During our time at this year’s SPOT FESTIVAL we met three of the nine IKI members and had a great conversation with them. We talked about vocal-improvisation, the human voice, the philosophy behind their music, about children who would like to join their concerts and a lot more. A very enlightening conversation that broadened our minds and surely will broaden yours, too.

How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
Anna María Björnsdóttir- We started in 2009 as a vocal ensemble – we were just like experimenting something. And then it kind of developed in to a band because we enjoyed it. And it’s like improvising on the spot always and never having anything decided. So sometimes we are just like “how are we feeling today?”, how was the scene we were playing at, how was the weather and everything. We kind of get inspiration of everything. It’s always very exciting for us.
Anna Mose- Never get bored.

Are there different roles already?
Anna Mose- I guess people kind of find we have not been singing together for years. We in a way find our own roles in the band but we haven’t decided like “you should be the bass and you should be the drums” – like most other vocal groups do, because most of them want to sound like a band or sound like a band that you know in its regular form. But we found out that we tend to do some of the same things – each of us. We have like a specific character-thing that we’re good at and we find our own strength. So you can say that’s kind of a goal but it’s not decided.We can basically do whatever we feel like.
Sofie Holm- Sometimes we have like dogmas – like for example for the concert today: “Okay let’s think about warm countries. Brazil.” And stuff like that. And then that was the inspiration and we do music out of that.

And where did the idea come from to do vocal improvisation?
Anna Mose- It started out when we met at the same music school – the music conservatory in Copenhagen. There are a lot singers there but they really do that much stuff together and there was just a couple of singers that said “Let’s improvise together. Let’s meet and just sing. And everybody who wants can join.” And then we had a couple of sessions and some people fell off and then we were nine of us that were left.

So it was also by accident that you all are women and that there is no male-singer in IKI?
Sofie Holm- Yeah.
Anna Mose- Yes, definitely.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- Yeah.
Anna Mose- We contacted all the singers we knew – also guys. Also the number of nine people. It was never supposed to be like this.

Does it happen that nothing happens? That you are on stage and no-one does anything?
Anna María Björnsdóttir- Yah. Sometimes it could be quiet for a couple of minutes. But that’s cool, because that’s a part of what we do.
Sofie Holm- I guess we feel very comfortable with that, because in that silence different things can be created – like suddenly someone comes up with an idea. Maybe it can sometimes be much stronger when it’s silence…

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Anna María Björnsdóttir

Anna Mose

Sofie Holm

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But is it for you kind of pressure when it’s silent? Do you think “aah I need to do something.”
Anna María Björnsdóttir- Sometimes it has happened.
Anna Mose- That has something to do where you are at. Because if you are in the right mood and if you’re in the right place while you’re on stage then the silence is not a bad thing then the silence is also music, it is a part of the music. So if there has just been a very loud part and then there’s silence then that’s definitely give the audience some impression of something.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- But that it’s also like our strength that we are so many. You are not pressured, because if you don’t have anything you can pretty much say to yourself “I know somebody else has something good.” So it’s a strength of us to be so many.
Sofie Holm- And also that we are not singing all together all the time. Sometimes only two persons, sometimes five. Whatever. This changes through a piece of music.
Anna Mose- That mental thing about being on stage is really exciting. That moment before you go to stage when you don’t know what you will do when you are on stage. That’s kind of really…
Anna María Björnsdóttir- …scary.

So you don’t have a plan that says who starts a show?
Anna Mose- We could do something like that. But it’s not that specific. It’s more like we get together and have some pep-talk or something. And then we have a certain energy or we have all maybe have something in mind when we go on stage.
Sofie Holm- Sometimes we ask the audience in the middle of the concert “Hey you guys, do you have a word?”
Anna María Björnsdóttir- Yesterday it was “elephant”.
Anna Mose- That was very interesting actually.

But there is no leader or “boss” in your group?
Anna María Björnsdóttir- That’s also because we all are also solo-singers as individuals with our own music and bands. But this is something we all find really important – that we all are together, because when you’re in the front in your solo-project then you are leading everything and you have the pressure and so we divide it.
Sofie Holm- Yeah and singing with other vocalists in this kind of way is very special and important to us. It’s very rare that singers actually do this – well a choir or a vocal-group where it’s like “you sing the soprano and you sing…” But like this a lot of instrumental bands do it – like improvising and jamming. In the jazz-tradition like (singing a short drum-solo). But in this way it’s pretty rare I think.
Anna Mose- This definitely is another feeling to sing and improvise and make free music with only voices. Some of us have been singing free music with instrumentalists and sometimes it can be little hard to find your space as a singer, because they can all play really loud and they can do everything. You just have your voice and sometimes you just don’t fit it. I feel like that at least. And then when we started IKI it was just like “woow we have this thing” – it was all voices and it became a very strong unit and I think that affects the audience as well. They can relate to the voices in another way. Yeah that’s kinda interesting…because they all – even though they are not interested in musicians and maybe not that interested in music – they all have voices, so they can relate to the things we are doing with our voices, because we’re not only singing with our voices.

