Category Archives: EASTERN ELECTRONIC MUSIC

Sienná’s Sounds And Visions, Plus Cavern Club Gig in Liverpool

Sienná, the captivating Norwegian electronica artist, has just released her second video in two months, both from her new release, “Q.o.S.” Each is quite different, yet both are equally difficult to define—just like Sienná’s stylish musical creations. I asked her for some insight into their creation and meaning:

The first video, for the groovy dance tune “Quintessence,” was created by TrustStudios UK and released April 5. It features a rapidly-changing array of diverse images, including some jarring images, others esoteric, based on Sienná’s concept for the song. She writes: “The only request I had for the video director was to be ‘dark,’ as ‘Quintessence’ in general is related to the idea of dark energy. I like the abstract, metaphoric images that can widen your imagination with no sense of what´s right or wrong.”

I asked for more information; Sienná clarified it for me this way:  “A video with a clear story line can sometimes limit your imagination. It’s up to you how you perceive a ‘Quintessence’ type of abstract video. ‘Dark energy’ is what I had in mind when I wrote it, but not necessarily what/how you perceive it. And dark energy doesn’t necessarily mean anything to do with morality, but could just mean ‘light/dark’ or something ‘unknown.’ That´s a matter of free association.”

Aha. I get it now. Whatever your particular interpretation of it, the “Quintessence” video offers lots of sonic and visual treats that act upon the imagination in interesting ways.

The most recent video, created in India and released May 12, is for the tranquil, ambient “Iwashimizu” and based on ideas that came to Sienná while reflecting on her hometown, as well on as a scenic spot in Britain. She explains:  “The ‘feeling of being home’ came after I added some Japanese instruments to the song. I told my video director briefly where my original inspiration came from – which was me sitting by the Ouse river, looking up to the clear starry sky in a little town Lewes (UK). He had a freedom to interpret my basic ideas as he liked, but also picked up the mood quite well. “

Liverpool and Sienná’s DJ Set
In additional Sienná news, she will be playing at the historic Cavern Club in Liverpool, England, on May 31st. “It´s time consuming to tour, ” she writes. “I’ve started to spend even more time on songwriting and production, so I’m trying to focus on quality gigs instead of accepting everything and anything.  Only The Cavern Liverpool this time. Not often they let any DJs or electronica artists to perform there, so I must be very lucky. “

“I tend to say that my favorite Beatle is Sir McCartney. But I’m mostly in love with the works he did together with The Beatles. The Beatles were a pure divine magic. I wish I lived in the ’60s.” Sienná 

As The Cavern is the club made legendary by the Fab Four, I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Sienná that eternal question, “who is your favorite Beatle?” Her answer: “I tend to say that my favorite Beatle is Sir McCartney. But I’m mostly in love with the works he did together with The Beatles. The Beatles were a pure divine magic. I wish I lived in the ’60s.”

I also asked her about the format of her DJ set. “I’m performing my own music and impulsively mixing any good grooves that I have on my playlist,” she explains. “As a DJ I feel that my main responsibility is to watch and follow what´s happening on the dance floor, so I really don´t plan anything particular in advance – except preparing for my playlist.” Sounds like a great time!

For more information, check out:

http://sienna-web.com/

https://www.facebook.com/siennamusic/

 

 

 

Secret Music Info: Snowcat Origins, ’80s and ’90s, And More

We know Gilles Snowcat as the energetic, polyglot creative musical force with roots in Belgium, Vietnam and Japan, for his brilliant lyrics and proficiency on several instruments, including genius level keyboard skills. But before Gilles appended his name with the Snowcat moniker, there was a younger Gilles, founding member of the Brussels-centered European/Vietnamese Hybrid “Awaken.”

Aside from traveling the world collecting experiences to write songs about (beginning in the ’80s with Awaken and culminating in 2015’s “Nama Time”), Gilles is also a sharp critic of rock music and culture. I asked him to comment on his 1989 tune “Memories of a Teenage Cat,” which was just re-released on Bandcamp in its original form, and asked him about the tune’s connection to the origins of the Snowcat persona. I got much more than I bargained for, including a lengthy critique of popular music in the 1980s and ’90s. Check out his provocative thoughts, and the classic tune below!


