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Contemporary/ Contradictory: Q+A with Glass Armonica and Electronics Artist Camille Norment
Multimedia artist Camille Norment's current trajectory of work includes live performance as a mode of exploring the formal and cultural consonances and dissonances in music, freely collapsing any given genre and aesthetic spectrums. Her art engages the viewer as a physical and psychological participant through architectural, optical illusory, sonic, interactive environments and objects, and drawings that are 'enlivened' by the presence of the viewer. With emphasis on manipulating both the visual and sonic perceptual realms, Norment is occupied with the tensions created by contradictory sensory experiences.
A resident of Norway, Norment will perform a mix of glass armonica and electronics for the first time in Cleveland with her trio on Sunday, December 15. The event is part of the CMA Concerts at Transformer Station series, which strives to showcase eclectic and adventurous music from around the world in the Hingetown arts venue. In that adventurous spirit, the Camille Norment Trio will unite the sounds of the electric guitar, the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, electronics and the rare glass armonica to explore the instruments’ collective sensual and contextual psychoacoustics. Each of the instruments were simultaneously revered and feared, or even outlawed, at various points in their histories. Toll, the group's latest album, resonates through a tantalizing union of its instruments’ voices and their paradoxical cultural histories.
Before her weekend in Cleveland, Norment took some time to chat with us about her instruments and inspirations.
CMA: We have to ask - you moved to Norway from the States. When and why did you decide to move there?
Camille Norment: After ten years together in New York, we (Knut, 3-year old daughter Ravn, and I) moved to take up a residency in Paris for a year. I had already been working in Italy during the summers, and we felt it was a good time to relocate to Europe for a while. Our intention was to move to Berlin, but we found an irresistible situation in Oslo and stayed – longer than we’d ever anticipated! I have great affinity with the music scene here, and am thrilled to be a part of it. I’ve been following a few Norwegian recording sound artists since the 90s.
You're an artist in many ways. What came first for you - the visual, multi-media art or music?
Growing up, I was a dancer, and drew a lot. I also studied piano, but I have to admit that as much as I loved music, I was afraid of it to some extent. I think that I didn’t then understand how to negotiate the space between the music I loved to listen to and become completely absorbed in with my entire body, and these strictly notated works that I had to learn. I think my rather typical piano education activated too much of the perfectionist in me and was a heavy distraction. I love Bach and think he was a jazz man, but I think that then, that approach too easily became left-brain dominated for me. It took some time to let that go – there really is a straight line between the feeling and the music. Sound and music, have influenced my work from early on.
I did my BA in Comparative Literature and Art History, but then went on to an MFA program, entering as a painter. I was in New York then, and due to lack of space I started making objects and such on my kitchen table which, perhaps ironically, readily lead to installation work. This is all to say that generally, it was all happening at the same time to various degrees.
What inspired you to pick up the glass armonica in particular?
Yes, well that strange instrument was definitely the start of a new chapter. One day Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” started playing in iTunes and I had a sort of epiphany to use a rather loaded term. I used to listen to it a lot in the early 90s along with ambient, glitch and click...whatever. It was a staple in my sonic world. However, this time I heard a completely different composition/arrangement while it was playing. Here was black metal, there was a hovering unresolved beauty, there again was a wall of noise... and this high pitched pure tone that I could only associate with a sine wave, but wavering like playing the rim of a wine glass with a finger. When the track ended I was dumbstruck and enchanted. I felt that the only way I could hear it again was to somehow create it.
In researching how to prevent the wine glasses from falling over when you play a series of them, I came across the glass armonica which I had never heard of before. That was it. The icing on the cake was the discovery of its paradoxical history of being adored as the voices of angels, then being outlawed from fear of the power of its sound. It’s spatial omnipresence and relationship to pyschoacoustics fell right in line with my interests.
You've talked in the past about the sound of noise being akin to the sound of silence. In terms of your music, how would you classify it?
Take “white noise”, for example. It’s a form of noise that contains a full or at least very wide sonic spectrum. It contains so many individual tones that it appears as one, a “hush”. The sound of a waterfall is white noise, and considered a relaxing, peaceful sound akin to a silencing. It’s a noise that cancels out other sounds. Both digitally produced white noise and the sound of the waterfall are used to help people fall asleep. It’s a tool for people with tinnitus, creating a silence for those who constantly hear their own personal noise. Saying “shhhh” is probably one of the most basic, human forms of this concept. In this sense, the presense of a leveling noise as silence seems to be instinctive.
Are there any instruments, art forms, or entirely otherwise that you'd like to explore that you haven't already?
I’ve been writing for some time now, and look forward to when that breaches the surface as well – if ever, of course. I’d say that the voice isn’t fully formed yet, and it has a genre span wider than the music - but I’m very curious.
I do love stringed instruments, as they have a microtone advantage that the glass armonica certainly does not in its pure state, and an immediate mathematical draw. While I don’t intend to try to master any stringed instruments, it is a space that I think about conceptually and sonically.
What do you hope for audience members to come away with after seeing you perform at Transformer Station on Sunday?
Perhaps it would suffice to say that I’d like them come away feeling as they’d been drawn into a live soundscape with many points of entry. In my process, I approach the work as an artwork that has both experiential and conceptual layers. The work seeks not to perform conclusions, but rather to open up more spaces of query. I don’t intend to offer anyone what they already know.
See Camille Norment Trio at Transformer Station this Sunday, December 15: Tickets are $20 ($18 for CMA members) and available online, at the Cleveland Museum of Art box office, and Transformer Station. Please be advised seating is very limited.
> Details on this CMA Concert at Transformer Station
Listen to Camille Norment on Spotify: