Perched on volcanic rock that pushes out of the sea, I listen below the water's surface. It's the reef talking to me - shrimp and fish clicking, crackling and grunting in an amazing intense cacophony. My ears extend like tendrils down into the moving water through the hydrophones. I sit and listen while the sun goes down. I knew then I wanted to make a piece from these recordings.
I started working with the reef sounds, but somehow the composition didn't develop. A few months later I was in Stockholm for a residency at the Elektronmusikstudion, and there I could play with these fantastic big old modular synths, the Serge and Buchla 200 systems. Looking for ways to create sounds that appealed to me, I ended up with layers of noise that oscillated on different frequencies. And there it was - this feeling of vastness and infinity, of waves and currents surrounding me.
To a 90-minute session in which I had recorded layers and layers of these waves and oscillations, I then added tonal parts with a Halldorophone, a cello-like string instrument that generates and lets you control feedback as the sound source. Throughout the composition, pulses of different measures and seemingly uncorrelated rhythmic patterns appear, which I treated less as musical elements and more as movements in space - floating things, each with their own drift velocity beyond my control. There is a certain perception of entropy when you are inside a system, unable to zoom out enough to see the bigger structure.
A few months before I made the recordings of the coral reef on the Canary islands, I completed my diving certificate, something I had dreamed of doing since childhood. Diving is one of these things where you are not only confronted with the elements, but you kind of are becoming the element yourself. You need to think how the ocean thinks, to consider the currents, the depth, the drift, the animals, all of that. Experiencing the vastness of the ocean from within the ocean is just so incredibly beautiful. After all, we are creatures of the ocean, descendents of animals that crawled on land and adapted to live on dry land. And still we are suspended in water in order to be born. Our bodies are made of 74% of water in the first months of life. The ocean covers 72% of Earth's surface. And of course, as soon as you start looking at the ocean and listening to the ocean, you come across the devastating destruction that takes place. There are dead zones, aquatic deserts of bleached coral reefs, and underwater wastelands. Still, beauty and peacefulness exist in this fragility, and I tried to invite them into my work, probably because I needed that myself.
The recordings of the coral reef became islands of sound that appear and disappear throughout the piece. And in hindsight, that really makes sense to me - these reefs are islands of rock, of land in the water, surrounded and washed over by the sea. And then the currents carry us elsewhere.
Seismic vibrations alter the ever-changing sonic surfaces of Jana Irmert's new release What Happens At Night. Like layers of sediment, sounds are being pushed up from underneath, floating away or sinking back to the bottom.
At the core of the album lies a question: What will be left of us? While Earth melts, we go on. But eventually, there will be a point in the future where all that will be left of humanity is a thin layer of rock. While this may seem like a deeply gloomy prospect, it also carries a great deal of comfort: the reminder that we are only a small particle in a vast system so big that we can never fully grasp it.
"When playing or improvising, it sometimes happens that time kind of stops in its usual rhythm - measures of moments and durations become blurry. I smashed and rubbed lava rocks, layered and bent sounds and field recordings until what I heard matched the images of strata in rock I was looking at: millenia of existence and non-existence, on a planet to which we are a very recent addition. I fell out of time, somewhere between the moment and eternity, and that's a feeling I wanted to capture on What Happens At Night."
With her fourth album "The Soft Bit", sound artist and composer Jana Irmert explores the materiality of sounds. Using manipulated field recordings, voice samples and synthesizer sounds, she carves out electronic soundscapes as if she were using sonar in deep darkness.
"The compositions for this album were shaped over the course of one year, at first without a concept or storyline as a starting point. Yet what I became increasingly interested in was a kind of sensory aspect of sounds. I felt I wanted to get closer to the sounds, feel their structure and surface and how they contrast each other.
Throughout the musical process, I used materials like metal, water, sand and air in a very direct and maybe more raw way to create and record sounds than I did in previous works, where I had often manipulated field recordings that had a more ambient character and thus strongly carried the location of origin in them. So in a sense, for the compositions of this album, I used sounds without a place, or just an expression of the sound of the particular material itself.
It turned out the processed sounds resulting from hard materials would often have soft and tonal qualities whereas those made from "soft" materials like water or air would ultimately be of percussive or harsh and noisy character. Finishing the compositions was like feeling along the surfaces of the single pieces with closed eyes, making out their shape and outline inch by inch. Maybe this is why to me, some of the compositions feel solidified like pieces of rock, while others seem to be ready to evaporate into air."
Everything minus all was created in spring 2020, under the working title "Notes on Compassion". It is a meditation about isolation and connection, using a minimal arrangement to play with the perception of space and time.
Cusp is a collection of compositions taken from the soundtrack for the film STRESS by Florian Baron. The feature-length documentary gives voice to five young veterans, their experiences and trauma.
Jana Irmert’s work was awarded the German Documentary Film Music Award in 2019. In her soundtrack, she “dissolves the boundaries between sound design and musical composition in a virtuoso and at the same time self-evident way, thus creating a sound cosmos that, through uncompromising reduction, generates brutal knowledge." (jury statement)
Jana Irmert has created a metaphoric world of billowing harmonic clouds, gently crackling sounds and abstracted field recordings. All three parts of the album are marked by perpetual subtle shifts, memory turning into an imperfect compass: You can walk through the music in all directions without ever passing the same point twice.
Inside this world of concrete sounds and pure abstractions, of organic timbres and alien noises, all sense of perspective is lost: What is far can seem close, tiny sounds suddenly appear enormous. In a sense, FLOOD is about the desire for change, a sensation that fills us both with anticipation and anxiety. That is why this album is more than just a sonic novel, and why there is more than one story to it – just enter the flood and allow the current to carry you far, far away. (Tobias Fischer)
End of Absence is Jana Irmert’s debut album, bringing together six sound works that merge field recordings, experimental electronic sounds and vocal patterns into unique multilayered soundscapes. Originally deriving from electroacoustic compositions, multichannel sound installations and audiovisual works, the six pieces are now published as a unit, to be listened to back to back, without video, photography or the need to have a multichannel speaker setup available.