Carina Pesch (aka La Pesch) studied Social Anthropology, Political Sciences, and Philosophy in Leipzig and Beirut. She learnt from Petschinka, Antje Vowinckel, Chris Watson, and many others. Today she lives in Leipzig as author, director, sound and voice artist. She co-curates the gathered listening event GERÄUSCHKULISSE – a forum for
good audio stories and immersive sound worlds. In her works she explores the fields of radio, composition, installation, performance, and the walking arts for public broadcasters, museums, international festivals, and cultural institutions. Her works show a strong sense for the specific characteristics of phenomena, people, and places. They oscillate between narrative and purely sound-based with strong fascination for the thin borderline between fiction and reality. Often she uses spoken word that transcends sentences and syntax and reaches a pure atmosphere or emotional quality. She chooses a subjective approach towards individuals and the environment setting in scene encounters and creating contact points in dialogue. For the representation she relies on high-quality field recordings, improvisation, cut-up techniques, rhythm, and a structure that reflects the core message. Her special interests are personal and social boundaries as well as transcending and blurring them, the confrontation and meeting of different horizons of experience. Her sound works have been honoured with awards, nominations, scholarships, and residencies (e.g. Phonurgia Nova, Prix Europa).
JrF: when & why did you become interested in field recording?
CP: The first steps towards field recording were studying Social Anthropology and working for the radio. I started doing recorded interviews and collecting some specific sounds along the way. My very first recording was in a prison as a journalistic reporter. I interviewed an inmate who ran the prison’s library. I was amazed how close I could get to this complete stranger with the microphone. He told me about his memories of first setting foot into prison and how that was linked to the sounds of iron gates being locked. So, after the interview, I drove the press manager mad because I had to record every single door and gate in that prison. Then, I continued to record my interviews during field studies in Indonesia and Lebanon as a researcher and was fascinated how the sounds of the forest or the city, that I recorded accidentally at first, often told so much more than the words. Therefore, later I became a radio documentary maker who really paid attention to sounds – the sounds of voices telling a lot more than words and the sounds of the environment creating atmospheres, being characteristic, and often by coincidence being suitable as symbols that condense the core meaning of the whole story. And from there my fascination for sounds led me via sound walks to recording pure sounds for their beauty and meaningfulness – whether that is sounds by people, animals, cities, nature, hidden or produced sounds. My main interest in field recording still is the intimacy that sound achieves to create, the spatial and physical character of sound, the very own musicality, and the hidden, often ignored qualities and pieces of information that sound carries.
JrF: how do you use your field recordings in your own artistic output?
CP: They are still one compositional element in my radio features and plays. But they have become much more. They may stand alone as one recording of a particular bird. They can create a recorded sound walk that is composed by my movement in space foremost. They can be used in a musical composition with a mix of processed and as-recorded sounds to recreate my experience and interpretation of a place or phenomenon. And they even do not have to be recorded with my sound device at all but may be simply by my memory and attentive listening during a sound walk. They can be put together as a linear piece, an interactive composition, an audio walk, a (site-specific) installation, a live performance, or any kind of crazy intervention in public space. I love to surprise people, to connect people, to make them discover places, sounds, phenomena, and other people in a new way although they might think they know all about it. I love to explore boundaries and to find the extra-ordinary in everyday life. So, I do not make a difference between human-made and natural sounds in my art work. You will not find me going to great
length to prevent industrial sounds like aircraft from ruining my nature recordings. I work with what surrounds me, am more interested in how industrial and natural sounds coexist, and what effects that has on me subjectively as well as on other beings. After all, this is the world most of us live in. And the relationship of humans and nature is a very strange one – we separate ourselves from nature, we ignore its consequences, we romanticise and idolise nature. Many of these tendencies are present among the field recording community as well. All these images of lonesome men with their equipment out in the wild from behind. What kind of self-image do they convey? While I do understand the quality of being out in nature all alone not hearing any noise pollution for once – the calmness, the inwardness with an outward presence at the same time, this feeling of being connected to oneself and the environment –, I also stay critical of this stereotypical imagery and know that I can find a similar feeling just out my door.
