Darwin: Okay, today I have the opportunity to speak with somebody that I reached out to because I really love her work. She has an album called Pineapple that has been on constant play here at Casa de Darwin, but I've been listening to a lot of her work lately to get prepared for this interview and I just love it. So, with no further ado, I would like to introduce you to Aimée Portioli. Hey, Aimée. How are you?
Aimée Portioli: Hi. I'm well. Thank you so much for having me, Darwin. It's a pleasure.
Darwin: Sure. Yeah, well, thank you so much for taking your time. Frankly, I felt like in a way our opportunity to talk was cursed. The first time we were planning to talk, I had an internet outage. Then, today I had my calendar goofed up, and we almost didn't get a chance to connect, so I'm really pleased that we were able to do it. Thank you so much.
Aimée: Yeah, yeah. Me too. One time I had to go to Italy to play, so it thought let's do this in a moment that my mind will be a little bit more ready for this. So, thank you for waiting.
Darwin: Sure, no worries. So, let's start off with having you explain to the listeners a little bit about all the different things that you do in the world of audio and art.
Aimée: Okay. Well, let's say if I want to put this simply, my last years, I'm focusing a lot on music production, so composing and producing, and at the same time I'm working on my label, so these are, let's say, the things that I'm working on more since I moved to Berlin five and a half years ago. Before that I was living in Italy. I lived in Milan for 10 years, and after my studies I started to work there for a radio station, and after that I was more focused on producing music for media, so I had this period of switching from production for media to give more space to my own creation, so this is something I'm working on more in the last year or so. I had this switch that naturally happened somehow.
Darwin: Right. Well, I noticed that - yeah, that's about the timeframe then your personal releases started coming out, as the artist ID that you use is "Grand River", right?
Darwin: That's what a lot of those really start up. And what actually first caused me to reach out to you was your label, One Instrument, which was such a cool concept. It really caught my attention and got me to reach out. It's kind of interesting to see that both as an artist you're working with other labels, but you also have this very specific label that you're putting together yourself.
Aimée: Yeah. Actually it started as an experiment for myself. I kept going with it, and it evolved very naturally and slowly because I really like to work on One Instrument slowly and by giving it the right attention, and also having a kind of relationship with the artist, so I'm really happy with how things happened with One Instrument. It's a nice part to what I do because it takes quite some effort and time.
Darwin: Yeah, doing a label can be pretty tough, especially when it's one that has a peculiar bent that's not specific to a genre. That's what's interesting to me, even about the label. It's really interesting, when I first imagined, and it was some of the first stuff I listened, it was like using a synthesizer. Especially, you did a release that was just an MS-20, right? To me, so my head was like, "Okay, that's what this label's about." Then the next one I flip on is a vibraphone player. It's like, "Oh, my God." That's really taking it very much to an extreme, but it was also a really interesting twist.
Aimée: Yeah, it's true. It's about creating tracks with one instrument, and it doesn't really matter which instrument it is. It's true. The very first track of the label I made myself with the MS-20, the original one, it was back then not even mine. I still don't have it because I have the mini version. But it was given to me for a long period. I had it in my studio back then because this person moved away from Berlin, so I headed there. I thought, "Wow." But I was thinking already before about this concept, so I chose that as the instrument to make the first strike of the label with.
Yeah, it was a very, very nice experiment for myself in the first place. Very interesting to see what can I do when I sit with one instrument for a long time, by restricting myself with a particular method, so it was the whole idea that was behind of this.
Darwin: Right. Yeah, well, I think it's one of those things that it's the kind of restriction that can be a catalyst, can push you into doing some interesting work. I really loved the stuff that I heard there.
Aimée: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Darwin: So one of the things that I really like doing in my podcasts is talking to people about their background and how they got to be the artist that they are. You've already dropped a few hints about some of where you've gotten, but I'm kind of curious about how'd you start. How did you get involved in music? How did you move into electronic music? What was the impetus behind that? And what were the things that affected your ear and made you do the kind of music that you do?