Q.  Is this the beginning of your transformation into the Snowcat being?

Gilles writes: “The Snowcat exists since he’s born, though I can locate the explosion, the big-bang that made him come alive for real early, very early 1988. 1987 was when he tried to pop out, and suddenly 1988 came and so did the Snowcat. It was exquisitely exciting, because from that moment on everything became a song. Life was a huge source of inspiration, and in return songs inspired life, and that’s how the early Snowcat grew.”

It was exquisitely exciting, because from that moment on everything became a song. Life was a huge source of inspiration, and in return songs inspired life, and that’s how the early Snowcat grew.” Gilles Snowcat

“And the music was organic, since my understanding of music was rather low, and my ambition was devouring and set up too high, so I had to suck lots of energy from reality to create what I wanted. That’s why the early songs are full of magic, they’re very much libido-driven, that kind of beautiful sadness, romanticism and mixes of alcohol. It had a lot to do with seduction too, and huge buckets of fun and spleen. Strange cocktails. That’s why I still love that early take of “Memories Of A Teenage Cat”. There was a technically much better version [in 1996] but it had lost the spark. F@#%ng ’90s…”

Q.  So what were the ’80s like for you? Please reflect.

Gilles: “The ’80s were the last decade of creativity, musically speaking. It’s the last part of what started in the cotton fields, that led to jazz, evolves into rock, then all the fusional music of the ’70s and then the synthesizers and all that crazy stuff. It was meant to be mostly commercial and still wonderfully out of control, the sounds were out of this world, the Fairlight, the DX7, all those machines created incredible moods. You like it or not, but you can’t deny there was a real substance to it. It’s the best evidence that money and art can work together pretty well.The ’80s were a wonderful boom of excesses, it was all too much but in the most superb way. An elegant decadence, a party that goes too far but if it doesn’t go too far it goes nowhere.”

The ’80s were a wonderful boom of excesses, it was all too much but in the most superb way. An elegant decadence, a party that goes too far but if it doesn’t go too far it goes nowhere.” Gilles Snowcat

“Then the ’90s came and the party was over. Like someone had decided to remove colours and taste from music, as if it was too dangerous. And suddenly safe music was born, and art should never be safe, so it was a very bad move. The ’90s created condom-music.”

“Most of the radio-friendly stuff of the ’90s and beyond are terribly boring. You hear the first chords of anything from Natalie Imbruglia or Oasis and it screams boredom, it pours safety from every note. Or Joan Osborne, you know ‘One Of Us’? Same chords.”

“Sure there was some uneventful music in the ’80s too, Simple Minds or U2 to name a very few, but it wasn’t the rule. In the ’90s, it was. It seems that no one was able to write songs anymore then. Some say the ’90s were a return to the guitars of the ’70s but it’s complete bullsh!#. There’s nothing interesting in the guitars of the ’90s, just dull chords played boringly by some idiots who got a recording contract for reasons that I don’t really get. Even those who seemed to have an attitude and good ingredients were just releasing inoffensive, safe sh!#. Look at Oasis, how come with such a good background and great ideas the result was so annoyingly normal? Yes, that’s the word: music became normal in the ’90s.”

Thanks, Gilles!

Original “MOATC” Lyric sheet:

gilles snowcat teenage cat lyrics

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Sienná’s Q.o.S. : Powerful, Exotic World Beat Psychedelia

There’s something very exciting happening in new music from Oslo, Norway. Sienná, the singer/songwriter/instrumentalist/studio whiz and now DJ has gone solo for her fourth full length release, leaving her band behind, to create a new set of songs in the nu-jazz genre. She immersed herself in the studio for a couple years to create an album that’s difficult to define: jazz is really just the starting point. On Q.o.S. there are various permutations of techno, ambient, world beat, electronic psychedelia and avant-garde, and a powerful experimental impulse that makes it a joy to listen to.

