Looking back whilst creating the new: An interview with Shoal and orah

An exploration of ‘Terugblik,’ the mesmerising audiovisual performance that made its dreamlike debut during FIBER Festival 2023.

16 min readOct 17, 2023
Shoal x orah | ‘Terugblik’

Terugblik (Dutch for ‘retrospect’), the latest release from Shoal (Kenny Kneefel) under the Tilburg label The Something Something, offers a lush, contemplative sonic journey through the Utrecht-based sound artist’s memories. Borne out of Kneefel’s experimentation with ambient music, the musical collection, comprised of seven reworked tracks, blending extended synth tones and organic sounds to immerse the listener in emotionally charged sound worlds.

Teaming up with visual artist orah (Deborah Mora), Shoal explored the fragments of these memories, crafting a dreamlike state akin to déjà vu. The outcome was a dynamic and richly textured audiovisual performance, which had its premiere at FIBER Festival in 2023.

During the summer, our team interviewed the two artists, who talked in depth about their creative process and the multi-layered, immersive trip they crafted with ‘Terugblik.’ Below is a transcript of that interview, refined for clarity.

Could you briefly introduce yourselves and the practice that you both are active in?

Kenny: I’m a sound artist based in Utrecht. I began with music production, focusing on club-oriented environments. However, during my academic pursuit at the University of Arts Utrecht (HKU), my interest expanded outside the club toward multidisciplinary work and collaborative efforts.

When creating sound, I love exploring the directions where different sonic textures and gestures might go throughout space and time; drawing a lot of inspiration from our natural and imaginary surroundings; manipulating field recordings until they have synthesiser-like characteristics or tweaking analog/digital synths until they become entity-like; followed by seamlessly layering and combining them to create a new form.

I am equally invested in creating solo work, collaborating with other artists, and providing advice and assistance to elevate the sound art of other artists in museums and exhibitions. In collaborations, I’m interested in how one discipline interacts or counteracts with the other, creating a dialog, a journey, and an experience.

Deborah: I usually go by saying that I’m a visual artist and designer because my main form of artistic research and expression comes from the creation and alteration of images. I narrate through images, creating audio-visual experiences like the performance we premiered at FIBER Festival 2023. My work is usually in collaboration with artists from other disciplines, being curious and passionate about different forms of expression and communication.

Because of my love for music, I often work closely with musicians and sound artists. This is also because sound and image can positively complement each other.

I’m interested in how sound and image both can produce stories and convey meaning, carry tactile qualities, and produce physical sensations. I’ve also recently rediscovered dancing, and through that, I’ve been connecting with dancers and movement artists who I’ve been exchanging ideas with. I’m curious where all these different ways of storytelling, very physical and sensation-based artistic forms can wave together with my visual-based practice.

Is it possible to give us an insight into the development of ‘Terugblik’’s release? What are the artistic or conceptual starting points of the release?

Kenny: The idea of the album started around 2018 when I experimented more with ambient music, with an ambition of releasing an ambient album in the future. At some point, I had a folder of music sketches and started sharing this with people who I thought might enjoy it. I remember sharing this folder with Jarl (director FIBER) at the time. He was very interested in following the project, shared his feedback, and asked me to keep him updated on further developments.

Vân Anh (ISOTOOP) also received this folder and she immediately asked if I could perform these sketches live. My response was ‘Yeah sure!’ but I had no clue how I would execute that, as I had zero experience in performing a live set. Vân Anh then invited me to perform a 1-hour live set at her event called ISOTOOP x MONO ambient sessions in January 2019. MONO was transformed into a cozy ambient listening space with a lot of family and friends. I couldn’t imagine a better setting for playing this live set. The recording of that afternoon is online.

After that day, Willem van de Ploeg, who also attended the event, asked me to send over music. This resulted in the idea of releasing something on the label he just started, ‘The Something Something’. The recording of this set became therefore starting point of ‘Terugblik’. From there Willem and I started brainstorming. The concept that came out of these brainstorming sessions was, to create an album by using fragments from different live sets. When listening closely, you might recognise some fragments on the album of the live set from that afternoon. Other fragments from live sets that made it on the album are from sets I played at Under the Desert Stars, FIBER 2021 at murmur, the premiere of Monolinth in MACA with Vincent Rang, and Into The Universes in Doka.

