Pathways - An interview with Gemma Nash

Gemma Nash Portrait
Gemma Nash

One of the current participants on our Pathways programme is Gemma Nash is a  sound artist with an interest in the connections between medicine, disability and ethics. Most of her works are sound installations that bring ‘the human condition’ to the fore. She uses ranges of creative methods to produce her work, such as custom instruments, field recordings and sensors. Her work incorporates spoken narratives and sounds from an array of unusual sources. She often uses harsh clinical noises within her pieces to create elegant but fragmented compositions, inviting us to re-imagine physical and mental difference as a valued form of human variation.

She is also a Community Co-Investigator for the award winning Around the
Toilet research project. We asked he a few questions about her work below:

How would you describe your/the relationship with spoken word and sound?

I'm very interested in the 'anterior states' to language, or silence altogether.  And how verbal communication could be replaced by movement (disjointed or otherwise).  So much of the artistic process (applying for things, pitching ideas etc) is based on language, talking, describing. I'd love to see a system where physical presence, doing things, silent presentations were just as common.
I am very interested in the work of sound artist Alvin Lucier in particular his piece, I am Sitting in a Room, here he explores the boundary between where our projected sense of self (via our voice) meets the physical constraints of the material space in which he inhabits. In my piece ‘The Non-Normative Speaking Clock’ (in which I have recorded my own voice reading the time aloud) I have similarly explored ideas of constructed selfhood through the medium of the voice, subverting ideas of what syntax, tone and elocution we consider to epitomise order and authority.

What was your route into composing?

In my late twenties I was DJ, I love music and find it comes very naturally to me to work with sound technology equipment. I used Traktor equipment, this kit has very powerful, flexible looping functions and a great variety of studio grade filters to play with. I started to experiment more and more, using things like the reverbs and reversing the audio. I felt most free when experimenting at home as I had total freedom to explore ideas in a private space. Before I knew it my Djing started to move in a more artistic direction. The progression felt very natural to me, but I don’t think I set out to become a sound artist per se. 

Tell us a bit about your Sound and Music residency. What stage are you at now?

The Sound and Music pathways programme is going very well.  We are just about to start the process of developing new work over a period of 12 -18 months.  In my case this will also involve the development of a new midi instrument, which has been developed around my access needs.   DM technical team has already created a prototype instrument.

What is the new music scene like where you live?

Manchester has always had some great live music venues and artists, you can see everything from Tropical House (though not my scene!) to jazz in the city. I particularly like Matthew Halsall and J P Cooper at the moment.

What is it like being an artist in 2017?

We live in politically very charged times, which makes for a lot of important debate that artists can address. Financially I think it’s undoubtedly a difficult time for artists to thrive, which although on the whole is a negative,  but does breed a new kind of innovation, DIY attitude. Owing to the increasingly accessible equipment and online platforms available to artists, I do think there’s an incredible freedom as to how you can promote yourself and your work. Although I am a disabled artist, I can produce all kinds of work and take on all kinds of different artistic identities, which is really exciting.

If you could collaborate with any living artist – who would it be?

I really admire the work of Janet Cardiff, who is relatively obscure but within the niche scene I work in incredibly admired.

When you are not composing, you are…

Advising my 8 year old on how best to negotiate artistic differences she and her friends have in the choreography of yet another playground dance off … it’s an intense world of an 8 year old!

Do you think the word composer adequately reflects you an artist? If not, what word does?

I definitely wouldn’t be offended if someone referred to me as a composer, although to be honest I think most people would associate the word composer with classical instruments, and a very technical training in how to read and write music. I am more interested in the conceptual identity of my compositions rather than technical virtuosity. I think a better word might be ‘producer’ or ‘digital storyteller’ Digital storytelling is about somehow producing a creative narrative about people, things or a concept. I like to work in a way that is collaborative, often to a non-linear result. To me it’s not important that the equipment I use is necessarily the most ‘high-tech’, in the past people have sent me their stories on everyday devices such as iPhones, the sound quality may not be the best, but it’s more important that there is an intimacy transmitted.  I like using accessible tools that I can produce raw, authentic soundscapes with.

What are you top 3 desert island discs?

This is so difficult for me to pick just 3!

Nick Drake- Pink Moon for the timeless quality of his voice, and his ability to intimate emotion.

Aphex Twin- Window Licker- I love that he’s used his own voice in the recording, modulating it and distorting it, producing really new, weird sounds that were really difficult to produce at the time. I know the term window licker and also the video were very controversial, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking this is an incredible piece.

Stevie Wonder- Superstitious- because it’s just so fucking good!!

Find out more about Gemma's work on her British Music Collection profile

More from Gemma

Find out more about Gemma's work on her British Music Collection profile>>

Another interview with Gemma>> conducted by Ailís Ní Ríain

More about Pathways

Find out about all the artists on the Pathways programme here>>

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