But for most of the people it’s more art than music? How do people receive what you do?
Sofie Holm- It’s very different. Some people are like “woooooo”

Because I think many people don’t understand what you do…
Sofie Holm- Actually some people get scared. Like “wooow nine young women standing there and making (caws a noise)” That’s interesting to create something that makes people react – think or wonder or whatever. I’ve also been asked a couple of times after a concert “Who wrote that piece or that song” – nobody did. Some people find it hard to understand…
Anna María Björnsdóttir- Also when we have lyrics. We have sometimes lyrics in all of our languages and that’s why people sometimes just don’t believe it…
Anna Mose- That the lyrics were made right on the spot, too. It’s interesting that when we push it to the edge with our voices. And experiment with what the human voice can do other than just making notes and making beautiful music and making choir-music – but also (screams and grunts) – like crazy stuff. And that has a strong effect on some but it’s very important to us to show that you can do many things. You can do very beautiful music and still improvise it, because we all have a jazz-backround. And when you talk about free music and free jazz in that environment it kind of already has it’s genre – even though they call it free. Maybe someone would disagree with me but there are some kind of rules. If you are an instrumental band that’s playing free and then playing very beautiful lyrics-music – that’s just nice. I think maybe it’s easier when you have voices, because you can hear and follow each other in a way. In that way we can reach the audience in another way, too. They can relax and enjoy the music…

So you are only a live-band that lives by the live-situations?
Anna Mose- We actually did make an album.

But you actually don’t play it live because you improvise always…
Anna Mose- Exactly! That’s the thing…we can’t play the hits from the album.
Sofie Holm- We just booked a studio for three days and then we just sang. After that we had like seven hours of music and we picked out our twelve favorite tracks for the album.
Anna Mose- Some of the tracks are almost like they were in the studio – just mixed with effects and reverb and stuff. But some of the others are cut and made together…
Sofie Holm- One is funny…That’s two different pieces we made on two different days…
Anna Mose- Two different moods…
Sofie Holm- And we put them together. We were just like lets put them together, let’s try it and then we were like “wow that’s it!”

Were are you booked? Is it more a jazz backround or where do you play?
Anna Mose- We fit in many different places. We can fit in the jazz-scene and go to jazz-festival. But we can also fit into the worldmusic-scene, because of our strong Nordic roots…we have that sound in us. So that we have been doing a lot. But we’ve also have just been booked for like crazy, artsy events or like crossover-stuff. We can actually do a lot of stuff because we can adjust the music. If we should sing in a cozy café then we would of course not do something crazy that would disturb the audience – then we’d do something nice. We can adjust quite much.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- It is very interesting with the collaborations we did. We have been working together with some dancers, musicians, different poets. It’s very interesting to create something from different art-forms. Suddenly you get something old in a new shape.
Anna Mose- And to have something that gives us inspiration. Something very specific. For example dancers who also improvise their dance. Then it’s fun to see who’s taking it and who is inspired by who.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- And we did a soundtrack for a theater-play in Copenhagen…
Anna Mose- …a live-soundtrack.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- …the instructor said “in this specific part the character is feeling like this and this.” But it was also different every night.

So to sum it up: what keeps you driving is to see the reaction of the people in the live-situations?
Anna Mose- Exactly.

…And to see by what you are inspired in the very moment?
Sofie Holm- Yeah…I think it’s also something about showing that the human being is able to create so many things on the spot. I mean today we do a lot of this. You learn something, you have to be there in that time and this is right and this is wrong. And in the school it’s a lot like right-wrong-right and that’s very good as well but I don’t know how to say…

Is it about breaking up structures? Especially with singing… we always think “this is wrong and this is right.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- Exactly.
Sofie Holm- And a lot of people actually…some people are scared of their own voices. I’ve heard so often “no I can’t sing” – you know you have a voice and I’m sure you’re doing it when you’re in the shower. Don’t be scared of your voice it’s part of being a human-being. I really love that part about it it’s so important.
Anna Mose- Anything is possible.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- There is no right or wrong. If you believe in what you’re doing and then it works.

