16.10.2019 | Words by: Mathis Neuhaus
I spoke to Thessa Torsing, who is better known under her alias upsammy, for the Swiss magazine zweikommasieben
a few years ago, and she mentioned two aspects that call for a revision in this context. This context meaning her upcoming live performance during Het Weekend on Saturday evening that is a collaboration with Amsterdam-based graphic designer and 3D-artist Leeza Pritychenko. The first thing I asked her was how working visually relates to working with music for her. She replied: “I used to be a VJ, and when I was doing that, I realized that videos can be a very important element of the nightlife experience. But the music is still the most important thing. (…) When I started to go to Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Utrecht, I thought that I was going to do music videos. That was my initial goal, since I really liked music and videos. I began doing that and I think that allowed me to work more freely on my own music, since it was not connected to an institution as much, and therefore was not required to fit in certain parameters.”
The second question followed right after and referred to a new score she did for an old experimental movie —Uit het Rijk der Kristallen, from 1927 by J.C. Mol—for a collaboration between RE:VIVE and Dekmantel Festival. I stated that this seemed to be the perfect middle ground between working visually and musically, to which she retorted: “Yes, and I want to maintain doing projects like this. What I hated in art school, especially in film, is the need to always tell a story. I do not want to tell a story, I want to give a feeling. And now, in my music, I sometimes think that I actually do want to tell a story. It shouldn’t only be about club music all the time and I do not want to commit to just playing in a club, because there is a lot outside of these limits that I really enjoy. Eventually, I want to play live sets and collaborate with other friends and musicians more to create audiovisual spaces that are not limited by an institutional framework that is a nightclub.”
Such an audiovisual space, even though it is in this case still connected to a nightclub, will be presented by upsammy and Leeza Pritychenko
on Saturday evening. It will focus on music’s scenic potential and in anticipation of their collaborative performance, I asked them a few questions that deal with the nature of collaborations, the mind as an unreliable narrator and the renaissance of visuals in music performances. When working collaboratively and multidisciplinary, how much do you wish to guide and how much do you like to follow?
Leeza Pritychenko: It depends on the ideas behind a collaboration and what the final outcome should be. For this collaboration with upsammy, she was already in the process of preparing a live set and I was happy to follow her lead. Usually that is ideal for me, to have a starting point. Also, it is really nice to find collaboration partners whose works you really like. That way, it is easy to trust each other and come up with collaborative ideas organically, while still being able to do your own thing. This is how we approached our collaboration this time around, too. I like upsammy’s music and she gave me a lot of trust for creating the visuals. We did not really get too involved in each other’s processes too much, but the final result came together very well and represents us both. How did you find each other?
Leeza Pritychenko: Originally, we met at FIBER Festival. Jarl Schulp, the festival’s director and curator, invited me as a VJ and Thessa as a DJ and thought it would be a nice combination to combine our practices. That is how we met for the first time. Several months afterwards, she reached out to me and proposed to come up with something together.
Thessa Torsing: Seeing her visuals during my set at FIBER made me realize that a collaboration could be a good fit. Because the visuals where not entirely dependent on the music I played, but an entity on its own. And, consequently, the music and Leeza’s visuals created something entirely new together that was bigger than the sum of its parts. You worked as a VJ in the past; is this making collaborating with someone else on the visual aspect easier or harder?
Thessa Torsing: I think it is easier, because when I was working as a VJ, I really appreciated the possibility to realize my own ideas next to the music, instead of just making the things a DJ or artist suggested. That is why I found it really important to leave things open to be interpreted by Leeza. That way, we were able to create a new work together, not just visuals that go with the music. Leeza, in your own practice, how concerned are you with design history? I am asking, because I live in Switzerland, a country that is notorious for its graphic design history, but also therefore sometimes plays it relatively safe.
Leeza Pritychenko: I am not bothered by design history too much. Though I do think a lot of trends in contemporary design are a result of dominating historic trends. The Swiss graphic design tradition you mentioned is traditionally very polished, aiming for minimalist perfection. That is basically the complete opposite of what I am doing. I would not be interested in making something that is only elegant and pleasing for the eye. I do not disrespect this tradition (and I don’t think anyone should), because all the milestones in design and visual history were necessary steps that led the visual culture to a place where it is now. It is important to remember that all the design movements had to happen in order for us, as a new generation of artists and creators, to create something that is completely different and unbothered by that. It influenced me, whether I want it or not. It is important to know the rules before eventually trying to break them. How would you describe your visual identity?
