Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Christelle Gualdi is searching for escape; escape from restriction, escape from analysis, society, maybe even herself. That desire for transcendence pervades all that she does, from her daily yoga and meditation routine to her acute anxiety over technology. That’s why she tends to work with 70s and 80s equipment, shuns an audio-visual approach to music making as Stellar OM Source and sticks to the reliably unchanging design and drafting software AutoCAD, as an architect. Not least of the reason for her tech anxiety is the fact that Gualdi has endured an eight-hour interrogation at the US-Canadian border over a post on MySpace before. Or been forced, like the rest of us, to fit a check box of “politically correct” social media stipulations: “if you don’t show it, it means you hide it and it’s not good. That’s pretty sick.”
It goes without saying, then, that Gualdi is highly critical of the web’s culture of surveillance and control that many of us have blindly, or, as in her own case, unwillingly, walked right into. We are, of course, talking over Skype, through a laptop, from her base in Amsterdam and, yes, she does use a smartphone. But as the French-born artist says – in an accent and syntax that resonates with her young-adulthood in Germany and the Netherlands – it’s almost impossible to live outside the system. Opting out of the social network means you’re either a security threat or you’re dead (“It’s not life, it’s Facebook.") and marketing has everything to do with the fallacy that you need all the plugins in the world to facilitate creativity (“'You can do a symphony on the beach, which you can then put online!’ or whatever,” she quips).
Gualdi’s approach to her music is holistic by contrast. You can hear that in the amorphous, slightly unsettling, spiritual wash of 2009 CD-R ‘Heartland Suite’, all the way through to the bodymind escapism of this year’s RVNG Intl release, ‘Joy One Mile’. That record strips down, takes apart and reconstructs elements of Gualdi’s core influences in house and techno to generate the sort of busted up primitivism that only the most base dance track could provide. Here, spiritual liberation is found via the physical, which is part of the reason Gualdi finds it so hard to analyse her own sound. Instead, conversation centres around her anxieties: Google’s Project Loon, Internet blocking software and the horror of trying to teach teenagers who don’t want to learn because “it’s all on Wikipedia”. Then there’s her own experiences of an ashram during India’s monsoon season, Ayuverdic medicine, its links to early, advanced civilisations and the hope in doomsday theory and Zecharia Sitchin. Because for Gualdi, the way things are going, the end is near and that’s probably a good thing.
With that in mind, Dummy chatted to Gualdi about the various life lessons – personal, musical, technical, professional and spirtitual – that have fed into her life and work as Stellar OM Source.
Do you have social anxiety?
Stellar OM Source: Ummm, yeah [laughs]. I think I have it by nature and I manage to cope with it. Also, I grew up in he suburbs and it does affect you. I think it alienates people a lot. And I grew up just outside of Paris in a so-called “new town”, which are really those commuters, dead zones. You would get, within 15 minutes, inside of Paris and I would see every morning on my way to school those trains being totally packed with people and the same in the evening. I just looked at it like, ‘what is this, why do people do that?’
There’s also an anxiety around that creativity, where you have an idea and the fear is not being able to realise it. But when you have no expectations, perhaps that’s when you’re most expressive.
Stellar OM Source: Yeah. Personally, that’s the trick I found; it's very non-tricky [laughs]. Like anybody being creative is, just get started and then you’ll see and drop any expectations. What’s the name of those cards, those Brian Eno cards? [Oblique Strategies] Everybody being creative could also write a book about how to work, how to go around all those blocks. We live with so many ideals of ‘start the day right away, work for hours and everything is going to be fine’.
It just doesn’t work that way does it?
Stellar OM Source: Not really. At some point many artists can turn crazy, if you take all those problems too seriously. I guess, I could sometimes be – things have changed, but in the past years, maybe 10 years ago – feeling so depressed about my entire life and everything, just because I couldn’t make a good piece [laughs]. But then at some point you’re like, ‘I don’t think it’s actually a matter of life and death’.
What kind of projects do you work on as an architect?
Stellar OM Source: I used to work on major projects and it’s really a matter of balance. That was before I would do so much music. I worked in an office in Rotterdam and worked on major projects like opera house, musée [sic], entire urban planning and all that. Now that I'm mostly busy with music, I’m going to way smaller scale, so I’m just working on a couple of individual houses but the difference is that those are going to be built.
I know that you don’t like to get analytical but it’s interesting that before your music was really ephemeral and ambient and that’s when you would have been channelling your energy into these major projects. Now there’s more structure in your sound, as opposed to the work as an architect…
Stellar OM Source: Yeah, wow, yeah, this is great. It’s very good you say that because growing older, I feel like I’m getting grounded and also it’s only now that I’m finally going to have a project that is going to be built; the same with music, which is more affirmative and more… there. Yeah it is connected! It is definitely connected.
"Definitely there’s something a bit idealistic about my use of technology." Stellar OM Source
How come you’ve settled in 70s sci-fi and equipment made around that era?
Stellar OM Source: Definitely there’s something, maybe, a bit idealistic about my use of technology. I used computers really young and my dad was so much into them. When I was just nine, I was already using computers all the time. At the time, it felt like you would use computers, or the machine, or synthesisers for music, which you had to learn. It would take a certain amount of time but then you knew what it could do, there was no hidden device and no secret.
Let’s say, if someone asked you whether you could build it yourself, well, getting the proper schematics, building your skills, you could do it. So there was, maybe, a bigger proximity with the tools we were using from the 70s until the end if the 80s, I’d say. Then things changed when computers got smaller, faster and all that. Suddenly there has been a slow disconnection, or loss of proximity, with our tools. I’m talking, really as a tool, like using a pencil than using a tool as an extension of your mind. Fast-forward to today and I don’t think a lifetime of a normal person would be enough.
