Evelien Verhegge
Listening is a conscious decision

Interview with curator Anne-Laure Chamboissier on the occasion of the group exhibition Encounter in resonance.

ALC: What was your background before joining EPAS? Was sound practice something you were used to before? What has this postgraduate program brought to the development of your artistic work?

EV: I graduated with an MA in drama, but was left with the feeling that I did not want to make classical pieces. In my final project, I went looking for a way to tell a story without the need of an actor. I experimented with poetry on stage, with soundscapes—the combination of both. I went on to obtain a BA in multimedia design, where I continued to explore the vast world of sound and auditive works. Together with my partner, Klaas De Roo, I started making works under the name studiomoscou. We make performances and installations, often with the participation of different groups of people. I started to focus more and more on sound, using the environment where the installation is built as an instrument, collecting its sounds and arranging them anew. In 2017 I finished an artistic research project on the layering of image, sound, and meaning in poetry performance. There too, my interest is in sound: the rhythm of speech, voice, the combination of voice with other sounds. EPAS has enabled me to focus solely on sound, to deepen my understanding and the way I work with sounds in my work. It taught me to think and act and create from within the sound, to really use the sound as material.

ALC: As you know, this exhibition is focused on the question of listening. What is your personal definition of listening?

EV: I believe listening is a conscious decision, while hearing is something which just happens. This conscious decision can be prompted by the piece itself, rather like suddenly remarking on something, but it can also be a mindset. In a sense, listeners have to allow themselves to listen. I believe it is an act of rebellion in this loud and overwhelming world to just listen, to take charge of one's own ears. For me, during the making of this piece, listening became very physical—the sounds of the mouth, of the breath, of heart and movement, the impact of a body in an auditive space. There is the listening to your own body, the closeness, the realization that it is always there. There is the physical confidence in the listening. There is the breathing of my children, when the night is a deep purple, the street is silent, and the sighing, the mumbling, the rustling of covers. There is a warmth to that sound, a vulnerability. Blindfolded, in darkness, this vulnerable listening intensifies. My ears no longer catalogue the outside world, but an inner and more intimate space. There is rhythm in any listening, and I imagine the sounds reaching out like ripples in air, popping like soapy bubbles. In my mind the image of spheres is completely connected to sound, to tangible auditive space. I try to connect with my ears to each sound. I try to float from one sound to another and to listen on many different levels, as if my ears are growing bigger and smaller towards the sounds. In doing this, space opens up, not only horizontally but vertically too. There is a transition between outside and inside and the gray sound in between. This, to me is listening.

ALC: Your installation combines sound and poetic text. Can you tell us about the nature of the sounds and texts you have chosen?

EV: When writing or when working with audio, I start from field observation and recording. And this piece was made in the lockdown, which means there was a lot less and at the same time a lot more to observe and record. With COVID, I have been at home. My children are at home. We live in a very open house that is also very small. Four people in 90 square meters, with an additional 30 square meters of outdoor space. There are almost no doors, and all the floors are connected. There is life everywhere. The sound comes too close, we are constantly around one another, even while working online. There is constant interference: of children’s voices, of trains passing by. At the same time the house is a cage, quiet. We are at a standstill, movement is impossible. Time becomes quicksand. I cling to silence. In the evenings, I put the children to bed, their need for closeness is a physical reality, and I record the sleeping. Early morning, when everyone's asleep, I wake up and record the house. I need silence, I try anchoring myself in the calm breeze of clear everyday observations. These I write down. When COVID finally allowed more freedom, I used both recorded sounds and captured thoughts to make this piece.

ALC: What kind of listening experience do you invite the audience to?

EV: Maybe the body is a box, like a house, and maybe our everyday worries and thoughts and activities make it impossible for us to resonate. How is it that some sounds do find entrance? All of us have been trained to react to ambulances, screams, and cries. Loud braking and barking. The shock sounds. But sometimes this same shock effect is achieved in the opposite way, through a positive sound that suddenly lights up and resonates. This idea of the body as a box fascinates me, as does the resonance and the intimacy of listening. So I invite the audience to float into the installation, from one side to the other, to get closer. I hope to create a soothing experience, to make the quiet audible, raw, and honest. I invite the listener through an aural window in a personal, psychological space, where sounds and thoughts ebb and flow as in a house.