Carolyn Hyde: Untitled and Organic
By Paul Edward Costa
Find more of Carolyn online:
If you’ve attended open mics or local music shows in Brampton and the surrounding Peel Region, you’ve likely been entranced by one of Carolyn Hyde/Lady C’s soulful and engaging live performances where she utilizes percussion, piano, guitar, or just her voice acapella. She also creates electronically based music which she releases online (under the name Aloesia) and which she has begun integrating into her live shows. With a voice that contains echoes of Janis Joplin (she does a killer cover of “Mercedes Benz”), music flows from her permanently and her various styles/instruments are only different avenues for releasing her energy.
I sat down with Carolyn in Shannon Moynagh’s studio on the second floor of Beaux Arts Brampton for an interview which covers the genesis of her interest in music, her composing process, her approach to live performing, her artistic philosophies, and more! Read on to dive further into this incredibly deep musical mind…
How did your interest in both acoustic and electronic music (and the mixing of the two) develop?
I have been a live performer before I ever really got into electric music. I think that interest started when I was really young at my grandpa’s place. He is a retired professor at the University of Calgary and has been retired since before I was born. My grandfather did that in his spare time and the other hat that he wore was that of an avant-garde 20th century composer. He was classically trained in viola and he was writing electronic music on his Mac.
What year was this?
I’m not sure when he got into it, in the 80s I think, before I was born. He was starting to experiment as far as I know with electronic music and he had a Roland or a contemporary of Roland, very awesome.
He had this keyboard where you could put a floppy disc in of patch sounds he created himself and he was making them all up. They came with really awesome pre-sets.
Every time I was over there, I saw two pianos one on either side of this wraparound room in this big, old-fashioned 1912 house in Calgary. On one side of the room was an upright grand (it’s gorgeous!), and on the other side is this digital one, so you have this old fashioned stuff up against the wall and it looks like 1920s vintage awesomeness, and the other side has this crisp, modern keyboard and a white mac by this open window looking out onto the snow, and I remember wanting to go over to that so badly.
I don’t know what drew me to an actual keyboard; that started my interest in electronic music because I just started beeping with all the buttons and I was starting to make the kind of music that you hear today. I remember just doing weird stuff and going across the piano and letting the patches do this warp thing that they were programmed to make so I was doing this drone-like kind of ambient music from an extremely early age. I think that started my piano playing.
When I was about 5 years old I was playing piano and I have been doing so since, for about 20 years. I love piano, so it really is my first love besides singing. I was singing since I was one or two, since I could walk and talk—that was the first thing my parents ever did that I saw them do, they’d be playing at their cottage up in Haliburton (where I’m from) and they’d have all their friends around and do a jam. Everyone had their folk songs…they love their Bob Dylan and their CCR, all of it, so I grew up to a lot of classic rock…and the Eagles! Then as I got older I started listening to 80s music, and more electronically based songs from any kind of style, hearing that “oh, people use them together!” and that just internalized in my head. The Beatles also had those kinds of strange sounds mixed in with live, conventional recording, and I love fusion styles and things, I love taking two contrasts and bringing them together and seeing what happens, and that’s a big part of what I do and why I find music interesting.
What are some of the projects on which you are currently working?
Currently I have been experimenting with a plug in called Synth Master 2 and it’s a whole bunch of patch sounds, sequenced and un-sequenced, and it’s like a little mini library of sounds and pre-sets and I’ve been experimenting with them.
I’ve written a couple of songs; one is still in the works and one I just released. It’s called “Wet Glitter Phaze” and it was an experiment between rhythm and playing around with a sequencer. I ended up phasing it in and out of time which is why it sounds like that because sometimes it’s in time and sometimes goes out of time.
That was a concept developed by Steve Reich and his contemporaries like Philip Glass with tape looping, sequencing sounds on tape and making beautiful ambient sequenced music that got called minimalism, but they didn’t like that title—
That’s a bit like William Basinski and his albums “The Disintegration Loops” (an ambient album sequence of old tape loops recorded as they disintegrated), where he finished the project in New York on the morning of 9/11 and saw events unfolding from his roof while listening to the playback.