"I find it really sad that people can get in some kind of anxiety when there's no Internet for a couple of minutes." Stellar OM Source
You talk about all these tools and plugins made available, that people don’t even need. It goes a lot in line with ideas around marketing and advertising; creating a desire for something you didn’t need in the first place.
Stellar OM Source: Yeah, of course. I find it really sad that people can get in some kind of anxiety when there's no Internet for a couple of minutes, or 15 minutes, and it's as if people lost their lives in trusting all these things that they ‘need’. I guess, when people start to face their addiction, they go for a couple of days, they don’t have their phone and they’re like, ‘oh my god I'm really addicted to it’. It’s this controlling thing. It’s really deadly for being creative, all those tools.
Speaking of these tools that have stolen our lives, it makes you think of that fear of the machines taking over. I'm pretty sure they already have.
Stellar OM Source: Exactly. That’s the funny thing and everybody who are like, ‘oh yeah those cyborgs and all those implants, not in my lifetime’ and it’s like ‘hey, look at you!’ Sometimes I'm amazed how smart and how really genuinely talented those things are that have been achieved. ‘Look, you didn’t even notice anything but you check your iPhone just when you awake. Maybe you’re a machine now.’
What is it about your music that you can’t think analytically about it?
Stellar OM Source: I basically quit music, for many years, because of that. I felt I couldn't experience it out of my heart anymore because I was, all the time, wondering how things were made, which chord that was, what is this about the structure. It’s the same as, probably, within science and how amazing is human being and then you would just bring it back to the scientific, ‘it works like this and this and this’. I don’t want to know that.
Do you think you’ve transcended that now?
Stellar OM Source: Definitely. It has to, because so many times, through the day, it’s not happening every day but really often I feel like, when I definitely let go of everything and then I hear myself playing things, I had no Idea I could play them. Or some things I experience which I don't know where they belong to but it’s not something I’m willing, it’s happening.
Like something unfamiliar?
Stellar OM Source: Yean, something definitely unfamiliar. The best example is probably a track from ‘Trilogy Select’ that people really liked, this one called Island Best. I was recording for a while, or maybe for like a half an hour, and then I played this melody and variations and all that. It was really structured but it was totally improvising and for four minutes it was just, to me, out of this world. There was something happening. I was just playing and it felt just so right. What was before was shit, what was after was shit.
"We are in such visual culture and music, you can only hear it and you cannot draw it. You can write it down but you cannot draw a perfect picture of it." Stellar OM Source
It’s interesting you say that, especially in connection with the role of anxiety in art. It can often hold you back but it’s that very sensitivity, making you susceptible to that anxiety, that also makes you an artist in the first place.
Stellar OM Source: Definitely. Yeah, this anxiety can be just so heavy. Also, with music, you're in such an abstract world. We are in such visual culture and music, you can only hear it and you cannot draw it. You can write it down but you cannot draw a perfect picture of it and I guess that’s created a lot of anxiety. You have something in your mind but you just can’t manage to play it like it is, or you produce a lot of things and nothing is good but, at the same time, you know it’s the only medium you can use to express yourself. I find it often really heavy.
You ran a meditation class for artists…
Stellar OM Source: Yeah, how do you know that?
I did my research.
Stellar OM Source: I have three certificates to teach yoga in traditional Hatha yoga, so I did that last year. But it was just impossible to do everything I wanted to do and there were also not enough people coming to those classes. I do practice on almost a daily basis, either yoga or short mediations. I'm very attached to that. Sometimes I kind of feel like I'm, maybe, withdrawing a little too much from society. And in a way it helps me, weirdly enough, to stay connected with people.
I know, this afternoon, I have to go to the city centre or a shopping mall to get some stuff and I have to meditate before that because that’s going to be hell.
There’s a lot that’s unsettling about modern life. I remember travelling with no phone and no computer. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again.
Stellar OM Source: Last year I spent six weeks in India working as a yoga assistant and once a week we would go to some kind of city to go use internet, so it was once a week. Otherwise there was no network for a phone and there was no Internet, of course, and already, after one month, the day where we were allowed to go to an Internet café, I didn’t even go. So I spent, at the end, more than three weeks with no phone contact or Internet.
"I believe in Nature and, in a way, all of our technology, everything, this computer I’m holding now, the way we’re talking and all that, this has been invented by human beings who come from nature." Stellar OM Source
I completely agree with your outlook but do you ever think that this inability to adjust to modernity is less enlightened and more maladaptive?
Stellar OM Source: I mean, one thing is, I believe in Nature and, in a way, all of our technology, everything, this computer I’m holding now, the way we’re talking and all that, this has been invented by human beings who come from nature. So, basically, I believe that everything we have around us, our entire world, that's the way Nature has been bringing us that far. If we have to collapse, or if it’s going to be how horrible it is, it's part of Nature’s plan. I try to remind myself of that to really cope with it, to feel that’s our destiny, it’s a natural process of things to happen.
Do you believe in ancient, technologically advanced civilisations?
Stellar OM Source: Yeah, I’m looking at this stack of books I have of Zecharia Sitchin. I used to read that a few years ago. It's all about those Atlantean civilizations and all those very advanced civilisations, which disappeared. Also all those traces of engraved sculpture and everything, which has been found on earth, which really showed drawings of spaceships and all that. So, let’s say, 5000 years ago there were even more advanced civilisations here. I do believe in that and, I guess this goes with this still strong confidence, trust, I have with Nature that all that is the way it is and there’s a reason why maybe we’re going into dark times but what do I know?
RVNG Intl. released Stellar Om Source's album 'Joy One Mile' on 11th June 2013.