LISTS AGF/poemproducer’s Electronic Feminist Histories By Andra Nikolayi · February 19, 2021
Photos by Inkeri Jäntti, Lumi C Ripatti, Tobias Schult

‘’For me everything comes from the voice first. I have no formal music education, so for me it was always singing aloud,” Antye Greie-Ripatti, aka AGF, says over a video call from her studio on Hailuoto, the island in Northern Finland where she lives with her husband Sasu Ripatti (aka Vladislav Delay) and their daughter. The East German artist has been exploring big themes—politics, ecology, feminism, identity—in a musical career spanning over three decades.

Voice has always been a creative thread for Greie-Ripatti, from her days as a vocalist in German techno-pop group Laub and her group projects like the Hai Art children’s choir to her later electronic poetry work. “When electronic music came around in the ‘90s, basically the first Björk album, was when I thought ‘Oh, wait, I can do that!,’” Greie-Ripatti says. She taught herself everything from sound synthesis to playing keys and programming beats for Laub, and has gone on to a prolific solo career. “At some point, I decided to make solo work,” she says. “It was kind of motivated because a lot of journalists didn’t believe that I was programming synths and doing production work. They would always see me as the singer. That was the reason why I stopped singing, because I wanted to be recognized as a producer. “

Her production style has moved over the years from sharp, glitchy IDM to techno deconstructionism, crossing hip-hop and many other genres and subgenres on the way. Voice remains her main instrument, but now it’s chopped up, looped, sampled, and otherwise metamorphosed through various digital production techniques. Language is also ever-present, from abstract electronics punctuated by spoken words on Westernization Complete and the vocal repetition set to elastic beats on Dance Floor Drachen + to dissonant explorations of drones, silence, distorted voices, and disembodied club kicks on Kon:3p>UTION to: e[VOL]ution.

In 2010, she started exploring a new composing methodology through a series she calls “poetry editions,” which she uses to retell the stories of women through history, country by country. Most of the material she uses comes from literary texts, but she also includes philosophers, theoreticians, political activists, and other types of thinkers—even mythological figures. “I have to make them all the same way—I start with the first poem I can find, in a specific language, by a woman. So that is the method. Then I follow the Christian timeline until [the] current day and use the most radical sounds I can find to retell those lives,” she says.

Photo Vladislav Delay

The series’s five iterations so far have unearthed feminist histories focused on Germany, Finland, Japan, Russia, and now Greece. Each record has been developed in collaboration with local artists, musicians, and poets. Greie-Ripatti always starts with a lot of reading, mostly various poetry anthologies, before engaging with each subject. She often gets in contact with local artists through the wide-ranging female:pressure feminist network, as well as using her own shows or artist residencies in each country to further her research. Especially on the field, she would talk to anyone who might yield new results, from local hotel staff to scholars. Because of the scale of these projects, she applies for artist grants and other types of funding to make them possible.

Each country’s specificities are reflected in her sound choices, from field recordings to processed traditional instruments. “They are not necessarily solo records,” she says. “On the German record there is a piece with Ellen Alien, and she recites this one party poem on top of a very normal Berlin techno beat, which I would normally never do! I was thinking of electronic music [in] a more conceptual way on these records. Looking back, what I like most about these collections is that I had the freedom to do the craziest shit.” Since these are collaborative records that don’t necessarily reflect just her individual style, she didn’t feel the pressure to deliver what people would expect to be an “AGF record,” leaving more room for experimentation.

Except for Gedichterbe—the first record in the series, which is in German—all of the poetry editions use English translation. “In these projects the focus is to introduce these texts [from forgotten writers] to the world,” she says. “We don’t know about Greek or Russian women writers because we know the English ones, so my focus is to put their lives into a form of understanding for everyone.” She emphasizes the importance of using the authors’s names as track titles, in an effort to bring a new form of visibility to these women.

Her new album, arachnesound, explores a potential Greek feminist history. Despite having more connections in the country than on past projects and institutional support from the Onassis Foundation, finding notable women who fit with her mission proved shockingly difficult. “In this edition, there was this ancient Greek [literary] stuff which we all know about like Sappho, the lesbian poet, but then nothing!,” she says. “For more than a thousand years there was nothing, I didn’t find one Greek woman’s name. There was almost no one between year 1 AD and the 1800s. And that was shocking to me, like ‘What has happened in that time?’ There is literally nothing! I asked maybe five scholars and everybody was just shrugging. How can you be shrugging?“ She began digging deeper and her relentless curiosity yielded a handful of results that made it onto the record—women both mythic and real, from Hypatia of Alexandria to synth pioneer Lena Platonos.

Throughout the process, Greie-Ripatti remains critical of her approach, careful not to bring a colonial mindset to her historicizing. “I’m hoping to bring something into these languages, into these spaces. It’s almost like a stranger comes and picks up on the beauty of a place you can’t even see anymore because you’ve been there for so long,” she says of her outsider’s perspective.

Here are some of our favorite records from her discography.

Kon​:​3p>UTION to: e​[​VOL​]​ution

Kon​:​3p>UTION to: e​[​VOL​]​ution is a good place to start with AGF’s catalog. It has a strong post-club feel as Greie-Ripatti juxtaposes IDM sonics, aggressive club beats, and granular synthesis with vocal loops and abstract field recordings. The accompanying text for the release almost reads like Rick Owens show notes, a word-collage cyberpunk poem—“adult-hollow-hood. transformation capa-cities. the radical self. the internetness and our potential to become cyborgs. pitch, shape, colour & tone.” “Time {if 1+2 = you}” is the album’s most playful track, with a pitched-up vocal sample reminiscent of PC Music set against a teasing, distorted beat with cavernous club potential. “The radical self” is a collaboration with Afghan artist Kubra Khademi, who narrates her experience of the Kabul performance that sent her into exile over a track that evokes the moment’s tension with sharp, metallic synths, and trembling bass.