So it’s kind of philosophical and much more than just singing what you do…
Sofie Holm- It is a philosophy for us.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- That’s a big part of our rehearses. When we rehearse we talk a lot about this stuff, because it’s such a big part of it.
Anna Mose- And because it has almost a healing and meditative effect on us. Singing together means so much for us. It can help any bad day – to sing with IKI. Because then you’ve got into that place when you’ve just focusing on what you’re doing now and not thinking about what you just did and not thinking about what’s gonna happen.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- You’re like 120% in the moment and react to everything that’s happening.
Anna Mose- You can find yourself thinking “Oh my god I’m not even thinking about what I’m doing, I’m just doing it.”
Sofie Holm- All of us do that sometimes in some aspects of our lives.
Anna Mose- And that’s so interesting to be pushed – or forced – to do this thing every time. Because you can’t do anything you’ve done before. You have to do something new.

So does it happen that you have an idea and do it and then suddenly realize “Oh I did this last night”?
Anna María Björnsdóttir- Well I mean everyone else maybe react differently and they change it maybe.
Anna Mose- We have like stuff we feel we know we can do. It’s never completely the same, but of course we have some kind of soundscapes we know we’ve heard before.But that’s alright.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- And also if we would be only four people then it would be more difficult to always find something new. But so we are so many…

And did it ever happen that in a live-situation one of you made a noise and another one of you had to laugh of was shocked about this?
Anna María Björnsdóttir- Yeah, yeah. Definitely.
Anna Mose- That’s a great part of it.
Sofie Holm- Also to show the audience that…
Anna Mose- …it’s not so serious. (everyone is laughing) We had this joke when we kind of make fun of ourselves – “Ok it’s so serious, I have to be in the moment” – and then someone’s just sitting and feel like it and suddenly “Brrrbrblp” (a strange short noise) – yeah really silly.
Sofie Holm- It’s so great. It’s allowed to laugh and it’s also to show the audience. If someone is doing “aahaahaah” (a noise that sounds like a bird) you don’t need to “uff”. Of course not.
Anna Mose- And then it’s about to do something out of the laughter. Like developing it into something new. We tried a lot of times that something happens during the concert – like something from outer the concert-space. Like yesterday when there was that loudspeaker that was like “dingdong” and some voice doing some like information. And then someone started to talk with it. We use it. Instead of trying to avoid it…because then people think “oh that wasn’t supposed to happen” – we invite it in and so people think this was planned.
Sofie Holm- And it’s also like if I start something but I can never know what’s gonna happen. Maybe I have an idea of something, but I haven’t spoken with them about it so maybe something totally different comes out. Often something totally different comes out.
Anna Mose- You have to be open about it and change your ideas.

What is a good concert for you? And what is a concert when you afterwards say “oh this wasn’t good”?
Anna Mose- It does happen that we’re not satisfied and it does happen that it’s not perfect or amazing…

You can’t say “oh I played everything right” – because there is no right and wrong.
Anna Mose- That’s right.
Sofie Holm- But you can say “I was 100% in the moment tonight.” – “We were there.” It’s a lot about trusting in each other and lot of communication. When it’s on the highest then it works for us.
Anna Mose- Sometimes it can’t be great and that’s a nice thing, too. Because then you can feel that we’re not perfect even if we’re doing this on the spot. Like when you’re in the audience and listening to a concert – that thought of “oh is it OK or maybe is it going to fall apart” and that’s a nice tension as well to have. That’s what we feel as well when we go on stage “OK is it gonna go good, maybe it’s gonna…” Maybe we are standing there and nobody will do anything, maybe we’ll fuck it up or we do something amazing. That’s just a part of it not to know what will happen.
Sofie Holm- It’s a lot about kids in the playground – somehow. You know we’re just about having a great time. Actually there have been kids and that’s so funny, because they really understand, because they don’t have this filter built…
Anna Mose- Or they want to join us… And it’s very rare that there are grown-ups in the audience that join us.

So what about SPOT FESTIVAL – have you been here before?
Anna Mose- We haven’t been here with IKI so far. So we’re really excited about it – about the audience is gonna take it.
Anna María Björnsdóttir- Maybe it’s a different kind of audience we’ve had before.
Anna Mose- There are definitely a lot of musicians here in the audience. That’s an interesting point.

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IKI
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vocal improvisation
from Copenhagen, Denmark

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