In response to the recent impossibility of travel, in 2021, Ting Shuo Hear Say in Taiwan initiated a project with Women In Sound Women On Sound (WISWOS) in the UK to partner female sound artists for remote collaborations. Their resulting tracks have been published on the recently released album, Elastic Parallels. In a series of three conversations, we learn about the motivations and reflections of the artists in each of the pairings.
Manuella Blackburn & Chloe Yu Nong Lin both have worked extensively with digital manipulations of acoustic sound – Manuella through electro-acoustic (de)constructions of instrumental recordings and Chloe with real-time software processing of her pipa improvisation.
Interview edited by Chloe Knibbs. Translated by Chloe Yu Nong Lin.
Q: Tell us about your artistic practice to date and what initially attracted you to the project.
Manuella: I am a composer of electroacoustic music and create predominantly fixed media (acousmatic) works.I’ve been composing for around 15 years, and I love recording, editing and transforming sound. I was attracted to the project as collaboration was at the heart of this work. Everything I make has an element of collaborating within it, so I was keen to have this opportunity to share sounds and to build a new track with a person who could bring their expertise to the table.
Chloe: I am a pipa musician, improviser, and sort of experimental composer?! Interactions with others are always significant to my projects and allow me to focus on the interaction of the present time. Thus, this exciting project for creative women sounded right for me and gave me the chance to work with new friends and talented artists worldwide.
Q: What was it like to make work with an international partner and to carry out the collaboration online in the context of COVID-19?
Chloe: This collaboration was exciting but also challenging for me. I am still a newbie musician and haven’t had too many international collaborations before. Luckily, I paired with Manuella. She is always focused and very patient, and acceptable to what I share with her. And whenever I received her clips, Manuella’s creativity was like a living waterfall pouring into my drained heart, which collapsed by COVID-19 and everyday life.
Manuella: I have worked with international partners before in a similarly remote way, although this time it was much more extreme since there was no opportunity to eventually meet or do a residency together. Being entirely separate was hard, but we all understood this. The barrier of distance was there but we negotiated it well, focusing purely on what our ears were telling us. We both seemed to navigate the project with our ears, not a plan or score/structure.
Q: The final work you created fuses together improvisatory and freer sounds with beat-based music, what led you to exploring these contrasting elements and how did you approach bringing them together into a cohesive work?
Chloe: At the first meeting, we discussed me sending Manuella bunches of sounds to work with, which would be a good idea since she is excellent at manipulating and transforming different sounds into her creative samplings. Then, BOMB! Sort of “puzzle pieces” together seemed to be fun and lots of contrasting elements coming out; we could ice-cream them all together. With Manuella’s excellent composing skills, I could overlap my pipa improvisation along with her merged piece. Then we ice-cream again and again, and it finally became our Double Scoop Ice-Cream with ElectroPipa Flavor.
Manuella: I used this project as an opportunity to try something new. One of the earliest steps in our project was for me to transform some of Chloe’s pipa sounds which she sent to me. I sent Chloe a number of different ideas and she highlighted two that were her favourite, which included a beat idea. Developing these ideas then transformed something small into a longer section. I remember talking with Chloe over Zoom about our ‘puzzle pieces’ in reference to the different ideas that were developing and how we might puzzle them together – they seemed so eclectic at the time and probably too different to be in one piece together, but somehow we managed to bring the contrasting elements together. The value of the beat in the end was that it provided a frame or constant for these separate ideas to live in.
Q: In what ways has the project influenced how you view the process of collaboration?
Manuella: I think it has just verified how important collaboration is to me. It is also a reminder about how hard it is to collaborate. The dynamic and personalities of the duo are important and I’m lucky to have had Chloe as my partner who has always been super focused, positive and made beautiful sounds on her pipa. It’s not always easy to share new ideas with a collaborator, but this time I have felt safe and comfortable to do this. The process has helped me consider more deeply what it means to collaborate, where leadership roles fit within this pairing, and the necessity of effective communication.
Chloe: This collaboration allowed me to get to know myself more and understand how significant collaboration is to me. It also gave me a chance to learn more about how to collaborate with other artists to accomplish one project quickly. Our collaboration is a beautiful balance, and respectful space where everything is balanced, and the listeners can hear our individual unique sounds. Also, the time difference and meeting limitations helped us work efficiently to focus on our goal, and between the meeting break times, it also gave me the space to listen to the piece itself and just let the sound sing to me.
Q: As a project designed to be a creative space for women, how do you feel that impacted your experience of creating work? Were there any significant differences compared to other projects you have been involved with?
Chloe: It has been a very positive experience for me to be involved in this project designed a creative space for women. I could directly talk with Manuella about my ideas and feelings without worrying about being judged or feeling competitive with each other. It encouraged me to work faster and leave more space for me to focus on the piece itself. We all have that awareness so every meeting always cuts to the chase and focuses on our music and process itself.
Manuella: I have felt less pressure to deliver on expected results in this project than in previous collaborations. This time, I’ve felt less like I’m in a competition or within a ‘battle of wills’. It’s hard to make strict comparisons, but here I felt free to get on and create rather than negotiate power relations and I haven’t struggled to find a window or space to share my point of view. I do put this down to the dynamic and contributors in the experience.
Q: Following the collaboration, are there any new ideas, concepts or ways of working that you would like to explore in the future?
Manuella: I would like to work with Chloe again. We had an idea for a second piece which was partly done. We ran out of time to explore it fully, but this experience has helped me see Chloe’s aesthetic, tastes and personality more to assist in going forward with this. In this second piece Chloe had made a pipa part first, where I would put materials around it as a ‘decoration’. We felt that we had done the opposite approach in the first piece and we wanted to try out the reversed approach.
Chloe: I would love to keep working with Manuella. She gave lots of possibilities in the project and let me foresee that our collaboration would not end on one track. As Manuella mentioned in her response, we did have some materials ready to work on the new pieces left in the experiment process. And I am really looking forward to our collaboration performing face-to-face together in the soon future too.
Manuella Blackburn https://www.manuellablackburn.com
Chloe Yu Nong Lin https://soundcloud.com/chloe-lin-15
Project curated by Women in Sound Women on Sound (WISWOS)
& Ting Shuo Hear Say.
Sponsored by Connections Through Culture grant of the British
Council and National Culture and Arts Foundation in Taiwan.
About the author
Chloe Knibbs is a composer and sound artist exploring storytelling, theatricality and sidelined voices with a particular emphasis on feminist perspectives. Included in the British Music Collection, her work has been featured on BBC Radio 3 and performed by the Riot Ensemble, Birmingham Opera Company and the Hebrides Ensemble. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Composition at the University of York, UK. https://britishmusiccollection.org.uk/composer/chloe-knibbs