Kikimore is a collective of six female sound explorers, based in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, who have been experimenting and creating boisterous soundscapes since 2016. Their fundamental principle is improvisation within a basic structure, developing the skill of each member’s personal and unique musical expression, looking for patterns in which, mostly, both DIY analog instruments and their users interact with and respond to each other, and also contribute individually to the group’s overall musical expression. They work in constructed units or dimensions, allowing a flexibility and variety in the way their entire musical structures work, making them scalable and modular. Here we talk to one of the members of the collective, Barbara Poček.
What have you been up to as Kikimore in the last few months?
We’ve started talking about two possible releases in 2020. One with a local label, focusing on experimental music, called Kamizdat, and the other with a Autogenesis, which allies music/sound releases and written publications. Another project in the pipeline is a sound piece for an 8-channel sound installation called Sonoretum, which is a part of the Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana.
Are the releases made live? How do you create the music for the release?
We still have to figure it out as we haven’t released anything yet. I think we’ll try to stay true to our live performances of one long piece of between 30-40 minutes performed from beginning to end.
Would it be improvised?
We never fully improvise. We always make a basic structure with a basic dramaturgy that we then shape and remodel according to how many of us are available at a given live performance, but within that, there’s still a lot of room for improvisation.
We play with atmospheres a lot, transgressing from ambient mode to very dark and more industrial sounding landscapes. But we tend to explore the sound and the capacities of our instruments and have fun while doing it.
Does the music itself also depend on who’s currently playing? Kikimore is a collective of six, but they perform in modular variations of 3-6 members)?
For every performance we do, we first need to do a count of how many of us are available and then adapt accordingly. The rehearsals leading up to the performance are always designed to make adaptations and structure things depending on who is performing and which instruments we’re using. We’ve collected and built over 20 different instruments between us so far. We also use sound recordings and voice so there’s a lot to choose from. So things never sound completely the same.
You started the project in 2016 in Ljubljana’s thriving art & music scene.
There were a few organisations here that were organising DIY hardware workshops. One of them was MoTA/Sonica, the other one was Ljudmila. All of us were going to these workshops. At some point we encountered the ČIPke Initiative for women with a bent for technology, science, and art in science, based at Kersnikova Institute and founded by Saša Spačal and Ida Hiršenfelder. They knew all of us and knew we had a bunch of instruments at home, so they sent us an email saying they had a space and a free time slot on Mondays at Rampa hacker space at Kersnikova Institute, which provided us with a mixing table and sound system. We brought along all our instruments and played. Our gatherings were called “noise tea parties” and we started out just for fun, to see what the instruments could do. Six of us showed up and we ended up meeting every two weeks just to play noise, without any ambition that this might turn into a band at some point. But then we were invited by Ida and Saša to have what they framed as a “public rehearsal” at a small festival called Chill & Grill, deep in the Slovenian forest, but that ended up as our first gig. At that point it became obvious that this was something we enjoyed doing and we weren’t going to stop and Kikimore was born.
Did you feel that the environment in Ljubljana was encouraging?
I think we came together at the right time, when there was a lot of interest in women working in experimental music and art. We definitely had a lot of local support. Ida and Saša were previously part of the Theremidi Orchestra, which was a much bigger group of people who were performing with DIY instruments. They had a lot of success, but due to the size of the group they stopped performing at some point, but we always considered them as our forebears and Ida and Saša always acted as some sort of “godmothers” for us. They supported and pushed us a lot. But the DIY scene here in general is very supportive. It’s a very closely knit community and I think in general we’re in the right place at the right time.
Kikimore is also named after a mythical female spirit from Eastern European mythology. How important is this feminist/female-oriented aspect to Kikimore? Could a man apply to become part of the collective?
That happened very organically. It was formed within ČIPke, which is an initiative supporting women interested in art and technology, and that pretty much framed us as a female collective and for now we embrace that we’re exactly that, but when it comes to collaborations, there are no hesitations about working with anyone we find interesting.
We have an ongoing debate about the feminist aspect. It’s present, but the importance it bears is different for each of us. We’re more aware of the fact that we’re all women doing a very techy, niche thing where women are more of an exception than a rule, and we treat it more as a consequence than a statement.
Also, the scene in Ljubljana right now has many strong female artists – not only in music but also in art and intermedia, there are many artists really pushing the boundaries and getting a lot of international recognition. And there’s a lot of cooperation between women on the alternative-activist scene, which definitely makes a big difference. But this isn’t only the case with Ljubljana; I think it has also changed on the global, European scale in the past five or six years. There were very few women working in the alternative or experimental scene before then. This has changed recently, which is a great leap forward. But on the other hand, one has to be aware that there’s also a lot of media hype geared towards female or transgender artists now. Ten years ago there was a geographical trend, where Eastern Europe was suddenly interesting, and then that trend died down and everybody forgot that Eastern Europe existed. This tokenism of artists, or trends as such, is a slippery slope. Trends tend to leave a lot of things on the margins and I think we need to be aware of this as we discuss topics as important as inclusion and equal opportunities .
You build your own instruments. How important is that in the context of your work?
This was definitely the founding moment for us. Building your own instruments has a strong ritualistic aspect to it.
Before we had Kikimore, I was looking for ways to be closer to music. I was interested in these instruments, I was going to workshops. It’s very far from what I do otherwise professionally, which is theatre production, and that’s why I enjoy it so much. It takes me away from everyday life. At these workshops, you have hours just focusing on one thing. It’s like meditation and I feel we all share a strong connection to that and to developing it in different ways. For example, one of our members, Staša Guček, came a very long way, from being a participant in these workshops to being someone who is now capable of designing her own instruments and mentoring workshops.
You are also involved in other activities, what is your ambition with Kikimore? Do you see yourself going full-time with this project? What sort of position does it have in your lives?
It’s definitely something that we all want to keep in our lives. We’re not setting any rules or goals about how we want to do that. The music industry is hard enough to survive in as it is let alone for a six-member collective. It’s a very niche thing that we do and I don’t think we have any illusions that it’ll ever attract masses or that it’s something that we can do for a living. Since it’s not something that we depend on financially, that takes away a lot of pressure. We all have jobs. I work in theatre, we also have a dentist and a wine trader in the collective. None of us depends on this, it’s not existential. And although time-wise this can be a curse, it’s also a privilege as we can always allow ourselves to fail.
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova
Photo by Primož Zorko