Chagall is a London-based electronic composer and performer, an early adopter of the mi.mu glove gestural controller system and a budding digital artist with performances and showcases in venues ranging from the TED stage to the Ableton Loop Festival. We caught up with Chagall to ask her about the genesis, process and execution of her music, the balance of technology and expression afforded by embodied, gestural controller systems, and a bit of advice for creators from her namesake.
For starters, who you are and what you do?
My name is Chagall (I promise, my passport says so too) and I am a producer, singer and writer of electronic music. Live I use the gestural mi.mu gloves interface and I have spent the last couple of months creating my show ‘Calibration’, an hour long performance in which I control all electronic sounds and reactive visual projections with carefully designed choreography of my hand and body movement.
Watch how we did that here:
How did you get into music? Where did you start building this world of yours?
My first musical love was Mozart. But (being 3 years old) I didn’t understand that whenever I heard his music, it wasn’t actually him playing it. So when the time came my parents had to tell me why we couldn’t go and see my great love – he had been dead for 300 years – I was inconsolable. I played the piano, had singing lessons, was in choirs and then a band but I didn’t get into writing songs properly until around the same time that I discovered electronic music. There’s something about electronic bass sounds that make the hairs in my neck stand up and the tension between those deep, screechy tones and my voice made me realise that was my musical path. I also always loved computers so music production was immediately very much up my street and what I’m doing now with a show that is heavily drenched in tech really suits my interests. I just love all the noodling!
Can you tell us a bit about the development of the mi.mu gloves?
The mi.mu gloves were invented as a tool for artist Imogen Heap. She was tired of dragging her whole tons of gear around the world to be able to reproduce the comprehensive productions she had created in the studio and also felt that it wasn’t always so clear to her fans what was happening in the music when she was running around the stage, pushing an army of buttons and faders. So she got a team of designers & engineers to create a gestural interface for her, which would allow her to control lots of musical parameters at the same time in a intuitive way, while making the sound visual to audiences. Enter: the mi.mu gloves. In 2015 a first batch of mi.mu gloves was released to the public and now are being used by around 20 musicians, film composers, mixing engineers, visual artists and theatre practitioners.
Chicken and egg question: When you’re writing new material which comes first, the technology gesture and effect or the traditional song structure, harmony, melody and lyric content?
In the case of Sappho Song the melody was actually inspired by the movement and the harmonies that the gloves created, but usually I start with melody, beats & lyrics, finish the whole production and the gloves don’t come in until I start arranging the songs for the stage.
Where do you pull inspiration from?
Even though now I use quite new-school tools to create and manipulate sound, the songs I write are usually inspired by the people around me, nature or things from the past – which could be music, but also history (I studied History in Uni), books, films, poems… My song Sappho Song was inspired by a poem by Ancient Greek poet Sappho.
It’s impressive how you use the technology to really serve your musical ideas… This is kind of cheap, but the painter Marc Chagall wrote, “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works. If from the head, almost nothing.” which is debatable, of course, but how do you balance the two in your work?
I couldn’t agree more with my namesake here! 100% of my best tunes I wrote in the midst of dramatic life events. Making music in moments like that is not a choice, for me it’s like a necessity for life to channel my heart’s pains (and joys) into songs and sound. Having said that, being in the music industry it’s unavoidable that your head f*cks with the programme and easily ruins any true inspiration. I’ve written so much rubbish trying to do things I thought other people would like. Nowadays, I really try to check myself on that and only pursue musical ideas if they’re really real and not coming from some ulterior place.
How does the SoftStep 2 integrate into your rig?
I use the SoftStep 2 to change between the songs in my set. This way I don’t have to ever touch or look at my computer during the show. With one touch I change the settings of my gloves, all the sounds, routings, levels and the visuals, that I also control with the mi.mu gloves.
Do you have an idea about where you’d like to see this technology go?
Mmm… something with smart fabric pressure pads imbedded in mi.mu gloves??
Any advice for aspiring producer musician technologist performers?
Decide what you want or have to say to the world and stick with that. If technology can help you with that goal, that’s fantastic. But I don’t personally think it’s that interesting to have technology as the protagonist of any artistic work – use it to support you in expressing your human emotions, message or dreams & don’t be disloyal to your first love, (I assume) music.
What have you been working on lately? What’s next for Chagall?
I have recently released my new single and video ‘Aroma’s Haul’ and been rehearsing for my showcase in London. Now that’s all done, I am going to finish my EP, which is going to be called “Calibration” too, like my show. This Autumn I will take the show and the new songs on the road to wherever I can.
Thanks, Chagall! We look forward to checking out what comes next!
For more information check out Chagall’s website at: http://chagallmusic.com/