Katherine Ersing of Pollination Population on being inspired by the organic sounds around her
As Pollination Population, Katherine Ersing folds volumes of personal stories into melodies made from bells, acoustic guitar and her trademark cassette tape samples. Finding beauty in the easily ignored sounds of traffic noise and passing conversation, the Buffalo, New York transplant makes them all unintentional players in her music, forming a fluid foundation for her complex work.
With only a handful of home recordings floating around the internet, Pollination Population is a project best experienced live, in raw and intimate performances that directly channel the mood of Ersing and her audience. In advance of her show this Friday at Rhinoceropolis with SFTSTPS, Pictureplane, Married in Berdichev and Hideous Men, we chatted with the soft-spoken soloist, and she shared her thoughts on modern sampling and the importance of tuning in, not out.
Westword (Bree Davies): What is your method for creating or collecting the sounds you use as Pollination Population?
Katherine Ersing: I started playing guitar not too long ago, and it sort of gave me an outlet to sing. But playing guitar and singing never felt like my final destination, in terms of creatively putting myself out there. Last winter, when I first started thinking about putting samples into songs, I would do it with really bad recordings.
I don't know a lot about electronic sampling and modern techniques; I learned a little, but I didn't connect to it very well. I found a bunch of old tapes that I had made when I was a kid to use for my songs. They were amazing. Very silly. [Laughs.]
I got a tape player, and I started playing one-track tapes during sets, slowly implementing the samples within my guitar playing and singing. I began to acquire more tape players with different effects, as well as collecting and creating more samples. Eventually, I was able to create songs that were just samples communicating with each other -- in an emotional-logical sense.
Ww: What types of sounds are you trying to capture when you are collecting tape samples? Are they accidental, intentional, or both?
KE: For the longest time, when I was going places or doing things, I would always have a soundtrack -- an iPod was playing some sort of music in my ears. It began to feel like a rejection of the sounds that were occurring around me, and those sounds are so important. They are part of one musical moment that happens and can never exist again -- it's so beautiful. With the tapes I do, I often try to recreate specific moments where a lot of sounds are happening at once. The samples are intentional -- even if they don't seem like it.
Ww: What are you working on right now?
KE: I was recently in Baltimore at the public market, which is under a highway bridge. There were people talking, and church bells echoing in a certain way. Cars were going by, creating a delayed bumping sound. Next to the market was this diner playing really bad, old rock and roll. Together, it was beautiful; it made so much sense.
I am constantly inspired by the sounds around me. I feel like they communicate to us -- they don't ask us to listen; they are just asking for our participation. Music should be participatory, or else it's not communicating with us. I don't want to tune out when I make music; I just want to tune in.
Our world is so stressful. There is so much going on, and people want to tune out. They need a constant soundtrack. Instead of walking away from the sounds of the city or the sounds inside ourselves--like our own anxiety--we should let those sounds dissolve around us. Our mainstream lives are so concealed, and we fear expressing ourselves. The city is happening all around us, and we don't need to tune out. I know it sounds corny, but sometimes, the city is the only music I listen to all day.