online, on-air and on stage. The full programme and information is here.