Name: Mara Miccichè / IOKOI
Nationality: Italian/Swiss
Occupation: Sound artist
Current release: Mara Miccichè aka IOKOI's Tales of Another Felt Sense of Self is out now on -OUS.
Recommendations: Maria Monti – Il Bestiario (LP); Peter Greenaway - The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (movie)

If this Mara Miccichè / IOKOI interview piqued your interest, head over to her excellent personal website or the IOKOI page to dive even deeper into her thoughts and work.

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?

I started improvising on my first and earliest passion, the piano, at a very young age. It was some sort of instant composing and later on writing, but mostly in my mind. I never really liked reading notes but preferred to play by      ear and improvise, alone or together with my first piano teacher. Those were beautiful hours, maybe the only times I could sit still as a kid and truly be myself.

Growing up in a very loud and talkative Mediterranean household – and I love this fire and inclusiveness – as a child of Southern Italian parents, my piano was the most intimate and quiet place I could turn to when I needed silence. I remember it as a place to simply be and reflect, process, hold on, and move further, while time felt like it was standing still. This sensation grew within me and extended itself towards music and sound in general, so that’s probably what continues to draw me to this world today.

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?

Especially during my musical studies – my main instrument was voice, but the thoughts here are significant for voice as an extended concept of personal expression – I first enjoyed five years of discovering many other great artists and learned partially, by emulating them. Because imitation let me extend the picture I had in my mind of my own voice.

This experience, combined with continuous improvisation and various collaborations with other bodies of work and languages of expression, before and after my studies, directed me towards my own voice. But I feel that the process is still ongoing and hopefully ever evolving.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

My sense of identity and creativity not only influence but also question one another all the time. Sometimes it is tiring, because I am too much of an analytical person, and I’m not sure if I really have an answer to the how and why. But I feel this constant, interdependent process of interrogation is necessary to keep on moving towards who we are and want to be.

What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

Time. To set some time free to be, to turn off thoughts that are whirling around, to observe, listen and then play instinctively — letting go into a stream of consciousness. Because only after this happens can I start recomposing the elements of an arrangement that will later become a song or even the final composition.

Another challenge is to learn new techniques and instruments, which enable me to develop new approaches to writing. It is a beautiful discovery when you finally find the right tool to generate an output that resonates with what you are hearing inside. The same goes for collaborations. The exchange with others is always a creative challenge and very necessary, in order to broaden a personal point of view.

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 instrument was the piano, and I can feel to this day that keys are my most intimate intuitive tool of expression. Through the years I have continued to develop my intuitive connection with the piano, transitioning into the use of synthesizers and samplers. Sampling as a technique was a big discovery for me, in regards to both producing and performing. I still use the Roland SP-404 I bought fifteen years ago.

The use of software had another impact on my way of composing. I only use the computer to produce and arrange, never for live sets. I’ve always preferred hardware instruments for that.

Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?

I recently bought a new instrument, the Korg microSampler. It was one of these incredible eureka moments, when you find something that you’ve been searching for for a long time. It is an instrument that lets me combine my main and most fundamental, intuitive techniques: my voice, re/sampling and playing keys.

After two days of playing around and trying out, I felt like the base for a new release was already conceived and ready to be arranged. As far back as I can remember, it never came together this quickly before.

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?

For me, the key to collaborations is trust and an honest exchange of ideas and sensations. I believe that constructive feedback is essential to reflect on oneself and go a step further, in every kind of relationship, both private and professional. On this basis, the manner of a collaboration can differ extensively.

For example, I love free, real-time exchanges when I am improvising scores for silent movies with other artists. I have been doing this for more than ten years with the Institute for Incoherent Cinematography (IOIC) and it always triggers many ideas that want to be processed later.

Working on my latest release ‘Tales of Another Felt Sense of Self’, I had a long and intense exchange of thoughts, ideas, and files with the video maker Michele Foti. During this exchange, I started to decompose and recompose the music with a completely different approach. The same goes for the collaboration with Klara Ravat when we developed the room scent that is an essential element of my current work. The way she was able to blend both my sensations and the music itself into a scent is kind of magical to me. We are planning to continue our collaboration with an ‘audio-scentisive’ performance this year, and I can’t wait to spend some more time with her, to go a step further together.

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?

As my inner nature feels quite chaotic, it is funny to notice that sticking to a fixed schedule is currently very essential to my work.

My routine changed four years ago with the birth of my daughter (previously my routine was probably non-existent). Whenever possible, I try to work on music in the morning and then later at night, when she sleeps. But it all really depends on how the days go. Luckily, my partner and I make up a great team in balancing each other.

Every aspect of my life resonates and feeds back with and through my work and honestly, I love it. Sometimes it is exhausting, but most of the time it is beautiful, inspiring, and vital to both me and my work.

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?

In 2017 I was invited to be artist in residence at Moods in Zürich. I was asked to curate three events, at which I presented three different projects of mine and invited guests. I worked on it while transitioning through three states of being: being pregnant, giving birth, and finally becoming a mother. At that time, I was very emotional and took decisions based on gut instinct, and intuition. I feel this greatly reflected the different facets of my authentic inner being.

Having the opportunity to stage, not only my works, but also invite artists who had made an impact on me and whose work I held in high esteem was a wonderful experience.

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?

Fundamentally it depends a lot on which stage of the creative process I am at. To start something new from scratch, the state of delirium - either from being very tired after not having had much sleep or right after having woken up – works best for me. In this state it almost feels like being played and led by intuition, with the mind not trying to interfere with the outcome too much.      

In processing recorded material afterwards, my mind is very much needed of course, to make sense of it all, give it a shape and a place. This feels like a whole different stage of the creative process, a state which is generally easier to enter without any particular strategy.

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?

For me music and sound has always been both hurtful and healing, sometimes even at the same time; inner hurt can be a tool for healing and vice versa. I do experience this as a listener, but also while creating and performing. Its potential of musical expression goes far beyond words, it is some sort of universal language, open to all kinds of interpretations, very inclusive, sometimes touching in a very abstract way, because of its ephemeral nature. Therefore what we hear in music is more than sound and what we experience through it – alone and with other/s – is needed now more than ever.

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?

To discover other forms of thought, language, expression, being, is so important for both personal and communal growth. To exchange means being open to give and to receive based on curiosity. There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation, but it always depends on how the process evolves within and after an exchange. In appreciating other as an enrichment to self and not as a threat, different kinds of inputs can thereby be reflected and rearranged. to find a new place of being next to each other.

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?

To me the most intriguing connections lie between sensation and perception, and how they are influenced by external conditions. What we sense may differ from what we perceive and thus the question of what is real is raised. Also, these realities may vary from one being to another. Each of us has their own perception of self in relation to what surrounds us.

The way the mind interferes with our senses is also fascinating, how it makes connections to experiences, memories, and fantasies. For me, the most important thing — especially in this last year of social distancing, during which most of our communication and exchange exists only online — is to keep our physical senses alive. To sense it all and to hopefully reconnect with the physicality of life again soon.

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?

Art can be a purpose in its own right, yes. But in reflecting inner pulsations, dreams and views, history and future, the questioning of society and structures, art becomes very essential through the feedback it generates. I genuinely believe that we need art to dream, to feel, to experience poetry in everyday life again: maybe we need this now more than ever. During these times of social distancing and cultural stillness, it is encouraging to see how the feedback art elicits resonates strongly within new forms of exchange.

What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I guess my response would make no sense if I tried to articulate it in words.