Music should be an experience. It should be the ultimate soundtrack to your life. It should accompany you when crazy things happen, or dare I say, when crazy shit happens, and it needs to be there especially in pivotal moments of solitude when you’re by yourself, when you have no one but the universe, the great creator around you, and all you’ve got is yourself, and the vibes that are this universe, and all you can think of is how you have a soundtrack, you have a backdrop to what you’re experiencing, and that foundation is going to flavor everything that you see, smell, touch…everything. It gives a whole new meaning to what it means to be alive when you listen to something like that, or have that kind of experience, where you get up, you have something planned, you go outside, and you see something incredibly profound such as seeing smoke coming over buildings, something apocalyptic, and you have a certain type of music playing. It’s going to have a deep impact on you, because it helps solidify memories. Music solidifies memories. It puts time in a bottle and as soon as that song comes on again all that comes rushing back—the first things ever in your head, those vibes when you listen to the song from twenty-five years ago when you were five years old, and you’re like “I love that!” and that memory is the first thing you think of. Those same vibes that go through you…those are memories and that is so important to the human experience. That is what fuels your spirit, that is what reminds you you’re alive, it’s what brings you comfort when your sad. It’s a living, breathing thing. Music is an entity, so why shouldn’t it accompany you?
Do you notice any overlap or connection between beats played live on a drum kit and programming them in electronic composition, or does it feel like completely different worlds?
No, there’s definitely a connection and the connection is this: I don’t program stuff in unless it’s by natural means.
I use a program called Ableton live. It’s a fantastic DAW, or digital audio workstation, and it’s made by musicians for musicians, so creative minds created not just a functional program, but a creative program where you can visualize the music you’re creating in an easier to understand setting. It’s really streamlined. You can customize, and the greatest tool is creating live loops on the spot.
For example, in one of my pieces I have a drum beat and I played it live with my hands. I made a loop and did it for as long as I wanted to play. I stopped, and then looped it and listened to it and saw it was in time, but the phrase was not a uniform phrase. It doesn’t go 1 2 3 4; it only goes 3 times or a song might do it 5 times to be really interesting, and I realized it was one that doesn’t play 4/4 in a balanced way. It did it unbalanced, because I had a feeling that the next thing I’d do is overlap, and that’s what I ended up doing.
Then I recorded this downwards fall of a note where it’s detuning with a pitch knob. I played it really low, and it sounded fantastic, like “whoa, it’s like your falling,” and I paused it right when the note ended and looped that.
That little mini loop and the first didn’t line up, and that’s what I used as the basis for the song. So in one sense it is programmed but it is done free flowing, instead of precisely putting in notes like a piano roll. I play them together and go to the arrangement section where you can see things in a standard linear view.
I had another patch sound—it was a linear sequence patch so you could play notes, but the program is repeating, though I played it live like playing piano and let it do its thing, and it created this jittering melody that sounded like rain, like walking with my umbrella out in the rain or going for groceries, so that’s why “First Outing” is part of the title.
What music is accompanying you these days, both for pleasure and for informing your future work?
I always listen to 80s music because it’s awesome and it makes me feel like a kid again, there’s a certain innocence to it. More like the cool electronic experimental music, music like Duran Duran and even Peter Gabriel, or Sting in his solo years, the good electric, pop-rock, strange music that made it to the mainstream, the mainstream electronic music…and the Police. I still listen to all the classic things I like to listen to. I love “Money for Nothing” and Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler is a genius and I like his long form songs; they are a pleasure to listen to.
A new artist I’m listening to is actually Almark. He is an experimental, left field, avant-garde, sometimes industrial electronic artist, sometimes purely electronic, and he writes in kind of a similar way because we think alike musically. It’s quite awesome. I’ve been listening to his music since about May of last year. He has this sound that…it’s like he takes samples from places that are in the folds of time, it’s like he goes into a sound, and takes a piece of it and makes it sound like something else, like a reinvention of music concrete, and he writes music inspired by industrial music and 80s music and old electronic stuff, and he writes in a style that’s more classically based. He has elements of jazz and a lot of industrial kind of beats, but they’re all off rhythm, not in perfect time, but they’re looped in perfect time. They sound like someone’s playing it incorrectly, but it’s totally on purpose. So yeah, it’s extremely classy and very avant-garde and left field, and so experimental, and it’s some of the best new music I’ve heard in a very long time.
