Interview: Gel

While it’s possible to draw lines of connection between the music of Copenhagen’s Karis Zidore and her work as a dancer – the soft sense of timing, the spontaneous tumbles of reflex – one can also see how these pieces explore the opportunities of immaterial presence. By processing micro-sampled extracts of her voice and past music, Gel is liberated from the limits of tendons and asynchronous limbs: hi-hats free to ricochet through expanding spaces, voices free to subdivide into choirs of self, rhythms generated from the artificial alternation of on and off. The body disappears and reappears. 

Gel’s debut record is titled Drama Tools, and it’s out now on cassette and download via NESM. Below, Gel and I discuss late-night living room sessions, bodily dependency and the potential of slow production.

There’s a note on the Bandcamp page for Drama Tools that states: “yes, it’s dance music and yet it wants to maintain the messiness of the body; crooked, natural and out of sync. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the body from the music” This led me to contemplate how, to my ears, much of what we call “dance music” sheds the awkwardness and asymmetry of the body. What is it that interests you about imbuing dance music with, as you call it, the “messiness of the body”?

I think that “the messiness of the body” isn’t something I’ve been deliberately researching, but somehow Drama Tools has turned out to be an investigation in and around beats. When I make music I like to keep it quite intuitive and sensitive. To me, constructing and de-constructing beats and rhythms fits in to that, being playful and having a quite direct bodily affect on me.

How did you bring this bodily “messiness” into the music, in terms of how you constructed it? Many of those electronic beats sound un-quantised, as though they were played rather than programmed…

First of all I don’t work with the grid, except for one track on the album. For the rest, I either played it on my MIDI controller or recorded loops of samples, that go in and out of sync, and then cut out sections and build up beats like that. All of my tracks are made of pre-recorded samples that I recorded up to five years ago on my computer microphone (I guess that also adds to the messiness in the music).

Similarly, the record is rife with samples that feel as though they’ve been chopped out of a completely different context. Sometimes there’s a beautiful “awkwardness” to the way in which they sit within the music, as if they’re pushing back against their own placement. Where did you derive your samples from, and was there any particular line of thinking that informed your approach to the use of sampling?

So as mentioned above, most of the sounds on Drama Tools are samples I have recorded in my old living room, on my computer microphone, some of them almost five years ago. I had a small organ that I would play around with, which is why there is organ quite a few times on the record. All the vocal samples on the album are also by me. Almost all these samples have been through a sampler and morphed quite a lot though. So yes, I guess you can say that it has been chopped out of a very different context – what feels like a very private sphere for me.

I guess I used these particular samples because they are personal to me. They tell stories for myself about a very specific time in my life. I enjoy how these samples can trigger sensations and feelings even just by appearing for a second. And then I enjoy the friction that appears between these very personal and intimate samples and then some fragmented out-of-sync beats. I guess that’s also where the awkwardness, you mention, appears. I definitely tend to like to break any order of composition I build up for my self. I think this unpredictability is quite fun to work with.

One of my favourite moments on the record is actually in the final few seconds. There’s this brief burst of a slow, 4/4 beat with some garbled keyboards and singing. I don’t suppose you could tell me about where this particular sample came from?

Thanks a lot, I am happy that you like it. These last few seconds are quite a mashup of different old samples, but the vocals are from a song I made about four years ago in one of the late night living-rooms sessions I mentioned earlier. The other sounds are from another old song that I have since put through the sampler and slowed down.

You started making music just over five years back. What did your early experiences with music look like, and how has your relationship with music composition developed over the last five years?

I have always remained as “ignorant” as possible about how things actually work for as long as possible. By that I mean that I really enjoyed the weird solutions I came up with when I didn’t know how to do something in Ableton for example. This affected how it sounded, I guess (maybe the awkwardness also comes from that). I guess some years in, I started to feel the need to get more tools, and I learned a bit more about the technical stuff.

I think in the beginning, I was dealing more with writing actual songs, also recording a lot from the organ and singing. The last year or two, I have been more interested in playing around with the material of the sound. The layers and frictions of sounds, rhythms and compositions.

These days I am really interested in making songs that I really feel. Music is really the perfect material to transmit emotional affect.

How do the disciplines of dance and music co-exist in your life? The press material seems to indicate that they form a sort of counterbalance, with the solitude of creating music polarised with the social nature of contemporary dance. Is that the case?

I guess in the beginning of my making music that was the case. I used it as a sort of zoning in after long days of working in big groups. Now I don’t think about it in that binary sense. What I enjoy about making music though, is the material of sound and also actually the fact that a composition can exist without me after it is made. What I mean by that is, that when dealing with dance and choreography, a piece of art is dependent on your presence, and the material is the body. I think that has so much great potential, but personally I enjoy that it is not always about the body, but also about another materiality. At least that felt quite liberating for me.

It seems very apparent that your experiences in dance have informed your approach to music, but does the influence flow the other way too? Have your experiences in composing music informed the way you think about dance?

To be honest, I haven’t really given this much thought. As a dancer I work in a collective of 11 artists called Danseatelier in Copenhagen. We function as a support structure and artistic family for each other in a quite precarious field/world. We deal a lot with how artistic work is organized and situated. Definetely the meeting with the timeliness of music production has made me aware of the potentials within both fields. I would also say that the solitude process of producing Drama Tools, which has lasted over many years, has reminded me of the potential of slow producing. This is not something that is often seen (or time for) within dance and choreography, where the project logic is highly dominating. I would love to integrate my slow-producing skills in to my dancing.

Are there any plans to perform Drama Tools live? Given the themes of this record, I’d be intrigued to know how you would enact this material in a performance context.

I’ve had my first show performing Drama Tools less than a week ago, in a venue called Mayhem in Copenhagen. This time I used my Ableton Push pad, and deconstructed the tracks into loops and sections and played around with it in a partly improvised structure. This worked quite well, and I really enjoyed playing the music loud.

Is there a particular environment (time of day, room, state of mind etc) that works best for you when creating your music?

I work very well at home, preferably in my pyjamas. I like to work late at night, when it feels like everyone else is sleeping (along with self-criticality). As mentioned earlier I really enjoy the intimate solitude of producing music. So I guess I usually produce music when I am in need of that state. Which also means I work more when there are some emotions or at least a need for zoning in. For me, producing music is hanging out with myself and my state of being at that moment.

Can you tell me about an album or artist that has really captured your attention recently?

I just saw a show with danish composer Astrid Sonne a few weeks ago, that was so beautiful and inspiring. Her new album Human Lines is really great.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I have a few concerts coming up in Copenhagen and Berlin throughout the spring, and I will be working with my collective Danseatelier. The next thing for us, besides continuing taking good care of ourselves and each other, is showing a few of our performances at the Copenhagen art festival Alt_Cph this May.