© Sara Laub

»What do you mean when you say feminine?«

Sounding Women's Work | »The terms feminine and masculine are used as if we all understand what they represent,« says Anja Jacobsen from the band Selvhenter and member of rehearsal place Mayhem.
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How do you experience that gender and bodies are important in your artistic work?

It is most often in the meeting with the outside world, for example in a meeting with a journalist, that I experience that my gender matters. Here, for example with the band Selvhenter, we always get questions that relate to the fact that we are women. And it is especially through the conversations that have subsequently arisen in the group that I have become aware of how to tackle the outside world's view of being a woman and a musician/composer. For example, we have come up with a strategy where we ask the journalist back: »What do you mean when you say feminine?« Or: »What do you mean by masculine sound?« The terms feminine and masculine are used as if we all understand what they represent, but I find it very vague. I think it is more fruitful to talk about experiences, sound, art or energy without giving it a gender, e.g. to talk about something 'open', 'outgoing' or 'calm' instead of saying masculine or feminine. I am often irritated by the fact that what we have to talk about to journalists always relates to gender and not just to the music itself.. I would very much like to talk about the music and the thoughts behind it and not spend all my time talking about gender. 

But, of course, it is also important to recognize that there is a need to talk about it. It feels like a balance where one has to acknowledge the importance of talking about this topic without it filling up everything. 

What do technologies mean for your work (work process, approach and sound)?

Technologies mean a lot as the way I compose is via the computer – I record things and that way I find the compositions, which are later written down. Through the recording of the ideas, I discover what works and does not work in a composition, as well as what instruments will be suitable. I also develop the form in this process. Subsequently, I send these sketch recordings to the musicians, along with notes or drawings of the music as a starting point, so they can get an idea of ​what the basic elements of the song consist of. At the same time, I emphasize that there must be an openness in the compositions to the musicians, who are often themselves composers and to their ideas. But the computer, Pro Tools, sound cards and microphones are what make this process possible. We often also use Dropbox to put sketches and ideas in. As an example, I can mention that Eget Værelse was invited by the Academy for Open Listening to curate a two-week program with concerts, performances and art in Odense. The program included that every day we were responsible for a kind of 'art column' in Fyens Stiftstidende, where the newspaper functioned as an exhibition space. In this process, we have used Dropbox a lot, in relation to planning the content of the art column for different days, and uploading pictures, texts and inspirational material. Through this, Dropbox becomes an important tool in the artistic/curatorial process. In addition, I use the computer and the phone for communication, planning, broadcasting PR material, listening to music, etc.

I also work with text on the computer. And when I/we record an album, it also takes place via various recording programs and mixing processes on a computer as well as technical equipment to record with. I also often record small sketches on my phone.

 

How do you experience that your physical working conditions (rehearsal rooms, studios, venues, teaching rooms and moods, etc.) have shaped your artistic practice?

Being a part of the rehearsal room at Mayhem for the past 10-15 years has been extremely important to my artistic development – especially the people who are attached to the rehearsal room and who I meet out there. Here I am thinking mainly of the other members of Eget Værelse og Selvhenter, namely Maria Bertel, Sonja LaBianca, Jaleh Negari and previously also Maria Diekmann. This group has and has had a crucial importance for my artistic practice, as well as in my relationship with being a composer, musician and woman. 

The group has been a prerequisite for me to have the strength and courage to publish music under my own name

It is mainly through the artistic processes we have been through as a group in the band Selvhenter that I experience having gone through a development, both as an artist and as a human being. In the beginning, when the band was newly started, we had some clashes between the group's individuals due to different aesthetics and ways of communicating. The band was very close to disbanding. But then we met and talked it all through, and I experienced there how we each moved on and discovered how our communication worked on others. Here it became visible to me how important it is to be able to talk together about difficult emotional things when you are in a common artistic process. And the music also moved, and became a kind of fusion of the members' individual aesthetics, and that's something I think is exciting and beautiful about creating together in a group: that the common 'result' becomes something other than that we can each create.

Another thing is that through the many concerts we have played with Selvhenter, we have also talked a lot together. And in these conversations, new music is exchanged, but also thoughts about society, children, art and feminism. In terms of being a woman and a musician, I have experienced these conversations as a place where I have been able to formulate and talk about our experiences. For example, when we have played outside Denmark, there have been episodes with sound men  who have displayed a male chauvinist behavior. How is it expressed? It's a subtle feeling that they are getting angry and not showing that much respect. Here it is an advantage to come as a strong group. And have I experienced that it can help to have a strategy where, for example, you ask for help to loosen a screw on the drums, so that the old gender role patterns are re-established for a short while. Then the mood is loosened, and we can get back to the present and be musicians/people and sound people who together have to do a task without it having to do with gender.  

These experiences and the conversations they have triggered have made us individually stronger, and I think it is an example of how a group can help strengthen individuals and make them stronger, rather than erasing them. The group has been a prerequisite for me to have the strength and courage to publish music under my own name. And here it is also completely impractical things, such as help with a press text or feedback on a cover, that are of great importance.

In this group there is a great exchange of artistic ideas, approaches, inspirations and conversations about art, music, politics and gender. 

In addition, I have a small workroom in a studio community, which is also incredibly important to my practice. It is a nice room with Persian rugs on the floor, a piano, many albums and a desk facing a quiet courtyard with a magnolia tree. This space is a good place to work with both practical and artistic things, which require a different concentration and immersion, which in relation to the practical could be applications, planning and accounting and in relation to the artistic could be a mix of sounds, work with text or development of ideas for new works. Here I have the opportunity for a different kind of immersion.

 

English translation: Andreo Michaelo Mielczarek









 

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