The next step in the project was to create a new live performance out of the collected materials, yet another iteration. While the album is a collection of music with traces from other performances of different times, it created this new narrative, a new memory. This new live performance would then evolve from that same idea, fragmenting the past and evolving it into something new. Consequently, we had to look for a place to perform this new set and we immediately thought FIBER would be a perfect fit. In 2022, the project developed into looking for possibilities to extend the work audio-visual. This is when I reached out to Deborah who enthusiastically joined the project.

The music was developed over several years and seems to have been worked on at different times and forms. The title ‘Terugblik’ reinforces the sense that this has been a long-running, meandering, and highly personal artistic process, possibly ‘reading’ like a diary. Can you take us through this process?

Kenny: For me, the most fascinating thing about creating music and sharing it with the world is that it gets to live its own life after being released. The music is created with an intention at a certain time. This intention, context, time, emotions, location, and all other factors surrounding the moment of that musical creation or recording are imprinted in the sound.

When it is released, the music lives its own life in the memory and experience of the one who listens to it. One might hear it at an event, others might enjoy listening to it while walking their dog.

It is definitely a kind of diary, yes. As I mentioned before, the music on the album is the outcome of me and Willem selecting fragments from different live sets I played over time. A collection of different memories and experiences. The tracks on the album are not necessarily chronological but they are put together as a sonic narrative.

The fragments are reworked into a different context, the album. Some tracks are a combination of parts from a performance that initially were not intended to go together during that particular performance, but on the album they do. This translates into new sonic combinations. It was a never-ending exploration of finding new and interesting sonic combinations of textures and gestures.

What does the relationship between playing live and producing mean for the development of music? Do they influence each other, and does this also shape a release?

Kenny: When creating music, I follow the direction where the sound leads me. I would say in a studio context, there would be a lot of time and possibilities to tweak sounds to wherever they direct me. A live set has a concept of what sounds or equipment I want to use. Taking into account the context, duration, and timing of the set. Categorising this in sonic expression and its medium.

For instance, I could restrict myself to only the Elektron Digitone, Octatrack, and a multi-FX pedal. This could result in a heavy drone ambient live set. In a different context, this same setup could also be a techno-live set. Other times I would use my laptop with Ableton Live as my main source. A live set with multiple MAX for Live plugins and sequencers to create generative rhythms, glitches, and ever-morphing soundscapes using only field recordings.

It is a sum of the producing state and playing live that eventually shapes a piece of music, where bits of both are arranged and composed into a piece.

I’m curious to see how this way of creating would evolve over time. Because I believe it’s healthy to stay curious and be open to finding new ways of creating.

The new audiovisual show was created together with visual artist orah, with the aim of bringing ‘Terugblik’ to a live audience. What elements or ways of thinking/working did you find in each other’s work that started this collaboration?

Kenny: The first time I looked at the work of Deborah was at FIBER 2021 on Friday during Woody’s (DJ and artist Woody’92) set. Then we actually met for the first time that next Sunday at the FIBER gathering at murmur where I played a live set. The thing that resonated with me in her work is the way it creates this visual dream-like state constructed by the different visual layers. A continuous flow of seamlessly changing visual patterns, shapes, and gestures. This is something I chase when creating sounds, especially ambient and experimental music.

Deborah: Kenny and I have been admiring each other’s work for some time before we actually had the chance to work together. So when Kenny approached me about creating a new audiovisual show to present the release of ‘Terugblik’, it was logical to jump on the project.

Kenny’s sound has the power to physically surround you and immerse you in some ethereal space, where you can just allow yourself to soak in the subtle atmosphere, or you can follow one specific frisky and bouncy sound and try to follow it while it evolves in the scape, or maybe you can tie yourself to one pattern or rhythms and just groove with that. I think all these different layers and textures are also something I chase and embrace in my visuals-making, so aesthetically and stylistically it was a match.

We found that we both take inspiration from our own experiences and we are both fascinated by this organic symbiosis between what sounds (and looks) natural but is “artificial” and vice versa.

After some initial talks, we found similarities not only aesthetically and in the sources of inspiration, but also in methodology. We both are ‘collectors’, we collect samples and materials that we use, manipulate, distort, destroy, and then present again in new forms and constellations. But we both look for a narrative, a journey that can bring the audience from here to there and then back. We appreciate this continuous back-and-forth of sensorial information that connects the familiar with the new or the unexpected, creating paths between the feeling of reality and the dreamy or imaginative.

