‘Sub-bass makes me happy’: An interview with Stefanie Egedy
Stefanie Egedy investigates sound as a composer of conceptual pieces, music, commissioned works, and dance music. Currently, she is focused on researching the possibilities of low-frequency sound, bodies, and subwoofers. Her artistic practice ranges from installations to live performances as sonic propositions. Sub-bass, bass, infrasound, subwoofers, and their capacity to make themselves present in a space, are the foundations of her work. She co-runs the label COISAS QUE MATAM (THINGS THAT KILL), researches the relations between light and sound with Camille Laurent, and is in Executive Operations at Monom, Berlin’s Center for Spatial Sound.
You are from Brazil and based in Berlin at the moment. Can you talk about your background, and the environment you grew up in?
I grew up in São Paulo, hearing stories about how my family had to flee the European continent because they were Jewish, the maternal side during the URSS, and the paternal side right after WW2. Interestingly enough, today I live here in Germany where I feel at home. Experiencing Brazilian socioeconomic reality made me choose a degree that would give me the tools to act directly on the social inequality that I encountered every day. Having decided that I would work either in the government or in social projects, I then studied Public Administration in 2014, and two years later, I couldn’t hold back the desire to study philosophy. My parents always listened to a lot of music and along with that, in 2012, I lived in Narrabeen, Australia, which had a beautiful warehouse party scene where I became obsessed with sound in a way that no longer provided a way back.
I came back to SP and decided I would start DJing in parallel with my studies. It was at the time when the independent party scene in SP was happening in housing occupations and hellholes around the city. I was living in two worlds with gigs at night and public policy exams in the morning. At the BLUM party, I got my first residency in 2014. Soon after, I joined the collective OBRA, a more grey and fast-paced techno party, and in 2016, also the artist-run space DaHaus where I explored the more experimental side of my work and where I started my band NADA DO OUTRO LADO and the label THINGS THAT KILL.
This party scene, which started with Voodoohop, Mamba Negra, and Carlos Capslock, was what I call my second school, along with the experimental music scene in the city. My friends knew where to find me, always in the subs left sector of the dance floor. The number of existential reflections I shaped on the dance floor about ways of being, the self in the collective, being unified while dancing and focused on the music, and how my body perceived sound was fundamental for me. I realised that I also wanted to compose, so I started with dance music and then explored possibilities without using a kick drum. Alongside exploring other sound approaches in my research with Camille Laurent throughout an ongoing process and some SESC and Funarte presentations, I started to get commissioned to create conceptual pieces and soundtracks. In those years in SP, I was lucky to have some mentors and people who supported me. In 2018 I made my debut at the Mamba Negra party, with a dance music live set (Cashu and Laura Diaz were always a big inspiration to me), at Novas Frequências (invited by Chico Dub who is one of my biggest supporters to this day) with an experimental piece called Falha Comum, at the MIS (Image and Sound Museum of São Paulo) and also at the Museum of Modern Arts in Buenos Aires and my first Euro tour back in 2019.
I lived surrounded by other inspiring people in this context of the parties, at DaHaus, and in the experimental music events. In fact, I have an extensive list of people who have contributed throughout my journey in SP and now in Berlin. At some point, the sound took over and it was a conflicting process until I embraced my sound artist side and paused the public administrator one, and also accepted that my main instrument is the subwoofer and that I wanted to specialise in low-frequency sound.
You research low-frequency sound, more or less inaudible sound. Namely, infrasound and sub-bass (subwoofers) is what is at the centre of your research. Can you talk about where it all started?
At some point, I started to ask myself why I liked to stay for long periods glued to the subwoofers and dancing. It was then that I perceived the good the sound did my body and how much sub-bass makes me happy and energised. It was a whole process that made me, let’s say, obsessed with this sound that I could feel on my skin, and that made me high without a hangover. Of course, I also always loved to dance and surf bass, as if the sound waves shaped my body movements. It was natural that I wanted to know how to operate this kind of frequency and as soon as I started producing, I made sure to have them present in almost all of my works, from tracks to conceptual pieces and concerts.
The residency I did at Red Bull Station SP in 2017, was a turning point in this process, I met the master of subwoofers ”Rafael Lins” who taught me about arranging subwoofers in space and it was during this period that I spent 53 days studying this type of speaker with my research partner and lighting designer, Camille Laurent, when we then created the installation Sala de Passagem. She was and is essential in this process of understanding my research object and its possibilities. Then, in 2020, I conceptualised BODIES AND SUBWOOFERS (B.A.S.) a creative methodology that synthesises my practice and research in composing installations and concerts with low frequencies, in conjunction with unorthodox subwoofers arrangements. In this methodology, I study the dimensions of the space, create a sub-arrangement for it, and then compose a piece for that room. It forms an installation that I usually also do concerts in.
