Name: Lisa Lerkenfeldt
Occupation: Multidisciplinary artist working in sound, gesture and performance
Current release: In 2020, Lisa Lerkenfeldt released three full-length albums: A Garden Dissolves Into Black Silk, a limited cassette on Archaic Vaults; as well as A Liquor Of Daisies and Collagen on Shelter Press.
Recommendations: Recent highlights include the science fiction of Wirlomin-Noongar-Australian writer and poet Claire G. Coleman and A Hacker Manifesto by McKenzie Wark.
If you enjoyed this interview with Lisa Lerkenfeldt and would like to find out more, visit Lisa's personal website. Or head over to Instagram, Soundcloud, bandcamp, and twitter for more current updates and music.
On Shelter Press, Lisa joins a fascinating roster of artists. To find out more about them, read our Keith Fullerton Whitman interview, Eli Keszler interview, Ben Vida interview, Sarah Lipstate / Noveller interview, Félicia Atkinson interview, Kassel Jaeger interview, Joshua Bonnetta interview and Marina Rosenfeld interview.
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?
Early icons for me were Pauline Oliveros and Eliane Radigue. Their relationships with time/space and sound resonated with my practice of field recording which I have been making for many years personally. They were also in it for life. This is how I feel. I studied sound and performance practice. It was only after contextualising my ideas and motivations within history that I felt confident to start sharing my voice.
Emerging from art school in Melbourne I met the painter/sculptor Grace Anderson and we formed the noise duo Perfume which was active 2016-2019. Place had everything to do with beginning to share my outings with community. Melbourne has a unique music ecology where there is room for everyone and audiences are very respectful. While this collaboration was largely improvised free noise, I found it easier to stand behind strong ideas together, in the early days.
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 am easily bored and uninspired by imitation. Rather, deconstruction has been central to my development and musical understanding. While I was classically trained in piano, by nature I am disruptive and like to take things apart for reflection.
Though noise music, we destabilised the notion of a song and its elements entirely. Through extended practice, time distorts and we can begin to consider complex ecological systems and concerns. As an active field recordist, I am witness to many realities.
The sound of a perpetually collapsing and regenerating world fascinates me. I work in these shifting states, on the fringes of genre and classification.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity? How do issues of gender inform my work?
Issues of gender, non-binary acknowledgement and confirmation were early motivations.
During study, the lack of representation was alarming. As I have always always felt my experience to be an unconventional femininity, my motivations have been with respect to those who paved the path of inclusivity. Perfume was a gateway to explore identity through noise, feedback and gesture. Our shows featured a cascade of the detritus of late capitalism as instruments. As we are always becoming, this continues in eternal variation.
[Watch a clip of Perfume live]
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Really it has been about making the time. Technically, I have gained immense patience through the craft of learning things to memory and the slow art of deconstructing analogue media. The pandemic forced me into a new reality. I worked less and spent more time in the studio. I had never experienced three international releases in one year before. Now I am making more time for the craft.
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?
For me it began with a SONYTCM and a 90s synthesiser both from thrift stores. I have always thrifted or acquired things by trade. With the planetary resources the way they are, the least I can do is shop second-hand. Learning Abelton at art school was the ultimate gift. This helped me to synthesise my electroacoustic and experimental tendencies for the contemporary listener.
I love the amalgam of soft and hardware. This dialogue between past and present interests me and has informed my equipment choices. I always enjoy testing the limits of any piece of equipment before acquiring anything new. I also adore the production of merchandise and design to facilitate new acquisitions. This can take many wearable but mostly practical forms. I am previewing some ecological club wear as a studio fundraiser this Friday.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
My latest acquisition is a 1960s portable reel to reel. I find the physicality of working with magnetic tape, an early recording technology, quite profound recently. A Garden Dissolves Into Black Silk featured live manipulations with this device.
With its open access design I can cut up and play through loops of any size. The portability makes it perfect for field recording too.
Next month, I am on a residency in regional Victoria to further my studies in magnetic tape manipulation and climate science.
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?
I speak to a lot of people online. Some of my favourite threads are with people I have never actually met. I also genuinely enjoy the relationship with publisher and the process of producing something together.
In my experience the chemistry of a formative collaboration is rare and based in friendship. So I rarely take this on, or have time to. That said, I am writing for other instruments at present and will work with instrumentalists in new formats next year.
