Cosey fanni Tutti interview by Jo Burzynska
for DATACIDE MAGAZINE (March 2000)
>You've worked in a variety of areas, but what is it about music that
>initially attracted you and has sustained your interest throughout your
>career so far?
Music’s always triggered a physical and emotional response in me, I loved dancing to driving rhythms and uplifting melodic tracks so much. I find music is the most all round mode of expression and I think that’s why I’ve stayed with it so long. I can ‘feel’ my way when I’m making music. I tune into inner responses to sound to create the music rather than referring to musical theory as a means of obtaining sounds that trigger particular responses I may want to achieve. I can get lost in the sound, it’s just so enjoyable and intoxicating to work with. It’s all about physical and emotional resonance to me. I think also music is much more readily ‘shared’ with other people and I’m not into self indulgence, I want to communicate and music is a great way to do that.
>Do you think that gender influences your approach to making music, or makes
>your music any different from men's?
I hate to say it but yes. Femininity/masculinity and sexuality have a great influence on peoples approach to making music. Gender is such a loaded term that’s imbued with a sort of negativity now. The difference in the type of sounds I work with and find ‘right’ are markedly different to Chris’s. But the balance between the two of us works so well that in our case I take the gender factor as a positive element. There are times when neither of us agree and it’s a mutual decision to either make a track a solo piece or scrap it. I have found even with male gay musician friends of ours that I can still tell the music was not created by a woman. There’s a detectable subtlety about women’s music that isn’t present in men's and I think that’s to do with the approach being about ‘feeling’ with women rather than ‘reason’ with men. It all sounds so gender-speak male/female capacities but I do think that even now those issues are regrettably still relevant. I don’t get bogged down in the technology for its sake, but then I know male musicians who feel the same way. Equipment is only a tool and I think women’s approach to the gear is different, so you could say that gender does influence the creating of music in that way. Ultimately what any piece of equipment can do is secondary to what I want the sound it can produce to do FOR me and whoever listens to the music. I know some people can get hung up on what the machine can do and yeah, I love to explore all that, it’s been part of my approach to music all along, but the effect is what I aim for.
Having said all that I must say my work isn’t gender specific. I never address male or female, I address the person and any lyrics I write are applicable to all, whether the subject is murder, love or sex. And this is an unconscious thing. I’ve never made a deliberate point of doing that or wanting to speak to or about just women or men. The relationship I have with Chris has a lot to do with gender not really being an issue for me because like me it never occurs to either of us, we are who we are. If I think about it I’ve never really identified myself particularly with ‘femininity’ even when I worked as a model and striptease dancer I always felt I never really fitted in. I could do what was required, I pulled it off well but it was always more about what I felt, what my aims were. It’s almost like looking down on yourself from your true self position.
>Many people still appear to feel that women are not really interested in
>using technology - what is your relationship with technology and has it
>changed with time and experience?
My relationship with technology has always been about experimenting with sound in different ways from radical sound as actual physical assault, like in creating tunnel vision, spontaneous vomiting or orgasm etc. but also a way of transporting you from one state of mind to another, inducing a state conducive to conscious dreaming where the mind flits from one thing to another as the sounds shift.
The assumption that women aren’t really interested in technology is bollocks. Women’s interest in and use of technology is just different to men's. I’m very impatient. When I get an idea, hear a sound in my head, I want it now, and I find non-physical sound sourcing frustrating at times. When I’m trolling through banks of sounds I can lose interest. It’s back to that ‘feeling’ gender thing again in one way. I do like the immediacy of the action/response of hitting, scraping, stroking something. On a gender level Chris is more readily up for a recreational relationship with gear whereas for me it boils down to utility. That brings in gender issues of ‘spare’ time and how you choose to use it. I prefer to swim through cool water, and catch up with myself.
Music aside, even with photography, painting, video etc. my approach is still the same. Equipment is a means to an end. Over the years I suppose I’ve acquired the skill of assessing more quickly the potential of any piece of technology in terms of what I want to achieve and if it can deliver. Whereas before Chris would have to build or modify equipment to enable the realisation of our ideas, things move so fast now we can dip in and see what’s around and if it’s useful.
>While your early performances explored the extreme edge of experience in
>many ways, it has been said that your more recent work is somewhat 'softer'.
>How do you feel your work has developed and are you still interested in
>making people look at or listen to things that make them uneasy?
