Jane Siberry: angels and software

Real Groove Feb 1994
Nick Bollinger

Jane Siberry has been in front of her computer all day - kneeling before it and offering it sardines, or so she claims. The quirky Canadian's wide-ranging creative energies seem to be brought into focus through this machine.

She uses it for composing and recording songs, then editing and arranging them. She uses it for writing prose, designing videos and, more prosaically, doing her accounts.

Today she's been using it to work on ideas for posters. On the phone she sounds tentative and whispery at first, as though it's a little strange talking to a human again after such a long session with her electronic companion.

Sibery's sixth album, When I Was A Boy - self-produced but including collaborations with ambient heros Brian Eno and Michael Brook - has recently been released here and she will be in Auckland this month for a single performance of the solo show she has devised around this and other material.

"The show is a mixture", she explains. "I tell a story, then I sing some songs and then I intersperse it with videos. I have been doing videos of a lot of the songs myself and I see the creative process as very much the same, going from a shape that I sense and pulling back until all the details are there. It's not the way anyone else would do it necessarily".

Anyone familiar with Siberry's records will know that her abstract songs and sonic landscapes already posess an almost filmatic quality, capable of suggesting movies in the listener's mind. I ask her if there is a danger that in tying the music to a particular set of images she may be detracting from the listener's experience?

"That's a challenge, but I do think you can make a video that's a perfect third stepping stone - you don't go where you think, and you don't go where the other peson is seeing it, you go to like a third place that actually has room for both. Some songs, like 'Calling All Angels' - I would never do one for that, unless it was just to see the person singing and that would be appropriate for that kind of song. But I did one for 'An Angel Stepped Down' and that's a perfect example of when music videos can actually take it further, because the video now makes the song clearer, and you can't hear the song without the video. It's not MTV material but I think they're rally string and they look really great".

What's this about telling stories? "I had a listening party for my friends when the record came out so they could hear what they had done on it, and I had written a story about the neighbourhood I lived in, 'cause they all knew the people that lived in it, and then I did it at other listening parties... and now it's become part of the solo show".

Siberry's work process seems to depend heavily on intuition and trusting her subconcious. She gives an example when I bring up the recurring motif of angels on When I Was A Boy.

"I trust not being aware more than I trust being aware. The angels I had a bit of a struggle with because I just knew that next you're gonna see them on fridge magnets and calandars, right? If anything's the next big thing it's going to be irritatingly over-familiar, and I usually stay away from things of that energy. But on this record, I had deliberately made a decision no to control it and let be what it was going to be so it was almost against my will that there were angels on it, but I feel that it was the right thing".

Siberry's work often seems like a solitary mission; though her collabor- ations on Boy have yielded rich results - especially the Eno-produced 'Sail Across the Water' - artistic control is important to her.

"I used to think that wsa a bad word, control; that the opposite of control was generosity and openness of spirit, but now I see that complete control is important for anyone with a really strong vision, and then within that structure there's lots of room for creativity from other people, but if you dissipate that vision at its most basic level, you end up with a diluted energy. This came with a lot of learning. I've learnt a lot from other people and now I feel I know".