Aimée: All right, well, I think I have to start from the beginning here. I grew up with my mom mostly, and she still is a huge music listener, so there was always music around, the whole day she had the radio on, or she would play records or go to concerts, or listen to concerts on the television, things like that. So I was always surrounded by music all the time. She still sings along with the songs she listens to. I think that hearing music all the time, and seeing someone, and especially, but listening was for me inspiring.
It became part of my daily life since I was really little, so this was my mother. Then at the same time, I spent lots of time with my grandparents, and they were pretty religious people, so they went to church and they would take me to church with them. There was this choir singing. Sometimes it was a children choir, and I was so fascinated by this that I said to my... I was five, and she told me the story several times, that I was five, and I was with them in church listening to the choir, and I would say, "Grandma, this is so amazing. Can you please ask them for me to join them? I would love to be part of this choir too."
So, she went there, talked with the person responsible of the choir, and they said, "Well, you have to be six years old, because you have to read the lyrics." Otherwise, when you're five, you're pretty much too young for that.
But she somehow managed to get me in the choir at five. So I was five, and I started to sing with this choir. We had rehearsals, I don't know, one or two times per week, plus concerts all around. Actually, back then I did not live in Italy, because I lived the first 12 years of my life in Holland. So, this was in Holland. We would travel with the bus around Holland and sing in churches and venues. That was really fun. The choir was always accompanied just by one piano, so one piano player. It was just singing and one piano.
Yeah, this was together with my mom listening to music at home, singing in the church. It was a big part of my need to and my wanting to be involved with music. Then, I remember I was very passionate about music, so I asked for... as a Christmas present, I would ask a little keyboard or a toy drum, these toy instruments. So I had these small little keyboards and I had a karaoke set. I had this drum set and a toy guitar.
I remember my grandmother, she also was always listening to the church music at home, and she would sing along with this church music. She had this little book with lyrics. It's like a little church book with songs, religious songs. On the first page of each song was the sheet music of just the vocal part.
So she would sing the song and I would follow her with my little toy keyboard. Somehow I remember I was trying to understand how this sheet music would work. I was understanding how the notes on the... would correspond to the keys. So it was really very interesting. So this happened, I don't know, I think I was maybe seven or eight or nine.
There was singing, so we would sing a lot. Yeah, this was a huge part of how I grew up, and music has been always there every day. I really wanted to play music. I was always asking my parents, like, "I would love to play the guitar now." So I started to have guitar lessons. When I would see someone playing, I had a cousin, he would play guitar. When he would play, I was looking at him very fascinated by that.
Darwin: Uh-huh. So, at some point though, your music is not church choir music. At some point you took on new influences. What are some of the things that stick out as early musical influences for you in electronic terms?
Aimée: In electronic terms. Wow, that's a difficult question to answer because... so you mean which influences from an early age are still there now in my music?
Darwin: No. More like your early influence was your grandmother and church music. And then the music that was floating around their house that your mom listened to, right?
Aimée: Yeah. She was listening more to pop/rock music.
Darwin: Okay, yeah.
Aimée: Yeah, so big Rolling Stones fan.
Darwin: Oh, really? Okay. What is it that... because you do some pretty abstract music sometimes. Some of your music is very spacey. Some of it is very ambient and beautiful. Some of it is very sequenced and tight. There are many different kinds of influences that I would guess, but I'm wondering more what is it that you heard that made you move... or what is it that you experienced that made you move into electronic music?
Aimée: Well, the switch from more acoustic music - because actually after this whole church period, let's call it like that, and listening to the music my mother would listen to, I started to listen more to rock music when I was around 11. So I was big rock music listener, and I played guitar.
That then began my period of playing in bands, so I started to play in a band. I would sing and play the guitar. And I did that for some years. When I did that, actually at some point... so I was writing songs. I was writing songs, and then I was playing acoustic guitar, and I just wanted actually to record my own songs at home.
