Q&A: object blue6:30, 23rd May 2018
object blue is a London-based, Beijing-raised producer who combines experimental sounds with techno, focusing on their potential as live performances. Named as one of the 10 techno and house producers to watch in 2018 by FACT magazine, she continues to perform a diverse range of music across the UK, including live techno, experimental installations and DJ sets. She spoke to Cameron Bray
What is your musical background?
I began playing the piano when I was a kid, but gave up when I was 13 as I wasn’t taught adequate techniques, which really dampened my playing. I was also a lot more interested in improvising than practising to learn pieces. After that, I just listened to a lot of music, not playing or writing my own. I began learning music production in 2014 with the help of some friends and online tutorials, before applying to Guildhall School of Music & Drama (GSMD) in 2015, studying for a BMus in its Electronic Music department – I will be finishing the degree this year.
Who are your influences?
Björk was my first foray into electronic music. Glitch was very important too and I still listen to Oval all the time, as well as experimental electronic musicians like Pauline Oliveros, Holly Herndon, Mark Fell and Laurel Halo. Herndon and Halo are especially important since they merge experimental components with club music. Perhaps my biggest influence is a close friend of mine, who produces under the monikers SIMARA and YASHA. I was endlessly listening to his album hologram summer when I was first starting production, and I think the influence is quite obvious.
What set-up are you using in your performances and recordings?
Just my laptop, on which I run Ableton and Max MSP. During production and performance I use Push 2. I like to use field recordings I’ve made myself, though these days I’m increasingly using freesound.org.
How much of your knowledge came from formal education and how much has been self-taught?
Honestly, it mostly has been self-taught. It’s different from classical music where there are grades and set repertoires. Since it’s all so subjective, I had to find my way around myself. One thing formal education gave me is a love of regional folk music. I have Bulgarian folksongs and Egyptian wedding songs from my high school music class still saved on my iPod.
If you could go back and change something about your musical education, what would it be?
I’d like to have had a teacher that taught me composition and improvisation instead of the standard repertoire teaching, because I was never going to be happy or competent at that!
What was your experience of learning about modern music making in an institution like GSMD?
Again, because my field is so subjective, I was left to my own devices most of the time. It was more about me trying things out myself, both during class and outside it, then presenting them to tutors to get feedback. I was very lucky to have Nye Parry, whom I get on very well with musically and personally, and he always gives me fantastic feedback and encouragement. Other than that, I very much enjoyed having opportunities to perform my work in the wonderful Barbican building.
You work in a male-dominated part of the music industry – do you think teachers can do much to change this?
Absolutely. I have no doubt that if I weren’t told that ‘boys do machines, girls sing’ while young, I’d have started production much earlier. Everyone expected me to play piano and that’s it. I have lost count of the number of times male classmates said to me, ‘you know a lot about music for a girl’. Teachers must work at talking to both boys and girls to undo this harmful stereotype, and I hope to see more women teachers in my field, leading by example.