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Interview: Zaïmph Talks Sonic Exploration and Collaboration

Interview: Zaïmph Talks Sonic Exploration and Collaboration

Interview by Flo Wilson / Monday 26th November, 2018 4:25PM

NYC sonic experimentalist Zaïmph aka Marcia Bassett (GHQ, Double Leopards) is currently travelling throughout Aotearoa as part of the Audio Foundation's long-running Altmusic international touring programme. Zaïmph just released a new double LP titled Rhizomatic Gaze and is wrapping up her six date tour with a special show this Wednesday at Auckland's Wine Cellar alongside local aural adventurers Psychick Witch and Astrolabe. Auckland-via-Wellington audio-visual artist Flo Wilson kindly took time out to speak with Bassett about Zaïmph's exploratory world of sound...

'Kia ora Marcia! You're currently on tour in New Zealand all the way from New York – where are you currently and what are you doing?

In general I’m enjoying connecting with people, making art and music. I have a new double LP release Rhizomatic Gaze out on Drawing Room Records. The other day I got word that I have been invited to attend an e-textile workshop intensive in Berlin this January so sorting out funding and looking forward to working with conductive fibres and designing a piece there.

More immediately I’m soaking in the incredible natural beauty in New Zealand. Today I’m headed out to Golden Bay for a few days before driving down to Christchurch for a show on Friday followed by a Dunedin show at Blue Oyster Gallery on Saturday. I’ll get a chance to catch up with fellow pyschonaut traveler and former Double Leopards bandmate Jon Chapman down there and I’m looking forward to sharing the bill and catching up with Micheal Morley from the mighty Dead C too!

Is there a story behind your artist moniker Zaimph?

The Zaïmph is a holy magickal veil that guarded the moon goddess Tanit. I discovered the mystical powers of the Zaïmph in Flaubert’s historic novel Salambo. It’s set in Carthage during the Punic wars. Just this past September I had the opportunity to visit the old city of Carthage when I was in Tunisia performing in collaboration with Ursula Scherrer at the Inference Festival. I’ve been incorporating some of the field recordings I collected in the Medina of Tunis in my performances on this tour.

Congratulations on releasing your album Rhizomatic Gaze! Can you tell us a little about it?

Well I encourage everyone to listen to it! I really set out to capture live improvisation moments that expand outwards into abstract soundscapes.

It’s mostly recorded at my home studio aside from one piece that I recorded while I was in residence at WORM studios in Rotterdam. 'Two and One' is a long drone piece that I made there. They had an incredible collection of vintage synthesisers including the EMS Putney. I spent most of my time at WORM collecting field recordings and zoning out on drones. “Mirror Box” and “Shadow of NYC” use sounds collected in Rotterdam as well.

Sergej Vutuc designed the cover. I’ve followed his work for a while now - we first met in Brussels when I was at a residency at Q02 in 2014. Sergej came through on a zine tour and I really loved his photography. The pairing of his photographs and coded calligraphy with my music lends to the overall disorientation and space-time hallucinatory travel observations. He also made a super 8 video for one of the pieces on the LP - 'Coiled Fall' - that I’m super excited about!

You self-describe as a 'psychonaut' – for people who haven't heard you, how would you describe your sound?

Words can’t describe the experience of being present and hearing the performance in person.

Your performances are known for their eclectic instrumentation featuring anything from prepared guitar, keyboard, cracked drum machines, custom-built noise/drone boxes, processed environmental sounds and tabletop effects. I think I even saw you playing with a contact mic at your Audio Foundation show! What goes into the thinking and / or process behind your live performances?

Working with the instruments and sound gadgets at hand to create a live sound piece. I like being familiar and uncomfortable at the same time. There’s nothing rigidly “set” in my performances. I leave a lot of space open for free improvisation and going into the unknown.

Collaborating with artists is another aspect of your practice, including working with Helga Fassonaki who came to New Zealand in 2015 for the Audacious Festival in Christchurch. How important is collaboration to you as an artist, and what does it give you that your solo practice does not?

Collaborations have always been a critical aspect of my creativity. Connecting and exploring sound with one or many in groups is an amazing way to come together and discover. Obviously each player is going to bring in their skills and ideas; sounds can come together very organically and become intertwined in really surprising ways. I recently saw Marginal Consort perform for over three hours in NYC the focus of each player, the individuality, non-togetherness coupled with organic interconnections, subtle interplay, dissonance, explosive sound and gaps of silence throughout the duration of the performance was incredibly inspiring. AMM has also been a huge inspiration for collaborative exploration.

Most of the people I work with are coming from a similar place and like-minded attitude. With larger groups like Andrew Lafkas’ Ensemble we worked with graphic scores that Andrew constructed and he guided us with conversation and gorgeous Alsace wine (he was working at a very high end wine shop at the time) - nevertheless, there was plenty of room for free interpretation within the structure. Then there’s one off collaborations that can go anywhere. Dennis Tyfus just organised a No Choice concert in NYC that I participated in. As you can assume from the title it paired and grouped the participants unexpectedly with no choice. I played beat box, drum stool and a glass of ice. There were some amazing results and a lot of hilarious moments.

Are you involved in any other projects at the moment?

I collaborate and play out quite a bit in NYC. Shelley Hirsch and I will be collaborating for the second time at the Year-end Galla at Issue Project Room when I return. I’m releasing an LP on my label Yew Recordings of the trio work I did with Margarida Garcia and Manuel Mota last November in Belgium and Samara Lubelski and I have another LP coming out next year as well. Barry Weisblat, Andrew Lafkas and I also have some trio recordings that we are currently working on.

Any advice to young sonic experimentalists and future psychonauts out there?

Keep things open, everything is permitted, follow your own path and trust your intuition.

Zaïmph is performing at Auckland's Wine Cellar this Wednesday 28th November with Psychick Witch and Astrolabe, for tickets and more info head along here.


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Altmusic Presents: Zaïmph (NYC)  with Astrolabe and Psychick Witch
Wed 28th Nov 8:00pm
The Wine Cellar, Auckland