I remember my parents had this old computer, I don't know, like Windows 98 or something, with these big towers, how do you call them? Yeah, and I remember with the screens and all, I thought, "Wow, yeah, I could try to record my song here," but I had no clue on how to do that. So I would just go directly with the jack cable for my guitar into the audio input of the computer. I don't know the name anymore, but there was a little program inside the computer where you could record something, you could record audio with.
That was actually my first approach to combining moving from playing to recording. When I was recording, I saw, "Oh, wow, you can reverse things. You can put things on the grid." Then I thought, "Wow, this is interesting." I can add the reverb. That is fun. I started to just play around with it. I had absolutely no clue, plus everything was super noisy because there was no audio cord, it was just with my cable that I plugged my audio jack directly into their computer.
So this was actually when I started to be more interested in electronic music. It was around, I think, '97, '98, one of that years, when I just moved to Italy when I was 12 years old, 13 years old. So I continued to play my songs because I was still into this acoustic folk rock period, and I tried to combine them with more electronic instruments. So, I had a drum machine at some point, and I tried just to create some beats and play my acoustic guitar upon that. So, I must say that where I am now is happened very, very slowly.
It was a very, very slow switch. It took me years and years and years because I was a big listener of other genres back then. I was not a big electronic music fan back then. I wasn't at all. I still now, I listen to lots of different things. So yeah, I think it happened very slowly. I am very interest in research. Maybe the fact that I wanted to research more with my instruments that I had... I didn't go to an audio school or something, so I was just experimenting. I was just seeing, "Oh, what can I do with that? What's going to do with this?" And just trying on my own to figure it out.
I kind of still have that approach somehow. When I have an instrument, I try to experiment with it, and try to work with it maybe in my own way sometimes, especially when you were talking about some tracks that are more abstract. I really like to manipulate the songs that maybe I record fully wise or with an acoustic instrument, or with a synthesizer. I really like to work with that content.
Darwin: That really actually comes through with some of your releases. The thing that you did on One Instrument that is called the Rosenbach Acoustic Piano, that was actually kind of surprising because the name of it, you think you're going to hear acoustic piano, but it's actually a very sound designerly kind of construct using both the sound of the piano, but also the sound of the piano was raw material for manipulation. It's really clear that you take your own approach to this rather than following any genre lines. Maybe that's why I was really drawn into your music, because it didn't seem to follow a really specific thing.
So I would start listening, and then all of a sudden, I'd be like, "Oh, this really reminds me of Tangerine Dream a lot," and then it'd all of a sudden switch, and it's like, "Well, that's not like Tangerine Dream at all, but it's like something else." It was such an interesting blend that I found it very compelling from that standpoint.
Now, I'm a little curious, I'm fascinated by this idea of you being draw into the church choir at such a young age, because not only did that fill you with a musical life, but it also gave you an early sense of a life that is done where you perform in front of an audience, right?
Aimée: Yes, that's true. Yeah.
Darwin: I know that you actually perform a lot. I saw that you were... you just mentioned you'd been in Italy doing a performance. You were at MUTEK and you've done a lot of really interesting and great... kind of large form performances. To what extent do you enjoy performing? Or do you prefer more of a recording focus?
Aimée: I enjoy performing a lot. I really love it. I think it's a very important moment to share music with people. And to be able to read the people, that for me is so important to see their faces and reactions, and to also understand and see how crowds are in different countries, in different venues. I really, really like it. Sometimes when I come back I'm like, "Yes, now I have two weeks to be at home to be in the studio." But, it gives me so much inspiration and positivity that I love it. It's a special, important moment, and I'm very, very grateful that I always got the chance to do this since I was little.
It's true, actually what you say, that even if I saw standing there with other people singing in a choir, I was still performing for an audience. That kind of emotion that you get is very, very special. Of course, I love absolutely to spend time in my studio, because it's so important to do that because if I would not, the I would not have the time and the possibility to create the music that I do. And I need time to do that, to research. I cannot really create music when I know that I only have three hours. I cannot really create music when I know that the day after I have to leave.
