If you’re in reach of the web, I would like you to type Aileen Bryant’s name into Google. Suggested search terms are ‘Aileen Bryant Vancouver,’ or perhaps ‘Aileen Bryant Musician.’ The search results may not be what you expect, forming nothing short of an enigma, but there is more to it than mystery.
When I sat down with her, my questions for Bryant are met with a pointed thoroughness. Each time I ask something new, she throws her eyes skyward and answers slowly, with care. Her minimal online presence as an artist made me wonder why she agreed to do an interview at all. After a pause she answers, “because I was asked and to see how it feels to participate in this way.” She clarifies, the reason her online presence is so minimal is not to stimulate mystery, but that her focus has been exclusively on live performance.
Bryant’s approach to music is similarly serendipitous. The release of “Spring Improvisation” through Pythagoras Records’ second multi-media publication will be the first time that Bryant has released recorded music as a solo artist. Which is astounding, given that she has been making music for over 10 years.
“[Pythagoras] arrived in the spirit of the experiment. In not really asking and instead just showing up for what arrives or presents itself. . . I’ve almost tricked myself into this material and this project by just deciding to say yes to things.”
Each volume Pythagoras puts out contains a written component, a visual component, and a musical component. The 7” that Bryant is publishing is a six minute improvisation that was never meant to be shared. For this issue, Hannah Acton is the writer, and Nick Howe has provided pastel works.
“It’s in keeping with the performances I’ve been doing where you have to had been there. The moment that that thing existed — it’s intimate.”
And intimacy is a byproduct of the vulnerability in Bryant’s work. The human voice is the instrument that Bryant loops to build soundscapes that she and listeners can lose themselves in. Although Bryant sees her voice as an extension of herself, she realizes that acapella often makes an audience squirm.
“Definitely the hardest thing I’ve done on stage is to decide to sing without any accompaniment. It’s really, really raw. But I think there’s a strength in vulnerability that isn’t always addressed, like confidence or being a cool person, which are pretty exalted things … All the nerves are in your voice and they become a character that you overcome.”
By layering and looping her voice, Bryant can use the thing that makes her vulnerable to build a space in which she and her audience are more comfortable. “Now when I do play with people or fill it up with other sounds, it’s a lot easier to be on stage. There’s value in doing the hardest thing first and then finding from there.”
Until this release, the only way to experience work was to be present at a live performance. This links the music that Bryant makes to its context. But in a city where space has been used and reused by artists, there can be dissonance between the expectations of the crowd and the intimacy of Bryant’s work.
In May, Bryant played art rock?, a monthly show programmed by Hazy and Late Spring’s KC Wei. Projects like art rock? free artists from expectations surrounding their performances, which can stifle the mood. As to whether Bryant’s performances are more suited to a gallery or a stage, she says her performances could be at home in either.
She brings up Wei and the philosophy behind art rock?. “There’s a liminal place between that exists and I feel like what I’m doing can travel around between those things. I’m really thinking of sound as an environment and as a place that I take with me . . . It always changes and I like the idea that it can. It’s important to me that it can adjust to different situations.”
To Bryant, the internet could be a distraction that isn’t as interesting as the music itself. “It’s felt really important to decide whether or not I want to participate there, because it does seem to make [the project] a part of a world that I don’t really understand.”
She would like to experiment more with the material before thinking about it’s representation. When Bryant creates, she does it with a fervent interest in the work that she is making. She is fascinated by catharsis in moments of creation. That’s what makes “Spring Improvisation” a singular artifact: The pressing is a recorded improvisation:
“This is when I’ve been alone and the song is happening for the first time, I’m trying to record those moments. And there are a lot of mistakes in there and a lot of things that I would really like to fix. … But anytime I try to go back in and fix things, there’s something lost.”
Bryant is continually exploring her own art. Her work invites audiences to experiment with their expectations about what music sounds like on a stage or on record. And now, Bryant is also inviting listeners to witness this experiment as it happens.
Pythagoras No. 2 launched July 2 at a secret location with performances by Aileen Bryant with Aidan Ayers on violin, Hick, and SP Davies. Bryant is also playing Hazy’s debut album release at the Lido July 7.