OVER / AT – FOLKS' SONGS (premiere & track-by-track)
Ahead of the release of the challenging yet powerful FOLKS' SONGS, the team of musicians, composers, writers and artists from OVER / AT talk us through the EP track by track
I began working on this EP when I jumped out the bath one evening last spring with the idea to have a new set of folk tunes, as in ‘by/with/for the folk’, that belong to a community of trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse folks.
My own voice is a challenge to me, one that has driven my own music, and I wanted to share the question, open up the box of tools, and see what folk would make given a chance. So this EP was built on a foundation of ideas and explorations of voice – and its intersections with gender, class, disability, race, &c. – which came from my own work as a composer, and the beauty and love I found in that work.
A year and an unknown quantity of lockdowns later, here we are. It is a hopeful thing to hear all these new pieces together, and imagine/remember a beautiful world of trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse music-making. [Rufus Isabel Elliot, curator and producer of OVER / AT]
Listen to FOLKS' SONGS in the below SoundCloud player, and enjoy track-by-track descriptions from the artists involved in the EP.
"Are we? is an exploration of emotions, feelings, sounds and timbres experienced during speech therapy. The Excitement and the discomfort. The extremes, the confusion and the battle between identity and the unique journey you are taking.
"My voice is a part of who I am, I have never known anything else. It is a part of me and yet I want to change it, I want to change us. Whatever journey we take, we will change together; however I know that whoever or whatever comes out of the other side will still be me. I will always be me and my voice will always be me.
"The first set of words are taken from various speech therapy exercises compiled in a way which intends to create a picture for you and the second set are from a sleepless ramble about what it means to be.
"Are we? came into existence the same way as many of my compositions, an outpouring of emotion in one go. When I record and compose I like to think of it in the same way as a live performance. It is real, in the moment and I am reacting to my surroundings. I didn't expend too much brain power worrying about the structure of the finished piece. It is a living process which I trusted would, like many things, reach a conclusion in it’s own time." [Malin Lewis]
"I worked with my friend JOEL CU for this one. JOEL would say he is first hand a ‘punk drummer’ and I originally wanted him to do some drums for the song in any shape or form. Instead I came up with a kind of groove that I was humming this repetitive chorus to, which was me just feeling a little exhausted and wondered how to be vocal in resistance that wasn’t just like yelling?
"So ‘you’re asking too many questions’ was kind of an attitude-y snap back but also isn’t. It relates to many things such as, inquisitive people asking things that are none of their business etc: registration forms, passport forms, application forms etc etc.
"I asked JOEL who doesn’t usually sing if he would be into recording some material that could be whispered, shouted or spoken and he delivered multiple takes which all sounded so good. The whispering take was particularly good in this ASMR way... but I thought I couldn’t make an ASMR song so I gave it a little punch because, after all, it’s really about just yelling ‘get off my back’. Rylan Gleave’s vocals can also be heard rumbling underneath the track which I really like, almost as if it’s about to push through and overthrow the whole track." [Matthew Arthur Williams]
Image: Matthew Arthur Williams by Hollie Myles
"The original vocals came from initial recordings in 2018 for Rufus’ piece, helands heallands. My voice was incredibly volatile and unpredictable; it splintered uncontrollably whenever I tried to sing anything! Rufus took these sounds and lovingly paired them with other trans voices, creating a truly singular and vital piece of art. Their work with trans voices here and in subsequent projects has lead to this phenomenal EP, centering beautiful, human trans voices and experiences.
"Matthew has contextualised these vocals yet again, and created totally different, equally wonderful art. I love the rumbling under this track, and the loops on FEELS (more on that track below); Matthew has shared an important, fresh perspective on something so close to my heart." [Rylan Gleave]
Out of Existence
"I’ve been stuck, recently, thinking about the awfulness of the political situation for trans folk in the UK at the moment, and how that’s hurt me personally. I’m tired of feeling stuck, and have been writing to try and unstick myself. Sometimes I wonder if the preoccupation is unhealthy: it’s difficult to know what’s catharsis and what’s reopening the wound.
"Anyway, this piece started with a visual and auditory scream: I wanted to scream the words that are hurled at me and see if that could do something else with them. That got me so far, but turning words back against themselves takes more than screaming. I wanted to make something that was both beautiful and disturbing, that went into the pain but also built a kind of resistance there. I think resistance means looking after your hurt.