So I need extended periods of time to completely immerse myself into composition. If I know that I have the entire week or two weeks that I can lock myself up in the studio, I love that feeling. But on the other side, when I'm at home for a month or two, then I'm like, "Oh, my God, I need to get out of here. I need to go somewhere. I need to travel." Yeah, I really need this balance in my life. It's very important to me.
Darwin: So right now we're in the middle of this COVID-19 lockdown, which means that there's not a lot of performances happening. There's not a lot of opportunity to go to clubs and see other people's work. I know for all of us as artists, that's an important thing too, is to go and experience other people's work. Seeing the boundaries constantly being pushed is an important thing. That's kind of been cut out for us. How are you coping with that, or what are you finding as a replacement for that?
Aimée: I'm trying to cope with it, let's say, because I still have not found the way of coping with it the right way maybe, because I find it really hard, and it makes me really sad. I have some moments that when I talk about... today I had lunch with someone and we were talking about this. When I talk about it a lot I get really sad because of course you confront yourself more with what's going on. So, it's really weird. It's a very weird year. I'm happy that I got the chance to play. Actually, in September I had two gigs, and in October I had one gig, which is kind of weird-
Darwin: Kind of rare, yeah.
Aimée: Really rare. I had some friends that were like, "How is this even possible?" I'd say that by playing, and by playing ambient experimental music, people can sit down. I mean, I don't play club music, so this is maybe a plus for this period for this weird period. I'm lucky that I have this possibility to play for people even if they can sit. I mean, they would already sit or lie before this pandemic, and I have had some places, in the venues with cushions, or what people would lay down, I really like that contact.
So, yeah, it's really weird. It's sad. I try to not think. When I think about it too much, I try to focus on the positive things that are happening. I really miss, as you said, also going to concerts and performances with other artists because it's such a big part of my life. I used to go a lot, and every time I go, then I can home and I feel refreshed. I feel inspired.
And it's not the same thing. I mean, it's nice, of course, we can watch things online and we can listen to music online, but seeing a live performance, it's not really replaceable.
Darwin: I think and it's not only interacting with the music, but it's also interacting, and feeling like you have a connection with the performers that you see. Even if you don't like them, you still feel like you have a connection, because you were part of the experience of a performance. I think that that's something that just doesn't get duplicated by Zoom performances or whatever.
Aimée: Absolutely not. I mean, there are some tiny concerts still happening here in Berlin with reduced capacity of course. I've been to a nice concert lately, and I will go next week if things won't be canceled again, because you never know every day things are changing.
Darwin: Right, you never know. That's right.
Aimée: Yeah, never know. So I'm trying to, of course, responsibility handle these things like going and adapt to this situation. But yeah, so I did not find any replacement, to answer your question, for that, because I don't think there is an actual replacement. What I just can do, the only thing that I tell myself every day is I'm just trying to use this time that I have extra, let's call it like that now, because I have more time to be at home. I'm not traveling much lately.
I was actually supposed to go visit my parents this week, but I didn't go because of this whole situation. They said, "Well, it's better not to, because things are probably complicated." So I have extra time now, and I'm trying to focus that time to... sorry, to take that time and just focus on music. I think that's the best thing that I can do right now to create and to research. I mean, even if one day I will just play without having a specific idea about what, everything is useful when you work in the studio, even if you are not really realizing that maybe... you know, at the end of the day, you say, "Oh, well, I'm not sure what I did today." But then at the end, when you come back to it another time... I mean, I have that sometimes that I think, "Oh, wow, yeah. That was useful." Or just listening to records or recording podcasts.
I'm trying to invest my time and to not waste my time. I'm always very practical, try to be practical with my time, so I'm trying to organize it as best as I can. So, yeah, this is what I'm doing lately.
Darwin: Sure. Now you said before you moved to Berlin, that you were involved in audio for media and stuff like that. What kind of work were you doing then?