I’ve experimented publicly with myself, my feelings, my hang ups. It’s been like a public self discovery and as much as people would have you continue to do the same things I’m afraid my work, my life is about development, moving on. What’s the point of doing the same thing the same way. Any shock impact is lost as things move on. I don’t ram it down peoples throats, that was a tactic relevant to the time. To make people look or listen to so-called sensitive issues I use different tactics now because the knee jerk reaction is no longer enough. I think its healthy to make people work a little harder. I don’t give it on a plate. I hate the passivity of consumerism. What real use is that to anyone? It breeds acceptance of taking and never giving or participating on any level other than a superficial one. I aim for the music and lyrics we produce to be enjoyed on different levels. That gives choice instead of dogmatism rammed down peoples throats. I like to provoke questioning in people not sycophantism. I’m not that arrogant to declare that I’ve got the answer to anything. I present an idea like ‘Trust’ (which was about rape in every sense of the word), written initially as a poem about the pain of trusting and being used and abused. Using soft melodies to express despair at the indifference of the perpetrator to the pain caused brings home the feelings we have to deal with. Pain is physical, it can’t all be ‘thought’ out. It points out that if we want deep relationships we still have to trust again. But it applies to all relationships, all forms of abuse. It’s about us as human beings and how we get through life with one another. It’s the same with ‘Sleeping Stephen’ which was about Nielson murdering all those young men. That’s a ‘soft’ song but extreme subject matter. I could see how he had come to reconcile his actions with his feelings and what he perceived as the needs of the victims (releasing them from a meaningless life). I could go on about what other more recent tracks are about but my point is as before really, ‘extreme’ can be presented in different ways and for me I find the subtle way is more conducive to people considering the issues (or other issues triggered by it). I like interpretation to be open not closed because we all have different life experiences which affect how we perceive things including music, art, video etc
It’s good to make people feel uneasy, it shakes them out of complacency but now I prefer to seduce them into an uneasy state it has a more lasting effect. It’s a similar effect with the Library of Sound series which some people have found quite menacing. The series has no lyrics as such to latch onto as a way in. The only entry is via sound and surrendering to how that sound makes you feel, if you’re willing to take that journey. Same applies to the videos we do mainly for live shows. We don’t tell a visual story or make any specific statement. The visuals, like the music are raw material to interpret as you will. What I want is active contemplative consumption, that way it’s a two-way thing. The videos have provoked all kinds of accusations over the years but we only use ‘everyday’ images, as in all kinds of everyday activities from the banal to the bizarre. The images presented on mass brings home more clearly just how fucked up things are, how we bury unpalatable things thinking they’ll go away. Also it shows how bizarre the banal can be and vice versa which addresses issues like what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and who decides anyway.
>What would you say to the opinion held by some that women lack the
>aggression necessary for producing extreme music?
I think aggression can be counter-productive, especially now, it’s almost passe. Women as I’ve said are subtle and music doesn’t necessarily have to be aggressive to be extreme. The word extreme is often used against women who are overtly sexual or dominant. I think that’s because such women are regarded as a threat to some men, other men love it. In that context women are aggressive. As for aggression as a prerequisite for extreme music, that smacks of animalism and posturing and it’s not that simple. Extreme music is about much more than that. I regard extreme music as having something to say, a protest almost and whether we like it or not men have been privy to the soap-box and voicing themselves publicly much much longer than women and have more experience at it as well as dictating how it’s done. Maybe it’s just that women have had to find their own way of expressing extremism. Just because it’s been marked by aggression and because aggression has been marked as a male trait doesn’t mean women must express themselves in the same way. Nothing is written in stone.
Corbra Killer (a German all woman band, a la TG & white noise) could be seen as extreme and showing aggression but coupled with the fetish gear are were really looking at a great way to get attention and press coverage. For a male friend of ours it was their fetish clothes, their sexuality that impressed more than the music. In fact there was no real mention of what their music is about.
>What is more important in your work, the personal or the political?
What’s the cliche? The personal is political. I agree with that. So if my emphasis was on the personal I would be emphasising the political to the same extent. You make a political statement through your actions (or inaction).
>Has motherhood affected your art and outlook?
I don’t see how anyone can say parenthood hasn’t affected their art or outlook. Motherhood is a very grounding experience, you’re made aware of your own mortality but also the responsibility you have as a mother affects you and what you want to do because you are now a part of your child's life. What you do or don’t do will affect them and influence them. You have to balance that with artistic freedom somehow. It’s a bit like when you do things when you’re young and then think what will my mum or dad say, but it’s in reverse. Then you think, I can’t let this prevent me from realising my ideas, so just as when you’re young you do it and explain your way out of it when and if you need to. I always wondered how I would explain my past work and exploits to our son but it hasn’t been a problem at all, everything has gradually been revealed over time by our work, interviews etc.
Motherhood has been the hardest thing in my life. It’s an emotional roller coaster. You love so deeply and give so much of yourself knowing that at some point you have to let go. I’ve never done any tracks about motherhood or my son, maybe because I was comfortable with it all. The only reference to motherhood is the cover of ‘Heartbeat’. The ‘birth of a new life’ implication was also connected to us working as C&C and CTI from then on.
>Have you experienced much sexism/misogyny in the music scenes you've been
>involved with, and if so, how have you dealt with it?
