Artist Interviews 🎶 Studio Tours 🎛
Hello music people 👋
Today in the spotlight, Tangent Universes
Coming from the United States, her relationship with music comes from seeking comfort and self-expression and has been influenced by a wide range of musicians. Her focus is shifting towards installations and museum culture, and she hopes to compose for fashion shows, art installations, modern dance, and the museum environment 🎶
Read Time: 13 minutes 📰
Soma Laboratory - Lyra-8 (DIY)
Circuit bent Meowsic
Fender - Jazzmaster
Tascam - Porta02 MKII
Modular case standouts
Mutable Instruments - Plaits
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Who are you and what is your relationship with music?
I’m Carolyn Snow from the Baltimore/D.C. area.
I go by Tangent Universes which is a Donnie Darko reference. I have always felt like Donnie and Roberta Sparrow. Kind of a loner, kind of weird, definitely wondering how everything fits together. My relationship with music comes from that weird kid still in me seeking comfort and self-expression.
I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and remember the MTV video premier of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle. My babysitter let me stay up to see it, and I remember thinking “wow this is the future.” Fast forward to being a 40 year old purchasing a first synthesizer– I did what many people do, set out to make structured music. I still do that for some work, but have been more compelled by the experimental nature of machines. I do not have formal training aside from playing trumpet in my junior high and high school band, and a few classes at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. (I lived down the street in Lincoln Square for a decade and learned basic guitar and songwriting there.) It is a great school with a full concert hall where my friends and I would volunteer to usher shows we couldn’t afford so we could see The Magnetic Fields three nights in a row.
Musical influences are all over the place– Slow Dive, The Cranberries, Against All Logic, The Magnetic Fields, Mount Kimbie, Grouper, Fred Thomas are my favorites. Lately I am into Young Jesus and Hand Habits and a lot of work from Saddle Creek as well as Suzanne Kraft who my friend Laura pointed me to and curates a great experimental show called Indoor Cats on Dublab.
I am at the beginning of becoming a working musician –and by working musician I mean a few labels have approached me about doing tapes which surprised me. This April Mystery Circles will release a single as part of their numbered series, and a tape in October. The project is called Southern Spectral and is a sound narrative of scientific development juxtaposed with Appalachian lore in the South. My grandmother worked on the Atomic bomb (unknowingly of course) in a secret city which became Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I think I am trying to make peace with my complex family. In all of this though, were summers in the Blue Ridge, swinging from ropes and jumping into creeks, stories about hedge witches and ghosts.
To answer your question about income and music –I play a few shows around town and have been lucky enough to be paid for gigs– but music in its current state is not sustainable as a primary income source. This year I will have my first sound installation in the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum during Sound Scene– I was surprised when I was given an honorarium to cover materials. My focus in experimental work is shifting towards installations and museum culture. I love it and this is what I hope to keep doing. My former occupation is in journalism and later a grant writer and development officer, so that has been helpful in securing arts funding. I think I am a little different in my desires with music –I am awkward and clumsy and have no stage presence so a working musician in the capacity of someone seen on a stage is terrifying for me. But I would love to compose for fashion shows, art installations, modern dance, and the museum environment.
Which piece of equipment in your studio is essential to your production process?
I have really gravitated towards tools from Make Noise.
I use Strega and 0-CTRL, recently adding a Mimeophon. I also use a Pam’s New Workout (sorry GAS readers, I do not have a Pro Workout) along with a Make Noise Maths. I feel like they are foundational, swiss army knives of computers. I rely on a pedalboard when I play which contains a lot of OBNE. Minim is my go to. I use a Fender Jazzmaster often and likely use it wrong.
What is the least expensive piece of gear that gave you the most results?
All of us have smartphones, right?
A lot of my samples and field recordings are just off my old iPhone SE. You’d be surprised what is buried in my long form work. Ice flows. Crickets. Violin scales from someone’s class. As a person who chose modular to work with, I also recognize the expense and inaccessibility of these tools.
