Name: Ale Hop
Occupation: Artist, researcher, experimental instrumentalist
Current Release: Ale Hop's The Life of Insects is an intense sonic experience, taking in anything from delicate field recordings to violent bursts of harsh noise, percussive strikes that recall her early interest in drumming as well as strummed strings which reveal her long-term relationship with the guitar. Available now from Buh Records.
Recommendations: Un condamné à mort s'est échappé by Robert Bresson; The Compass Rose by Ursula K. Le Guin
If you enjoyed this interview with Ale Hop, visit her personal website to find out more. Or visit her on Facebook and Instagram.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I had an early classical education, piano and theory lessons since the age of five. However, I never really committed to musical training. From the beginning, I just wanted to play and create songs. I learned several by ear and then made my own songs, which were a mixture of the parts of all songs I knew.
I had an early fascination with the cassette player. I had this trick: I use the microphone to record an instrument (like a guitar or a voice), and then move that cassette to the other deck and play it, and record on a new cassette, what I already had, plus a new line of instrument (again using the microphone). And then I could do that operation several times to add more instruments. It was a precarious way of recording several tracks. Eventually, the most prominent sound on those cassettes was the background noise leaked from the cheap microphone every time I recorded.
I made music from the time I was a kid, then during my adolescence, I played in rock and punk bands and got into electronic music and pop later. But I never thought of music as a potential profession or my main activity. It was a side interest from my academic pursuits. I began to consider it a valid career path when people became interested in what I was doing, which was in my twenties when I started engaging with experimentation and stranger sonorities. Over time it occupied all my energy, to the point that I just accepted the fact that academia was my side-activity and not vice-versa. I've been better off ever since.
For most artists, originality is 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?
From my way of thinking, being original and finding a voice are two different axes that might meet at a sweet spot. I care about the latter, but never so much that it keeps me from moving forward. I find originality as related to novelty or authenticity. It's typically bound to the way people think about themselves. Others might look for it on keeping up with technology or by seeking new concepts or techniques. People are often so trapped in conventions that it just takes a step aside from the monotony to be "original."
For instance, take a peek at the world of electric guitar players, those dreadful guitar magazines with names like Guitar World or Total Guitar with tabs and pictures of guys holding onto the instrument with stoical poses. It doesn't take a lot to be an original electric guitar player. But to do it with a voice of your own, on the other hand, is to be a proficient crafter with the temper to endure one's limits, in a live situation, and the nerve to say something of your own. Yet, maybe, we always had a voice, but it takes time, discipline and faith to build up a style to show it.
Emulating others helps, but is always a risk. There is a certain degree of essential knowledge to discover, although it always comes with a big bag of precepts that are tough to unlearn. On this path, I found that it was way more challenging for me to unlearn things than learn them.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I tend to think of who I am in terms of what I do. Therefore, I rather consider the opposite direction of the argument: how my creativity contributes to my sense of identity.
Conversely, when I compose, I'm usually more conscious of the position of the listener. What the listener would experience. If she was walking with her earphones listening to this modulation. I imagine if that would make her stop and take a breath. Curiously, that listener is always me. It's a strange act of projection. More like talking to yourself instead of talking about yourself.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Most of the challenges are always the same, except I now know more about the scope of my abilities and limitations than ten years ago.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Well, this question is tricky to answer because I didn't make a lot of those choices. It's a good deal more fortuitous than planned.
My first instrument was the piano because there was one in my house. I learned a bit of drumming by reading tabs on drum magazines and practicing at school. That is the instrument that I would've chosen. And I asked my parents for a drum kit, yet they bought me an acoustic guitar instead because that was what they could afford. (I was grateful.) Years later, I got an electric guitar from my cousin. He offered it to me for fifty dollars because he needed money for partying. I sold some CDs to pay for the guitar, and it stayed with me for a decade. It became my main instrument, and it still is.
I began making music with FruityLoops because somebody gave me a cracked version of that software, then I was editing music in Sony Vegas— that supposed to be for video—, afterwards, I got into Nuendo, Cubase, and finally, I stuck with Ableton Live.
Most of the time, it was more about what I could get my hands on. However, one significant change that I made recently—and consciously—about my gear is, I changed guitar pedals for modular effects. I got annoyed how guitar pedals are designed to only go in one direction.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I don't think I ever had that kind of epiphany or apprehension with music technology. Yet, I've had a special fondness for software as a compositional means. I loved FruityLoops because it was, in some sense, a sequencer instrument. It had these simple tracks that were step sequencers that made it super easy to write drums and melodies. It was more intuitive than other DAWs, but they changed it.
