Name: Odd Beholder aka Daniela Weinmann
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer
Current release: The new Odd Beholder album Sunny Bay is out now via Sinnbus.
Recommendations: I’m reading Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's «The mushroom at the end of the world» right now. It also refers to John Cage whom I adore.
My favourite book is «The god of small things» by Arundhati Roy. Roy gives proof that literature can say more than words. Some words can express things about life and death that music won’t ever be able to.
If you enjoyed this interview with Odd Beholder, visit her official website for more information. She is also on Instagram, and Facebook.
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?
You could just as well ask me what drew me to walking: I don’t remember because it all started so early. I think it wasn’t music that drew me to writing songs, it was writing songs that drew me to music. When I was a kid, I had an insatiable need to create; sound, crayons and words were my favourite toys.
When I was less than ten years old, writing songs was already a regular thing.
At first, making music was just a fun riddle to solve – which buttons on my toy keyboard do I need to press? Which chord follows next? But over time, music developed into a safe place in which I could explore not only my instruments but also my feelings. Especially the ones that had no space in my everyday life as a kid – sadness, rage, confusion, desire, heartbreak.
By the age of 15 I discovered trip hop and grunge – somewhat later than its heyday – and it felt like reading a poem for the first time after all that you’ve read to this point was the texts on cereal boxes.
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?
The younger I was, the less I tried to copy people. Only recently I began to analyse music that I like – because I had a phase where I just didn’t like my music anymore and I went looking for a diagnosis of some sort. I guess compulsive authenticity can result in a writers block.
Before that I just wrote and wrote – it was just an on going experiment. To this day I often listen to my demos and can’t help but laugh because they’re really bad and funny. I never cared about genre much. That’s a flaw, if you will – I never had the patience of the nerd, the connoisseur, I’ve often avoided comparison, history, genealogies ... Instead I looked for a certain mood, an artistic attitude, a certain credibility, courage, creativity and aesthetic. I still do, but today I am more open to learning about the history of music – I’m exploring my musical context.
It’s great to have your own voice, but you can’t speak your own hermetic language if you want to talk to other people.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I started off with tons of ideas and a lack of taste and inner guidance. I also had to learn how to finish songs, how to record them properly, how to rehearse them. I was obsessed with creating new sketches and I had to learn to discipline myself.
When I started off writing songs, the first two questions were: How do you assemble chords? How do you squeeze words into melodies? These questions led to years of me just sitting in a corner with a guitar and a notepad. It was enough complexity for years of working.
When I started working with a band I began to ask myself: What roles do instruments play in my music? What’s a bass do, how does the beat influence the way we perceive the song? Can it also be an instrumental hook that makes a song good?
When I started working with field recordings, I discovered that you can actually create moods and spaces with music.
When I started recording myself and producing my own songs, I realised that arrangement is a big thing in music: How do the different parts of the songs interrelate? How do you create an arc of suspense? Also, I got concerned with mixing. And by thinking about the mix, I also came back to the question of the role of the instruments. Maybe seven tracks are enough, you don’t need 120 layers.
Now I am, as I mentioned before, thinking about aesthetics and genre and the historical context of styles. About originality and tradition or even appropriation.
But still sometimes I just pick my guitar, drink a shot of vodka and forget about everything again to make it happen. I still make silly demos and let them simmer, let them age. Music is like cheese or chocolate (oh, here it is, my Swiss identity) – it’s something you ferment.
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 1990, my dad brought home a cheap Yamaha keyboard. I was just thrilled by it. It had all these beat presets named after genres – and I would hit the buttons and just sing along to the beats. I figured out the chords on my own, I could somehow just play them after a while. In about the same time, I learned how to play guitar. I recorded all my demos on tape. In 1999, I began playing in a rock band. I bought an electric guitar and an amp.
My dad found that hilarious. He is was a computer expert back when most people still used fax machines. He introduced me to early sound software like Cubase (1995) – which I started using in 2000, I think. It was quite a pain to drag that heavy windows console into the dinner room where the piano was and record it with a shitty computer microphone. From 2004 on I switched to Garageband because I could use it on my own laptop. Today, I’m using Ableton Live.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
It was Ableton that enabled me a ton. Working with music software made it possible to make my ideas audible on a whole other level. I recall sitting at the piano and being sad about the fact that I didn’t have an orchestra or a band at my service – my creativity always outranged my means. I couldn’t talk in the proper musical terminology, I couldn’t tell my fellow teenage drummer in the rehearsing cellar what I imagined the beat to feel like and how he should play it. When Ableton came around, I could just draw the snare where I needed it. I could visually see what I was hearing in my head. It was like my mind and my imagination finally shook hands.