From the first song, the esoteric, ambient “Yes,” Sienná’s masterful composing and mixing skills are evident; next is the electro-psychedelic jazz funk of “World Citizens,” which then leads to a set of synth-driven world beat tunes incorporating  her Japanese heritage in the form of samples of traditional instruments, primal beats and chants, and  top-notch keyboard work. The breathtakingly diverse songs are stunning examples of musical cosmopolitanism, and very unique contributions to the electronica genre.


Much like the tarot card that inspired the title, the release evokes mystical, powerful ideas. I admit I didn’t know what the title meant at first.

“It could be ‘Quality of Service,’ ‘the god of the Edomites,’ hahaha or whatever (your) interpretation  is,” Sienná explains. “But mine comes from an amazing tarot card reader from the UK whom I speak with a few times a year. She said a Queen of Swords represents my personality. And my music is a double edged sword, isn´t it? :)”

“I feel free like a bird and very happy about this. This is a completely new chapter for me. Sienná

Indeed, there is a duality on Q.o.S; many of  the songs have a strong  dance beat along with some trademark Sienná  moves like energetic funky bass and primal chant vocals — all designed to get your feet moving, while a handful of tunes represent Sienná’s reflective side in ambient, down tempo numbers that affect the heart and mind.  Both  varieties feature exotic instrumentation and intriguing samples of vocals and ethnic instruments along with mystical, wordless vocals by Sienná. I asked her if Brian Eno was a conscious influence.

“I guess so,” she says. “ I´ve been listening to Brian Eno occasionally, but I´ve been an eager fan of the next generation (like Ryuichi Sakamoto) who interpreted Brian Eno further  – so, does it make me ‘the third generation?’ I can absolutely notice where the traditional roots are originally coming from, though.”

Under Japanese Influence
As a Japanese expatriate living in Norway, who as a child rebelled against family expectations to become a musician, Sienná returns to her own roots on Q.o.S. with a series of songs that reflect her Japanese heritage. Is this nostalgia for home or an affirmation of her heritage? I asked her.

She explains: “Yes both, and the concept. Somehow I decided to make three songs relating to three major festivals around the major historical shrines around Kyoto (‘Iwashimizu.’ ‘Aoi’ and ‘Kasuga’). But I must admit, the inspiration of ‘Iwashimizu’came originally from a moment when I was in a little town named Lewes in East Essex, UK. But later, after I added some Japanese instruments etc, feeling of the song was something similar to what I feel about the place ‘Iwashimizu’- home (until I moved to Norway in 1995).”

This trilogy of tunes, as well as “Sixth Sense” (with its incorporation of traditional Japanese texts and folk melodies)  and “Eastern Plays” (which features a moving display of  taiko drums along with  vocal chants and cutting edge electronica) combine dance music with traditional Japanese influences, resulting in a long set of electronica that excites one’s dancing impulses and one’s mind at the same time. For example, the playful “Follow My Instructions” is just the kind of avant-garde dance number that’s ideal for club action.

The album is the result of years of experience on the stage and in the studio, to the extent that it represents a synthesis of music theory and performing skills that have become second nature. Sienná explains: “There´s no theory or conscious approach, except an  approach that I feel is good, true and correct for me, even though it wasn´t for most people/musicians. While I spend time with my unborn songs, I make many changes to make myself happy. So I guess you´re just listening to the result of a long process of my self-improving (if it wasn´t my self-centeredness – which I´m allowed to do so only in my music, not in reality.)”

Q.o.S . is a true solo album: Sienná is responsible for every aspect of its creation, a departure from the ensemble she had worked with on previous albums and in live performances. “Only me now,” she explains.  “We are all good friends. But the circumstances around us changed dramatically. It doesn´t make sense for me to be a part of the team anymore. I did all the work (songwriting, performing, producing, mixing, mastering and designing album cover) by myself alone. I feel free like a bird and very happy about this. This is a completely new chapter for me.”

