Phoebe in the studio. Photos for CDM courtesy the artist.

The enchanting, carefully-handcrafted music of Phoebe Kiddo is yet another example of the wonders coming from under-the-radar digital artists in the production Renaissance now underway. We got to host Phoebe on our MusicMakers party last month in Berlin – full coverage of that show, with video, coming soon. Now, Phoebe tells CDM a bit about making music as a globe-trotting nomad, and how she works with monome live and in the studio.

Phoebe’s music mixes taut beats and delicate, low-fidelity timbres with dense arrangements and spacey dubs. Her voice cuts dreamy melodic lines across introspective grooves that can then accelerate into clicky staccato. This is a fanciful trip on a spaceship, yes, but it’s a finely-tuned spaceship; her productions show inside-out attentions to detail that eschew sound-alike copying.

Phoebe’s new release is upcoming – you’ll certainly read about it here when it drops. But Phoebe tells us a bit about how she managed to squeeze music making into travel, and other challenges I expect readers here will easily recognize. She starts about the trip that has led her from Down Under to the Golden State, USA to the capital of Germany. And she is as reflective as the music she makes:

As a musical pilgrim for the past year and a half, moving between Australia the States and Europe, I had to adapt my musical practice to suit the limitations of travel, cutting back on gear, working on a laptop, then in studios whenever and whereever I had the opportunity. I was very much relying on the kindness of friends, new and old, and adapting to whatever hardware was a hand at the time. Fortunately, this journey saw me in some very well-equipped studios working with hardware I would otherwise never have encountered.

Most of the music has been written between Los Angeles and Berlin, two places that could not be more diametrically opposed, musically, culturally, architecturally. I have come to believe that wether you intend it or not, the creative process is affected by the collective energy of a place, and as such, I was left with two distinctively different yet somehow related sounds. The work grew into two pieces, both long play-format sonic adventures that reflect the depth of psychic experience the pilgrimage took on. I have a affection for high-end details, syncopated rhythms, spacey-sounding synths and sub bass sine waves that you’ll hear throughout.

Nostalgia for the Future: Favouring samples complimented by synths and [Elektron] Machinedrum (my baby) is a sun drenched tale of remembering imaginary futures yet untold, the eternal experience of disintegration into newness, longing for familiarity in the utterly abstract, loathing of the ordinary, known routines and eternal restlessness. The painful experiences that will somehow be romanticized in a distant incarnation of ourselves. A nostalgia for that which awaits us. Existing simultaneously in multiple dimensions, dragging parts of ourselves screaming from places they have found a ground to stand on. Belonging nowhere and to no one. Having nothing to hold onto, no point of reference, no trajectory. Operating from complete trust and the highs and lows associated with such a life, as existence gently guides us or violently shoves us from one moment to the next.

Deep Space Serenade favours Jupiter, Juno, and a Korg Delta that I completely fell in love with in my friend Alexkid’s studio. It’s deep, rather sound design prone. It meditates on the natural tendency to flow into connection and the pain of separation. The latent grief waiting within love’s embrace. When I left Australia, I said to myself I would travel until I fell in love, seeing and hearing everything inspiring that could, working tirelessly to create something beautiful to offer the world. This piece is a serenade, spaced out, sometimes heavy, always deep. It’s a reflection on the catastrophe of love. The devastation of a truly deep connection and how that can tear you completely from the comfort of solitude. Being wrapped in our own riddles until on occasion that perspective arrives to remind us, who we truly are, and what we have the capacity to become.

I also asked Phoebe to tell us a bit more about her use of the monome in performance. It’s a familiar instrument to many readers here, of course (some of you using it yourself), but I did see it get a lot of attention in her performance with us last month.

I use a few patches, depending on what I’m doing.

For the show at MusicMakers, I used sevenup live for [monome] 128, which functions as a looper, drum machine, melodizer, and midi controller within live. You can drop tracks, parts, build drums, do effects, control [Ableton] Live, etc., depending on how you program it. It’s really versatile; although it has its limitations and annoyances, it’s pretty good all-rounder for performance.

Lately, I’ve been playing with traknome [for NI Traktor DJ sessions], which I think I will end up using sometimes in future; there is such a huge amount of preparation that goes into a live set that I would prefer to reserve for when my drum machine is functional again and use my [Access] Virus (my fave synth for performing, it has so many accessible parameters) & [Ableton] Live – accompanied by visual content.

I’m really interested in audiovisual music languages and am planning to delve into the world of [Cycling ’74 Max/MSP] Jitter once this second release I’m working on is finished. It’s a whole new level of nerdiness I’m quite looking forward to, and I feel it’s important to support the conceptual element of my compositional framework. In which case I will either build or adapt a patch to include visual triggers to accompany the audio ones. Until then, I’m thinking traknome dj, effects & drums is a nice compromise.

As we wait on the upcoming releases, Phoebe shares some terrific listening. (I have heard the upcoming releases, hence some of my description here, and can testify they’ll be worth the wait.)

