Jane in Iceland

by Jane Aubourg

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This July I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Iceland and travel with a group of artists as part of Light Grey Art Lab’s Midnight Sun Art Camp. I got to see some awe-inspiring, gorgeous places and meet some awe-inspiring, gorgeous people.

Being in a completely new place with completely new people, who are all there to take in their surroundings with their artistic practice in mind, was an amazing experience. I learnt to listen in new ways, I learnt to see in new ways, and had breakthroughs in my music and playing that I’m very excited to continue exploring back at home.

Armed with my trusty Zoom recorder, I captured moments big and small as we explored the north of Iceland. I was really interested in the way that having a microphone in hand really changed the way I listened to my surroundings. Sometimes there was a sound interrupting, interacting, or overshadowing the original reason for turning on the microphone. Stepping back from frustration and into curiosity towards the soundscape as a whole is a learning process that I am still going through; that there is a certain authenticity in an imperfect recording. I have tried to capture an aspect of Iceland as I experienced it, rather than attempting to create an imagined version of Iceland that fits expectations.

As I continue to write the pieces that were started during my time in Iceland, I will be trying to keep that attitude by creating work that reflects my personal experiences rather than catering to anxieties about the music not meeting expectations (not being experimental enough, too experimental, not academic enough, too academic, too different to my other work, too similar to my other work, etc.). I will follow my instincts and trust anyone listening to come along with me.

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Something that I will be trying to reflect on is the landscape in Iceland, which was one of extremes of scale. There are very few trees and the landscape can look barren. Look closer, however, and it has so much going on. Tiny berries, mosses, lichen, and small flowers all sit together and on top of one another. The plants have a tenuous grip on the soil, so being thoughtful about where you step and the destruction you can leave behind is important.

Step back again and your breath will be taken away by the scale and shape of the mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, craters, and lava formations. Though they were more obvious, they were much more difficult to capture in photos!

How do you capture such extremes of scale in music? How do you perform it? I don’t have answers yet, but with any luck things will emerge from the experiments ahead of me.

Something I took away from the experience of living with a group of artists I had never met before was that it’s not only important to give yourself opportunity for artistic experiences, but also that communicating your ideas to others is such a valuable part of the creative process. No idea comes into your head fully formed, and so many details and connections become clearer to you when you begin the messy work of translating it to others.

Having people around you who are open in a genuine, vulnerable, and enthusiastic way is invaluable to the process. Equally important for myself (or perhaps even more so!) is being that person for others and cultivating a genuine sense of enthusiasm for the ideas and projects of others. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to surround myself with the wonderful Light Grey Art Lab crew and the Midnight Sun family with whom I felt that happen.

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Being a musician in a household of visual artists for a week affords some interesting opportunity for collaboration.

Some things I have really enjoyed exploring with the music box project over the last few years (and particularly in Playshop) are:

  • interpreting visual art as graphic scores

  • trying new ways of exploring communal and collaborative authorship

  • finding new ways to involve and connect with an audience that might not have a musical background

These exciting ideas were swimming in my head when I invited the other artists of the Midnight Sun family to contribute to a graphic score.

Everyone was really excited by the idea of creating a score, and they didn’t hold back! The result was a score with really interesting variation. The influence of the place we were in and the week we had spent together was strong, and I was really interested to see the similarities between some of contributions and my own graphic notes made during the trip. I love that I can see their styles and personalities come through in each section.

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A small detail that I found really funny from the experience: I had ruled a few lines to help divide the page up between everyone. As a musician, I would have used the line as a stave (running through the centre of what I drew) but as illustrators they interpreted them as panels to fill! If I do it again, I think I would also get their input into the layout of the page, as many of the artists do amazing things in the layout of their own work and that would be really interesting to have in a score.

I plan to do 2 versions of this work: one as a solo interpretation, and one with the music box project. I’d really like to detail the process of interpretation in both cases, and the different forms the music and performance will take (so stay tuned!).

After the whirlwind week of the Art Camp, I appreciated having time to decompress in the wilderness with my partner, who helped me to start exploring the seeds of new ideas in more detail, always with a sense of wonder and thoughtfulness. Here again, I learnt that involving others in your process and your craft helps to bring a deeper connection between yourself, your art, and those around you who experience it.

I loved my time in Iceland, but coming home was wonderful, and I felt it in more ways than just the geographical sense. It meant appreciating the inspiring collaborators I have here in the music box project (where enthusiasm, openness, and playfulness are never in short supply) and the wonderful community who listen to us play.

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