5 Questions to Laura Ortman (musician, composer)

Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache) is a musician and composer whose work walks the line between live improvisation and notated works and spans multiple genres and formats, including studio recordings, music videos and film scores. Her extremely extensive and prolific Bandcamp page includes recordings that draw from noise, jazz, and classical music as much as they reference the world of avant-garde soundscapes and field recordings blended into collage aesthetics. Laura is the recipient of multiple awards, fellowships, and grants, including a 2020 Jerome@Camargo residency in Cassis, France, a 2017 Jerome Foundation Composer/Sound Artist Fellowship, a 2016 Native Arts and Culture Foundation National Artist Fellowship, and a 2015 IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts Social Engagement Residency. Laura’s recent collaborators include Bob Bellerue, Deyah Cassadore, and Norman Westberg, among many others. Laura was just named one of United States Artists’ 2022 fellows, an award that includes a $50,000 unrestricted grant to support artistic creation.

You were just announced as one of the 2022 United States Artist Fellows. How will this award change your artistic plans for the next year?

Hello! Thank you for having me. I’m pretty stunned still by this award. Very exciting! It will help me map out time a little more peacefully.

Alongside my work as an artist and musician, I have also worked as a hairstylist part-time on the Lower East Side for 13 years. With constant music touring for performances and endless recording projects, I work seven days a week, so I am hoping I can use this support to help balance things out by finally finding ways to be more organized instead of the constant happenstance lifestyle. I’ve been hoping for this for years because I’ve always been doing as much as I can do, and the past gets all twirled up into a mess. It’s for sure there, but where is it?

I’m recording my fourth solo album with my longtime engineer Martin Bisi here in Brooklyn, so it means so much to accomplish this here in our “hometown” and work as steadily as we can during the COVID-19 pandemic. Setting constant recording dates until we finish will feel so in tune with the walk of life.

I have so many recordings and video documentation I want to take care of and give them release. I’m hoping to find some people that could help me with this.

I’m not the savviest on the computer, so I’d also like to take some computer lessons, which will change things greatly for me to have some of this knowledge under my wing.

Laura Ortman STTLMNT from Cannupa Hanska on Vimeo.

Your Bandcamp page includes 33 individual releases since 2010. For you, what is the value of having a tool like Bandcamp that can document an ever growing body of work?

In my desire to take computer lessons to get better organized with all my music projects, here we have the wonderful easy-to-navigate Bandcamp! It is basically what I use as my website because I like to keep things simple. Just press play! Just press buy!

Works like BECAUSE ONCE YOU ENTER MY HOUSE IT BECOMES OUR HOUSE exist as both audio and video formats. Do you view these as distinct versions of the piece, and in general, how do audio and video inform each other in your work?

Both versions were from a live performance in duo with artist Jeffrey Gibson’s installation and sculpture of the same name at Socrates Sculpture Park in July 2020. It was one of my favorite performances I’ve ever done.

I’ve watched the wonderful video documentation they did, and it always brings me back to the source of the scene on that beautiful hot summer day along the East River here in New York. Because of the pandemic, we had a closed performance with only collaborators, assistants, staff, and crew in the audience. It was very special because it was mostly all these badass Indigenous women I’ve been friends with for years, and we hadn’t been together like that for so long because of COVID. It was beautiful and we were just all so happy.

So when I hear the audio from that day, I can still see it all so clearly.

When I see the video from that day, I can picture it with you.

Your music features you on a variety of different instruments including violin, Apache violin, guitar, and keyboard. Is there anything in particular that draws you to one instrument over another?

I’ve been playing the violin intimately and seriously for over 40 years. I’m always fascinated by its room to grow because I play and sing my emotions, observations, and inquiries through it even when I didn’t think I knew how.

Learning how to record music on a four-track cassette tape recorder let me know that I didn’t have to act like an orchestra. I was in collaboration with the small but mighty ways I wanted to sing: violin-forward with singing second. Elements of using textures such as over-rosining and dirge and derangedness were second. Making voices and intimate textures helped me find my voice.

Do you have any upcoming performances or releases you’d like to highlight?

My fourth solo album will be finished and released this year. It is a love album dedicated to how to always say “I Love You” even when we can’t be together. Being awarded as a United States Artists fellow takes me all the way back in time before we were a country. I feel land and water first. Thank you for this prize, dear Universe. There are no borders and rules…I want to ever walk with you alongside quiet, loud, and adamant hearts. I’m so appreciative. Let’s dance.


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