JrF: do you regard ‘natural’ sounds as a musical element (bearing in mind that the conventional definition of ‘music’ is rapidly becoming obsolete) or as sound ? is this definition important to you ? does it matter ? (nb. the term ‘natural’ is used in this instance to describe any sound from any object, animal or human that is observed or documented rather than generated with apparent compositional intent)
CP: Both. As someone who explores boundaries, I have to say “both” – otherwise there is no boundary to explore. And as someone coming from improvisation and play, all ‘natural’ sounds are or can be musical elements. My compositions only consist of ’natural’ sounds in the sense that I never produced a single sound already knowing what place and time it would get in the composition. It is all improvised and intuitive. I only come up with a concept or score after the experience. The intent is rather a result of the process of creation, the process is open and experimental. In general, I am not too much concerned with these definitions but this is the answer I came up with spontaneously.
JrF: how has the act of field recording altered the way you listen to your everyday surroundings and how has it affected the way you listen to other music and sound (if at all)?
CP: Not only the act of field recording but also of sound walking has changed my perception of music and sound. I listen more closely – often quite literally pressing my ear onto surfaces mimicking a contact mic in order to discover hidden sounds in my everyday life. While going for a recreational walk, I might rub leaves between my fingertips and change the distance to my ear, I might put my ear onto a metal gate while I move it around, I might pay attention to the tiny sounds of dry leaves touching one another in the wind next to a loud road, I might clap my hands or exhale a tone to test the reverb of a place, I might listen to the voices of people passing by and the melodies they create rather than the content, I might even be fascinated standing on a refuge in the middle of a crossroad listening to the shifts in distance, direction, intensity with the traffic light giving a constant beat. This brings a sense of play, adventure, exploration, calmness, relaxation, connection, focus, presence, and musicality. It intensifies the experience of my everyday life and of places. And nowadays, it might happen that I return to a place because I find something fascinating about its acoustic qualities – return to make a recording or simply to observe how it might
sound different another day, another season, another time, in another state of mind. Of course it can also be more tiring to consciously perceive all these sounds in places like cities but also dense nature like the rainforest or the ocean when it is windy. There is a reason why we normally filter out most of the sounds that surround us. But now, I
feel I can choose more consciously when to filter and where to direct my attention. It is a greater freedom with more choices to make. I like to compare this state of mind to travelling rather than to vacation. It offers challenges, too, but once we master them, there is a feeling of strength and growth. It makes me become aware of the physical and
psychological power of sound. And it embeds me in my environment. Thus, the feeling of connection – which should not be romanticised. It can be threatening at times because it makes me more aware of how depended we all are. My focus also gradually shifted to the musicality of the environment. We are not the only beings creating music. Birds sing of course, but even trams and my fridge can sing. As someone coming from narration rather than a music conservatory, I gained access to music and composition via this daily life music. It took away inhibitions and taught me that improvisation and exploration are a fun access to music that can lead a long and deep way. It can shift attention from fear to fail (that unfortunately often is enforced by music teachers in school) to love for sound and music. Focusing on the structure of the sounds in my environment also triggered my interest in the structure of composed music pieces.
JrF: Perhaps you could discuss a recent project you have been working on or have plans for?
CP: Uh, there are so many. I love every single one of them because they always remind me of a wonderful time. Maybe my last work for riversssounds. I love the idea of that project to bring together artists from allover Europe and to unite their sonic explorations of rivers allover Europe on an interactive platform for compositions. That is so
true – rivers really connect the world, if we think of transport, the history of settlements, usage of rivers for farming, water, electricity, manufacturing… And so many (not only human) beings interact with the rivers. They truly are a meeting point. And every being interacts with the river in its very own and subjective way. So, turning the sonic
explorations of the rivers into an interactive, virtual experience that is different for every visitor and accessible worldwide, is great. I explored the river Weiße Elster that passes the city I live in and focused on the mutual human-river relationship. I have always had a special relationship to the river. It is where I spend a lot of my time. But for the first time, for a whole month I spent every single day with the river – either being by or in or above the river physically or in my imagination while composing. Exploring the river that crosses my city, made me realise how important it is – to me, many other people, animals, and for the specific character of the place. It brings a flow into the city, offers relaxation, reflection, meeting points, contact with animals and nature, a sense of magic – whether that is white or black magic. Where there is the river, there is a great variety of sounds. The river’s burbling can drown annoying city noises and offer calmness. The river’s powerful noise at the weir, in contrast, drowns everything else – no bird to be heard. The river is a symbol of life. It can be soft, it can be forceful, and anything in-between. Bridges help to cross. A river also creates a natural boundary – so I have to be interested in that.