You can make great music with your voice, found sounds, car keys, whistling, $30 ukuleles. (Again, I am probably doing a bad job writing this up for a GAS newsletter.)
Walk us through your process for creating and producing music.
It starts with a feeling in me.
I write a lot about longing and loss. Standard sad girl themes. That has to go somewhere. I also spend a lot of time walking, hiking and taking slow bike rides. Sometimes I just observe something organically occurring, but with fresh ears. Like it is happening for the first time. The way wind moves through the recycling bin with all the glass. My son attempting to catch a frog in a creek. Ice storms. We get a lot of ice storms in the Mid-Atlantic.
From there I work with a sound palette and a mood or a tone. I want to recreate the feeling, or in some cases a person.
What is a production technique that you always come back to?
I work a lot with reverb and unpleasant high sounds.
I once read an archived Tape Op about Stephin Merritt dealing with their uke in post production right down to using a felt pick.
How would you explain your style?
I am just a weird kid letting it all out. (Maybe my genre is not ambient but something like “experimental cringe core”)
I saw Tori Amos in high school during the Under the Pink tour. I will never be that level of precision and showmanship, but somewhere in me I hope to nail something like “Pretty Good Year” and stop apologizing for being so weird, let the weird stand on its own.
What is a big challenge you have as an artist?
I am terrible at playing live.
I have two shows ahead the next weeks. I went through three shows where –while everything improved each time– it was still difficult and embarrassing. Finally on the fourth try I did well, but it was a very rough climb to get to that abandoned chocolate factory and play in Philadelphia. I get sick before shows and have stage fright. My first show, I even verbally apologized to the audience. Most people were kind, but that is not always the case. People might be new at modular, but they often have decades of experience as a performer in other avenues and instruments. That is not something I had going in. I did not know how to sound check, proper things to bring– and I had to begin thinking about things like facial expressions and posture. If you look scared while you play– the audience is scared with you.
I’ve gained some confidence this year, but I have definitely hoped a large meteor would land on me while playing.
Has building a hardware setup changed your perspective on music or life in general?
I have no idea how people afford this.
When I see social media footage of people with Eurorack spaceship dungeons and full mastering basement suites with decorative Arps, I just assume they launder money for a living. They have to.
I was a single mom most of my twenties and early thirties, and was even in a situation where I sold my guitar and vinyl collection to make rent. It is hard to go from that mentality of not being able to afford an instrument to something as opulent as modular synths.
I really love them and think I will remain, but I do approach the bench with a weird feeling of dissonance when I come into my attic studio space.
I think about accessibility a lot.
I think things like synth lending libraries are important, I think you should hand down equipment to friends who cannot afford it. I don’t think you should go into debt procuring equipment. My genre is ambient –I look at someone like Claire Rousay who has done genius, compelling, laps around all of us with simple tools.
Your art is what you have to say about your personhood in this world.
Your art is not your gear.
One tip on how to spark creativity?
I try to approach my surrounding with fresh senses each day. Really take it in, reexamine what I overlook and miss.
I am also visual, so I keep a weird girl Tumblr going of things that inspire me to create. I always say if you really want to know what/who I am thinking about, go look at my Tumblr. It’s a visual map to my brain.
Try to leave your house. I think pandemic coupled with online culture and work from home places us in a weird echo chamber of expected comfort.
I think discomfort makes ideas.
Leave your house. Go see your friends. Have coffee. Go to their shows. Take notes.
A book, movie, article, or album that has inspired you?
Film: 3 Women (1977) Red Desert (1964)
Books (I read a lot of poetry) These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit, Hayan Charara Woman Without Shame, Sandra Cisneros Album Between No Things, Suso Saiz and Suzanne Kraft Night Times, Fred Thomas
Anything else you'd like to say?
Come visit DC this summer –my sound installation Brittle Geometries /Delicate Feedbacks will be on display June 3-4 during Sound Scene at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Where can people find more of your music and connect with you online?
Mystery Circles in May
In Case You Missed It
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