Sharing our workflow helped us get insights into each other’s process and easily understand certain choices or steps. What aligned us was also the fact that we both have understanding and respect for the other’s discipline, Kenny in visuals and me in sounds, which allowed us to give each other honest support and natural feedback.

What were your visual starting points, inspirations, and guiding principles for developing the live show? How did you go about the ideas, exchange, sketching, and final synergy between image and sound?

Kenny: I basically gave Deborah carte blanche over the visual material, giving her the freedom to experiment. The collaboration is there to explore the boundaries of each other’s work while looking for new possibilities, a dialog between the audio and visual. The concept of the album to me was like reconstructing a memory or dream. It is difficult to construct the exact same memory or dream with the exact same details as how one experienced it. Some details might differ or be romanticised. Therefore creating a slight change.

This idea of deconstructing and reconstructing dreams is one of the guiding elements and starting point of looking for synergy between image and sound.

Deborah: When Kenny approached me, ‘Terugblik’’s tracks were already there and provided me the ambiance to think about the visuals. But the live show would have sounded different because it would have been a reinterpretation of those sounds.

I really wanted to use video clips I filmed myself on my hikes in the mountains, on my walks in the forests, close to the sea and the rivers. For me, these moments are essential experiences because I grew up in the countryside in the northwest area of Italy, very close to the Alps and the lakes. I didn’t realise how deeply I felt about nature and about my body being active until I moved to a different country and to the city. So using that footage for me it’s always about recalling those moments and those sensations, feeling the moist mossy surfaces or the salty sweat, the fatigue and the sense of void, the feeling connected to the surroundings, the feeling very big or very small.

I used videos I made on previous trips and made new videos during new travels. I filmed with a macro lens to capture the unnoticed or the invisible to our eyes, the small details of the leaves, the wet and rough surfaces of rocks, the sun rays reflected in the stream of water, or small organisms crawling out of their lair. I used my action camera to make faster or slower shots, moving in different directions. Everything was done quite intuitively and on the spot.

As I said, I was looking to find details, textures, patterns, and layers in my visual material by combining different sources and effects. Using the videos as the raw basis for my visuals, I tried to see how they could mutate after post-production, and how they could fit Kenny’s different sounds. after I started producing some first material, Kenny and I kept sending each other sketches and drafts and we tried to push them together. That kept the ideas flowing and allowed each of us to work independently for a while and explore autonomously. We had a narrative, a timeline to work with, with different themes, dynamics, and details. That allowed us to bring in other material, for example, satellite images to connect to the different senses of scale. It gave structure to our very intuitive and associative process.

I think the most interesting times were when we actually met in person and we started jamming and trying things out together. As I mentioned, we both have keen eyes and ears so it was easier to give each other input and see what would work. From some of that jamming, we extrapolated parts of the narrative that we could use to build the live show.

What are the challenges, and unique possibilities, in designing and performing visuals for more ambient-leaning releases and live shows?

Deborah: For me, it’s really about taking your time. With ambient soundscapes, you can really sit longer on certain scenes and explore different possibilities within those subjects, dynamics, and layer combinations. At the same time, it’s still a live show, so even though it’s ambient and gives you more space, you still have to perform within that time frame. So your visual exploration is tied to a more limited availability of materials and samples. You’re dependent on that selection, and sometimes things flow in a direction you didn’t predict, which can result in positive unexpected results or in weird glitches. You have to learn to observe, accept, and let go.

This is something I’m still learning: taking my time, limiting my selection, and letting go. I’m used to working with quantity, fast content creation, and many ideas thrown together. This is due to my design practice, which process usually sees a lot of sketching and testing before evaluating which option is the best fit. The process is wider but much more controlled. In a performance context, you have limitations and a more intuitive and improvisational approach. I love this side of my visual practice, it teaches me a lot about myself too.

The aesthetic of the live show differs from orah’s previous works. What techniques were used in designing the live visual? And in what ways do these techniques allow the specific sonic aesthetic of ‘Terugblik’ to be enhanced?

