Name: Gretchen Korsmo
Occupation: Producer, sound artist, improviser, art director for Full Spectrum
Current release: Gretchen Korsmo's debut solo relesse Cloud Juice is available via the Full Spectrum bandcamp account. Also available from the same place is Field Patterns, a beguiling study in acoustic tenderness in collaboration with CC Sorensen.
Recommendations: Quilts of Gee’s Bend, collectively; Sandor Katz ‘The Art of Fermentation’
If you enjoyed this interview with Gretchen Korsmo, stay up to date on her work by visiting her on Instagram and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Having a partner who is a musician and co-running a record label (Full Spectrum Records), I’ve been around music for quite a while but always saw myself outside of the music-making aspect. I didn’t really start making music until 2017 when we moved into an old building in a small town. I had studio space for the first time, which allowed me to experiment more. Around the same time, I found a group of people who I could improvise freely with (the Llano Estacado Monad Band). That experience gave me more confidence in making sounds on my own.
Making music is fun as hell--that’s what drew me to it. I’m certainly influenced by many things, but I can’t really claim specific influences. I really have no clue what I’m doing.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I don’t think I’ve ever really had a phase of emulating others … at least not intentionally. I guess it’s been intuitive for me for whatever reason. I just make sounds that feel good to me. I hope to always be in the ‘learning phase’.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I think that I am a curious person and that has led me to explore a multitude of creative outputs instead of having a focused ‘practice’ in one medium. I don’t really distinguish my music making from my visual art. It’s all the same and comes from the same place.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My biggest challenge has always been confidence. I used to focus too much on the end result of a project, and if it wasn’t exactly what I thought it ‘should’ be I wouldn’t want to share it with anyone. Learning to be confident in what I do and shift my focus from trying to create a specific thing to just enjoying the process and letting it take me wherever it may has been a big change. It makes the process so much more meaningful, and the results are usually better!
I think learning not to try too hard, and not putting too much weight in any one project has been great. It’s made art and music just a regular part of my daily life which is really wonderful.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My first solo setup was a mic and two vocal pedals, and a couple of my partner’s tiny synthesizers set up in my ‘art studio’ which was a former barber shop full of our unpacked moving boxes at the time.
Last year we finished renovating the space that is now our dedicated music/recording studio, and so I suddenly have access to all kinds of tools and instruments. We have lots of bins full of little percussive and wind instruments that I love digging through and playing with. A friend recently lent us his rhodes piano, which I took to immediately.
I gravitate toward instruments that are easy to make sounds with since I’m not a trained musician.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Having the ability to record music changed a lot for me. It allowed me to expand my solo sound, since I was no longer bound by what I could play all at once. I’ve come to really love the iterative process--starting with a base track and then recording overdubs … hearing a piece grow into something really different from where it began.
Having a partner who is skilled at recording, mixing and mastering has allowed me to dive into this rather quickly. I wouldn’t be recording in this way if it weren’t for him.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Making music with friends is everything. I wouldn’t be making my own music if it wasn’t for first playing with Tender Crust, learning to improvise (and perform) with the Llano Estacado Monad Band, and discovering textures and learning to record with Wind Tide.
I’m currently in a black metal band called Geophagist with several friends, which is a completely different and fun experience.
All of these projects, at their core, feel almost like excuses to hang with friends. But having a project to work on together also deepens relationships and creates a level of community I’ve never had before.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I wake up around 7:30 most days and spend an hour drinking coffee, eating breakfast, etc. I work a 9-5 desk job from home monday through thursday. Evenings are when most things happen.
Lately Mondays after work we have band practice at our place for Geophagist, which always begins with a meal I cook for everyone. Every other Sunday we have the Llano Estacado Monad band over, and I usually cook everyone dinner, though the pandemic has really disrupted all that. Personal music comes in waves in between, as do other music collaborations. Visual art is more constant throughout -- a lot of ceramics and mixed media lately--often done late in the evening, sometimes sitting outside in the dark.
Then there’s all my work for Full Spectrum -- artwork, layouts, screen printing, all happening all the time on various schedules. I have a very chaotic vegetable garden that I’m always tending to. Most days I cook three meals, and every Sunday we clean the house. We try to hike or ride our bikes as much as we can, and go on short trips to visit parks or other public land within a days drive. We visit friends in Portales, Amarillo and Lubbock regularly.
I’m usually in bed by 11, and we’ll watch a single episode of dumb TV to wind down. There’s too much to do, and I’m never bored. It’s a good feeling most of the time.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I don’t consider music a career at all, and I really haven’t been at this very long. My only ‘breakthrough’ has been realizing that it’s better to do things than to think too much about them.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
To me, it’s not a different state of being. I used to believe it was, and I think that would actually block me from finishing anything. I used to do these weird rituals to try and ‘get in the zone’, and I honestly think it was bogus. All it takes to be an artist is to make art. You just have to do it! I’m not saying it’s easy.
Something that has helped me is learning to think less about end results, and always finish something, even if you hate it.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I really believe music has the ability to create stronger communities in a society that increasingly pushes us toward isolation. And having community is such a lifeline, a way to make life feel worthwhile in a pretty hellscape world.
Almost all of my (local) friends are connected to making music or art in some way. It’s hard to articulate why, but having that connection really strengthens those relationships. It really feels like a community, even when some of us live a couple hours away from each other.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Experiencing art and music from other cultures is wonderful. We are bound to absorb certain things when we are moved by something. Bottom line is to be respectful! Don’t try to profit (financially or otherwise) off of someone else’s work. Consider your position in our fucked up society and why that matters.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think improvised music offers a lot of insight into how the senses are related. For example, The Llano Estacado Monad Band did a performance of ‘Sole Source’ by Heidi Von Gunden.
I made this huge ‘quilt’ out of a bunch of texturally different scrap materials including plastic bags, astroturf, fleece, plywood, sponges, found objects etc. We were all blindfolded and used the feel of the quilt under our feet as the score. It was chaotic but lovely -- turning touch into sound.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
For me, art is an everyday thing. There’s not really a line between living and making art or planting a garden or riding a bike or playing music or cooking a meal. That being said, prioritizing doing all these things that make me feel good, even when they take real effort, is a statement in it’s own.
We all work jobs far too much (some of us more than others!). And I feel like because we’re all generally overworked, we’re kind of sold this idea that complete ‘leisure’ is the antidote--the idea of doing ‘nothing’. I’m all for healthy rest and listening to our bodies, but I can’t help but feel like this is really just a coping mechanism that mostly serves to keep us primed to just … go back to work again!
So I guess prioritizing making art, which I absolutely am not ‘required’ to do, feels like a way to reclaim my time. It makes me feel so much better than almost anything else I could be doing (or not doing), even though it takes more effort and it’s hard to find the motivation sometimes. This is why I feel so strongly that it’s better to just do the art and let it be what it is, rather than focus on the end result.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
This interview has taken me ages to write. I have a hard time with words. They feel so fixed and concrete when my thoughts and feelings don’t. They are never ‘quite right’. They’re an approximation. Music (and art) allow for a freer expression …
When you make an artwork, or record some music, it feels closer to a direct translation of myself, my thoughts and my feelings, even if it’s open to interpretation by others.