Leeza Pritychenko: I am not sure. I think I am still evolving and searching for a certain visual language, so I do not necessarily want to put any boundaries to that by defining the aesthetics. What I can say is that I am drawn to expressiveness and things that could be described as playful and eerie at the same time. And could you also describe Thessa’s sonic identity?
Leeza Pritychenko: Her DJ-sets are very different from the music she produces, especially compared to this upcoming live set. The set on Saturday focusses on contemplative music, to me it almost has a melancholic vibe. I think it is good music to listen to while observing something. To me, it is thoughtful music. This feeling also got me interested in doing this collaboration, because I used to VJ before, but mostly for Techno sets. It is interesting to change perspectives and work with more subtle material. Thessa, do you think Leeza’s graphics have characteristics that can also be found in your music?
Thessa Torsing: Yes, I think a lot of it has to do with texture and space, her graphics contain a lot of detailed surfaces and lights. Also, a distorted perception of spatiality. This texture, detail and space can also be found in my music I think. And like her work, my music can also be quite mysterious, with a lot contrast between light and dark. With your collaboration, you want to explore music as scenes of memory: did you work with specific and personal memories for that?
Leeza Pritychenko: It was looser than that. I asked Thessa what she wanted to convey with her music and if there was a specific narrative that she was thinking of. She mentioned her interest in music’s scenic potential and its ability to trigger and contain memories. Moments, places, objects that used to be. When I was listening to her music, I was trying to envision certain scenes, but did not want to make it specific or refer to memories that actually happened. Music is a very subjective thing and ten different people might hear ten different things. And I wanted to respect that in the visuals. The subconscious is a mash-up of everything one sees and experiences throughout his or her entire life. I also tried to visualize the music in a way that is a bit distorted, because each time you think of a memory, it becomes almost like a memory of a memory. Or an idea of an idea. Because the brain is an unreliable narrator, I thought it was important for the visuals to have a certain eeriness. It is not a direct representation of something real.
Thessa Torsing: A lot of my music has to do with curiosity and with being interested in your environment or surroundings and exploring it on different levels, recreating that in sound. Much like the photos I put on my Instagram
for example. The feeling I want to convey is similar to taking the time to look at a very detailed painting.Is all the music specifically composed for this occasion?
Thessa Torsing: It is, but I have performed it a couple of other times, to try it out and fine-tune it a bit more. Though the performance in De School will be the first time where the music goes together with the visuals made by Leeza. It is a unique set-up, specifically realized for this occasion. It feels like there is a renaissance of the VJ right now, do you have an explanation for why that could be the case? In general, there seems to be a hunger for performances that combine visuals with sound.
Leeza Pritychenko: I do not really have an explanation, but find it exciting to see. I think for a long time, VJing used to be considered as something secondary to the experience of the party. It used to be something simpler, too: rotating lines, oversaturated found footage or loops of random images. Lots of people now see the potential that it can really set the atmosphere for an event. Visuals and music have always gone together, that is also why music videos are such a popular medium. Ultimately, we are visual creatures and when we hear something, we subconsciously try to give it a visual narrative. VJing can help with guiding the people through this narrative. It is definitely not going to be as important as the music during the party, but it can enhance the experience. Lately, technology has also given more and more opportunities to do something interesting. 3D culture is on the rise and a lot of people are happy to experiment with different techniques and approaches. There is a lot of potential for VJing to be an art form. It can be more than color blocks dancing on a wall. A club is a place of memories, too. What is the surrounding of De School, ideally, adding to your performance?
Leeza Pritychenko: I am happy that the performance is going to happen in the aula. For me, it is one of the first memories of De School, because when I visited the club for the first time, there was also an exhibition going on. At some point, we were wandering around and got into the aula to experience the artworks that were on view. This aspect of exploration in De School, that you can go to different places and different corners of the building and always find something new, I think that is probably one of the most unique aspects of this club. Especially considering that the aula is a little bit hidden and a quieter place. I think it is the perfect setting for our performance. During the parties, it can be nice to have a moment of serenity and I think our performance can help with that. upsammy and Leeza Pritychenko's work in De Aula will be on show throughout Het Weekend 18.10 – 21.10. Their live performance starts Saturday evening at 22:00.