Sound, as such, has many attributes and uses. Infrasound, for instance, has been used to detect whether a nuclear detonation has occurred, for earthquake detection or even ghost sightings. What aspect of infrasound have you researched, and what are the aspects that you find most fascinating.
My main interest in the low end is the relationship and possibilities between sound frequencies and the human body. The destructive aspect of sound, be it in sonic weapons, is indeed very interesting, but it is the constructive aspect that delights me, the benefit that it can bring to us. I research articles that explore this scope, as well as a series of studies that use these sounds to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and depression. Recently, in August (2022), I explored infrasound with the VLCF Meyer subwoofer. The relaxing impact of this sound is indisputable to me. I had the opportunity to compose the infrasonic soundtrack for Animate (which sits at the crossroad of performance, installation and radio play, utilising the newest Virtual and Augmented Reality technologies) at the KunstFest Weimar.
The physicality of sound is almost literal with low-frequency sounds, like sub-bass. You simply feel it. Some to the point of being nauseous. How does sound influence the body, and vice versa?
So far, my research is empirical, and I have found relaxing benefits, both in reducing anxiety, stress, and headaches, and in reinvigoration. Some people who experience my work often report something along the lines of what I have described above. It feels as if the whole body was shaken up and change happened, almost as a reset.
Low-frequency sound has the capacity to touch bodies and offer what I call a vibrational experience. Invisible to the eye, yet immediately noted by the body, the sonorous touch embraces bodies and spaces. These long sound waves are capable of filling the air with pressure while caring about the bodies. To feel touched and hugged by sound waves. Our skin feels, and our body listens to this unique sound massage enabled by low-frequency sound waves and subwoofers. For me, it is about feeling whole and connected. I am about to start scientific research which I am very excited about!
Besides being a sound artist and researcher, you are also working at MONOM Sound in Berlin, an experimental performance venue and spatial sound recording studio. Can you talk about your work there?
Monom Studios is where I get to explore and develop in-depth my business and administrative skills. When I started working back in 2020, I experienced all the different sectors of the company and now I am the Executive Operations. Meaning that I handle all projects and productions, from project management to financials as well as some back-office aspects. While I get to be involved in some really cool projects, such as CODESS at Berghain, Animate, our in-house events and the upcoming Spatial Festival, I get to work around (spatial) sound and can also participate as an artist. Besides, overall, the team is fun, and we joke a lot. Joking and laughing are very important to me. Even though some people report I have a closed face sometimes, I am a serious joker and a laugher.
And you also co-run a label called COISAS QUE MATAM (THINGS THAT KILL) and research the relations between light and sound. What aspects of this relationship do you focus on and what are some of the findings? (What does the title of the label refer to, if I may ask?
In 2016, I met Camille Laurent while I was doing the soundtrack for PAY, a dance company where she was the lighting designer. We immediately clicked and decided to start collective research where we investigate the suspension, even if it is only momentary, of physical and mental control through the spatialisation of light and sound. With this intent, we create installations and performances that explore the use of light and sound movements. She was one of my mentors as a producer and artist and our work is very dear to me (more at caste.cc). Together we joined DaHaus, an artist-run space / atelier with artists exploring expanded cinema and sound.
There, I met one of my sound mentors. Muep Etmo. and I had a full-time 18’’ subwoofer that another mentor, Manuel Pessoa de Lima, brought to the space. In one of the collective exhibitions, Muep, myself and Simon Fernandes decided to join other partners and explore creations with them. The three of us got together and created our band, Nada Do Outro Lado (piano, subwoofers, and synths). We decided to record the show and make a 2-sided EP ‘’Nada do Outro Lado’’ which we loved so much that we had the idea of creating a label to release it. Muep Etmo came up with the name COISAS QUE MATAM and we said ‘’yes’’. Since then (2017), the label has been active, until last year with another source of inspiration, Simon Fernandes, and currently with my artistic advisor and greatest friend, Vinicius Maffei, and now also with Ana Carolina Rocha in the team. My idea behind it is to release artists that explore the intersection of dance, post-punk and experimental music, historic SP musicians, and now artists that I am meeting. We mainly release cassettes but also launched our first artbook last year (‘’Dear world you have made the person slow by Elena Kauffman). My album with Bella (one of my sound mentors – yes, I was and am super lucky to have so many mentors), called “ELE NÃO QUER ABRIR MÃO’’, was the penultimate release (2022), even though we recorded it in 2020, still in SP. Well, the last sentence of the interview will be on how I enjoy making sound together with other female-identifying artists and that co-creating can be challenging in so many ways, yet it matures us.
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova
Photo Sascha Markus