Meet 'Juniper' – Cil’s Instrument for Sonic Explorations of Identity
South-London born sound artist CIL experiments in the field of electronic music, using a blend of spoken and sung poetry and live electronics to communicate aspects of her identity. Her most recent creation is Juniper, an electronic MIDI instrument built during lockdown as part of her thesis at Goldsmiths.
Juniper, whom CIL characterises as a female entity, is reactive to motion on either side of her body and is used within her performances to shape and generate sounds: from the trickle of water to more synthesised ethereal sounds, and the shifting lull of her voice.
Carving out a niche for herself, CIL is further challenging common perceptions of electronic music as static, by creating enigmatic soundscapes that are constantly in flux, set in motion by the movement of her hands.
Cultural identity is not always a topic that is made visible in electronic music and it is a field mainly dominated by white male artists. CIL is questioning the boundaries of what we classify as ‘electronic’ music, creating space for authentic expression of self within this field, aided by Juniper and collaborations with musicians in her sonic explorations.
Maya: Juniper is an incredibly innovative and intriguing creation, belonging to the MIDI family of instruments – can you explain how you learnt the skills to create this technology and illuminate the process of her sensorial reactions and responses?
Cil: Thank you – and I like that you said MIDI family! I don’t often hear the word family extending to less traditional instruments. My work on Juniper is routed in my experimentation with different software and hardware. I envisioned how she would look and function before I knew how to actually fully build her. One of my tutors, Hugh Jones, was a great teacher when it came to electronics and writing Juni’s original source code. Even with those things though, she is a blank slate who comes alive through software, where I can determine her sounds and parameters; Max MSP and Ableton are my preferred weapons. I am continuing to develop this aspect through trial and error.
M: Two lyrics that really struck me in your live set at T.E.N. Studios for the Sistah Space Fundraiser were “Hybrid race and hybrid class/Jamaican, German, Jew”. The symmetry between the intersectional space that your music occupies and your own “hybrid” identity intrigues me, how do your soundscapes act as a vehicle for self-expression?
C: This is a great question. Those words are close to me so I’m glad they stuck out. I don’t think that that symmetry is always entirely intentional; growing up with so many conflicting influences on so many aspects of my identity primed me for the idea that I didn’t fit into a neat box - for better or for worse - so I think my art is reflective of that. There are so many amazing artists emerging now who have hybrid aspects of their identity and/or heritage, and are self-aware of it in their careers, publicly embracing fluidity/intersectionality – and I’m glad that younger generations who struggle with this will have that example.
"Growing up with so many conflicting influences on so many aspects of my identity primed me for the idea that I didn’t fit into a neat box - for better or for worse - so I think my art is reflective of that"
Using my voice and electronics to build soundscapes collaboratively in a live setting has been very freeing and a good exercise in communication. It’s very different from the introverted DJ-singer roll I have assumed on stage in the past, and the staticity that offered. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s scope for creativity and the unexpected in partially pre-determined live performance but improvisation is beautiful, especially when you’re sharing the stage with beautiful energies.
M: You’ve collaborated with many musicians, who are your main collaborators and do you view yourself as having a set band? Or do the musicians you work with change frequently to communicate different sounds, feelings and themes?
C: I would say there is a CIL band for live purposes but the members have varied slightly, depending on the set. Saxophonist Jazz Lee is one of my most long-term collaborators on CIL; we first worked on a track in 2015 and it became Sidestep on my first EP. We’ve since played together a lot and I really value him as a musician and friend. Similarly, Lorenz Okello-Osengor is an OG on the CIL project. We started out more as digital collaborators (he’s an innovative and meticulous producer) but he’s also a dream to play alongside (king of keys) and to send ideas back and forth with.
"Improvisation is beautiful, especially when you’re sharing the stage with beautiful energies"
Recent additions as I’ve started to move further from pre-determined live electronics techniques, and more towards free-form improvisation-based performance, have been ethereal harpist Marysia Osu - who I’ve loved exploring Juniper’s possibilities with – and Lluis Domènech Plana, who is a beautiful flautist and great to work with. Although not in a live context, producer and South Space founder, 5tatic (Stanley Sorrell) has been another important collaborator. He nurtured CIL project early on and appears on Them Play, also in my first EP. We've since spent many magic hours in the studio and he stays inspiring me <3
M: Communicating with a live audience and creating free-form pieces with other musicians is obviously a huge part of your creative practice. How are you adapting to the new conditions and what are you most looking forward to doing when the restrictions are lifted?
C: The pandemic has hit artists hard and I think a lot of us are suffering to an extent. But it has also been an opportunity to bloom; I am a strong believer that there is no set way we should be or should have reacted to these circumstances. My music making has ebbed and flowed, and has mostly just been therapeutic. I’ve worked on a few digital collaborations but they haven’t compared to being in a room with someone and building something – I cannot wait until it is safe to do this again. I’m also missing live music a lot a lot: playing and experiencing. I was able to perform with Juniper a handful of times last summer - as seen in my performance for Sistah Space - when a relative degree of liveness was allowed (surreal to think of now).
Although I started the project before lockdown, Juniper was a lockdown baby in the end. A device whose functionality is so reliant on movement and physicality, the testing of Juni was more solitary than I’d hoped but this at least prompted me to be adaptable: I worked with dance artists Stephanie Burrell and Issy Wharton on movement/sound improvisations over Zoom, which nurtured and connected us in a time of isolation. I look forward to being able to carry out in person versions of these, as a performance or installation post lockdown. I hope to see you there!
Watch Cil's performance live at T.E.N studios for the Sistah Space fundraiser: