Swan Meat: ‘All those cliches about catharsis and transcendence are true’

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Reba Fay (b. 1994), alias Swan Meat, is a poet, audio engineer, and composer from Washington, D.C.  Informed by her experience with chronic illness & body dysmorphia, her work pairs “a carnivalesque assemblage of spoken word pieces” with jarring, arrhythmic industrial and ambient compositions, built from a library of memories teeming with sonic detritus: vestigial feeding tube, bytes of heart monitor.  Her debut EP, Bounty, was released on Paris’ PERMALNK imprint, and explored recovery from bulimia nervosa through the lense of Samus Aran from the Metroid series. She codes her own plug-ins & Max patches. Recent releases include Knife Splits Ice, a collaborative EP with the Japanese producer Yoshitaka Hikawa and a single for Bala Club. She will be talking and performing at CTM Festival on 1 February 2018. 

Can you talk about your background and how you got into music?

I’ve been invested in music as far back as I can remember. I grew up playing the piano and the violin, but always thought if I had a career in music, it would be in musical theatre. My father took me to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats when I was eight or nine, and it was the most magical thing to me: the sets, the costumes, the emotional pyrotechnics, but most importantly the music. I spent hours and hours writing silly musicals as a kid, dramatic arias in the vein of Bernadette Peters and was quite involved with the local theatre. I was always concerned with being classically good, and was always that one kid lecturing her classmates on the circle of fifths, being awful. As a teenager I became quite ill and left school and had all this time on my hands, and picked up the guitar. Guitar music led me to punk which led me to No Wave and bands like Suicide and DNA, hence opening me up to a world of previously unknown musical experimentation. In hindsight, the real beginning of the Swan Meat project was when I first heard “Frankie Teardrop” for the first time. It was absolutely terrifying, and I thought, “this is the kind of music that I want to make.” I didn’t start producing until about three years ago, when after messing around with different instruments and gear I found out that software allowed me to generate most efficiently the kind of music I wanted, and still want, to make.

You are from Washington, DC, which is known for its music scene. Has the city and its legacy influenced you as such?

I was really involved in the local hardcore and punk scene for a time, and played in bands myself. I suppose my live sets are especially influenced by hardcore punk in terms of vocal delivery and performance. I’m always trying to recapture the feeling of screaming onstage for the first time. All those cliches about catharsis and transcendence are true for me. You are no longer in your body; fuck being corporeal. You’re just pure vocal energy cutting through feedback. This is of course important. Admittedly I haven’t gone to a show in DC about five years – I live in Cologne, Germany now – and can’t speak to the state of the so-called scene now, but when I was involved, it was a wonderful thing to be part of. I moved in a community in which music was directly tied to activism and organising. Shows in DC were the first places my friends and I had conversations about inclusivity and community-building in music. I think this has been more important than any musical framework DC might have built.

Your music reminds me of WS Burroughs’s cutups, the various elements of sound coming together like sonic shards. What importance does art and literature play in what you do? 

One of the things the Swan Meat project began as was an exercise in highlighting the sonic qualities of text. How can word-objects function as notation and instrumentation? For a period of time, poems functioned as the literal skeleton of every song I wrote. I’d bring a dry vocal recording into Ableton, chop it up, hack the excess from it, and draw sonic elements around that frame. The poem was always the centrepiece, even if that wasn’t aurally perceptible: naturally, clarity as such became obscured by other bits of audio. But of course, this was never about following a linear trajectory or narrative or story-telling. On the page, the poems that I’ve selected to include in my music are – or might appear to be – “confessional” in the Sylvia Plath-ean way. But I don’t care if their “meaning” stays intact; I’m far more concerned with exploring how the tonal colour of the word, say, “breath” might highlight otherwise hidden qualities of a particular slice of drum patterning or some sort of field recording I’ve sourced or an instrument that I’m building. How can I bring textural qualities to the fore beyond the given definition of that word?

Words and vocals are prominent in your music. Can you describe their meaning and role?

The spoken voice is a pliable, malleable instrument. That’s before one brings in traditional conceptions of singing, chanting and prayer, before one brings in a bevy of VST plugins and external processing systems, which open up a world of possibilities. My voice is the only instrument that has been with me, that I’ve practiced since I was born, and because of this it’s been the best material to begin with when considering sound selection and design.

You mention chronic illness and body dysmorphia as directly influencing your work. Can you elaborate?

This question has been brought up frequently in the wake of my having released an EP last year, called Bounty, that was partially about recovering from bulimia nervosa. This particular piece of work engaged with – among other things – exploring my body or rediscovering how to live with my body and move with my body through using video game avatars and characters as proxies, specifically those in Nintendo’s original Metroid game. The music that came out of this was grotesque, because my body felt grotesque, recovery was grotesque: watching my body become other, and rapidly, being alone yet surrounded by all this – I don’t know, mind-detritus. That naturally manifested in the music I was making at the time, and it continues to do so because recovery never ends. However at this point in my life as a musician I’m less interested in discussing this and more interested in discussing the nuts & bolts of my workflow, the technical nitty-gritty: when I work on a track I’m not thinking “how do I convey this pain I’m feeling,” – that’ll be apparent in the audio no matter what, I suppose – I’m thinking instead, “should I or should I not apply distortion to these midi cellos?”

There are lot of scenes, and micro-scenes in music. Is there any particular scene you feel most comfortable in?

If you mean scene in terms of genres, certainly not. I collaborate with people who make music that’s quite different from mine. I like to work outside of my comfort zone and outside genre. Currently, I’m working on projects that incorporate a lot of aspects of cinematic orchestral arrangement and composition, which seems a complete 180 degree turn from the sort of intentionally and unintentionally confrontational music I was making in 2016, 2017. If you mean scene in terms of social scene, then also no. I’m still finding my place.

Can you talk about your upcoming releases and plans?

I’ve been working on a second release for quite some time now. I’m utilising these gigantic orchestral sample libraries and experimenting with them. I’m also building my compendium of melodic knowledge, as this next release is turning out to be a sort of homage to playing my favourite RPGs: Morrowind, Final Fantasy. I’ve been really inspired by this old Sega game – Panzer Dragoon Saga. Though everything’s etched out in MIDI, my goal is to bring this release to life with a live orchestra. I want to play as much as I possibly can, maybe publish some writing. I have some short stories. I want to do so much, too much, maybe.

Schiev x Word Radio

Listen to Schiev festival’s monthly show made for the Word Radio, with tracks from SHAPE artists NAKED, JASSS, Mr Mitch, as well as plenty of other hand-picked favourites by our Brussels-based friends at Schiev.

The aural hallucinations of Nene H.

nene3Beste Aydin achieved notable acclaim as a classically trained pianist, yet her latest project sees her transform into a different creature altogether. Accessing a somewhat darker, transcendental state, her live performances as Nene H. evolve around hypnotising electronic music for sophisticated ears. Her mysterious yet powerfully physical sound contents elements of drone, orient, industrial, psychedelic, vocal, dark wave, noise, experimental, and techno. Nene H. plays at the opening night of CTM Festival on 26 January 2018. 

How did you start making music?

I am actually a classical pianist. I studied piano and composition before I started producing. After I finished my masters degree in solo piano, I had three semesters left in composition studies, but I didn’t want to finish it. I already had studied so long and I wanted to free myself from it and thats how I started to make electronic music. Shortly after, I moved to Berlin where I started working on electronic music more intensely.

Here some links from those days:

Your moniker, Nene H., was inspired by the Turkish folk heroine, Nene Hatun, who fought against Imperial Russia in the 19th century. Apparently, you chose this name for its ties to your home country, and for Hatun’s feminist legacy. Can you talk about its meaning to you?

The meaning that I put into the name when I started was somehow misunderstood by some people. I also read really bad articles where I thought this was totally wrong. Everyone was asking me this question as the first question, which made me feel like I have to explain myself. Besides, politically in Turkey, “Hatun” can nowadays be a very pro-Ottoman statement and this was not my intention at all. So I cut my name shorter to Nene H. with the hope that this question disappears at one point.

What kind of atmospheres & inspirations do you strive to express with your music?

When I produce, I sometimes have these aural hallucinations and I make them audible. Sometimes it is a research into forms and shapes or research into my knowledge or process of forgetting what I know. The most intense dialogue happens on stage and I focus on creating an honest moment, that exists for itself.

What are your upcoming releases & plans?

Our collaboration with Kaltès Protest EP is coming out on the 16th of February on Eotrax, and I have a track coming on a Don’t Be Afraid v/a.