For now, there’s the wonderful Psyche:

And a new song:

For a podcast, Phoebe has produced a “Mixtape for Dreamers,” available via Mixcloud:

Symbiosis 86 – Phoebe Kiddo – Mixtape for Dreamers by Symbiosisradio on Mixcloud

And, some reading:

I just started this blog, which I will maintain from now with things I find inspiring; this usually spans poetry, literature, contemporary art, music, spirituality, new media, etc.

And more reading elsewhere … a review of Phoebe’s performance at MusicMakers:

Her production is perfect and shifts in dynamics were just eye-opening, there would be a fairly intense track with clustered beats and several layers that moved beautifully into the sounds of a single piano being hit. Her use of bass/low-end in the basic percussion of her work is very innovative with sounds that you could find in an industrial track if you wished but in this context comes across as dubby and atmospheric adding to the vibrancy of the overall sound – it feels alive.

Stranger Passing

Dunkel Radio Loves Phoebe Kiddo []

Phoebe tells that blog:

I never sent music to record labels, I’ve just quietly been plugging away, exploring and developing my own artistic voice, and in no rush to publish work.

Some things are worth the wait. Wonderful things are coming. We’ll be listening.

  • jonah

    Got me thinking, with the talk of laptops and travel, can a scene develop without a physical community and sense of place? Can it develop out in the open with media manufactured stories and anonymous criticism?

    Is this a Renaissance? Reducing 300 years of cultural development to what? It feels dangerous to attach such a term to something that can only be realized in hindsight. If anything I worry we are in a period of anti-history and information overload. Rather than ideas being re-disovered and expanded upon perhaps they are being drowned in a sea of distraction and triviality.

    • foljs

      Case in point, the tracks on this post.

      They could have come from 10,000 other electronic artists, from 1995 to 2012.

    • perpetual3

      But does that fact lessen the quality of the music?
      Does it prevent the listener from enjoying the music?
      And perhaps for those of us who can remember electronic music from 95 (or 88) maybe time and age has given us a perspective that the youth of today don’t have, so for them music like this is indeed new, mind blowing, or inspiring?

    • Peter Kirn

      Agreed – I’d say it’s also the description of a scene. Think how much jazz you could have heard, worldwide, in the 1930s, for instance.

    • foljs

      “””But does that fact lessen the quality of the music?”””

      By implying it’s a me-too, uninspired effort?

      “””Does it prevent the listener from enjoying the music? And perhaps for those of us who can remember electronic music from 95 (or 88) maybe time and age has given us a perspective that the youth of today don’t have, so for them music like this is indeed new, mind blowing, or inspiring?”””

      I don’t think it’s a good idea to be counting on listeners unexperienced enough with the genre to find your offering “mind blowing or inspiring”.

      In our day and age, even the “youth of today” can get acquainted with 500 years of music history just by browsing YouTube. So, they’ll get to the originators of your ideas and the quality work that your work is a pale shadow of sooner rather than later.

      So, yes, a listener wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) enjoy a ho-hum, warmed up, 1000th re-implementation of the same ideas.
      (With that, I don’t mean everything has to be totally different or original. But it has to be at least an _inspired_, rather than _tired_ execution of an older idea).
      Now, this, I find mostly tired. YMMV.

    • Robert Chambers

      I’m not sure I understand your point. I don’t believe at all that music needs a physical connection to a place to validate its existence. The whole idea of a “scene” as it were, just feels like a narrative device to ascribe an authenticity where it may not be necessary or deserved. Additionally, to believe that the present cultural era is the only one marked by manufactured stories and anonymous criticism is to naive.

    • Peter Kirn

      I’m all for thinking about the deeper picture. But “a sea of distraction and triviality” is a bit how I’d describe the hair-tearing every time we post music or discussions with artists.

      Let me ask a question: if you hear an artist in person, would you say the same things to them personally after a concert? Or the person who booked them?

      I suppose you might say the same thing privately, to a friend. But this to me seems an ill of the Internet, not of the present state of music. We now broadcast people having existential crises simply because they didn’t like a particular of music.

      Maybe it’s not any more deep than that. I don’t hold any particular privilege to my musical tastes. But I’m going to continue trying to broaden musical coverage on CDM – and I suspect that means I’m going to get a lot of fresh negative criticism, because I’m not just going to post stuff that’s safe or a bunch of content about things with knobs. I also think it’s worth it. And I think any criticism ought to be specific – what matters to you in a particular piece of music?

      I like criticism. But vague criticisms as are found in this whole comment thread (not just yours) are to me not terribly musically sensitive or useful. They’re the real information clutter.

      Sorry, sometimes I have to rant, too.

  • fluffy

    I´d love a Vlad Delay or Mark Fell feature on CDM: both two ARTISTS

  • Peter Kirn

    So, it’s funny – I think people share on Facebook, Twitter, or … with humans. They tend to comment here about things they don’t like.

    The result – if you don’t like this, you should really move on. There’s too much music out there, and plenty of other artist coverage on CDM. (need to fix this URL, in fact… urgh.)

    But… keep listening.

  • Le K

    Glad to read a complete article about Phoebe here, she highly deserves it!

  • datalus

    I love this kind of electronic music the most. I’m glad CDM highlighted this artist.

    I’ve got a lot of little doodles along these same lines of sampling/crafty sound design/etc. so it’s always good to get more inspiration.