An Interview with Canadian Electronic Music Artist Claire Kenway
Claire Kenway is a Canadian electronic music creator whose music combines electronics with analog sounds and draws inspiration from nature. I talked to her about her love for making music, the creative process as it unfolds for her and how she recharges her creative batteries.
Interview with Claire Kenway
Karl Magi: How did you first get interested in making music?
Claire Kenway: It was because I’d been DJing for a while and I wanted to take things deeper. It was around the time that I moved to Montréal in 2008. I moved in with a producer friend who encouraged me to do it as well.
I started out only doing electronic stuff, but as my practice has evolved over the years I’ve become more interested mixing electronic and organic sounds. I like to create jam sessions with live instruments and drum machines for instance. It’s a hybrid sound that has the electronic structure with organic elements that are ever-changing and have human error in them. It’s inspired more by the process of jamming, either me and a musician jamming or me and my machines jamming, instead of just programming everything. It’s definitely a move towards recording and collaborating with analog instruments and machine hardware.
KM: Tell me about your creative process.
CK: It’s all about connecting with myself in the moment, so I’ve discovered that I work best at night. Usually I’m in the studio late at night and I work into the wee hours of the morning. At that time of day, as long as everything is set up in advance, I can usually walk in and start to make a rhythm, let things evolve naturally and try not to analyze it too much. For example, it can be the weather or a full moon or something that’s happening in my life. It’s a stream of consciousness.
KM: Who are some of the artists by whom you’re inspired?
CK: I’m definitely inspired by other artists, either music artists or visual artists. I’m interested in immersive art installations involving light, sound and illusions. There are a few artists that have really inspired me over the years. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller make installation art in all categories but mostly sonic installations, Olafúr Eliasson who does large scale installations involving weather and James Turrell who creates installations involving light and optical illusions.
In terms of music, there are lots of artists who inspire me. It depends on the genre, but in terms of electronic music, I’d say right now I’m really inspired by this guy named Vadim Svoboda. He does a lot of jamming stuff with machines. I have a double EP on Cosmo Records that he recorded with an artist named Masomenos in Casablanca, Morocco. It’s based on recordings from jam sessions with the two producers and various musicians, involving a multitude of traditional instruments.
I’m inspired by Aphex Twin’s music including Selected Ambient Works and Windowlicker, and also by the way the he views the creative process. He uses the night for starting new ideas and the daytime is for editing and mixing older songs. It’s an approach which I put into practice in my own creation and it has made me much more efficient.
I am also really influenced by Ricardo Villalobos, whose love for real time jam sessions involving a multiplicity of gear and musicians has led to incredible collaborations with a variety of musical artists, and a clearly defined sonic aesthetic that is immediately recognizable as his own. I’m inspired by his playfulness and generally child-like attitude towards the music; I feel the same way. I’m so inspired by the music even though it has been almost 20 years. Every time I play it feels like the first time, in a way!
KM: Where does electronic music fit in with other forms of cutting edge music like jazz and experimental music?
CK: It’s really interesting because jazz, when it first started, was like electronic music in that it was played in underground spaces by musicians who were not necessarily trained classically or academically and they were jamming a lot. I think there are a lot of parallels.
I’d consider the kind of electronic music that I do to be avant garde. It’s not geared towards the majority of people in society. It’s not something that everyone can appreciate. It has an intellectual side to it, so a lot of thinkers, academics and kooky people from all walks of life are attracted to this type of electronic music.
It’s interesting because in Europe electronic music is a lot more mainstream and widespread than it is in North America. It’s become the pop music of Europe. It’s not the stuff that I like, but I think that some genres of it have replaced pop music in Europe. In Europe, producers and DJs are recognized as working professionals.
KM: What are some of your plans for the near future in your musical career?
CK: I’ve been working on an album for the last ten months and it’s finally almost done, so I’m looking forward to finishing it and seeing what that will lead to in terms of performance opportunities. I’ve been working on hybridizing electronic music and analog sounds and I took that concept and put it into practice on that album. I recorded with classical musicians and combined it with electronic sounds. I worked with my mom because she’s a classical violinist. I wrote some music and got her to jam with it.
I have a few gigs across Canada this summer. I’m looking forward to playing at some of the outdoor, open-air events. There’s one in Toronto that I’ve never played at before and I’m looking forward to it because I’ve heard really good things about it. It’s called Cherry Beach and it’s been going on for a long time. It has an underground angle on the music. There’s another great festival I’m playing called Future Forest in New Brunswick and another one in Vancouver called Sunwave that I’ll be playing.
KM: How do you keep yourself recharged?
CK: I also sleep a lot to recharge. Some of my favorite nature to go to is in British Columbia where my family lives on Vancouver Island in the rain forests and by the Pacific Ocean. I love the wildness of the nature there. And I will travel anywhere to try to find beauty and experience different places and cultures. This gives me so much energy and so many ideas for creation.