Aimée: When I lived in Milan, after my studies when I moved there, I went there because I went to college. After college I started to work for a radio station where I was an audio engineer. I was recording, editing, mounting audio. It was a really, really nice period of my life. I worked there for three years and I learned really, really lot of things. This actually, also, I forgot when you asked me before how I switched to electronic music, also working in radio, using so many tools that I had at my disposal back then helped me to get to where I am now. I learned so much that... I mean, every little thing, we were surrounded by influences or somehow.
That was also very big part of the electronic part. But yeah, your question was another one. Your question was what I was doing for the media. So, I worked at the radio station, and besides working for these transmissions that I was working as an audio engineer, my boss back there, he was a voice artist. Is that the right word to say?
So he would record advertisements or he would dub movies, because in Italy they still do dubbing. But he did lots of advertisements. So, thanks to him I started to work with advertisement, because I would record him. Already of course I was producing music. And from one thing, it leads into another. I managed to make some music for advertisements. I did some video games, but actually not so much. I did more video games the first years that I moved to Berlin. I did some audio work for fashion shows. Milan is a big city for fashion, some design and composition for animation. I made some tracks for a movie, for TV shows, stuff like that. So that's what I was doing.
Darwin: Yeah, so what's interesting to me is before you said that in order to get work done, you need to have extended periods of time, but doing that... I was curious when you said the audio for media because there's one set of jobs, it's like the technical jobs, what you talked about with the work that you did for broadcast and stuff like that. But, also, when you get into creative stuff, like composing for video games or composing for the advertising, a lot of times that very much is like working to the clock. "I need this amount of stuff by Thursday."
Aimée: Absolutely, yeah.
Darwin: How did you cope with that?
Aimée: Well, it's interesting you ask, because I actually never realized it, but I think my desire of wanting extended time to produce my own music came as a response to that, because I remember-
Darwin: Because of how that felt, huh?
Aimée: Yeah, because it was really stressful. I remember people would call you and they want changes right away, or have something for within two hours. Yeah, it was crazy and it was a lot of pressure and stress. Actually, this is also a reason why I stepped back a bit from that. Especially advertising. I think advertising is quite a stressful environment because everything goes very quickly.
Darwin: Right, right. That is interesting though. I can see where that would be influential in terms of making you want to just slow things down a little bit.
Aimée: Yeah. I mean, of course, when you make your own music, you want to give the best always. Of course, also when you do something for someone else, you want to give your best, but your time is limited, so you have to give the best of yourself within a short period of time.
But if it's like now, I could decide, "Okay, I want to work on a new album, and I want to research something specific." It would be weird to put a time limit on that, on the research. So, I see this very differently. I approach these two things very differently, somehow.
Darwin: It's interesting you put it that way because recently I decided I was going to try and do a release, and I was like, "By the end of summer, I'm going to have a release ready." And it was a horrible experience. For some reason, having to work to that, I just wasn't enjoying it all of a sudden.
And I think that what you're expressing is some of what I was feeling, which I was really at a point where I needed to research, or I needed to take certain instruments and spend more time instead of getting what the instrument gave me, getting in there and getting what I wanted out of the instrument. In the end, my desire to do something that was more useful kind of thwarted the idea of getting it done by a certain day. I hadn't really thought about it as much more other than a failure before now, but maybe I can feel better about myself.
Aimée: No, absolutely. I don't think it's a failure at all. We need time to... I mean, music for me, especially when I create my own music... When you make something for a client often, you get a brief, so it's like you have to be creative within certain limits unless it's a soundtrack where they say, "Make a piece how you like it for this part," but that doesn't happen very often. So, I consider making music for myself, I mean, for my own project as a way to be able to express with freedom what I want to express, because for me it's about emotion, and if I want to convey that emotion, it needs time. It's not possible to put it in a box and say, "Hey, I need to create 8-tracks within two months. I mean, for me, that really doesn't work."
