Name: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Occupation: Composer, producer
Current Release: Sunergy with Suzanne Ciani on Rvng Intl.
Musical Recommendations: Cool Maritime and John Wizards
If you enjoyed reading this interview with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, you can find out more about her work on her website.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started writing music around 13. I was first influenced by watching a friend sing to me and I thought to myself, “ Wow that looks like it feels really good.” I then began singing to myself a lot and figuring out melodies I would sing on our family piano. I listen to a lot of African and Indian music. Those rhythms were my foundation for music.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I first taught myself through exploration of melodies that would come into my head. At the time, I was doing independent study for schooling and got a job working for a film composer who taught me Protools so I could record my ideas. When I went to Berklee College of Music, I learned the value in studying others’ music. I didn’t listen to much music when I first started, besides long tabla music albums.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning it was always gear and still continues to be gear. I felt like I couldn't afford the right gear for the job. In retrospect, I’m grateful for this, actually. It forced me to figure out my own tricks to get sounds that feel like they are from gear I admire; it has taught me to not be afraid to ask to borrow.
With the modular, however, I only have memories of the empowering creativity that I felt when I first started on it. There were a few moments that tested my patience (laughs). I always find it very interesting, because I am someone who can easily become impatient but when it comes to modulars and music, I have all the patience I need. Maybe it is because there are many options and firm paths I can take; the outcome is immediate feedback.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I always need warm or natural lighting and some sort of plant nearby, or a view into the outdoors. I have lived my whole life next to the ocean, and it is a part of my subconscious. I grew up in a very vibrant natural environment; there was moss with lots of life in it everywhere. I think I seek a sense of movement and life in everything because of this.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
This is always changing. The Music Easel is a constant at the moment because I like to perform with it so much, but I like variety in my creating tools. I am a big fan of Buchla instruments in general and my relationship with their instruments is very special to me. I feel like I found my voice through these machines. My first experience with music synthesis and Buchla instruments is one that I don’t go a day without feeling gratitude for. I was fortunate to have someone lend me a Buchla 100 to explore alone in my cabin on Orcas Island for a year. I bought my first modular a few years after learning to play the Buchla100. My husband and I were both into homesteading at the time and asked friends and family to contribute to a fund to buy a cow for our wedding present. Some things shifted in our life and instead of buying a cow, we bought a Buchla Music Easel. (laughs). The Easel is what has been available to me over the past few years. I love its size, how many different sounds can come out of it, and how easy it is to perform with and play like an instrument.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
Creation for me always starts with a feeling of connection (to anything) that is from a subconscious place. The logical side of my brain is simultaneously there, but not as dominant, until it is needed for problem solving or theory.
The sessions for Sunergy were very enjoyable; there was a lot of laughter. It all seemed to flow and a creation came out easily. Our communication was easy. We would ask constantly, “Who's driving?“ (laughs) meaning, whose clock is driving who, since we would switch off with one another.
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
I don’t think about this, I just focus on creating what feels enjoyable or relevant to myself at the time.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
It depends on what is needed in the moment and if I am writing for myself or other musicians, or if I am writing for hire. Usually, the beginning is improvised and then composing completes it, but that isn't always the case.
What's your perspective on the relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema, for example – and for you and your work, how does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
I believe they all go together. I always feel body sensations when I hear music and/or see visuals. I have grown to use this as a tool for creation and mixing. I have to really put a lot of effort to purely listen without another sense; it is very rare that I can actually do this.
Listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
There is a recording of Alan Watts that I heard when I was younger, where he speaks about an innate human quality. “We all like to record ourselves in some form to prove that we exist, whether it is having a child, finding a partner or literally recording yourself,” he said. I feel like the listener provides validation that a creation exists, whether the listener is many people or just the creator.
Do you have a musical vision that you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons – or an idea of what music itself could be beyond its current form?
Playing synthesizer live with a full orchestra and scoring a feature film.