Walking through an old car wash, water comes in waves and splashes against me. The space is long and naked. Slowly and calmly it lures me in. By the time I am in the middle the babbling river comes from all sides and floods the space with a certain brutality. The tide recedes and tension submerges us as if underwater. Sharp tumultuous noises cut through and intertwine with the powerful, yet nostalgic voiceover of a man, her father, reminiscing about growing up by the river. Melodic chants overtake the composition and bring us back to the motion of the body of water.
This is Milena Georgieva’s sound installation RE: Donau. Around the room, four tape recorders play in a continuous loop bathing everyone in sound. The acoustic quality is astonishing, the sound embodied in the space, reverberating and almost unreal, yet somehow intimate, a feeling of time-past, present and future, calming yet also stirring in continuity, like a river.
As an artist, Georgieva works across disciplines, combining sound, performance and installation, virtual and physical soundscapes that depict personal stories, both upbeat and terrifying, intimate fears, fused by pleasures and desires. Also as Yuzu, she works with synthesized sounds, manipulated field recordings and sensors to immerse the listener, ranging from organic atmospheric experiences to critical socio-political interventions.
As a little girl, Milena loved to make up songs, so her parents arranged for her to study piano. But a combination of uninterested teachers and a rebellious spirit brought her lessons to an early end at age 10. “It was a rebellious act,” she admits. But actually, she had always been more interested in singing. Still, for some time, in intense moments, the first thing she would do was to play the piano.
But it was only later that she started questioning the impact of sound on space. After studying Landscape Design at the University of Applied Arts, she began to search for ways to work with sound in three dimensions, against a landscape, or a cityscape. Already a DJ in the underground scene, she started to sing, using sound for installations, but also for compositions and music. “They emerged from different contexts but are inseparable now.”
Today, she applies spatial thinking to music texture – proportions of time, forms, dimensions and dramaturgy, how much space to give to an element before entering the next. “It’s like being immersed in a sci-fi experience. With sound you receive a powerful impact that can trigger your imagination and hallucinations.”
Sound can trigger a perception without it being related to reality. For example, creating a sound from the past we have no knowledge about. “How would a landscape sound when dinosaurs were still around?” Speculative scenarios and sci-fi storytelling can help to discuss something we couldn’t see or feel.
Feminism has become another important pillar in her works, particularly the lack of awareness of domestic violence against women in Bulgaria, affecting about one in four women. This is especially significant now, during the pandemic, when staying at home is inevitable.
In one of her most recent pieces, From Violence to Ambience, Georgieva uses a woman’s scream, a strong brief articulation of horror and pain, extended and prolonged. It feels intensely uncomfortable, and makes you want to turn away and forget what you have heard. “Violence towards women at home is being ignored,” she told me. As I listen, the effects of the inaction resonate with the scream that dissolves in the soundscape.
Milena Georgieva wants to create a dialog, in which the audience starts a process of questioning.