Name: Margot Blue aka Margot Parker-Elder
Occupation: Producer, composer, sound artist
Current release: Margot Blue's (re)currents is out via I u we.
Recommendations: For new music, I have an ever-growing playlist on Spotify I started curating this year of modular/ambient/tape pieces made by well-known artists, alongside artists that should be more well known.
If you are interested in learning more about early electronic composers, and a woman’s history in the evolution of experimental sound, I recommend checking out Éliane Radigue’s Intermediary Spaces. She sums it up perfectly. “This particular music, that always eluded me. Each attempt ended in seeing it come closer and closer but remain unreachable, only increasing the desire to try again and yet again to go a bit further.”
If you enjoyed this interview with Margot Blue, visit her Youtube channel or linktree for more music and current updates.
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 spend a lot of time seeking out and listening to new music. Certain tracks have opened me up to completely new genres.
After undergraduate school, I backpacked with two friends around Europe. In Paris one morning, I was at the Louvre walking around and listening to music. I spent most of my day in the north wing, sketching old French sculptures under the tall glass ceiling. The way the natural light hit the stone, with all the space of that place was really dramatic with Julianna Barwick’s “Prizewinning” playing in the background. I would come back to that album and it would continually inspire me, this genre, ambient music, that could bring me to this surreal place.
I think in one sense art is a conversation. I studied literature for a nice chunk of my life, so I’m inspired by looking at the way works have emerged as an iteration of their time, as the unique boiling pot of ideas entering the social conscious. Artists are willing to approach these concepts and give them a form. And theorists are willing to approach these forms and place them within new context.
When I first started making music, I was living in Chicago during winter in graduate school. I wanted to feel it out just by listening. I kept thinking, what kind of music would we make if weren’t standing on the shoulders of giants? What notes would I gravitate towards on my keyboard? For me, making music started as an exercise to get out of the dynamic I had been studying in school—to make art that was more of a personal reflection, an exercise in deep listening. It could be terrible as long as it was just pure discovery.
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’ve had the thought before that artists take what they are inspired by, and it is the careful selection of what they are drawn to or find important that becomes their taste. I see this in my own work. I’m creating a loop and realize I like the lead melody because the fall of the chord progression reminds me of a Radiohead track, or I listen to music by other ambient artists and think about what I enjoy about the mix.
Even simple or pre-programmed tones or resonators sound slightly different based on the noise and environment of your case. With modular synthesis specifically, I think of it like a palate of paint. With painting, once you mix colors it’s hard to arrive again at the same shade. With modular synthesis, a tone you patch up one day will be difficult to recreate the next. There’s this ephemeral quality to the music you’re creating when the patch is generative, it’s this fleeting music that is created between you and the machine.
The dynamic of that relationship conditions how I approach and listen to music. It teaches you to let go, and push record more often.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I consider myself a work in progress. I’m comfortable being curious, and I enjoy being a beginner at things. This part of who I am feeds into creativity because I thoroughly enjoy the process. There’s a great David Bowie quote that I come back to, “Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, technical challenges were the hardest to overcome, like how to sync hardware and how to compose arrangements in a way that feels natural. Now, the creative challenges are more taste oriented. I think about how to accentuate the depth of a bass track while retaining warmth, or how do I convey a message more subtly.
I’m finding I tend to battle with myself over how much of the pure modular tone, the raw element of a certain track, I want to keep or wash out with effects. I have to test myself and see how much I can strip away from a piece to really hear the parts that are moving it forward.
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?
I played guitar growing up, not very well. In college I was first introduced to Ableton from my friend, and now boyfriend, Craig. In graduate school we bought an Akai MPK mini and then the Yamaha Reface CP and made lofi and piano loops. Around the same time, we started playing with VCV rack, a free software that mimics playing a modular synth, so we could practice patching. Eventually, we bought each other the Korg Volva Sample and FM for Christmas. I was really into playing with the motion sequence setting on the Sample, that allows you to modulate different parameters of the clips over time. Later, when we were living back in Los Angeles, we picked up a semi-modular synth from Perfect Circuit and the process of patching and making modular music in this way clicked.