Image: Harry Josephine Giles by Rich Dyson
"Process-wise, the visual scores went back and forth with Vivien Holmes, the vocalist, doing demos each time. I’d write a score, she’d do a demo, I’d revise the score. The early scores were quite static and gridlike, not a lot of excitement on the page, and when Vivien said “maybe you could use the rest of the page a bit more?” that just opened everything up. I wanted to use everything the page could offer. Ava Hoffman and everything that’s happening around Sporazine were big influences there, as well as the highly emotional and exciting sound poetry of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
"The last bit of the puzzle was realising I needed trans words to speak back to the medical and transphobic terminology, quotations to overlay and undermine the body of the text. In the visual scores, these appear in the same style as the musical dynamics: they can be read as part of the songs, or as directions for performing the songs. It’s important to me that the scores are interpretable, that there isn’t a canonical version. I gave Vivien only very light direction on the demos: the way they sound here is all down to her, and I love it." [Harry Josephine Giles]
Out of Existence: AGP
"In preparing for the various stages of recordings I would listen to Michete’s Back of the Truck (get me back in a club if only for this track), Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate, and Laurie Anderson’s O Superman. This is one of the tracks that we just kinda got right from the start, here’s one of the places where I’m most obviously doing a duet with myself as well, which I think speaks to a very trans loneliness that I think often goes disregarded in art, maybe because trans artists are more likely to have trans friends? A loserdom that can’t quite be reclaimed as cool yet!" [Vivien Holmes]
Out of Existence: GID
"A lot of discussion we had in starting out the collaboration was how to orientate what we were doing against the music that was already happening, and ended up talking a bit about the voice changing in 100 gecs and SOPHIE’s work, and decided against trying anything like that, more along the Mykki Blanco/Quay Dash/Laura Jane Grace side of things, and exploring the transfeminine voice in its specifics.
"In the sound of finding something new and higher on, I’ve recently been looking at “microtonal angel audio cyborg barely human harmonic witch recursive nature sound mystic” Zhea Erose, who does these super technical voice training videos on Youtube and this gorgeous microtonal synth work, I love trans musicians so much." [Vivien Holmes]
Image: Vivien Holmes by Ben Halligan
Out of Existence: TIM
"For ages I didn’t realise TIM (trans-identified male) was an acronym and thought that TERFs had just taken it upon themselves to assume or imply that Tim was the archetypal deadname to besmirch the gals with, which realistically takes a level of humour that they usually lack.
"Anyway I loved pretending to be an Ancient TERF. Morgan M Page I think is doing something looking at the Galli and maybe we should bring back Cybele worship? I’ve always felt a draw to the Maenads but there’s a lot of places to look." [Vivien Holmes]
Out of Existence: EGG
"I’m a bozo punk/noise guitarist usually and don’t have to pay so much attention to staying in time, so this took some cogs whirring, but I think that leads to be part of it. It’s both quite strict but also the slip against the strict comes through, and I say 'queef' a lot which always makes me think of Awkwafina. The accompaniment was a fairly last-minute addition, it seemed it needed something to keep up the Blue Danube of it all, and I ended up with this Stranglers situation which is always fun." [Vivien Holmes]
Out of Existence: GRA
"In this movement I become the terrifying inhumane bioengineer villain. It reminds me of when I watched some catastrophically bad superhero film (The Wolverine! Cheers, internet) and someone asks the villain “What are you?” and she replies “A chemist, a nihilist, a capitalist, a mutation,” and wow, I was so ready for her to cap that off with "a transsexual" because that’d be a moment (even if, “a capitalist”? Babe, no). I’ve always adored Porpentine, who’s one of those real influential ‘made their big work around the time I was starting to think about transition’ people so she always feels so personal to me; meet me back in time at the Hot Allostatic Load reading group in 2015. [Vivien Holmes]
"My music production usually stems from wanting to sample something and turn it into an edit. So with that technically in mind I wanted to also make that a tool when creating a song for this. I didn't want to centre my own voice in this project, and wanted to see a way in which I could sample or layer multiple voices. FEELS was really just a ‘test’ which came about from using vocal stems from Rylan’s vocals on helands heallands (Rufus’s piece which laid the foundations for the project). Looping it and layering it up.
"In both songs I was attempting emotive note progressions either up or down or in between because inside I’m always in feelings, so I titled one of them FEELS for short." [Matthew Arthur Williams]
FOLKS' SONGS is released on 26 Mar; FOLKS' SONGS was made possible by Sound and Music's Composer-Curator programme, and supported by Creative Scotland. Composer-Curator is supported by Arts Council England and PRS Foundation.
The FOLKS' SONGS EP launch, discussing trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse voices & music-making with artists involved with the project, takes place on Fri 26 Mar at 6pm – free tickets via Eventbrite