Fine artist and musician Iku just released her new EP Body Horror. With PW-Magazine she shares her way of producing, why she is longing for collapsing structures and her thoughts on supporting networks.
After her last release on Gernot Centre and several self-uploaded tracks and mixes, Iku has now put out her new EP Body Horror on Berlin’s Creamcake. With tags like ambient, hypnotic and sound art the Frankfurt-based musician is creating enigmatic pieces that are simultaneously frightening and comforting. Johanna Odersky aka Iku is studying fine arts at Städelschule with her practice alternating between sculptures and music. Seeing the material and the immaterial as being entangled, her interest in how forms structure and give meaning to physical space is also reflected sonically. Starting with classical piano education as a child, Iku began to produce music around 2014 by just overlaying random sounds and videos.
On her three-titled EP Body Horror Iku uses associative sampling, often densely layered and interwoven as a play between clarity and blurriness. Iku’s sound feels uncanny, it deals with psychological conditions of the mind. This is also reflected in the title as »Body Horror« also refers to distortions which are being inflicted on the body by a loss of control over it. Her single release À Tes Yeux refers to a line of a Bronski Beat song she sampled. The track is accentuated by French lyrics in a mix of half-articulated piano progressions and an incomplete guitar sample that swirls only to be suspended in a milieu of synth elements.
We talked to Iku, and Viennese artist Evelyn Plaschg illustrated our feature with drawings of Johanna and her cat Bönji.
You once posted on Instagram »Why is it so hard to write lyrics?«. How do you finally find your way to put down words? How does your work process look like?
I actually didn’t really overcome my difficulty with writing; I had to trash 90 % of what I had written for Body Horror. It’s hard for me to write down my thoughts because I rarely think in words. If one could describe thoughts at all I would say mine are more like images or moods. That’s why as a writing process I found it more compelling to apply the idea of sampling. I take most of the lyrics from somewhere else, to then alter and reinsert them into a different context. I like speaking through someone else’s words: it is a type of appropriation, one that remains playful while also removing the unnecessary seriousness and one-dimensionality that I associate with writing.
What role do vocals and lyrics play in your productions?
I think the reception of tracks with vocals is different from instrumental ones. People like to link the sounds they hear with an identity. Voice is somehow perceived as a more authentic mode of expression. I treat vocals with the same level of attention and care as other elements in my music; they are just as malleable and artificial as other sounds I use. I’ve increasingly worked with lyrics over the past year because I’ve become more interested in the performative qualities of language and speech as something that produces meaning and therefore power. Power is often mistaken for truth and becomes most visible to me when it happens in and through language.
The word fugue, which is the title of your last album, in a music-theoretical way describes your approach to a contrapuntal composition of themes that are repeated, successively taken up and developed by interweaving parts. Fugue is also the name for a dissociative disorder characterized by the loss of one’s own identity, restlessness and an escape reflex. Do you also find this psychological aspect in your music?
Yes, definitely. Listening to and producing music has always helped me deal with mental health. Especially in the beginning I was working with very emotionally loaded and sad music, partly because it reflected my own feelings, partly because I find forms triggering sadness and dissociation very interesting aesthetical tools. The position of fugitivity, of giving up interests me because it escapes the binary of success and failure. It refuses the structures that allow only two possible outcomes in the first place and instead opens up a third possibility, one that is not only about escaping but also about asserting the freedom to pass up rigid structures and their seemingly stiff dichotomies.
Our brain is always searching for consistent patterns in pictures or sounds. Do you play with these structures by using breaking fragments and several layers in your compositions?
The most interesting aspect of producing realities is to then see reality come undone, again and again. I always dismantle the arrangements I create, because such structures enable but also limit. Structures in general seem to have this contradictory effect, and I think they are the most productive when they collapse. Messiness and brokenness leave more possibilities open.
You only started to perform your pieces live last year. How do you feel as a performer now?
When I started producing music, I never intended it to be played outside of the private setting of someone’s bedroom. I also never enjoyed drawing too much attention to myself and my body, which somewhat discarded the possibility of performing my music. After releasing Fugue with Genot Centre, they asked me to play a live set at the release party. Although a bit hesitant, I decided to give it a try. I found the physical circumstances of performing—the actual place and space you are in, the bodily and mental state you find yourself in, the bodies that surround you and so on—as being part of the music, or at least having a huge influence on how the music is perceived. When performed in real time and in real space, the sounds almost become material, and this liveness opens a terrain for negotiation. It’s a space where expectations are confirmed and reproduced but can also be overridden and reformulated. Since then I’m trying to figure out how to make use of this, how to make it interesting for me as well as for the audience, how to be live without surrendering to some entertainment imperative.
How did your collaboration with Creamcake come about?
When I performed for the first time with Genot Centre, Organ Tapes played that same night. He had his own release party with Creamcake at Berghain’s Säule a couple of weeks later. He showed them my music and they invited me to play at that party too. It was my second concert ever so you can imagine how intimidating and traumatic it was, but also how wonderful and honoring it was to be invited into this new community.
Since then, Dani and Anja from Creamcake have been incredibly supportive and we’ve worked together several times. Last summer they invited me to play two live sets and show some sculptures in an exhibition at INFRA festival in Tokyo, and I also participated in the last edition of the 3hd festival. I’m so grateful to be able to work with them because they really understand and appreciate the different facets of my artistic practice, including my sculptural and my sound practices.
What value does a supportive network have for your work and for the scene in general?
It’s probably what is most important, during and after or maybe even before actually producing the work. Communities that form around shared interests, people who ally to establish a common ground and groups working towards something together are the most precious in my opinion. They offer a safe space for sharing knowledge that really enables each other mutually and reciprocally. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to work with such generous and motivated people during my creative process, and the outcomes reach beyond the outlines of my person.
What are the next things coming up?
I have some exciting projects coming up this fall, so in the next weeks I’ll be focusing on producing some new artworks. I’m participating in a group show about queerness and the occult in Frankfurt end of September and I’m also planning on collaborating on an animation piece with artist, friend and studio mate Nadia Perlov.
There will be a launch party—also featuring Cecilia live, CYPHR, Dis Fig, and Flagalova—on August 9 in Berlin.