Interview with Tamara Palmer
Let's start by talking about this zone of where art and music cross, because, as you say, it's very fruitful. But I think we might agree that there is great potential for a bigger crossover audience between the two. Can you assess if it's been gaining momentum in the past few years?
It's an interesting point you raise here.Art for me has never been a 'thing', an object oriented discipline but more of a process and as such any limitations or frames that people have a tendency to put work in immediately produces limitations, as working in sound has clearly shown us. In the last 3-4 years especially sound has been finally recognised for the position it should rightly hold, on an equal par with the visual arts, poetry, literature, etc. It was a similar situation with photography for many years, in that gallery spaces and museums simply would not acknowledge it as valid art form, then video art over the last 30 years has developed to a point where it too has finally found recognition in a larger world and in the process allowing access to a far wider audience.
I do believe finally that the momentum is in process for sound and sound art to be opened up to a far larger audience than ever before. It is easily translatable into other cultures, it doesn't limit itself with language issues, you often don't need reference points to begin to appreciate the work. In the last 3 years I have been part of a number of gallery shows that relate clearly to sound art - Sonic Boom at the Hayward Gallery in London, 010101 at SFMOMA, Sonic Process at Macba Barcelona and Pompidou Centre Paris and so on, so finally it seems clear that curators are expanding their horizons. I find this a very optimistic time.
Experimenting with visual artists seems to be a big driving force behind what you do. How does this work and collaboration in the visual medium alter the way you think about making music?
I like collaborations a great deal and continue to collaborate with many artists quite outside of music. Whether it's with a writer, a DJ, a video maker or dance choreographer, the ability to exchange and share ideas is crucial and these collaborations allow me and the collaborator to work as both negatives and positives of each other, recognising spaces within the soundfields and ideas of the other. It teaches the respect of space but also the relevance of context and extension of ones ideas to the other.
I personally shape shift as does everyone else, our tastes constantly change and adapt and we look for different encounters constantly, because we need colour, not black and white. I work on projects that I am interested in, nor for commercial or financial reasons. I feel that my approach is chameleon enough that I can shift within my structure to engage on so many different levels within a project.
Have you always imagined a visual component to your music even before you dealt in that format?
Absolutely. Even as a naïve teenager I would play around with sounds with my four track Teac reel-to-reel tape recorder and try to make shapes with sound. I would try to imagine if I could create this certain shape, for example, a diamond, via sound. I was never successful but it was an intriguing adventure for me. Still now I think of shape and colour in the works I make, especially in collaborations, when I am considering how the public space will work in context.
How important is visualization to the process of making music?
I have partly answered this in the previous response but I think it can play an important part for some musicians and artists. Historically it's worth considering Morton Feldman's work for the Rothko Chapel, the series of CDs based around architecture that Sub Rosa in Belgium and Caipirina in the USA have been producing, the development of software like Metasynth for the Macintosh that literally allow to you draw with sound, by pulling the cursor across the screen you can alter and process a sound via image. It's invaluable.
Which cities or areas have the most intriguing art scenes to you? Why?
I would never wish to limit an answer here. I'm constantly exploring new places, new cities, new sounds, so cannot give you a final answer. Speaking from experience, I've always personally enjoyed the vibrancy of the East London art scene, where people have been offering up shows in their cheap council flats, or locating old industrial spaces and using them to exhibit work; Berlin for its creative epicentre in Mitte where a similar guerilla approach takes place in galleries, New York in it's more commercial Chelsea district mixed with a Williamsburg vibrancy, Sweden and Finland for their amazingly inspiring artists and landscape.
You're someone that spends a fair amount of time on the road. How has travel altered your perception of time?
I am a very mobile unit in that I am almost consistenly travelling. Even this little interview has travelled with me around the globe and answers here have been responded to in Singapore, Auckland, Wellington, Berlin, Fano, Rome and London in just the last 7 days alone. Here I have to think of John Cage when he was asked a similar question and answered by saying that travel is another means to work, he would always ensure that he was able to work on a train, at an airport, etc. so the development of mobile technology has enabled this ability to travel so much more accessible, in that I can take my laptop and mobile phone and been constantly accessible to the wider world no matter where I am. Time as such is a constant flow. I work my way through it, but try never to be controlled by it. I never wear a watch at home as I would always check it if it were on. It was brought to my attention recently that I speak of the globe and its various locations as if there were all little towns in England, but I am happy occupying a territory that is never stable. I actually enjoy living in a non place at times. Time is valuable but never let it dictate.
Has your traveling given you a more 'global' view of the current troubles in the world? What are your sources of news information?
It's been interesting to be able to share and experience a far more global take on public events, so that for example an unforgettable media event as September 11 can be understood from a European, an American and an Asian point of view. I never buy a newspaper but you can always find one of the train, in the bus, at the airport and it's curious to read how different cultures report on global events in quite radically different journalist ways. Also by simply talking with people you are able to share news information at an alternative rate of flow that the traditional media by passes.
From where you are right now, describe what you can see out of the nearest window.
I am in Fano, about 30 mins from Alcona in Italy. Out of my window I can see a small railway track, faded green grass at the side, a quiet road in the distance, clear blue skies, broken concrete steps leading down to the railway.
What's the most unusual event you've ever played?
I must say I've never been a jukebox so that my live sets never repeat themselves, I am equally happy improvising a film soundtrack to working with a dance company to soundtracking a body building contest (as I once did in San Paulo Brazil). In the last couple of years I performed my work 'Surface Noise' on a London Bus around the city, in 2000 I performed over 20 KM of beach in Italy using the public phono system and most memorably played 16 concerts in just one evening with a series of lookalikes across the globe, so in fact I never personally performed at all!
What issues concern you most?
I can imagine as for many people there are different tiers of concern. A more global one where I hope for understanding in Middle East troubles as I cannot bear the harm being constantly done, the health of a nation being devoured by ugly politics in so many places, the well being of my family and friends, and my own personal health and security, though this is far down on the list!
What do your relatives think of your music and exhibitions?
My family is tiny, in that there are only two people but they seem to being so happy for me. I always think of my mother when I am making public works, would she be able to appreciate this? Would she enjoy it? She's a Neil Diamond fan who likes the occasional piece of contemporary art so it's valuable to hear her response to exhibitions I have been in. She did once attend a ballet I wrote the soundtrack for and at the end when I took my bow to the audience the appreciative roar brought her to tears!
How would your closest friend describe you in terms of your strengths and witnesses?
What a difficult question but I can imagine they would say I am amusing, generous, always willing to support them, kind and open but also I can be lacking in concentration and focus, naïve in my emotional ties and lacking a business acumen so that I can be open to abuse in work.
When did you get your first scanner and why did you get it?
Finally a normal question! I am only kidding butI had been recording for some years and using tape recorders and short wave radios to pick up signals from all around when I discovered the actual Scanner device itself (which is a relatively simple but long range radio receiver) in around 1989 which provided me not only with the chance to tune in directly to the language and lives of private individuals but also the name that I retain today!
Did you choose music, or did music choose you?
What a great closing question. I always played around with sound, was intrigued by tape recorders from a very young age and storing memories and narratives on tape. I was lucky enough to hear John Cage's Prepared Piano pieces in school when I was 11, I was taking piano lessons because my mum wanted me to play the piano but this had to stop because we had to sell the piano as we had no money, and I think this was a pivotal moment in my creative upbringing, realising that recorded mediums could offer such magical worlds to you. So did music choose me? I really don't know....