Brooklyn based producer, singer and song-writer Ellen O recently released her mercurial 9-track electronica album You/Sonato,on the legendary BabyGrande label. The sophomore is the follow-up to her fine debut album Sparrows and Doves (2014).
Both albums evidently showcase an artist who crafts with care and integrity. This, evidently a product of Ellen O’s initial life in the classical world. It was a world that she eventually left for the creative fluidity of electronica.
With that creative freedom, Ellen O has managed to bring elegant electronica sounds influenced by hip-hop and trap. Case in point is the lead and title track from her sophomore. Ethereal, slightly esoteric sounds are punctuated by trap inspired beats while the wispy production on her vocals adds a haunting quality-it’s engaging on many levels.
#itchysilk decided to talk to the (Korean by birth) artist about, inspirations, her initial musical genesis and her use of vintage instruments for her individual sound.
I was drawn to the synthesizer. You can sculpt and explore the subtle shifts in the sound
Before delving into electronica, you were classical composer explain why you transitioned?
I lost interest in composing music in the classical “new music” world because I was turned off by the sterile academic environment. It was not inspiring being part of a community that lacks ethnic and gender diversity. I felt more inspired by writing songs and learning how to produce electronic music rather than writing scores for acoustic ensembles. Really, I think I was just burnt out of being a classical composer after studying it for 6 years. I still loved music, so I found a new way to channel it.
Did your history as a classical composer help in terms of producing electronica?
Being a composer has helped me become very aware and sensitive to the variety of timbres that you can produce with acoustic instruments. I was drawn to the synthesizer. You can sculpt and explore the subtle shifts in the sound you produce by working with different parameters like; filter, LFO, ASDR and envelope. I’ve always loved studying harmony and building chords. I used to compose by making harmonic progression charts that mapped out the duration and chords that the piece would follow before I orchestrated it out. Most of my songs similarly start with fragments of harmonic progressions.
Talk about your hip-hop inspirations in terms of producing.
I mentioned Guru because I had been listening to Gang Starr, Moment of Truth on repeat while I was making my album. Some other inspirations are Dilla ( who also used the MPC and inspired me to use it). I love trap music, especially the bass and snare sounds. I am influenced by the hi-hat patterns used in a lot of trap music and I am drawn to the ominous atmospheric synthesizer sounds.
In terms of production talk about using vintage equipment like the MPC and Juno-106.
I enjoy using hardware instruments and the physicality of hardware instruments. An old piece of gear gives me restrictions that a computer or other modern instruments wouldn’t give me. It means I approach things differently and discover things I wouldn’t have otherwise found. I decided to get an MPC because I wanted a hardware instrument that was a sampler plus a sequencer. I was also drawn to the MPC because of its use in hip-hop and footwork productions. It has been used by so many producers whom I really admire. In terms of the Juno 106-it’sability to produce lush and pillowy pads, while also being able to be very expressive and dynamic is a major draw. The chorus on the Juno is one of my favorite sounds.
Can you discuss a bit more your creative process in terms of production?
When I produce a track, I almost always start with a few chords or a progression on the synthesizer then move onto the MPC to make the beat and add other samples. The process is very layered. There’s a lot of drum and bass samples that make up the foundation of my sample collection. I am always finding and creating new samples to add to the mix. I make beats using the live performance sequencer on the MPC. One of my favorite parts of using the MPC is the 16 levels function, where you can map out a sample with a parameter like pitch or velocity over the 16 pads.
Sparrows and Doves was your debut in many ways it was a series of events that led to that debut.
Sparrows and Doves came to be when my friend Dave Ruder launched his label Gold Bolus Recordings in 2014. At this time, I had a collection of rough, unreleased demos that I had from the last 5 or so years. I had written them when I lived in Chicago. At the time I also had newer material that I had been working on. I used to just upload tracks to my Tumblr page. Dave ended up encouraging me to make them into an album.
The sophomore album, discuss the inspiration behind it and the technical challenges.
You/Sonata is a projection of personal and abstract moods and emotions related to; identity, love, melancholy and loneliness. I was trying to express different states of mind which are difficult to pinpoint and articulate. The album was recorded and mixed mostly by myself and because I am mostly self-taught it was a challenge. I enjoyed the challenge though-recording, mixing process, I like being in the studio maybe just as much as performing.
You/Sonata discuss that more.
The name of the album is a reference to the classical music form. I was working on the title track on my MPC I just randomly saved one of the sequences as “you/sonata”. The name then stuck really. I ended up liking the sound of it for the full album title. Retroactively, I think the album is like a personal sonata.