Kristine Barrett is a trans-media artist, composer, and vocalist specializing in traditional music and ritual song. A storyteller at heart, Barrett’s work explores the narratives of human consciousness as developed and articulated through song, dance, art, language, map-making, scientific exploration, and literature. After completing a double BFA in Art History and Photography/New Media from the Kansas City Art Institute, Kristine went on to study composition with Tony Conrad at SUNY Buffalo and the legendary Fred Frith at Mills College, where she received a MFA in Electronic Music Composition and Recording Media in 2006. Barrett’s work has been performed and exhibited in galleries and media festivals throughout North America and Europe, and recently featured on the acclaimed NPR show The Thistle and Shamrock. An avid hiker, bibliophile, lover of ancient literature and art; Kristine loves being in the non-human world and wooden boats. She currently resides on a houseboat with a myriad of plants, shrines, animals, and her husband in Sausalito, California.
I am a trans-media artist, composer, and vocalist specializing in new media and traditional music and ritual song from the Republic of Georgia, Scandinavia, the British Isles, Eastern Europe, and America. Working at the crossroads of ancient traditions, experimental new music, and new technologies, I explore traditional arts, ritual, and folklore as they are preserved, disseminated, and practiced in the age of social media and unprecedented global cultural exchange. Balanced between conservation and experimentation, I act as monk and medium, sage and scholar: striving to honor, preserve, and represent the traditional arts mediums and practices themselves, while concurrently allowing the work to be alive in present bodies and technologies, reflecting the shape of the living. Hailing from a long line of folk and classical farmer musicians from the American Midwest, Ireland, and Sweden; I see myself as a link in a continuum of tradition keepers whose lived experiences have shaped, preserved, and imbued the living art forms with the narratives of those living at the periphery of wealth and power: women, laborers, the poor, farmers, the displaced, colonialized, and invaded. Ritual and song become the keepers of invisible histories and hidden lives intimately connected with the spaces and landscapes they inhabit: from Irish keening to Swedish kulning; work songs and deathing rituals of the Caucasus mountains to Serbian song forms for the love of mountains, hills, and rivers. Mastering a variety of vocal techniques and song forms, studying with song masters steeped in ancient traditions, immersing myself in the cultures and geographies of origin, contextualizing my visual and aural art lineage, and deeply internalizing while simultaneously using new technologies to compose and arrange, I create visual and aural composites: from digitally manipulated photographs of California coastline inspired by 18th century Dutch landscape paintings to new music operettas consisting of ritual song from the Republic of Georgia layered with electronically manipulated sonic compositions derived from field recordings, harmoniums, organs, piano, prepared instruments, and voice. Each piece unfolds as a series of maps interlacing various histories, geographies, lexicons, and traditions, exploring hidden intersections and unusual relationships. Although a thorough intellectual understanding is central to my process, I ultimately strive to articulate the more ephemeral and intuitive qualities within a space, landscape, a piece of music, a photograph, a ritual; one that intimately captures the feel and soul of place and song. The result is work that, on the one hand, reveals the essential shape and quality of place and song, and on the other, a vast and wondrous inner connection. The various mediums, traditions, song forms, and their lineages have become a complex network language that I use to articulate deep memory, commune with ancestors, and reconstruct the inherited narratives locked within our personal and collective psyche.
Central to this research and artistic experimentation is the intersection between music, art, and landscape: real, imagined, overlaid, internal, and external; spaces that we create and the lands we inhabit and that inhabit us as they shape our identities, our perspectives, daily rituals, our inner worlds and narratives. Beyond studying traditional song forms developed to traverse, respond to, and communicate with and across various landscapes / landforms, walking has become central to my artistic process. I walk for hours daily; communing and cultivating an intimate bond with the lands I inhabit, and participating in a kind of dialogue with them. I have found the meditative and almost ritual nature of walking to be conducive to non-linear creative thought processes while remaining deeply rooted to the present. At some point, often guided by intuitive impulses, I begin the process of documentation via photography and field recordings. From the photographs I create visual composites that bring together various qualities both physically and ephemerally experienced within the landscape. The resulting images become visual scores from which I compose, arrange, and intuitively bring together parallel and complementary traditional song forms and rituals; at times integrating field recordings and at others, using them as aural guides for composition. I see myself as a sound designer as much as a composer; constructing distinct aural spaces that act as portals to liminal realms, conjuring the past while being very much rooted in the present. My visual and aural works are deeply entwined, acting as two complimentary languages, each articulating aspects of one nuanced and layered experience.