Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's lockdown listening: 'Doing handstands, that’s the time for music'

The LA ambient composer shares what she’s been listening to while upside down, from Caribou to Zimbabwean polyrhythms

I live in Los Angeles with my husband in a quiet neighbourhood that looks out on the Verdugo Hills. One of our best friends lives right behind us, so we have daily balcony conversations with them; I’m very grateful for that.

When I’m doing handstands, that’s the time for taking in other people’s music. I do a hand-balancing class almost every day, and I feel comfortable holding a handstand. Right now, my best is a minute and a half. It’s a symbol to me of the impossible, my own therapy practice about trying to break through mental constructs; there are some things I feel confident in and some things where it feels as if there’s so far to go still. In the last two years, I went through a lot of health struggles and was burned out from touring. I struggled with depression, chemical imbalances, mental fog, ulcers – a whole slew of things. Through lots of different practices those all got healed, but any time I had depression, if I just got upside down it was like an instant fix.

There’s an artist who goes under the name Green-House. I like all of their albums but I’ve been listening to one called Six Songs for Invisible Gardens. It’s not too upbeat and it feels like it provides steady movement to whatever you’re doing – it feels very light and uplifting.

Mira O’Reilly’s Hockets for Two Voices is really beautiful. It’s just voice and it’s a study of hockets, which is like passing parts between voices. It has an energy that is really evocative – like it’s opening up a novel thinking space while I’m training.

Another one is Danzindan​-​Pojidon by Inoyama Land. It has a very fantastical sound, so it helps me feel something magical is about to happen. I’m always looking for music that isn’t going to get stuck in my head, that’s just going to assist movement. Upbeat 4/4 rhythms are super challenging for me – not that I don’t appreciate them, but it just doesn’t work for my thinking pattern; I’m looking for music that feels as if it’s moving you forward in a steady motion. I also listen to a lot of mbira music from Zimbabwe, which I find on a website called mbira.org – you can’t really find it on streaming sites. My brain really responds well to polyrhythms and the site is where I learn the most about complex polyrhythms and melody stacking.

I love Caribou’s new album – though I don’t listen to that type of music on a daily basis, because things get stuck in my head really easily. I’m very connected to internal listening; that’s how I write music. So if I have things that are stuck in my head then it can be really challenging – I have to do exercises to get it out.

Right now I am spending time teaching creativity consultations online during the lockdown, focusing on teaching people how to create music. Sometimes people feel really blocked creatively and we work through that, or sometimes I do sessions where I guide people through their subconscious. I have remixes and commissions to work on, too, and I’m doing livestreams for fun. I’m also writing a book on somatic hearing, which is about the experience of receiving sound and the frequencies felt in the bones and in the muscular system. My husband and I started a label imprint called Touch the Plants and we have a book and tape combo coming that’s a collaboration between the poet Rob Moss Wilson and my husband, who goes under the name Cool Maritime. It’s like tiny pieces of wisdom, tiny poems over ambient soundscapes.

I’ve also been watching Leaving Records’ livestreams on Saturdays, and I have a lot of friends who will go live on Instagram, spur of the moment. Each one feels so special and so helpful. I haven’t felt lonely during this lockdown.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s album The Mosaic of Transformation is released on 15 May on Ghostly International


Interview by Chal Ravens

The GuardianTramp

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