Sienná’s setup includes heavy use of the Roland D-50, both for its sounds and as a MIDI controller connected to Logic Pro X software on a MacBook (which she also uses in her role as a DJ).  Her favorite plug-ins for Logic Pro X are the ES2 and Alchemy soft synths, and the Drum Machine Designer. Lots of samples abound. For example, the incredible taiko drums on “Eastern Plays” were achieved by using a blend of sounds from Drum Machine Designer and actual taiko samples Sienná recorded in Kyoto from 2005 to 2009.

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The Analog Girl Featured At PSF

Over the past decade, I’ve had three articles published at Perfect Sound Forever. It’s one of the longest running zines on the web dedicated to rock journalism, and an excellent place to find  info about indie artists,  unusual acts, and interesting perspectives on all things musical.

My most recent article on PSF is an in-depth profile of Singapore’s The Analog Girl, whose new album I reviewed here in February.  Be sure to check it out at: The Analog Girl’s Minimalist Electronic Pop: Future Nostalgia.

Enjoy!

The Analog Girl’s Sweet, Elegant “Golden Sugar Crystals”

The Analog Girl returns after a five year silence with her most elegant set of songs yet. Titled “Golden Sugar Crystals,” the album features ethereal textures, sultry vocalizations, and tripped out beats, all coming together in a futuristic unity built upon synthetic foundations. There’s a unique brand of magic at work here, as The Analog Girl, aka Singapore’s Mei Wong, coaxes sonic bliss out of her Ableton-equipped Apple laptop and her microphone, using the studio as an instrument.

The one-woman band behind all this accomplishes an ethereal, moody mystique employing minimalist beats, dreamy analog melodic structures, and delicate, half-whispered vocals that leave room for the listeners’ interpretations. Elements of trance, ambient, 8-bit, lo-fi, and techno pop mingle in a sweet mix that sparks the listener’s imagination, prompting cinematic visions in the mind’s eye.

“I discovered that there is more to life than what’s harboring inside our minds. I was reminded that this universe is huge, and it gives us so much, and there is so much to be thankful for.” The Analog Girl

Building on the techno pop forms of her previous three albums, GSC adds more complex polyphony and richer, more sonorous textures without abandoning the charming style she is known for. The familiar minimalism that became her calling card is still there, as are the  mysterious vocal stylings and abstract lyric poetry, this time centered on themes of hope and discovery.

Mei explains: “For some of the more recent tracks on the album I turned to immersing myself in songwriting once again when I was living through some dark times, and in the process, I discovered that there is more to life than what’s harboring inside our minds. I was reminded that this universe is huge, and it gives us so much, and there is so much to be thankful for.”

While previous albums addressed love and friendship, gender politics, and the ever-important caffeine, GSC features songs portraying admiration for nature and appreciation of aesthetic experiences. The melancholy “Wonder,” and “Run,”  and the haunting “Monolith” flirt with disillusionment, but these songs are the exceptions. As demonstrated in a majority of its tracks, GSC is The Analog Girl’s most hopeful album, reflecting a move from despair to optimism. A big part of this journey is letting go of fear.

From “Mountains”
“As the sun begins to shine upon the earth you’ll start to know
The world beyond you
We can fly across the universe and wave our fears goodbye
If you know how to.”

The album is imbued with this sense of possibility. As The Analog Girl, Mei has traveled the world performing, and now has more than a decade behind her releasing music, and before that as a producer at MTV Asia. She’s been places. Perhaps that’s reason enough to pay attention when she shares her philosophy of appreciating the cyclical nature of change, of moving through heartache with no regrets and changing one’s perspective to change one’s life. She describes the following lyrics as “accepting life for what it is, and for whatever it may present.”

From “A Circle”
“And it’s moving out in pieces
As it goes through all the phases
Past and present in the future
Does it feel like it’s a circle?
No time for regrets
It’s starting to feel a part of me.”

