Name: Martha Bahr aka Panic Girl
Current release: The new Panic Girl album Blue is available from Martha Bahr's very own i u we label.
If you enjoyed this feature with Panic Girl, visit her website for more information and music. She is also on Facebook, Instagram, Bandcamp and Soundcloud.
A while back, we conducted an even more in-depth Panic Girl interview with Martha, where she speaks her mind about a wide range of topics.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
All of those sources play a role in my music, some more obvious, some are more in the back of my head. But instead of following an impulse I established a routine of composing every day when I was around 20 years old.
By now I know pretty exactly what inspires me, out of which sounds I would like to make a full track, and what I need to do when I feel tired, uninspired or when I’m in a bad mood. In that case - if I need to meet a deadline and really have to get going - I just pick a task that is the most uncreative I can think of and try to finish that. Like editing my vocal recordings, finding those little mouth noises and cutting them out, searching for field recordings on my favourite websites or whatever seems the easiest task for me at that moment.
Getting started is often the hardest part, after that I mostly get creative and productive after all.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I don’t really need a plan in my head of how the finished track should sound like. But the vibe, the overall feeling that I want to achieve is very important to me. I don’t want to write a melancholic song when I’m in a good mood or the other way around. All the songs I write as Panic Girl are little windows into my soul, what I felt like at that specific time, what moved me and how I wanted to translate that into actual sound waves.
Like with “Travelling With A Cup Of Coffee In My Hand” for example. I wanted to create a piece that takes the listener directly into a scene from my everyday life. Where I’m at the train station, getting a cup of coffee before doing anything else (that's me at least), travelling to another city or country for a job, meeting or concert, that you have been invited to play. The things you take for granted before a global pandemic hits you.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I mostly start with my modular synthesizer. Or, if I just got a new instrument, plugin or tool, I’ll then start with that as it’s always exciting to explore new possibilities. I’ll often search for a nice, mellow pad sound, something that can run in the background for a while without getting annoying and then I’ll jam on that with whatever instruments come to mind.
On “You Owe Me Nothing” for example I started with this pad sound, that I made with the Telharmonic module by Make Noise. As soon as I heard this sound I knew instantly, that I wanted to make a whole track out of it. I wanted some drums on it, especially a heavy kick, that would be a main element in the song, some dreamy vocals and the rest just came instinctively as I went along.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
As soon as I have a sound that I want to develop into a whole track, I start recording the single elements into my DAW. I want to have the freedom to edit, process and mix every single detail of my songs, to get creative with it and have a composition and mix in the end, that is as perfect as possible. I’ll then search for additional sounds, melodies and vocal bits to get a nice sounding 4-8 bar loop.
The next step would be to make a nice intro, outro, B-Parts and whatever it needs, to evolve the loop into a whole song.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I definitely like to follow where the vibe of the track is leading me. Or where the instruments with their own characteristic sounds are leading me. Composing for me is always a very meditative process, where I like to let go of the controlling ego as much as I possibly can, to be as much in the moment and intertwined with the music itself as possible.
I remember composing and recording “Interlude” to be such a pure moment, where I felt deeply connected. That was a wonderful session.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I think everyone with a modular synthesizer knows these alternative roads too well and most of them welcome them. I do for sure. Especially after composing for so many years and having my tried and tested tricks up my sleeve, that I use regularly, it’s very refreshing to get pulled off the main road as often as it happens. If I really use those sounds in my final composition then is another question. Still being surprised and getting excited is really a gift for me.
But with all those innovative and experimental devices and creative inventors out there it won’t get boring anytime soon I guess. The last device which opened up a whole new sonic world to me was the Ciat-Lonbarde Cocoquantus 2. It’s mainly a sampler and looper with lots of modulation possibilities, which gives my tracks a very unique vibe.
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There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Kinda yes! Though I wouldn’t call it spiritual for myself, but magical and meditative. Ideally it’s a state where I totally forget who I am and where I am and where only the present moment is of importance. Where no ego and no ambition is present, but only a rooted and connected feeling through creating music.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece?
Definitely! Letting it lie and evaluating it later on is a very important part of the process for me. If you let your composition lie for a while, even only for a few days until you have forgotten a bit how it sounds, then come back to it and still like it, that’s a very good sign then I guess. It’s also very important for the mixing process. As your ears get used to how your track sounds, it gets harder and harder to make the right decisions the longer you listen to it. So pauses and reference tracks and checking it on different monitors are key to get to a good mix in the end, at least for me.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
That’s very true. Especially if it’s an album that takes a lot of time to realize, that you spent time with day in day out for several months. Then there’s release day, everything is super exciting, you get feedback from your listeners and feel a wonderful high. And then after a while it’s just out there and you are not as involved as you were anymore. Then it’s time to let go of it emotionally a bit.
I’m usually working on the next album or project already, when I’m releasing an album, so I don’t really have a feeling of emptiness. I always have exciting ideas and projects in mind, like with my new label i u we records for example. Here I release female electronic music only and am very excited how well the first releases got received.