Name: Christina Sealey
Occupation: Artist / Musician / University Prof. at OCAD University, Toronto
Bands/Projects: Orphx / Eschaton / Christina Sealey
Labels: Sonic Groove / Hands / Token / Obsolete Components
Musical Recommendations: Dasha Rush has a beautiful and strongly poetic record, called Sleep Step on Raster Noton that is an interesting departure from her usual heavy techno based sound that she has become know for. Marie Davidson – excellent solo work and collaboration with Pierre Guerineau in Essai Pas.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
My first introduction to music was learning classical piano as a child and later on guitar. My father, a mechanical engineer and violinist was an influence on both my interest in music and electronic instruments. He was always excited by new electronic gadgets and keyboards and would take them apart as much as play them. Through him I became interested in synthesizers and making my own sounds. I grew up in the '80s listening to electronic pop music and New Wave and it was probably Depeche mode who actually inspired my first synth purchase when I was 14 or 15.
My music influence quickly spread in many directions from interests in industrial music (Skinny Puppy), shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine) and techno (Aphex Twin) to more experimental projects like Hafler Trio. It sounds like a weird mix but I can hear all of those things in the music I make today. My music partner Richard Oddie and I, first played together in a shoegaze band, playing sets that were filled with noise and delay. This first project had a lot of influence on the noise in our current industrial/techno project, Orphx that we originally started with another friend, Aron West in 1993. Around the same time we discovered a couple living in our town that put on experimental music and art events under the name Sublimatus and we started to take part in these. These events developed the improvisational side of Orphx and introduced me to more experimental music techniques, analog keyboards and bands like Throbbing Gristle.
For most artists, originality is first 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 took piano lessons for a few years as a child and that probably had some influence on how I put sounds together but I always hated following the sheet music. The shoegaze band that I played guitar for with Richard was highly influenced by music like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive and we did a number of covers. Through that experience I learned how to play with other people and get a real feel for timing and various patterns.
In University, Richard and I participated in jams with the experimental music group, Sublimatus that I mentioned above. Although I wasn’t emulating their recorded music their improvisational approach to music making was very liberating and helped me develop my own personal method of creating sounds and compositions. Through their influence I started using reel-to-reels, contact mics and other homemade instruments to create sounds, however I used them in a way that connected to the industrial and techno music that I was listening to and I think this helped to create a unique sound.
As an artist, I am always collecting images and sounds that I find interesting from all different sources. These bits and pieces come together, juxtaposed in different ways to stimulate new patterns or techniques.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
When Richard and I started recording as Orphx, and other projects, we had to rent a four-track to record with or go to a studio. Things could only be recorded once or re-recorded. I was using a grainy 8-bit Mirage sampler and reel-to-reels to create recorded loops for sounds – lots of restrictions and challenges there - though looking back I think the limitations were probably really helpful, especially at the beginning.
Gradually computers came into the picture and enabled multi-track recording and long samples that could be manipulated and this really changed how the music could be created and recorded. Although the computer really opened up the possibilities I didn’t really connect with a program until I started using Ableton Live in 2005 to help out a friend’s guitar-based project and that is when my production and composition approach really changed. I found the program so easy to use and experiment with and I am still just as excited about it today.
After getting really into the computer I missed the hands on experience, limitations and challenges of real instruments and noise makers. In 2008 I had the amazing opportunity to purchase a modular synth system from a friend who was moving and couldn’t keep it. A hands-on analog system, the modular is physically engaging but can be manipulated by the computer combining new and old ways of working. This instrument ended up being a perfect fit for me and I am continually experimenting with new components.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
My studio isn’t necessarily ideal by any stretch of the imagination but I am happy to have a separate space for making music. Mood is definitely a factor for recording, though there is not usually a lot of choice since time is limited due to other work and responsibilities. I am always trying to improve on the space to make it more comfortable, making sure that everything is at the finger tips, ready to use and easy to shift around to take to live shows.
If it takes a while to hook something up it probably won’t get used. I enjoy the physicality of sound so it is important to me to have a good speakers and a location that can allow me to turn the music up to loud volumes with space to move around.
Ergonomics also come into play. I have never really liked sitting while I work – it feels mentally inactive – this year I moved my gear to a large work table that will raise and lower depending on how I feel, which I love. This gives me the opportunity to stand while recording or jamming as I would in a live situation.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
I use a combination of digital and analogue tools. My computer is at the centre of things for recording and composing. Sounds are created and processed more often by analogue sources – I have frac and eurorack modular synth systems and I have a few other synths that I turn to regularly like the SH101 and Korg Polysix. I also enjoy creating sounds from unusual sources like piezo mics and environmental recordings that I would like to get back into.
Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Are there any promising solutions or set-ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer?
One of the most challenging aspects of the computer is that it offers almost endless choices. There is the potential to overwork everything. Being able to set limitations is important. Things are often best when composed and played straight through will little editing – the mistakes are often what add the life and character to the track.
For this reason, I like starting with an improvisation. I enjoy recording free-form experiments into Ableton Live on multiple channels. This creates a starting point, after which you can go back into the arrangement and find the sections that sound most exciting, manipulate the recording and pull the pieces together. Ableton facilitates loop-based music – since I am already drawn to the hypnotic patterns created by loops, this is something I need to be careful of not over-using.