This week's guest on Potato Head x Trippin 'Via Morning Ritual' involves a performance from Sian O'Gorman, part of the six-person electronic drone choir called NYX (pronounced "nicks"). Named after the omnipotent Goddess of Night, the collaborative choir re-embody live electronics and explore the entire spectrum of the female voice as an instrument. We speak to NYX's music director & composer, Sian, about what morning time and travel mean to her as well as how she went about the performance.
Where are you waking up today?
In my van - parked in the countryside just out of Norwich in Norfolk, UK.
Walk us through your typical morning routine.
I try to lay awake and enjoy the cosy feeling of being in bed as long as possible; living in a van or a yurt in England, it's often so cold outside the bed - taking a lot of courage and laughter to get up and out each day. Eventually, I slowly start stretching, cracking my stiff bones, yawning loudly and moving around in whatever way my body feels like getting up that particular day.
I try to shift immediately into more movement - putting headphones on with some really loud music and dancing like a maniac, shaking out any stiffness and tension. Or going for a walk - we have amazing open land surrounding us and if you’re up early enough you’ll still catch the rabbits and muntjac deer scurrying about. Listening to music for me is important in the morning - at the moment I just have Joe Hisaishi soundtracks on repeat and move about my early hours pretending I’m Nausicaä / Ponyo / Princess Mononoke.
What does the morning mean for you?
Mornings are my favourite part of the day - it's when I feel most energised and full of possibility. It’s when I become most excited about communicating and connecting with people - sharing a cup of coffee and discussing our dreams from the night before, planning out what magic we’re planning on creating for the rest of the day with my NYX co-creators Philippa and Josh, or talking to my family in New Zealand as they move into the evening - my most enjoyable human state is definitely caffeine-fuelled hope & morning wonder….
How did you approach this project/improvisation? What were your inspirations?
With NYX, we have quite a structured instrumentation to our vocal compositions. Usually each member of the team will provide a certain sound - some will sing with a very clean but heavily reverberated tone, others will be so synthetically manipulated it's hard to even understand how the original sound source is a human voice. We use a lot of free time loops, pitch shifters and extended vocal techniques - all of which I have incorporated into this outdoor improvisation.
The birds in this giant horse chestnut tree are a huge influence in this piece and I love how when I began to loop the higher whispered bird call sounds you can hear them respond back even louder. You can hear them like “Bitch please, stop trying to upstage us”. Haha. When I'm singing on my own like this I can completely free flow and improvise the entire thing from start to finish. When we sing together, there are a stronger set of musical guidelines to work from so we can all feel safe to explore in our own ways with each other. Our live NYX sets are always structured improvisations.
How has your home or place in general influenced your creativity?
The piece of land I'm living on right now is very special to me. The guardians of the space are very into meditation, ritual and ceremony, and the place feels completely alive with spirit and the magic of the earth. We all have our favourite trees and as you walk around you can see people have left little shrines and crystals in tiny corners of the garden. You couldn’t even write a script for how hippie this is, but we genuinely go and sing to the plants together sometimes!! Haha.
I feel all my vocal work comes from a place of trying to restore my human connection with nature. It’s a respect I'm developing as I grow older and I'm incredibly grateful to be staying on this land as an inspiration right now.
Has there been a journey or travel experience that has greatly affected you as a person/artist?
At the risk of throwing out yet another hippie cliche here, my first solo journey around India really shifted the way I saw myself in the world. The Motherland of drone music - I spent so many hours in music shops in Calcutta and Varanasi playing with all these amazing instruments, laughing (and eating) with all these beautiful people that would adopt you for the day, introduce you to their extended family and invite you to sing at their sister’s wedding the next week.
I remember my Hindustani singing teacher Neeti (in Rishikesh) being the first person to tell me that the true singing voice came from the heart. I was perplexed at her descriptions of how she was making these incredible sounds with her voice, asking her countless questions on what she was doing with her soft palette, how was she shaping her vowels etc, and she’d just shake her head, point at her heart centre and say, “It’s all coming from here”.
Tune in every Sunday for another morning spent with special musical guests curated by Potato Head & Trippin, shared on both Instagram channels.