Name: Paula Schopf
Occupation: Sound artist, DJ, musician
Current Release: Paula Schopf's Espacios en Soledad EP is out via Karaoke Kalk.
Recommendations: Book: A Short History of Electronic Music and its Women Protagonists - Johann Merrich (Arcana edition 2021)
Sound: Cricket Voice (1987) - Hildegard Westerkamp
If you enjoyed this interview with Paula Schopf and would like to stay up to date on her activities, visit her on Facebook. Or head straight to her official homepage which offers a wealth of information about her various projects.
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 don't remember exactly when I started making music, I think it was around 2001, in the living room of my apartment in Berlin. But since I was a child I always had a huge interest for music.
I played guitar in Chile and at the age of 15 I started to get interested in electronic music, especially European music like Cabaret Voltaire, Kraftwerk, Chris & Cosey, Bruce Gilbert, DAF, etc. Shortly before I emigrated in 1990 to Berlin I was already infected with Acid, Techno and Ambient Music (in the 1990s there was always an Ambient Room or Chill Out area in the clubs).
[Read our Cosey Fanni Tutti Interview]
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?
For me it was a very individual process. I had already been playing for several years as a DJ, Techno, House and Electro music. I started making music with Max Loderbauer, who also taught me how to work with Logic, gave me an old computer and a Juno 106. I knew I didn't want to do Dance Music precisely because I thought there was a lot of that kind of music and I didn't feel that I had a new and interesting proposition for that style. I wanted to do something different, that brought together all the influences I had accumulated in my life, from Chilean folk and protest music to all the influences of the 19080's music.
It was quite an original and unusual mix, with a rather dilettantish style. In that sense I don't feel that I went through a stage of imitation of other producers.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Sense of identity? I imagine that it is something that develops and changes over time and according to your experiences in life, so it must also have some influence on your creative process. It's quite a psychlogical question. I don't know if I have a clear answer for that.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
If I'm honest, my first creative challenges were simply to understand how the music software (Logic) worked. The funny thing is that through my inability, I looked for other ways to achieve what I wanted, because of certain mistakes, rhythms, loops or other musical elements were created that gave the piece something special and interesting, not common, precisely because of the aforementioned dilettantism.
At the beginning, it was easier for me to record a HiHat (with microphone) using any object like plastic paper, a lighter, etc, and recording a some bars and looping it, than using the program's sequencer. Besides I found it more interesting to have a unique HH.
Today the challenges have changed, but many times the search for solutions to get to what I want, takes a long time, in my case.
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?
In the beginning, I started making music with whatever I could get my hands on, instrument loans, gifts, buying little things. I always used instruments like the guitar, a bass, little percusiones, flutes and objects of all kinds, as a sound source that I recorded and then completely denaturalized. I also used my voice to sing.
Little by little I have been moving away from the idea of making music and I have been getting closer to the sound phenomena of my environment, whatever they are (both the sounds of nature and the sounds caused by artificial objects and human beings). For this reason, microphones and a good recorder are my new instruments.
I'm also interested in the interaction between field recordings and analog synthesizers, playing between those two sound sources, that's why I have a couple of little modules, albeit few. I'm very ascetic and I’m learning how to work with them in a very minimal way.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Undoubtedly we are conditioned by the media (including instruments) and vice versa, we create and incorporate new instruments as we need them for our creative process.
Right now microphones are a fundamental instrument for what I do, but this is not a new technology- It is simply the one that best suits my purposes.
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 always liked to do remixes, in fact it was the first thing I did: a remix for the group Contriva (Monica Enterprise) with Max Loderbauer. I like to transform the sound material into an other direction.
Last year for the first time I did a composition within the framework of a virtual residency, with a musician from the Magallanes region (Chilean Patagonia) and it was a great experience, I loved it. We shared files and talked a lot about the sounds used, about the concept, about what we want to do, about aesthetic points of view, etc. Also in this experience it was nice to be able to confide in each other.
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 don't really have a routine.
So far I have my studio at home (it's small). Soon I hope to get one and I am very happy, precisely because I think it helps to have a routine and because I like to be alone. Besides that I don't always work on my projects. Rather, but I'll work on something at certain times and then there'll be times when I work on other things like for example doing music workshops for children and young people.
I have an 8 year old son at home which forces me to work in the first half of the day (when he is at school), that is to say that my rhythm is often determined by very trivial factors.
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 went through a long pause in terms of music production. I was somewhat dissatisfied, I was searching because I felt that there was something more and that I needed to investigate.
This inner restlessness finally led me to apply for a Master in Sound Studies at the University of the Arts in Berlin. That was the moment when not only my ears were opened but I also found the right tools to continue developing myself as an artist.
I discovered that my restlessness was linked to the question of sound itself. A world opened up for me, a world that I had been unconsciously searching for many years.
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?
For me there are two important factors: time and space. I like to work long hours, I need a lot of time to concentrate. I can't work 4 hours and the next day 3, etc. After 4 hours the ideas start to flow.
The ideal is to be alone, that is, alone for many hours. I don't have a strategy, but those two factors are important to me.
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?
Music has a very great expressive potential and for example it is important for me in my workshops to bring children and young people closer to this creative potential. Music is not only a means of expression, but enables people to consciously experience themselves and the world.
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?
Indeed there is a very fine line and I believe that as an artist one should reflect deeply on this subject. You have to be aware of what you are doing and not be superficial. Even so, superficiality always shows in the work. If as an artist you are sincere and not an opportunist, I think it is very likely that you will stay on the right side of this line.
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?
Oh yeah, when I was quite a bit younger I spent many weekends dancing at the E-Werk, this was a big Techno club in Berlin. The soundsystem was quite powerful, as we danced we felt the bass pierce our bodies and you know when music gets under your skin.
But I wanted to experience even more and literally got inside the very big speaker which was some kind of a bass horn. My whole body was transformed into a sound box, how crazy! Well after a while a guard of the club came and kindly asked me to get out of the box.
This is perhaps a rather profane way of describing the sensory overlaps referred to in the question, but I love to tell this story. In those times we experimented a lot with the combination of music, senses, perception and above all new forms of perception.
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?
Well, I believe that the moment an artistic work is presented in a public space, no matter what its purpose is, it will always have an impact on society, because it is an act of interaction, isn't it? Our actions influence our environment, also as artists. It is almost a redundancy to say this, but I want to do something to change the “world” – because every action has a consequence, in my opinion.
As a DJ as well as a musician or artist, I am inevitably shaped by my experiences, my form of perception and my relationships to other beings.
My experiences are diverse. I'm South American, a woman born in the 70’s, I lived in a dictatorship under a heavy political oppression, since 1990 I’m living in Berlin (as a Chilean), I consider myself a political being. I have thousands of things that make me. My whole person and how I perceive things play a role in everything I do.
But also I think that when I put something in the world, I can’t not tell the people how they have to perceive it, I loose that control the moment when it is out or released.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Both music and words need sound, that is to say, sound precedes both. For me everything begins and ends in sound. Words, before being written or even having any meaning, sound.
Michel Serres in his book “The Five Senses” dedicated one chapter to the sense of hearing. One of his fundamental thoughts in this chapter is that noise precedes speech, that speech needs music, "music, on the other hand, does not need speech" and that, likewise, music has noise as a prerequisite, but noise does not need music. I love it!