For a long time I have been playing records at small bars and restaurants in Melbourne and making mixes. This is also a precious form of knowledge sharing and way of thinking critically about representation.
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 freelance as a museum tech between commissions and projects. No two days are the same. Lately I have started playing records again at a local wine bar on Thursday nights. There is no separation and I personally love this lifestyle of project-based and contract work.
My titles often come from this crossover. On Collagen, "The Weight Of History" came from witnessing two people trying to lift an 18th century urn into a small car.
On studio days, I start early and take down what my mind has been working over throughout the night. I often wake myself up with a phrasing, or idea and need to write it down or act on it immediately. After this initial practice, I like to read for an hour outside, as my studio has no windows or natural light.
I am working on two new major field works at the moment which rethink extended practice. So, there are many days of invisible labour, be it out field recording, writing or making. I have always collected original libraries of found and recorded sound as my own diary and archive. As my approach is interdisciplinary, I read a lot across other fields from dance to science.
In the studio, I burn incense for ambience and take regular breaks. This is an excellent practice from the world of art handling. In museum life, when handling artefacts ie. a 16th century artefact or first edition photograph, there is really no room for error, so one must be attentive, alert and effective. My favourite break is making a special lunch. This is such a pleasure.
Some nights run late, otherwise I spend it with friends or we make a fire and meal at home. In the warmer months I also love night swimming, night walking and picking flowers from the street.
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?
Last year was a breakthrough. Showing up at the studio more. Receiving the support of Shelter Press. Publishing internationally on vinyl with worldwide distribution. These opportunities run on the back of many years of work, yet there were several special moments I experienced while the world stood still. A Liquor Of Daisies, was written, recorded, mastered and published within a month. I often feel my work just occurs, with no planning or grand design. This is one of those albums. As we had time, we released this from isolation in a limited cassette edition before Collagen, my first LP.
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?
It is closest to compulsion or impulse. Sometimes it takes me many months to catch up with what I have intuitively done. Yet when I allow it, things have a way of coming together. The resonance of this output is unmatched.
When writing something new it is best described as a dreamstate. I like to write late at night or early morning before anyone else is awake. There is something about these hours that hold clarity, possibility as well as a trance like sensitivity.
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?
Personally, I play regularly and need to. There is something in the submission to an expression without words. For times of high stress I enjoy noise music as a purification or tonic.
Recently, I have been digitising some cassettes from the Vienna Press era to play at friends' parties and local clubs. Within this I have been reminded of the power of extremely beautiful music to transcend a mood and enter the collective experience.
I received many messages from listeners throughout the pandemic that "A Liquor Of Daisies", a 40-minute piece for piano and tape loop variations on Shelter Press, was used to help people sleep or reduce anxiety. I find this special.
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?
As an instrumentalist, touch is inherent. With music there is no escaping the body. It is essential to practice. I admire the discipline and vulnerability of touch. This is incredibly audible in performance. As I am interested in different body experiences and the ways we share and make meaning, I find myself spending many hours playing and finding other ways of playing that better express my state of mind or experience.
Recently, I have been enjoying watching concerts of the Polish pianist Hania Rani online. She plays with her whole body. I find this generous of the performer. Another recent highlight is the grace and agility of Norwegian saxophone player Bendik Giske.
I am also a highly visual person, so seeing a landscape may inform me to play the piano in a certain way, as if I must describe everything in view. I am working on some text scores alongside new work which play with ideas like these for a book by Room 40. The book will be associated with the festival of transgressive sound, Open Frame.
(Read our conversation with Room 40's founder in our Lawrence English interview]
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?
Life is practice. Every action I take is embedded with my social and political concerns. So, for me everything is linked. I think a lot about the environment and am increasingly concerned about displays of ignorance or avoidance towards climate change and mutualism. We are in an immense moment of responsibility. I am very conscious of how much I need and am quite committed to engaging in low impact processes, self-education and supporting local ecologies wherever possible. I feel this is the least I can do.
Art forms create space for dialogue, world building and other ways of being. I apply an ideal version of myself and my life to making. A critical hope.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I have lost people in this life. Music and landscape are the only places I can connect to people gone.
This is a special facility.