SOLIDICITY

In 2016, Greie-Ripatti started toying around with the sonification of mushrooms, inspired by the work of “radical mycologist,” Peter McCoy. She delves into the mycelium universe by exploring not only their sonic possibilities, but the theoretical implications of mushrooms’s rhizomatous interconnectivity as a “metaphor for political activism in the age of the Internet.” SOLIDICITY further develops these ideas through a series of conceptual compositions on the fringes of the dance floor. This time the vocal elements take a step back in favor of disparate noise, processed field recordings, and beat fragments—ludic opener ‘’MOSQU-ito” turns Finnish mosquito samples into a Xenakis-meets-club piece, and the nervous speed-techno track ‘’MIGration’’ uses bird cries that sound awfully human.

DISSIDENTOVA

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DISSENTOVA is the poetry edition dedicated to Russia, and Greie-Ripatti had a really tough time doing the research she needed to do for the album. “I worked very hard to get all my connections—really, to get anybody—to talk to me. I don’t know if they were afraid or if they were suspicious of me or they didn’t like [me], I have no idea. It was so hard. I was sometimes despairing,“ she says. DISSIDENTOVA may have been challenging, but the result is one of the most strikingly beautiful of the poetry editions. Some pieces are abstract and meditative, like “Anna Bunina 1774-1829 feat old Russian oven door,” which uses Bunina’s 1813 poem “Poverty is no sin” over a field recording that might as well be a tribute to “Variations pour une porte et un soupir.” Others feature tightly-coiled acid beats, like “Nadezhda Tolokonnikova 1989”—dedicated to the Pussy Riot member, in collaboration with techno producer rawkate. “Galina Rymbu 1990” is also a standout; Greie-Ripatti recites Rymbu’s incisive poem “Sex is a Desert” over a richly-textured, sleek beat with a hip-hop feel.

Extinction Stories

In the same collaborative storytelling spirit of the poetry editions, Extinction Stories uses a similar text-and-field-recording formula from a completely different conceptual viewpoint. This score was originally composed for Romanian choreographer Sergiu Matiș’s complex performance piece “Hopeless,” which featured an “Extinction Room,” a multi-channel installation with recordings culled from the Macaulay Library of Extinct Animals. In this stereo re-imagining of the piece, Greie-Ripatti reworks texts from the original show and commissions an international group of artists and friends to interpret them. On “Ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis),” writer Lisa Blanning reads the story of the extinct bird over audio recorded by Cornell University ornithology professors Arthur Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg in April 1935, while the insect sounds on “Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis)” are distorted and reworked in a melodic texture akin to granular synthesis.

The Lappetites
Before the Libretto

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The Lappetites was an international electronic improvisation supergroup founded by Kaffe Matthews, with Greie-Ripatti, Eliane Radigue and Ryoko Akama. Their debut album remains an iconic example of modern avant-garde music, using playful vocal improvisation (‘’Tzungentwist”); deep drones and spoken word (‘’Stop No. 394 Falkirk Street”); and an ingenious deconstruction of song, traditional instruments, and electronic samples (“Aikokuka”) among its many innovative tools. Using spatial sound, varied electronic textures and vocal explorations, the group forged a unique sound that sounds just as fresh today as it did in 2005. Matthews, Greie-Ripatti, and Akama continue to perform as The Lappetites when the circumstances permit.

Westernization Completed

“My whole musicality is very connected to voice,” Greie-Ripatti says. “Voice has been the main instrument from the beginning.” On Westernization Completed, she delves into the relationship between language and sound in English. “Language is the most exciting form,” she recites on “POEMproducer,” the title of which she ended up taking on as a second artistic alias, and which contains the blueprint of her later work—spoken word collages, layered abstract electronic sounds, and the occasional rhythmic structure.  There are many brilliant moments on the album, like “ReFail,” a hip-hop-IDM hybrid about life in the online world, or the gorgeous autobiographical piece “contemporaryWESTERNIZED,” which has Greie-Ripatti recalling her own autobiographical story of growing up poor in East Germany while questioning her relationship with capitalism; she sets this personal and political reflection against a melodic groove of distorted keys.

arachnesound

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Despite the trouble Greie-Ripatti had putting arachnesound together, the Greek poetry edition turned out rich with layers of meaning and reference. Greie-Ripatti composed “Hypatia of Alexandria ≈ 370-416 AD,” inspired by the eponymous philosopher and mathematician killed by a Christian mob, “along her lifeline, like a very quiet dedication to her life and her brutal murder,” together with Greek sound artist Nicoleta Chatzopoulou. It’s a poignant, meditative piece, which merges melodic drone passages with dense walls of sound. On “Blackathena,” Congolese artist Reine Linda Nyongo recites a poem collaged from Martin Bernal’s book of the same name, while “Sappho of Lesbos ≈ 600 BC” uses Maria Arapoglou’s traditional kitara playing to create new abstract sounds. “Lena Platonos 1951” is a short abstract piece of looping and overlaid vocals dedicated to the Greek synth legend. The album’s accompanying booklet and animated film make it the most ambitious endeavor in the series thus far.

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