Maybe it could work, of course, because I could put my schedule in it and do, but I don't know if it would feel right. I don't do that usually. I mean, of course sometimes there are some deadlines to do, but usually when I have that deadline, I would start immediately. When I get asked to do something which I want to do, I start immediately, which gives me more time. So I would not keep it for the end. I never do that, because I know myself. Maybe I would make something, then after one week, then trash it completely, then start all over so I would need more time. Often, I would ask, "Please can I have more time?" because I'm not satisfied.
Darwin: Oftentimes people are okay when you approach it that way, like, "I want to do my best work," people are like, "Okay, take your time then," right?
Aimée: Yeah, well if it's possible.
Darwin: If it's possible.
Aimée: Other people might approach it in a different... I have a very dear friend, he's super strict with himself, and he can really say, "Now I'm going to make five tracks in a week," or something, but I really have no idea how people would do that. It's not my thing.
Darwin: Sure. So, when you talk about for your own work doing research, what does "research" mean? Is it listening to certain kinds of artists? Is it exploring a certain machine? Is it reading up on the history of a certain kind of music? Is it reading a novel and getting influence from that? What is research for you?
Aimée: Okay, well, first it depend what I want to research, of course. Lately I'm researching what kind of tracks I want to make for a next release, and what particular style I want them to have. I also see sometimes that I always have this thing, like, "How do I want to perform these tracks live?" Lately, I'm a bit confused about... I know you talked about this also in another podcast, I was listening to of yours, about this whole how do you play your tracks live and how do you approach that, which is always a big part of a composition, and how to perform that.
I would love actually now to make something that is also playable live without having to compromise so much. So this is what I'm researching right now. How am I doing this? I'm watching tutorials of several instruments that might be interesting to play live that I don't have, because maybe I have two things that are not usable to take. Maybe I'm actually studying... I'm looking up some synthesizers that are easier to rent when I play in a place.
So, I'm trying to find a little balance, so this is what I'm researching now. Another thing that really helps when I want to get inspired is of course listening to other music, but yeah, I mean, also reading or just having a walk in nature for me can be equally inspiring, but it's not easier to say how that immediately can be transferred into music, so that's always another thing. But as I said before, for me music is about the emotion that gives me while I'm making it. If I don't feel the emotion when I'm making it, for me it's hard to continue developing it. It's not easy to say what is inspiring right now or what is not, because everything around does inspires us daily.
I think research is part of the inspiration too, sometimes. Sometimes we don't even know what inspires us and then can be part of the research. I don't know if that makes any sense, but...
Darwin: Yeah, it does. Now, one of the things that's interesting to me though is your approach to this is kind of unique, because an awful lot of people who are doing electronic music, the work that they do in the studio is still pretty improvisational, and still is pretty ephemeral. They'll do a thing and kind of launch it out into the world. Luckily, the recorder was on, because they'll capture it and go.
For you, I almost think of it as like "capital-C" Composition, which is that you're doing a composition, but also with the idea that that same thing is going to be able to be presented live. I actually think that's interesting, but that's a powerful concept. It's one that I've seen some artists, more artists now, coming to the point of realizing it's importance. It's important when you do a composition, not only be able to do it once, but be able to have it be at least a launching point for a live performance.
Aimée: Yeah. And actually, I did not do this before because the tracks of Pineapple, and of my latest album, I did not think about, "Oh, how am I going to perform these tracks live?" I was just making them.-----
Aimée: This is something I'm researching now. To come back to the research part, this is something that I'm really interested in, but it's not easy because if you want to play something exactly, or more or less in a way you made that's how it is on the record, maybe that content has to be a bit more minimal. That's what I'm understanding right now. That is not always my case, because I have some tracks that are more minimal, and others, they are completely maximal. So, I'm not sure what the right balance is.
Darwin: Well, you do a lot of stuff that's heavily processed. Audio processing seems to be a big part of what your music is dependent upon. It strikes me that that's a little difficult to just drop into a live scenario, because so often it's very tweaky interactions with effects processors can make a huge difference, right?
