Name: Carolina Eyck
Occupation: Composer, performer, improviser, vocalist, theremin player
Current Release: Carolina Eyck's 2019 album Elegies for Theremin & Voice is available from a variety of websites.
Recommendations: Stravinsky’s "The Rite of Spring". It’s a cliché, but it's a piece everyone should know, beyond doubt. Also, Claude Monet’s "Water Lilies" series.
If you enjoyed this interview with Carolina Eyck, visit her excellent, informative webspace for more information. She is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
If you'd like to keep reading, and for more thoughts from a theremin player's perspective, read our Hekla Magnúsdóttir interview.
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?
Already as a kid, or since I was a baby actually, electronic music was part of my life. My father had a band and my mother did the scenic lighting, so I basically lived backstage. Music was part of my identity growing up.
I started composing when I was six, simple piano tunes with titles like the "Hopping Bunny". But experimenting with looping and theremin and voice improvisations started only in 2010.
My favourite artists are Bobby McFerrin and Maria João.
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?
I started learning with classical music, like many kids, and I went through a classical education from early on: violin, piano and theremin (focused on classical repertoire) since I was 7.
When I got older, I went to the Royal College of Music in Stockholm to study viola. All this time I had a strictly classical musical education, so it wasn’t until 2011 that that started to change. At that point I started jamming and improvising with jazz musicians and that led me to further developing my musical language beyond the box I was in before.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I believe that we can only be creative when we’re free, when our minds are free from ourselves, from our own contexts. That’s when we channel that sense of unity in music.
For me, there is some sort of creative tissue floating over the world, and I try to attune to that creativity. I don’t think I own those ideas, I’m simply allowing myself to be free enough to connect to them; they are bigger than my own analytical mind. Connecting with this creative force that makes me one with music – that’s when the flow happens to me.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I remember clearly this moment in my life: It was some time before 2011 and I had to write a composition for orchestra for a competition. I would sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper, thinking and operating from the analytical part of my mind. It was mainly intellectual creativity. In the end I won the competition, but it was not a pleasant creative work for me, it was extremely challenging and even exhausting.
After that experience I realised that sitting in front of paper and thinking analytically was not my way of being creative and doing music. Many people can do that, but it was not for me. That’s when I started composing with improvisation and something clicked, I found my personal creative process. Since then, I rarely face this kind of challenge while making music.
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?
When I stated to experiment with theremin and voice, I was using looping and effect pedals, because that’s what was available to me - that’s what I had at home!
But in 2019 I changed to a digital set, and started working with Ableton Live and MIDI plugins. The reasons for that change were mainly the better technical options when working with surround sound and electronics sounds. It felt much more fluid to me. The challenge with the digital set at that stage was to map things in the best way to make the playability within Ableton more organic/natural – which is hard when you have so many knobs and infinite options. But finding the right fit was just a matter of time and experiments.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The Genki Wave ring really changed the game for me. It gave me three new dimensions to work with, because with the Wave I can control parameters of my music using gestures in the air. It really suits the flow of the theremin and I’m very glad I had the opportunity to experiment with it since the first version of the product was released.
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’ve done a lot of collaborations in my life, I love it! I learned a lot about myself and my music through collaboration. It’s a win-win. Lately though I’ve been feeling like I had to take more time for myself to develop my own ideas. That’s where I am right now.
My favourite way to collaborate is improvising live on stage. It’s truly inspiring to realise you are both in that same space, connecting through music and sharing the same idea. Collaborating with Steve Vai was one of those moments.
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 do have a schedule, I feel it’s very important to me to have this structure.
I get up around 7 in the morning, work out or dance, then I either teach or write my method book. Then I take a lunch break, and after lunch I either have students, meetings or studio sessions. In the evening I try not to do anything music or work related, I usually meet my friends or do some gardening. I try to keep the music/work aspects of my life separate from the rest, because it works better for me like that.
On Sundays I have the habit of "cleaning" my mind, avoiding thinking of any work-related challenge that I had during the previous week and allowing myself to truly rest.
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?
My theremin playing method was definitely my breakthrough work. The theremin allows for a lot of freedom when it comes to technique, and it’s such a difficult instrument to play precisely because of this freedom.
One day when I was 16 I realised that if I consistently used my hand to measure the playing space, I could use fixed finger positions to "predict" notes and intervals. It was the starting point of a whole new way of playing the instrument. It’s an important achievement because it helps me and many other people get better at something, in this case playing the theremin.
I started almost 20 years ago, but I continue improving it today. I feel like it’s the work of a lifetime, making it better and up-to-date always. It’s been a privilege to learn so much in this process about how our bodies and minds work while playing music.
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?
When I work on my method book and other aspects of my career, it can be exhausting sometimes to keep focus. But when I make music, not much can distract me, actually. Just to be sure, I always keep my devices outside of the studio to avoid possible distractions.
Another thing that helps me a lot is, whenever I make time to go to the studio to work creatively I don’t make any appointments after studio time. Sometimes an appointment will require you to stop what you’re doing in your most creative moment, simply because you have to be somewhere else. But once I’m at the studio working, I try not to judge what I'm doing. You can always judge yourself later, but while you’re working it’s not the right time yet. It can cut the creative flow very easily to mix the two things.
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 think the biggest need for music is where people are imprisoned by their minds and don’t see any way to get a glimpse of something bigger than their own thoughts. In my experience, the impact of music is mainly positive, music goes straight to the soul. Lately I realised that whenever I play my music I feel very calm afterwards, and this calmness affects the audience as well.
If my music makes you sleep, I honestly consider it a compliment. Especially in a time like today, when we are ultra stimulated and most people find it difficult to turn off and relax.
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?
In my work, I’m constantly trying to attune to something beyond myself. Different cultures have always attracted me, and I think this curiosity reveals itself most through my interest in languages. I love learning different languages and I dare say this is currently my main hobby. I like to think that you can get a bit of access into how people feel and think once you speak their languages, understand how that language works and hear the melodies of the sentences. It’s an act of reverence, of honouring a culture. You don’t steal the language when you’re speaking it, quite the opposite.
For me personally it happens in a similar way with music. I’m curious about both music and languages, and when the intention is that of respect and understanding, I see every exchange as an enrichment, either of melodies, repertoire or emotions.
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?
For me sounds are very visual: different keys have different colours, different timbres have different shapes, different dynamics have different sizes and density. Synesthesia is really part of my way of visualising music, but I leave the explanations to the specialists! (laughs)
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 believe my task as an artist is to make music that is created out of a bigger consciousness, on the flow. Led by intuition, rather than intellect. What I’m hoping in the end is that my music functions as a bridge for people to connect with themselves and this consciousness.
I want to make this experience as true as I possibly can – true to intuition, true to the senses – and I mean not only the music but also myself and everything that is around me. It’s very spiritual in a way, but in the end every music works like that somehow. The same way intellectual music creates an intellectual audience, when you approach music through the sensorial, the intuitive, your audience connect to your music in a similar way.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Sounds are mainly perceived through the senses, instead of being process by the analytical mind - and we can experience sounds deeper than words and meaning.