Having said that, after years of midi and software, once again, I feel drawn to analogue instruments. I miss the sweet sting that only a mechanical sound in an actual room inflicts on my heart.
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?
They play a huge role. Most of my lovers were musicians or artists. If you want to seduce me, collaborate with me. It is one of the biggest joys I know: To make music together, to talk about music, to read literature, to listen to music – I think that being an attentive listener or reader is becoming a collaborator, too. I have almost no formal training in music. My teachers were my peers.
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 live in communities: I live in an abandoned factory beneath a river – I share this awesome space with a lot of artists. I also spend quite some time on music festivals, on tour, in residencies, in art museums and on hikes with writers, bookers, musicians or visual artists. If you live with people, it’s hard to stick to a fixed schedule, you need to be flexible. You learn how to create silence and good working conditions on the go.
Sometimes, it’s a struggle to find a quiet corner to work, but if I have created a good working situation it usually doesn’t take me long to fully immerse myself in my musical work. I find my focus easily and I can keep it for a long time.
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 have studied four months at an art school in Hangzhou, China. I couldn’t speak Chinese, so I basically just looked at China like an infant. It was a lot to process: The huge technological leap that this country has experienced, the sheer manufacturing power humming in the air, the flora and fauna so unknown to me, the cultural legacy – only legible to me on a sensual level, as architecture, image, sculpture – the political system so different to ours, the absence of whiteness, of Christianity.
I bought a microphone and started to record noises: birds in wooden cages, the metallic sounds of a man working late, alone in a big factory at night, the crickets, the ventilators, the garbage truck, some monks chanting. This practice showed me that listening was also a way of writing songs.
I made an album that I never released with these soundscapes. It is still a very important album to me.
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?
It is the senses and the emotions that are the most important channels to reach a creative mind set. The strategic or rational part of my self is not a good doorway. It is kind of hard to bypass it sometimes – my rationality tries to shield me from harm but it also shields me from genuine experience.
I noticed that if you want your music to happen to your audience, you need to let it happen to you, first. And you’d be surprised to learn that many artists are afraid of their own art. It’s not easy to feel things. Making art requires that you feel secure enough that you can actually allow yourself to be vulnerable and sensitive.
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?
I’m not sure if making music can hurt you. Even if you express really dark feelings, they aren’t necessarily amplified by the artistic practice. I doubt that creating space for sadness makes you depressed.
As for music’s healing properties: I feel understood by music. Music can be an act of empathy between strangers. If a musician expresses a feeling that I recognize – that’s really comforting.
I guess the only music that hurts is musical hate speech. as a woman I can’t listen to a lot of contemporary hip hop because it’s harmful to me. It scares me and it makes me sad.
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?
The issue of cultural appropriation isn’t strictly a creative one in my opinion. Creativity is fuelled by remixing and recombining old stuff. If we want to understand appropriation as a harmful practice we need to look at the cultural and economical context of it.
White people have benefitted from cultural innovations and traditions of black people without ever paying the authors respect and money. Even worse: They mocked the very people whose work they adored. I respect the wound this hideous practice has inflicted on the black community and I give my best to not repeat this type of behaviour. Context matters. Paying respect to the source material matters.
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 do visualise music in my head. I can see harmonies as colour nuances and beats as patterns. I see the mix as a sculptural, three dimensional thing, as if the different sounds and instruments are objects in space.
I have no idea what that tells us about the way our senses work, I am not a neuroscientist. My guess is that we have certain neurological interpretation reflexes that connect the different senses – as we experience our ride through life we connect certain tactile sensations with certain sounds and colours and therefor we create some association patterns? Language and metaphor also play a part in that. We say that a sound is dry or that a sound is crisp, we say this guitar sounds warm and that synth sounds ice cold.
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?
For Christ’s sake. This interview makes me feel like I am preparing a lecture at a university – despite the fact that I am not a critic, not a professor, not a historian. Most of the time I know nothing about music and art. I just do it. Keep in mind that art is a very broad phenomenon. It’s something people do since we were around, for hundred thousands of years – and it had a lot of different roles and functions.
I love art because it leaves me alone and messes with me at the same time. It messes with me to the extent that I let it mess with me. It is like a mini-universe within the universe, a digested human experience, a heightened human experience – it’s a sober drug. I want to intoxicate my listeners without destroying their brain cells and their liver. I want to be a trip sitter for them. In art, we can dream collectively – we can negotiate realities. Art spaces are temples without ideologies (at least that’s my utopia). It’s sacred bullshit.
I’m rambling. But let’s go with the following answer: In art, I take my bullshit seriously.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I would have to write a song instead of an answer to “talk” about that. How can I find words for something that makes us speechless? I know that a melody can make me cry. And frankly – I have no idea why.