Olivia Block is a media artist and composer. She creates experimental music for releases and concerts, site-specific multi-speaker installations, sound design for cinema and scores for orchestra and chamber groups. Her compositions include electronic textures, field recordings, amplified objects and orchestral instruments. She performs using oscillators, microphones, amplified objects, shortwave radio, and many other sound-making materials. Feature articles about Block have been published in The Wire, NPR’s Morning Edition, MusicWorks, The Chicago Reader, Fluid Radio, and many others. Block tours internationally and resides in Chicago, IL. Her latest CD release, 132 Ranks, is currently published on Room40.
1: I love my work and I believe music is positive and generative.
2: I believe in mysterious forces.
3: It’s important to question the notion of human exceptionalism. I try and always remember that as a human being, I am, by nature, dangerous to every living thing around me. I try not to do damage if I can help it, but it is nearly impossible. I feel a deep sense of sadness and shame that so many non-human animals are going extinct now. I would not want to live in a world with no wild animals. What are we going to do as the human population continues to grow? Do we have a plan?
1. What is the biggest inspiration for your music?
I wouldn’t say that inspiration leads my working process. Instead, I think it is a sense of curiosity and investigation. I try and start with distilled sonic aspects of the world as it is, and infuse that framework with aspects of the world I wish could exist.
2. How and when did you get into making music?
When I was very little I was sensitive to sound. I had a little organ and noticed the overtone sounds in each note I played. I took piano and started making little songs on the piano.
3. What are 5 of your favourite albums of all time?
I always have a difficult time answering this question, because my favorite albums change. But here are some:
Ethiopiques, Vol. 11: Bèguèna (The Harp of King David)-Alèmu Aga
Fela Kuti – Expensive Shit
Gastr Del Sol – The Harp Factory on Lake Street
Gagaku Court Music of Japan noon JVC World Series collection
Violeta Parra – Cantos de Chile (Presente/Ausente)
4. What do you associate with Berlin?
Really great progressive music with a collaborative spirit.
5. What’s your favourite place in your town?
Funkhaus studios outside of Berlin is amazing.
6. If there was no music in the world, what would you do instead?
Work with animals or as a biologist.
7. What was the last record/music you bought?
I think the last new one I bought was Julia Holter’s ‘Aviary’. I don’t buy or listen to music very much, though. Mostly I buy used microcassettes on Ebay which have recordings of people talking to themselves on them. I listen to those a lot.
8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?
9. What was your best gig (as performer or spectator)?
I loved my concert for the LAMPO series in Chicago at Rockefeller Chapel. I performed pipe organ piece there. The audience walked around and listened. The chapel’s shape changed the sound of the organ in different locations.
10. How important is technology to your creative process?
I couldn’t make the music I make without contemporary electronic technology. I use it all the time as a tool to compose and process sounds, not to mention communicate with concert organizers, labels, and universities.
11. Do you have siblings and how do they feel about your career/art?
I have two sisters. Our mother ran a contemporary art gallery for women called DW Gallery in Texas as a curator/director when we were growing up, so being an artist feels completely normal in our family.
Olivia Block performs at ausland on Saturday, 14th March 2020 along Jan St. Werner, Olivia Block, PITA, Rosa Barba & more.
Photo © Peter Kaars