The fact that we’re independent of the music business as far as recording, producing and releasing our own work is concerned means obviously that we have control but also that I don’t really come into direct contact with the type of situations where I’d encounter sexism/ misogyny. But yeah, even so I’ve encountered it among friends surprisingly enough. It’s insidious but when the gloves are off sexism raises its head. When push comes to shove, comments like, ‘well you would say that, you’re a woman’ etc. Or because I’m the woman in the band, I was expected to make food and drink for everyone after a gig. That was some time ago and my life is nothing like that now. But I remember one particular incident back stage at a Yellow Magic Orchestra gig and we were asked to pose with Ryuichi Sakamoto for the Japanese press. The guys were all lined up together and I was pushed behind the photographers because, I was told, I was a woman and consequently couldn’t possibly be a member of the band. (!?) The photos didn’t get taken until I was in place, both because of my very vocal objections and the guys too. I’ve had other instances where I’ve been made to feel like dirt just because I’m a woman but I’ve never let it go by unchallenged EVER. On the whole my attitude is one of, I am me and if people can’t get past the fact that I am only my sex then they are of no interest to me whatsoever. Actually when I reflect back I’ve spent most of my recreational and creative time in the company of mainly men. I still ponder why I have so few women friends, I suspect the reasons are deep and many as to why I love the company of men (gay and straight) so much.
>Do you think "all women" projects/labels help or hinder the acceptance of
>women in music?
Some specific ‘all women’ projects can work but a deliberate policy of exclusion is wrong and damaging all round. Music should be all embracing in all aspects and shifts the focus away from the creating of music when we dictate the sex of the creator as the criterion for inclusion on labels and projects. It’s the music which has to be accepted first and foremost, the fact that a woman or a man produced it should be irrelevant. OK so that’s the ideal situation but we should aim for that rather than providing a stick for people to beat us with by defining music in terms of the sex of the creator and feeding the male/female divide. I think the difficulty women have faced in getting music released or even heard is one of the reasons for such labels and projects, but it’s sexism and ultimately defeats the object which is the acceptance of women in music and I think that can only be done by integration not segregation. It’s limiting too, because I may find working with a particular man more inspiring and productive than a particular woman.
>Do you feel that the abstraction of more experimental music makes it a
>suitable tool with which to challenge the traditional and limiting ideas
>that have been used against women and female creativity, or do you think it
>can obscure these issues?
I didn’t get into abstract music as a deliberate challenge to traditional ideas on women in creativity so it’s difficult for me to say. If you go into a project with a particular agenda do you get a different result than if it was creativity’s sake alone? Abstraction is great because it does seem to remove associated male/female ideas of creativity but you could ask whether it also adds to it rather than obscures it because it may be discernible that women approach abstraction and experimentation in a different way to men. Ultimately we set our own limitations on ourselves and it’s up to us whether we accept tradition. I just find that the kind of music I make is the most expressive of myself, I can’t identify with someone in Steps etc. It’s all so devoid of self energy, it’s transient and of no interest to me at all. I want music that makes me think and feel, that’s all embracing and I can get that from female and male musicians.
>On your web site you're quoted as saying that everything has a history and
>that it's through investigating this that we gain more understanding of what
>we're dealing with. How would you apply this to your role as a female
When I wrote that it was in response to people who are in denial on both a creative and personal level. I think denial is a negative activity, it demands so much more energy than acceptance and consequently creativity is not given the open channels and free thought processes it needs. When we accept who we are, what we’ve experienced ourselves and through others, we reach an understanding and we can move forward. I think this is so important as an artist. To me, art is all about communication, sharing the information and life experiences I’ve assimilated. It sounds like I’m against free expression but it’s how you interpret ‘free’. There’s a difference between creating a work in total ignorance of anything similar being done before (which has happened to me) and knowingly creating a similar piece but denying the original ever existed. Unknowingly producing similar work can provide a new take on something, move things forward, because it has a different context and we gain more understanding from the new and similar works. When an artist denies the existence of their inspiration they are not only effectively rewriting history but undermining their own and others understanding. It’s not the progressive art it’s made out to be, but retrogressive. It’s basically down to being honest with yourself and your work and willingness to explore, experience, experiment, accept and express
>Do you find yourself being viewed as a specifically "female" performer
>efore being anything else?
I know that I get tired with being seen as a woman before musician, or as a ‘female’ artist rather than just a musician and artist. It seems that women haven’t yet reached the position within society where they can just be artists or musicians. It should be seen as an amazing achievement that as well as all the other things we’re expected to do as part of our female role in society like being a mother, lover, nurse, cook, provider etc. that we have any energy left to be creative! There is an assumption that women are puppet performers with men pulling the strings or as in abstract music that the men are the technicians and therefore in control. These are fallacies because such generalisations don’t take into account or give credit for the input of the woman and the fact that the creative process is a collaborative process.
Interview by Jo Burzynska
for DATACIDE MAGAZINE (March 2000)