When the pandemic began, we started packing a bag and going on long hikes on the weekends. We would bring our portable gear with us to create music in nature, and that really inspired us to keep pursuing this practice. We started building our modular rack, and I fell in love with the process. We would come up with an idea to hike up to a spot up in the mountains, and kind of dare each other if we could do it. Last month, we travelled around Iceland with our gear and are planning on releasing a few videos of the music we made while hiking and backpacking in some surreal locations there.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Every new instrument I’ve had the chance to own and play for a period of time has changed the way I make music. Modular synthesis is the most dramatic, as it’s an instrument that can change with me as my interests grow.
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?
My partner and I share a joy of collaborating artistically together. It’s one of our favourite activities, spending a Saturday morning in our apartment making music together and drinking coffee. Sometimes we will begin a track together, and I will find something special in the synth melody I’m creating. In those moments, I’ll kind of take over artistically- and vice versa.
We each have our own interests within our processes that we’ve been developing. With (re)currents, my debut album released with iuwe records, I spent a lot of time going over tracks of patches that I found something special in and had artistically seen through. They all have a distinct, and very personal feeling I was trying to express through sonic explorations with synthesis.
Just recently I’ve dedicated some time to creating singles for compilation albums with other modular and ambient artists. It’s been a new process, and I’ve learned a lot.
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’ve been fortunate enough to work remotely over the past year and a half. I normally wake up and clean the apartment. I go for a walk with my dog and listen to music while working my normal day job. At night, my partner and I make music together and hang out.
Being able to make music after work motivates me during the day, so in that sense the division between the two is beneficial. When I finally get to sit at my desk and open up Ableton, I’m excited and ready.
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?
Connecting with Martha (@panicgirl) and releasing (re)currents on her label, iuwe records, has been a breakthrough experience for me.
[Read our Panic Girl interview]
Following other artists online in the modular synth community has been motivating and inspiring. What started as an interest in hearing what people were making with their systems in their homes has turned into a network of meaningful relationships where we support each other’s work and collaborate.
With (re)currents, it was the culmination of many months of playing with my modular system. In one sense, I wanted to create a soundtrack for encountering the sublime. Music that could convey the mixed feelings of excitement, awe, and recognition of change within yourself and the world. A feeling that comes when you encounter something beyond your expectations.
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?
Drinking a smoothie on a nice sunny morning, with a clean workspace and an empty schedule.
When I hear or see something that inspires me, I want to make something as well. It’s a natural reflex. When I’m frustrated by what I’m making, I try to take that as a cue to let go of the original intention. Maybe I was trying to copy the thing that inspired me, and I couldn’t appreciate what was interesting about the loop in front of me. Often to get back into the creative state, for me, is an act of letting go.
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?
Pauline Oliveros’s deep listening approach with music influences my work.
[Read our Pauline Oliveros interview]
Once you allow yourself to hear the subtilties of sound, you’re more sensitive to the sounds of your everyday environment. I think this type of sensitivity fosters empathy, with yourself and the world around you.
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?
I think the limits are there for a reason.
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?
I find that sound is intimately tied with memory and vision. I would spend hours in the backseat as a kid, listening to music and looking out the window and imaging the setting for the type of music, the scene. Even in the absence of one sense, such as sound without a visual narrative, we can fill in the other so naturally.
For each sound there can be this imaginary visual landscape. As I sometimes explore on my YouTube channel, each landscape out in nature can be connected to its own sound. I’m inspired by what can be imagined in the other’s absence.
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?
My approach to being an artist is to make art that brings me closer to my environment, myself, and others. It’s a process I love, that slows me down, and it allows me to appreciate the moment I am in.
There’s always the hope in sharing music that others are able to appreciate the moment they are in while listening to your tracks.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think something ephemeral. Something that can’t be put exactly into words by virtue of it being a feeling only music can express. More than lessons about life, music is a way to experience life. It can keep you company. It can make you excited about feelings you haven’t yet experienced.