What is your compositional set up like, or, what are your preferred circumstances for creating music?
All my equipment is in my room, so it hits me any time. I’ll be doing something in the kitchen…it’s always in the kitchen or the bathroom, it’s one of those two places because they’re both functional and they’re both completely unrelated to being creative, usually, not to put down chefs, or those in the culinary arts. I’m usually in the kitchen, or I end up humming something. I always have my phone on me, which is a good thing, and I just hit the voice recorder and hum a thing into it, or talk an idea into it. I am really old fashioned, like with a hand-held tape recorder. Danny Elfman did that…I think he still does that, like “hey I got this cool idea, for a jazz band…”
I just literally do that, get an idea, and my brain fills in whatever else I want to do with arrangement, or the beat section of the song, or the bridge, or whatever. All I need is a one thing and the rest is almost done in my head.
A big part of your art is your live performance. What do you think when you perform? What do you feel when you’re performing live? Are you conscious of what you’re doing, or is it more trance like? What do you get that you don’t get when recording privately?
Before I start I do better when I know what songs I’ll perform, so I can just go ahead and do it. What’s going through my head is more like “I am so glad I’m here and I’m going to enjoy performing this song and I hope I don’t mess up the words.” That’s usually before I start. If I’m singing I just go. I don’t think; I simply enjoy. That’s the biggest thing I get, that I can simply enjoy it.
There is something about having an audience. They feed you. If they are positive and attentive then you are more likely to have a very positive experience, whether that audience is large or small…even if they are only positive for that short period of time. I love performing live for that reason. It’s like a type of conversation and me making music especially in that way is probably the most effective form of communication that I have besides recording it in a studio, which is usually for myself. When I record something, I wrote it for me. I didn’t write it with the notion of giving the feelings to someone else just yet because in the heat of the moment when you’re recording it’s just you and maybe no one else there
Your live performances are very dynamic. Is that spontaneous or planned?
Usually it depends on how the crowd is situated and I don’t figure that out until I’m there. I survey the crowd and see what the vibe is like, and if they’d benefit from something like that, like “yes, I should walk among the audience,” or “no, I shouldn’t.” Usually I ask that first, “do it or not do it,” and sometimes it’s “not do it” if it’s not appropriate or doesn’t fit and the vibes aren’t there. I can tell by people’s faces, I think “this isn’t a place they’d take to that.” Some crowds are like that…it isn’t good or bad, it’s just the way it is.
When I do it I think of where everyone is in the room and I walk around and want to get to everybody. I just go around the room and be present, and let everyone know that I am not a princess, I am not something on a pedestal that is “way up here” and a prissy little dipshit. I am a humble person and I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. I just do my thing and I like to remain humble, and I don’t want a big head, that’s stupid and it’s not very good for the soul at all.
Performing humbles me just as much as it might impact my audience; it impacts me because it forces me to be among the eyes of everyone looking at me. In my own opinion it helps to better connect with the audience, instead of them thinking there’s a wall. There shouldn’t be a wall there. If you want to touch people with your music there can’t be a blockage, you can’t have a wall or a force field.
Tear down the wall, as Roger Waters said.
Yeah, so there you go, you don’t want a wall with art, unless that’s your point. So yeah, I really think that building connections is the name of the game when performing live. I’m there to make a connection with people and make an impact with people, and make you think. I’m not trying to be famous or something I’m not. I’m getting the audience to be more present in the moment.
Paul Edward Costa is a writer and spoken word performer who has published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in “Timber Journal”, “Entropy”, “Thrice Fiction”, “Emerge Literary Journal”, “The J.J. Outre Review”, “The Eunoia Review”, “The Bramptonist”, “Alien Mouth”, “REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters” and others. He has work forthcoming in “Mannequin Haus”, “Literary Orphans”, and “Bonk!” He is the founder of the ongoing “Paul’s Poetry Night” spoken word series in the Greater Toronto Area. His areas of interest are illusion/reality, minimalism, surrealism, genre fiction, weird fiction, the grotesque, and the absurd. At York University Paul earned a Specialized Honors BA in History and a BA in Education. He is also a high school English teacher with the Peel District School Board.