Mei’s use of surreal lyrics and vocals that are nearly a whisper are captivating features of The Analog Girl’s music. Combined with the layered instrumental harmonies of her songs, the result is a mesmerizing,  hypnotic effect. “I think it’s because I am always writing from an organic place,” she writes, “trying to do as much with my voice as with the instrumentation. And I just like singing in repetitive phrases which creates that sense of hypnotism.”

The chant-like repetition interplays with the layered textures of the music and pulsing rhythms, portraying a musical union of the primal and technological. Questions are raised about the role of technology in society, and the union of woman and machine, as Mei’s seemingly vulnerable stage persona is contradicted by her expert control of the studio and its electronic devices. The answer: there’s a strong personality in command at the center of the elegantly harmonious structure of The Analog Girl brand.

“Happiness Is Precious”
Before The Analog Girl, there was Mei Wong. Before that there was Pamela Wong, music student, who as a child was inspired by her parents’ ’70s vinyl collection and the TV show Solid Gold, along with artists as diverse as ABBA, the Bee Gees, the Beatles and Olivia Newton-John. A piano student at 5, Pamela became fascinated by the possibilities of electronic music technology, experimenting with a Casio sampling keyboard and a portable synthesizer that allowed her to construct complete songs. At the age of 7, Pamela created her first “single,” a one-off cassette featuring the tune “Happiness Is Precious.” It even had a B-side; her dad contributed the artwork. As she grew, the charms of music continued to compel her. After graduating from university with a degree in business, Pamela landed a job as producer at MTV Asia.

By the early 2000s, inspired by the computer revolution and what it meant for electronic musicians, she embarked on her career as singer/songwriter, releasing her first album in 2005. Since then The Analog Girl brought her act to New York, Tokyo, and Paris, to name a few. As demonstrated by the uplifting nature of GSC, The Analog Girl hasn’t let the world get her down. And she still knows a good party when she sees one. The album’s quirkiest offering is the anti-anthem, “Weekends” with its melodic and thematic strangeness and upbeat tempo.

From “Weekends”
“Come and stay until the weekend’s gone
Stay until you are born
Come and stay until the weekend’s gone
Stay until you belong.”

After a couple choruses the tune derives into an electro-psychedelic dance tune that may be one of the most deliberate attempts ever to explode the dance music form. Fans of The Analog Girl’s quirkier numbers like “Caffeine” and “Hey Mr. G” will love it. Fun as it is, the tune is an outlier on an album packed with lush beauty and life lessons.

GSC features lovely textures and richer atmospherics than any of The Analog Girl’s previous three offerings, as the sense of hope that bubbles up from the mysterious sonic poetry works its entrancing, inspiring spell. It’s no surprise really, that this innovative techno pop artist should return to songwriting as a way to get through less than ideal times, and emerge from the darkness with a message of hope – hope for a sweet, golden future.

“Golden Sugar Crystals” is available now at iTunes, Amazon Music, Bandcamp, and Spotify.

The Analog Girl At Bandcamp.com
http://www.analog-girl.net/

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The Analog Girl’s Hypnotic “Fantasy” A Darkly Sweet Confection

The Analog Girl welcomes 2017 with an elegantly ethereal new tune. “What You are Showing Me Is A Fantasy” shuns convention with its ABCBB  structure, along with Analog Girl’s trademark delay-drenched synths,  futuristic beats, and mysterious, sultry vocals. It’s a  synthpop lover’s dream, a darkly sweet confection packed with lots of melancholy beauty and a mystique that draws the listener in.

This tripped-out electronic ditty is only the beginning; The Singapore-based singer/songwriter/studio whiz is playing live and just put the finishing touches on her new studio album, “Golden Sugar Crystals,” coming in February. The much anticipated disc is her first in five years, and a follow up to 2011’s “Tonight Your Love.” Far Out!

Check out the official video below:

www.analog-girl.net

https://twitter.com/theanaloggirl

 

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