Kaltès & Nene H. Protest EP. A/V preview from Kalma on Vimeo.

DJ Morgiana

Alchemy of vibration constantly fusing into new states of matters. Since 2013 ze (sic) conjures up “za duszno” which was born out of desire to create a meeting space for people interested in unusual music; talks „Histories of musics”, home concerts „residential music” and workshops. Spiritus movens of „Sound Emancipation” which started with „Vocational School of Music” in 2016. It is motivated by the conviction that only talking about feminism in regard to music is not enough – actions and groundwork bring actual change. Ze is interested in abstract turntablism, experiments with voice using extended vocal techniques. Seeing it as a primordial instrument, ze sometimes groans, at other refers to mantras and also produces small sounds (akin to ASMR). This brings feeling of ancient spells and atmosphere of tribal ritual. Chosen crystals and minerals have a prominent place in hir (sic) performances. Ze weaves in their sounds with handmade theremin with photo-resistors, contact microphones which also transmits vibrations of organic ingredients and various objects. Ze is always looking for new means and ways, other sonic planets, so this arsenal is supplemented with hir field recordings – untamed sounds which she explores oceans of endless possibilities – connecting nature and eco-sexuality approach with creative using of new technologies: special interest in live coding, spectral processes, crystal scanning, generative procedures, artificial neural networks or machine learning for sound creation.

Karnacewicz constantly develops her musical practice working with performative aspect. Ze took part in a mechanic-organic performance entangling Astma’s electronics with sounds of plants in K105K gallery in Warsaw, before she conceived a multi-sensual action “Touch Room” with dancer/performer Rafał Pierzyński and Piotr Tkacz with whom she created a soundscape for this situation. This was an outcome of a residency at Lamella – the house of queer arts in Cracow. In June ze was invited by BWA – municipal art gallery of Bydgoszcz as a part of “Night of Performance” where ze presented a deeply personal, shamanic performance drawing upon purifying power of wildness. Ze composed music specifically for this occasion and set a crystal mandala with minerals and other natural elements.

Recently ze prepared a performative sound installation and with participants of Sounds Queer? series transformed Viennese Semperdepot Prospekthof into a queer safer space through vibrations and noises. Combining witchcraft knowledge of ancestors, consciousness of body and vibrational alchemy of unexplores musical hybrids ze conjures experiences of new forms of togetherness.

Download press photo here.  (Credit: Marta Nowak)

December

Adopting the December alias for his debut 12” on Blackest Ever Black, the Parisian wizard Tomas More found a perfect fit for his slow and moody techno cuts. Fast forward a few years and More has released recordings across a variety of labels, each record seeming to naturally follow on from the last. His signature noise driven, EBM influenced club tracks are becoming more and more fierce, an Exponential Growth as his latest EP for Jealous God might assume. Much of December’s music manages to make the most out of minimal drum patterns, part nod to primitive early 80s industrial and part testament to his ability to craft dance music that is always interesting yet often intrinsically simplistic. December has recently been focusing on utilising his own voice and adding another layer to his sound in the process, a new direction which he will debut on an upcoming 12” for Helena Hauff’s Return to Disorder imprint and an LP later in the year. December’s DJ mixes are equally inspired, joining the dots between punk electronics, wave, new beat, techno and industrial with relative ease. He is available for both live PA and DJ set performances, as well as a new live A/V in collaboration with French artist Laura Gozlan.

Download press photo here. (Credit: Camille Blake)

 

EOD

Started making music around 2002, self-releasing online for a while until being picked up by several record labels around Europe (Stonedwave, 030303 Records). Got contacted by & signed with Aphex Twin and Grant Wilson-Claridge’s Rephlex Records back in 2009, culminating in the releases Volume 1&2 in 2013. Now signed with Bjarki’s bbbbbb records, with his first release “Swurlk” selling out within a matter of weeks (again with support from Aphex Twin, receiving plays at festivals like Fuji Rock in Japan and Flow in Helsinki during 2017). Recently he’s been playing EODJ sets all around Europe, with 2018 promising to be his most active year yet. If you enjoy music that makes your brain dance along with your feet, EOD is essential.

Download press photo here. 

