This interview was published in Yuck N’ Yum Winter ’08 Edition ( to view the ‘zine online : http://www.yucknyum.com/ZINE/2008/WINTER/ )
The organisers of Kill Your Timid Notion, Arika, describe their event as ‘A step across the border between sound & vision. It’s all about exploring the many different ways we navigate the borders, disparities and similarities between what we hear and what we see.’ Reading this I can see why Aileen Campbell fits the bill as her own practice links directly with these statements. Campbell’s performance stood out for me as bringing something uniquely human and visceral to the programme.
Interview with Aileen Campbell, 12 Oct 2008 at Kill Your Timid Notion, DCA, after her performance ‘as jane edwards and geoffrey rush’. Laura Simpson – LS, Aileen Campbell – AC.
LS – You seemed to be able to reinvigorate your performance at different points.
AC – Apart from being tired, being out of breath and the dry mouth there is something inherent in music performance that means that I have to keep going. From training as a little kid you had to keep singing even if someone tripped over or fainted. With being a soprano you can make some decisions, like take a breath on that low E but not on the high G, to maintain the most character of your voice. I worked with the time signature to make it easier to time the higher notes.
LS – How many times have you done this performance before? What does the title relate to?
AC – I did it once before in America, mainly just as a test run. I was still finding my way in terms of what I would make. The piece and the title relate to an epiphany moment I had while hearing Jane Edwards singing the Vivaldi aria ‘Nulla in Mundo Pax Sincera’ in the film ‘Shine’ (1996). I was really conscious of her being in a recording studio while Geoffrey Rush is jumping on a trampoline on the screen.
I wanted to put them both in the same proximity, asking myself ‘Could she maintain that beautiful sound were she on the trampoline?’ In the film they use her voice as the ethereal, the lamenter. I wanted to see the female voice differently and put the action and the soundtrack together. I was both of these so the performance is entitled ‘as jane edwards and geoffrey rush’.
When I came back to Scotland I made it again as a recording. I wanted it to be embedded in a cinema format rather than live, partially because I am a reluctant performer but I have to be there with my voice. I wanted it to survive beyond the present as something in its own right and started looking at viewpoints which would privilege an audience looking at the film. Today is probably the most accurate way I would want it to be presented with the live audience and the cinema. The three cameras meant I could choose three different ways to frame the work giving something that wasn’t available to the live audience.
LS – And could you see the other musicians? Was there interaction between you?
AC – I could see them quite clearly, that’s something that you would always want. I asked them to keep a really steady pace because I did not want to let myself slow down.
LS – Have you done performances where you are alone?
Yes, but I like working with musicians. Music has structures that are very much social structures, it is set up to be communal, quite different to being an artist. You are all on the same team. Music performance has a formal set of rules, for example, it’s fascinating how an audience will hush when you start singing. Those kind of things that music has inbuilt are useful tools to an artist as well.
LS – How important is it for you to have an audience for your performances?
AC – I have done some that are purely to camera. ‘What if I do it like this?’ is four videos of me exploring a small room using my voice. I saw those as sketches for me so didn’t need the audience there. I also did one that was just me and one person. I was trying to invent, compose and remember all at once. The person was very impassive and I felt like I was being examined, it has got to be my most uncomfortable moment. I will probably do it again, maybe now I would be more comfortable with it.
LS – Have you done physical training as well for this performance?
AC – Not really, I don’t want it to be a perfectly rehearsed thing. But, I do feel myself reinvigorating when I should be tiring. I think it is something to do with the breathing becoming regular then it kind of complements the physical singing process.
LS – I was surprised that there wasn’t more wavering and that you could hit some of the longer notes
AC – It breaks down in different ways, to sustain things is harder. But you don’t hear thuds either, like bumping an instrument downstairs. Also, I should say I am not really a singer! I had to choose art or music and I chose art and just continued to sing a bit.
LS – What are the exterior influences to your practice as a whole?
AC – Probably for me it is most strongly music. When I went back to do my masters I wanted to straddle myself between art and music. I took a long time to go back and study, waiting until it was going to be ok to mix and match. I had no idea how it would work, I just said I would make things with my voice. When I went to do my masters I left the place where I used to sing. I was kind of freaked out by the fact that so much of my singing voice was controlled by someone else at their will. That piece I was talking about earlier is about being allowed to do more than one thing at once.
The first piece I sang alone in public I sang with a popcorn machine from home which kind of masked my voice. The experience of doing that performance suggested other things that my voice should or could do and suddenly I felt I could do whatever I wanted. I realised that was what it was about, getting ownership for the other things that my voice could do. It meant that some of what I did after that was making noises that were not beautiful. If something is simply beautiful it makes it very difficult to discuss it in other ways.
LS – It struck me that during your performance today you had very different aural and visual perception because of the jumping.
AC – I was thinking of being in the same place as the sound. There is writing that talks about the male voice as the grounded thing and the female voice as other, the hysterical and separated from earth. As a soprano, you are visually at the top of the stave. You visualise music like that as well, high things being up, and all that angelic stuff like paintings of angels and birdsong.
LS – Is there a special way that you find to articulate your understanding of your body in performance? The caption for this piece says ‘a voice’ and earlier you said that ‘you had to be with your voice while you are singing’ so does that tie in with you not wanting to be in the limelight?
AC – Yes it probably does, although I say I want the voice to be attached to the body its not because I think the body is worthy to be seen and I have made things where I was hidden. The thing for me is that I am a plausible body. When I was younger, people were surprised because when I sang the voice was more attractive than my spoken voice or indeed my physical presence.
LS – It is interesting that you want to present a plausible body, some other performance artists must be seeing themselves as athletes.
AC – That’s dead important, although my biggest influence comes from music obviously performance comes into that as well. It’s not about going until I keel over or being naked. Those are other kinds of questions. I wanted to simply keep doing two things that are opposing each other.
LS – If you had been part of the audience would you have gone to the live space or the cinema?
AC – The musician in me would want to be at the live thing and the visual artist would have been curious about the other space. Unlike a normal film, with this set up as part of the audience you would have knowledge of the space in which the action and sound were made.
With thanks to Aileen Campbell, Arika and Yuck N’ Yum.