Nowadays, I feel the same way about Ableton Live. I like it for the same reasons I liked FL. It has this loop-based sequencer mentality built-in. I don't even use it for my live performances; it is the software's logic of time that is compatible with the way I approach composition. Thus, it won't come as a big surprise either that my favorite guitar pedal is the looper.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I don't mind file-sharing, jamming or just talking, but there are external forces at play when a good collaboration takes place. I don't mind the form so much. Sometimes it takes a lot of conversations, or else, not a single word. But it needs to be a system that can leave space for these external forces, which is exercising a sense of telepathy. Right now, I found that very challenging to accomplish in a virtual zoom window. It is a compressed experience that is too reduced and, at the same time, too immediate. It is exhausting.
That is why for the last months, I've been collaborating with musicians through written letters. So, I spend a great deal of the last lockdown writing these travel letters, thinking that the intimacy of the epistolary format could save me from total virtuality. It's working fantastically so far; I'm finishing six pieces with that process.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I'm a morning person. My brain is more malleable and accessible in the morning. Lately, I've been waking up between 5-6 am. It is this people-less world, with birds chanting, no phone calls, no pedestrians ... Most days, I work in my home studio, although I used to go twice a week to the library before covid started. I miss that space!
I try to balance things, between administrative work (applications, meetings, emails, taxes, etc.), creative work (composition, concerts, art pieces, sound design, mixes, workshops, collaborations, etc.), curatorial and organizational work (I organize a festival, and sometimes I get invited to collaborate with cultural initiatives), and academic work. Those are the four pillars of my routine, but, of course, things tend to blend and inform each other. I encourage it.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I don't usually experience breakthroughs; instead, I tune into things. In 2019, for example, I was working on the 4DSOUND system at MONOM, a spatial sound studio in Berlin where I was doing an artistic residence. After one month of working intensively, I began hearing my everyday life as part of the 4D piece I was composing. It was uncanny.
For the past months, I've been doing field recordings more often. What happened is, now I can differentiate the different birds and their singing habits throughout the day. It is a slow curve of learning with gear as well. I usually buy one thing at a time and play with it until it becomes totally intuitive. I had the same three guitar pedals for seven years before I bought more. I knew by heart every single centimeter of them. Now, I'm approaching modulars the same way. The breakthrough normally happens when I recognize that I'm listening or playing in a certain way, and I go back on my steps to identify why.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I get most of my ideas from outside the music realm, watching films, reading fiction, history, philosophy, or when I'm in a new place, or talking to people. I write them down in post-its or my notepad. The other side of the creative endeavour is when I get into the actual craft. It's always a slow beginning, but once" in the zone," I get in a certain state where I can work 10-hours on end. I need to remind myself of taking breaks, water, food.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I don't think sound is inherently healing, except when it is intended that way by the composer or listener, and even then, it is important to acknowledge that not all bodies experience sound the same way.
I was born during the armed conflict in Peru in the 80s. My parents made me tape crosses on all the house windows—in case "a bomb exploded nearby," so the shards of glass wouldn't fly all over and cut us. —, they were really not great at sweetening reality for us. It was a peculiar state of mind: waiting for something to explode. I think that shaped my imaginary in a way, which is why I've always been fascinated by extreme sonorities.
Also, as a kid, I was driven to believe—by some trashy TV shows—that a big earthquake was going hit hard my city—any minute now—because the last big one was in 1974, and it had already "accumulated" by more than a decade. Nowadays, I live in Germany, and I still jump up the chair every time the floor vibrates as a truck passes by, even though there are no earthquakes here. I also believed that any sound that I couldn't explain—any source unknown to me—, was a ghost haunting the house, a common belief among kids. But I still feel that way, sometimes, sound can shock me like no other stimulus. And still, I make a living from it; it is not its healing properties what I've been looking for.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I don't think of traditional heritage as a thing that is frozen up in time and shouldn't be approached. It is how people "exchange" what makes it at times problematic, and the system that assesses some as geniuses and others, well, as "others." It becomes very questionable from the moment an artist is looking for authentic and innovative ideas, outside the Western world, to collect raw creative material to capitalize on, and not for establishing genuine dialogues.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
My sense of hearing is related to my ears, but I listen with my ears, eyes, body, will, and history. It is not that they overlap, but that they are one cognitive system altogether. To think of them as separate entities is only useful to bring attention to a particular.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I don't pursue a particular political or social role in my art. However, I think that—if it is any good—is inherently political because it is going to become part of conversations and open up doors in people's minds.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
All the worlds in-between words.