Name: Jana Irmert
Occupation: Sound Artist
Current Release: End Of Absence on Fabrique Records
Recommendations: I would recommend Werner Herzog’s „Vom Gehen im Eis“ ("Of Walking in Ice"), I think his writing is underestimated. Secondly I recommend Morton Feldman's "Rothko Chapel" - it's an incredibly beautiful piece of music.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this 15 Questions interview with Jana Irmert, check out her personal website and/or facebook profile for current updates, videos and music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I think a big portion of my fascination for sound came from my fascination for recording. I remember as a child I would record radio shows on tape with my sister and make compilations, finding that really exciting, you know just pushing the record button in time and taping the music. Later I started recording myself playing the piano and there again finding that the recording part was much more interesting than the playing part itself. I started writing songs and smaller compositions but was never satisfied with them, so when I found out that it was possible to study sound for picture I thought that could be my thing - bringing together everything I liked: film, music, sound and recording.
Ironically it was while studying at filmschool that I started producing electronic and electroacoustic works. I was realising that a lot of the ideas I had I wouldn't be able to realise in the frame of film projects and as these ideas grew, it naturally came to making my own projects.
For most artists, originality is first 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? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I would definitely say that my influences on my music are strongly rooted in film sound. This is where I started thinking about the functions of sound and how sound can be altered into soundscapes. In that sense the films and also the texts of directors like Lynch and Tarkovsky had a strong effect on me, probably more than other composers had. At the same time I started to listen to a lot of classical experimental and avantgarde music like Meredith Monk, Morton Feldman, John Cage and others and with that I got interested in Eastern traditions and religions like Zen Buddhism and meditation. It really was about finding out what music could be and could mean for me and of course this continues until now. So I wouldn't assert that my work was and is in any way more original than other music, but I never had a certain model that I wanted my music to sound like.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think mainly that of the translation of a rather abstract idea for a composition into a concrete composition. Of course this is still a challenge, and it should always be one, but in the beginning you have limited tools and experience and get discouraged easily. But besides technical skills I think even more challenging was to free myself of certain preconceptions of what music should be or sound like and this also includes to open yourself for possibilities that you didn't have in mind or had even singled out in the first place and to embrace the fact that the composition might turn out completely different than you had planned. I think I definitely became more open towards the process but there's still moments now when I realize I am hanging on to a certain idea and it might be better to just let go and see what happens if I don't want to push it into certain direction.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was in my bedroom so I luckily that evolved into the proper studio space a few years ago. I admire people who can be productive at home because for me it was very difficult not to get carried away with other things and in the other extreme to stop working at some point. Gearwise I guess anyone with a studio would say that you’re never satisfied - what I am working with right now is a multichannel speaker set up and software like Ableton and ProTools, a potpourri of plugins, but also an analog synthesizer and a midi controller and of course I need a field recorder and microphones.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
My music wouldn't exist without technology, I need it to record sounds, to arrange them, to mix them and so on. It's a fantastic tool for me and so far I have found the best possibilities to translate my ideas into music within technology.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I think the tools you use are always essential and of course they alter the way you produce. For me in every work I have done so far, there has been one production tool or instrument that I used to a great extent because it suited the idea or mood of the piece and then ultimately of course became prominent in the work itself. For example, one piece centers around delayed and processed pieces of text vocalisations, so the processing part with plug-ins, effects and so on was integral. Whereas now for the current piece I am working on, I use a lot of analog synthesizer sounds, which meant the process of playing and improvising with the synth became central to this piece. Of course there are some things I always use but I really like to change the focus from piece to piece.
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?
Collaborations are a huge part of my work, coming from film sound design, this is where I started from - bringing my ideas into the director's project. So when I started producing my own work I was interested in different forms of collaboration than I had previously known through the film context, meaning to explore collaborations where there is a lot of freedom for all collaborators. For one piece I asked a composer friend to work with me on the same piece but without exchanging musical ideas. I set the duration of the piece and gave a theme and short text for inspiration and then we worked on it independently. In the end we played the two compositions back at the same time and listened to what happened. We were prepared that it was basically just good for a laugh, but it was astonishing - it turned out really well! For me it was a really remarkable and fun process, because suddenly you find yourself in a position where you can’t take your work as seriously as maybe you did before - because maybe you are working on a very delicate part and spending a lot of time on details when the other person did something at the exact same time of the composition which is much louder so what you did might not even be audible in the end. Working like this definitely speeds up decision-making and helps to get out of self-doubt and questioning what you do while you're in the process, it's really liberating.
Of course this is the "extreme" end of collaboration with the most freedom and the biggest possibilities of failure maybe too, but I'd say generally in my projects, when I am collaborating, I try to truly embrace this process.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? 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 don’t have a fixed routine, how I work is really dependent on the project I work on – deadlines, if it’s a collaboration, meetings and so on. What I do is also very different depending of what the stage of the project is in – if I need to conceptualize or do field recordings or studio sessions. It can happen that all I do is listening to the piece I am working on for two hours and that’s it, as well as being in the studio the whole day.
Usually I tend to start late and work late, I am just not a morning person. I am in the fantastic position to be able to do what I love as a profession, at least most of the time, so how I spend my time outside the studio most often also has to do with music, film or art and of course impressions from that I take back to the studio.
I guess as an artist and as a freelancer, work never really stops – it's great, because your life and work are not separated, but it can be a bad thing in terms of getting overworked, there’s just never anyone telling you it’s enough.