Deborah: That’s exact, I didn’t use any CGI for this project. I intentionally wanted to explore different creation processes and aesthetic qualities, which was a very curious and challenging step for me. Not only because of the different techniques used but also because I somehow knew part of my audience was expecting something similar to my most recent designs — and I had to break through the idea that I had to provide that and really stay true to my new direction.

I love CGI and the possibilities that creating worlds from scratch gives, and that is why I got closer to designing in 3D in the first place. I love the process of analysing and transforming the material I produce, but something has to happen outside the screen — at some point. I find the whole-screen-based process, from ideas to production, not fully mine. And that is why, for this project, the first material production happened through filming.

I started making videos on my hikes in the mountains, on my walks in the forests, close to the sea and the rivers. I used videos I made on previous trips and made new videos during new travels.

I think the approach of going out there, observing, finding the details, and feeling a place, a surface, a material, the air, feeling the physical fatigue of reaching that place. It gives me much more grounding and connectedness. I’m also a very active person and I can’t spend too many hours just sitting in front of a computer. I need to feel in my body and in my spirit and not only in my mind.

Though, this process was not an easy one for me, because it was a new one and a method I was just testing out for myself. When I came back to the studio, I was in the first place very unsatisfied with the material I collected. I thought the quality was not ‘good enough’ or that the image or the content was unsharp, or not interesting enough.

It was actually when I sat with that material for long enough, showed it to my mentors (shout-out to Jeisson and Zálan for having helped me look at it with different eyes!), and to Kenny, that I also started noticing more interesting qualities in it. What was interesting was that everybody was seeing different things in them based on their subjective perception. This tells a lot about how an image (so a sound) doesn’t have to be fully representing something to speak to the imagination. I try to avoid complete abstraction, and have always a familiar reference in my images. But it’s very surprising how this reference touches on different associations.

The attention to detail, the tactile qualities, the different dynamics and patterns created are present both in the sounds and in the visuals, and are able, in this way, to really tie them tightly together.

I think a lot of the process came also from working on my sense of trust and acceptance, something I’m not fully confident in. Most times you just push until you think you have succeeded in creating the ‘best’ or the ‘perfect’ image, but that’s often such an ephemeral feeling. Sometimes you just have to simply trust your process.

I started editing that material, experimenting around with colour tones and digital manipulations, masks, and layers. New unexpected findings came to light and also those textural qualities I was looking for.

The festival theme for 2023 was Fragments, which for us represented a fragmented and almost elusive experience of sound, through time, medium, and space — and how through time and (digital) technologies, our memories take shape, fracture, or fade away again. For us, the theme has a strong relationship with the artistic principles of your performance. Can you relate to this way of thinking, and does this connect with themes in your artistic practices?

Kenny: Collaborating teaches us to listen and to reflect. By being open to hearing out the other, we learn to connect and understand. While at the same time being open to new forms of interpretations. This creates new ideas, connections, and possibilities. I believe this project ‘Terugblik’ was and is a good example of different experiences of sound, space, and memories that got fragmented over time. It started by taking shape by collecting various fragments of my artistic practice, generating the album. Consequently, the AV project allowed our work and artistic practice to evolve together and individually.

Deborah: As mentioned, part of both our practices comes from taking in from our surroundings, feeling them, perceiving them through different senses, documenting them, collecting them, using and re-using and alternating them again to make something new, but still with the traces of what it was before. Through our AV we really wanted to give the chance to the audience to recognise certain elements that are familiar, but give also the chance to re-explore them, feel the different scales, and get lost in the possibilities of following one pattern or one evolving detail or just floating in the ambient scape. That’s also how I approach my practice, knowing that everything is continuously evolving and can take different shapes constantly. And knowing also that my practice can morph and be enriched whenever a collaboration with another artist takes place. I think ‘fragments’ says a lot about this as well.

We are all little pieces if we stand alone, but when we come together we can make something bigger, fuller, new.

We need to be able to fully perceive and hear each other and understand that we share a lot among each of us. We are all here to complement and improve each other. And in the end, we are part of a whole.

‘Terugblik’ was performed during FIBER Festival 2023 at Noordwaards Amsterdam on Friday 12th of May 2023.

Interview by Jarl Schulp & Maarten De Bruijn
Edited by Eleni Maragkou




Amsterdam based platform and festival for audiovisual art, digital culture and electronic music. Upcoming events: FIBER Festival 2024