Aimée: Yeah. I do that with some outboard things that I have, and I cannot bring these things live. So another way would be create a performance, a live performance that is not related to a record.
So these are things that I'm thinking about lately. Maybe because I have more time lately, so I'm trying to think of different options. I'm reading about... actually, I bought a book. I want to know more about emotions. I said this also earlier. I want to understand more how emotions are made. There is this book called "How Emotions Are Made". Maybe it's not related to music, but I don't know, I'm trying different approaches lately to see what will happen next. Yeah, I'm curious to see how taking some time to work...
For example, I now have my acoustic piano here finally. I had a piano in Italy, but I was unable to bring it here because of the size and all. It was quite expensive. It was really, really expensive to bring it here. But finally since January, I have another piano. So I'm working a lot with acoustic instruments, combining the acoustic instruments together with electronic instruments and finding a balance between the two of them. I really, really love the integration between electronic and acoustic. I think already some of this, it's present on my latest album, more than on Pineapple. This is something that I'm working on lately.
Darwin: Okay. Well, now it's funny because when we talk about your research and we talk about some of the music that you've done on your releases, it having the potential for being maximal, we talk about being really open and having a lot of freedom in terms of defining your limits. But then, we come back to your label One Instrument, and right out of the box, that has a limit, which is what you're going to work on. You're actually going to work with one instrument.
Now, in doing that, you still maintain allowances for multi-tracking and overdubbing and use of effects and all that kind of stuff. It's really supposed to be a study of a specific sound-generating instrument, right?
Aimée: Yes, exactly. The reason why I came up with this restriction was because I came up with idea in 2016, and I was working in the studio. I was recording things. I was trying to make some tracks. I've always been lucky that I've had quite some synthesizers and I was moving too quickly from one synthesizer to the other.
You know when you start and you say, "Oh, well, let's try with this synthesizer today," and then you end up not being happy after an hour. What do you do? You go to another one or you start adding effects or whatnot. I thought, "Wow, this is not going anywhere. What am I doing here?" And I said, "Why am I not patient enough to sit longer with one instrument without adding effects or without doing this or that?" So, that's why I came up with these guidelines that are, as you said, the only effect possible is reverb. If I would take out the reverb, everything would sound super dry. So I thought maybe reverb is a good thing to keep and multi-layering effects, equalization compression, and you can build things on the grid, which is already a big tool if you think about that. It's a big possibility to have when you can edit, and you can cut and put things on the grid and record.
A sampling is not allowed. I mean, there is a document that I made that people can download with these guidelines when they decide to make a track. It was more of a need that I felt for myself. I found it very interesting to make something freely, getting back to the freedom part, but within some restrictions. That was very, very interesting.
Darwin: Well, and the artists that you brought in... So, you have a number of compilation albums that are just labeled by the year that they were done. It was really kind of amazing when I would just go through and look at what people were using as their one instrument. Some of them were as wide open as Max/MSP as my one instrument. And other people were so narrow that they were using a Mutable Instrument's Braids, right?
Darwin: Or a single Doepfer VCO. It was really kind of surprising. And then you would get people who would use a violin, and another person who would use an old Crumar synth. It was amazing because when I would look at the track list, I would be like, "Oh, this is going to be all over the map," but then when I actually listened to it, it was curated. This is props to you for the way that you curate it, but also the way that you would sequence things in an album. It had just a really nice flow and it just seemed to really work to me.
Aimée: Thank you. I'm happy you say that. It makes me very happy. These compilations divided by year, these are the tracks, the experiments that are uploaded every two weeks, every three weeks on SoundCloud and Bandcamp, because this is actually how it all started. It started actually just as an experiment, experimental platform where people could make a track with one instrument, and it was not even a label in the beginning. It was just the platform.
Darwin: It was an idea, right.