Yamaneko

Since breaking through with 2014’s critically-acclaimed debut album, Pixel Wave Embrace, Yamaneko has been one of the key electronic artists combining club music with ambient aesthetics – with a sound equally inspired by grime, new age ambient, video game OSTs and techno. Despite being his first release, Pixel Wave Embrace was acclaimed and influential and is often referred to as a cult classic – praised highly by Dummy, Dazed, Resident Advisor, FACT, Tiny Mixtapes, Juno Plus and Fader, and played in sets by Objekt, Kassem Mosse, Peverelist, Mr. Mitch, Logos and Mumdance, who referred to the album as his favourite LP of 2014.

Since the album’s release, Yamaneko has performed twice on Boiler Room, contributed mixes to Dazed and The Fader, hosted sporadic shows on NTS and Rinse FM, has launched a monthly Radar Radio show, Fragrance Transmissions, and is a resident DJ at New Atlantis. His second album, 2016’s Project Nautilus, was a darker, less inviting album but equally acclaimed – in Resident Advisor’s words, a series of “singular soundscapes from unexpected sources.”

Yamaneko has also released three well-received experimental ambient albums and an exclusive mix of his own productions for Truants under the alias Talbot Fade, and is one half of Yaroze Dream Suite with Mr. Mitch. Yamaneko’s third and most recent album, Spa Commissions expanded on his ambient beginnings and was based on environmental music originally composed for a spa in Europe. He will be debuting his live set in 2018.

Download press photo here. (Credit: Jun Yokoyama)

Schwefelgelb

Schwefelgelb is a Techno Body Music duo from Berlin. The powerful physical aspect of their music is being represented in their live shows, which they complement with synced strobe lights and projections. They performed all over Europe, North America and in Japan. Their recent release, which appeared on Fleisch Records (August 2017) is now out in second pressing. It’s being played by DJs like Silent Servant, The Hacker, Tommy Four Seven, Helena Hauff, Bryan Black, Front 242, Jensen Interceptor and more.

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Arielle Esther

Since having established herself in Berlin in 2012, Arielle has been immersed in the process of defining her own aesthetic and approach to music production. In 2016, she completed a degree in Sound Engineering with a focus on deep listening/spatial sound practices, and thereafter joined the Berlin-based creative studio 6th Finger where she fine tunes her recording and post-production skills, blending modern compositions across diverse media.Through various collaborations with visual artists, she has developed a specialism in audio recording manipulations, and has expanded studio practices, from digital to analog, computer-based to modular synthesis.

Those techniques thread a line in her ambient and experimental sound works wrapped in a concept of fragmented narratives. As
a performer, she processes material through modular synthesis taking a more improvisational, live format in which suspended rhythms, lush vocals and abstract sonorities are intuitively transformed through obscure, yet charming territories. Arielle’s practice includes a wide range of interdisciplinary projects, including short films, interactive installations, dance and solo performances. Her sound works were presented at Berlin venues including Berghain, Funkhaus, Spektrum, Ohm, and most recently at the ArtTech Festival Bogota and Sonica Festival Showcase Berlin.

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Élg

Since 2004, Laurent Gérard also known as Èlg, has drawn concentric sound spirals made of musical pipes and entrails. He uses an arsenal of instruments and methods, constantly renewed and builds improbable bridges between concrete music and french song debris, between cryptic electronic tribal incantations and Russian doll dancing in Plutonia. When not in French, language is reduced to an alien babble of an old man, a child, a dusty revenant, an epileptic bard, a peaceful messenger…

The motifs and the contours of the sound reinvent themselves constantly like a living organism. Its a coil of prayers, an earth rocket, a parade we are following on a grand avenue..

Èlg is also half of the electronic duo Opera Mort (with Jo Tanz), and 33% of Orgue Agnes (with the members of Kaumwald, Sourdure and Premier Chasseur) and one a third of Reines d’Angleterre (with Jo Tanz and Ghédalia Tazartes). He is also part of the two headed clown monster « Schultz and Elg », with sound poet Damien Schultz.

His albums have been released by labels such as Kraak, SS-Records, Lexi Disques, Fonal, Hundebiss Records, Alter, SDZ, Bo’Weavil, Nashazphone… His next opus, Vu du Dôme, will be out on Editions Gravats in March 2018.

Download press photo here. (Credit: Nina Strebelle)

Èlg live in Nantes / Lieu Unique / 2017 from La Chimie on Vimeo.