Aimée: An idea where I wanted to share this idea with other people, and a lot of people wanted to participate, so it was more like an experimentational platform. Then after one year, there were like 24 tracks because every two weeks I would upload a track, so in the end there were 24 tracks. People would ask me, "Where can I buy this?" And I said, "Oh, wow, I have no idea. They're not for sale actually. They're just there for you to listen to."
After a bit, people would ask me, "Why is there not a vinyl release coming up or something?" So, in time slowly, I started to think of it more as a label, but that was not the initial idea. It was more a possibility for others to want to try something different that they would usually do in their studio. That's actually still the thing that is still the motive of the label. It's still that. It should be all about that, about the instrument, and trying to get as much as you can out of that instrument, and maintaining the timbre of the instrument. That is why I ask people not to use delay or distortion. Because timbre would change too much.
Darwin: Right, it crushes the timbral difference, right.
Aimée: Yes. So these compilations, they still keep going. So every two weeks, every three weeks, there is new track that I upload on Bandcamp and SoundCloud, and they are for sale on Bandcamp. But these are just digital releases. On the side of that, I started with vinyl releases and tape releases, so these are... So, there's the digital and then the physical apart that go parallel they are released. So, yeah, it's a lot of work also because... Yeah, there are lots of artists. I don't know, it's 150 or something in the last three, four years. In the beginning I started around October 2016, so it's three and a half years now. Yeah? No, it's four.
Darwin: How do people get involved in this then?
Aimée: Well, in the beginning, it was me asking other people, "Hey, would you like to participate?" because nobody knew about it. So I would have some musician friends and they would say, "I'm not so sure. What is this?"
Darwin: It sounds like how I do my podcasts, so I understand that completely.
Aimée: They would say, "Wow, what is this? Your guidelines are so strict. I mean, no, I don't want to do this." But then at some point, I started to receive lots and lots of demos, like a lot of people would send me demos. At some point, because I keep track of all the demos, so I listen to every demo. I always respond to every one, because I mean, I remember in the past I would contact labels myself and I would not receive any answers, so I always felt kind of sad about that. So I try always to be as open as possible, and I respond to everyone.
So I just create a dialogue with all the artists. So I started to receive lots of demos. Sometimes there are things that are not compatible with the label, so I talk with them about it, and other times, just perfect immediately. It's really, really interesting also to see what instrument another person would choose, or how they would choose that instrument. It's really, really cool. It's really, really nice to do this, yeah.
Darwin: It's amazing. Well, unfortunately our time is up. In fact, it was up a while ago, but this is such a great conversation. I appreciate it. Before I let you go though, what is coming up next? What are you working on now? Do you have any more performances planned? Do you have releases planned? What's next up for the label?
Aimée: Okay, so for the label, there will be a release coming up on vinyl in the next, I think, two months more or less. Everything got a bit slower now with the whole COVID situation. But masters are ready. I'm waiting on the artwork, so I think in two months more or less, maybe three, the new release will be out, and I'm really looking forward to that. Concerts - not really, because I was actually supposed to play soon, but it got canceled, I mean, understandably. I don't know what we can expect this winter.
Lots of festivals where I was supposed to play last summer have been postponed to next summer, so let's cross our fingers that things will be possible for next summer. Then, yeah, I will have things coming up in the future. I mean, this year, if everything goes as planned, I made a track for various artists, which I'm really looking forward to be out. And I work on the remix. I have an EP ready and that will be out, I think, next year. I don't know when honestly. It's all a bit slow. I'm working, as I said, on new material, but yeah, I'm trying to take the time to do it right.
Darwin: Well, it has been fascinating to talk with you, to talk about how you come up with some of the ideas, how you plan out your work. It's really fascinating. I would suggest that everybody get out there and take a look at the work. It, again, goes under the artist name Grand River. You'll find it where all your favorite music is found. Take the opportunity to listen to it. It caught me. I think it'll catch you too. Well, with that, we will say goodbye. Thank you so much, Aimée, for having this discussion.
Aimée: Thank you, Darwin. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. Thank you.
Darwin: Likewise. All right, bye.
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