Darwin: Okay. Today, I get a chance to talk to somebody that I reached out based on a PR slip that I got from my friends over Modularfield Records. They sent out a notice about a new release coming from Rachel Palmer, and I got a chance to hear one of the preview tracks and was into it. And so I reached out to them, and they set up this interview with Rachel. I also got a preview of the whole album, which is really quite stunning. So, I'm anxious to talk to Rachel about this. So, with no further ado, let's talk to her. Hey, Rachel, how are you?
Rachel Palmer: Hey, I'm doing well. How are you?
Darwin: All right. Hey, thanks a lot for taking the time. This is actually the day after election. So, I think everybody's got a little edge to their voice, so hopefully I don't sound like I'm ready to rip out of control, but I'm just kind of barely holding it together. So I apologize ahead of time.
Rachel: Yeah. Likewise, we've been following the election since 6:00 this morning over here, which was, I think 11:00 PM or midnight over there and...
Darwin: Right. That's when it just started getting exciting - or not depending on your perspective, I guess. So anyway, thanks a lot for joining. Why don't we start this off by having you just fill us in a little bit about your work. I knew of you primarily as a visual artist prior to this release, but why don't you talk about both your visual work and this musical work.
Rachel: Sure. So I actually, I've been musical basically my entire life. And since I was very, very young, my mother began teaching me how to play piano, and then I didn't like the structure of the way that she was teaching it to me, so I decided like, "No, no, no, no, I'll teach myself." And it kind of rolled from there. So, it started with piano and then humming little tunes, and then I started playing acoustic guitar, and then doing the singer songwriter thing at open mic nights, at coffee shops and all that fun stuff as a teenager. And then slowly got into electronic music. So I was making just ambient, whatever kind of experimental electronic music with... I had a digital Roland workstation, with eight tracks on it that recorded on zip disks.
And just a random Yamaha keyboard, and then we had an actual piano in our home as well. So, I would record certain things and then play them back and loop them, distort them and all of that. So, I think the creativity came at a young age, but yeah, going into the visual aspect of things, when I was living in Minneapolis, there was a point where got into the house and techno scene, I thought, "Man, this music sounds so cool." Because I hadn't really heard of it, and I really connected with it. So I tried to mimic it and I tried to force myself into creating this techno house, whatever style of music and it became so frustrating because I lost the therapeutic aspect of being able to compose. It became more of work, and then it was like disappointment, because I couldn't make it sound good, at least from my perception. And so, I got so fed up with trying to write music that didn't fit that I said, "Screw this, I'm not writing anymore." But I wanted to stay creatively active, because I kind of lose my mind if I don't have that creative outlet. So I thought, visuals aren't really that predominant in the house and techno scene, so I thought it would be cool to learn how to do that, and I Googled it and found a couple of programs and six months later I was creating visuals and it kind of just took off from there.
Darwin: Wow. That's wild. That's actually really interesting too, that it kind of stemmed out of the house and techno scene here in Minneapolis. I mean Minneapolis was kind of a hotbed, over the years, for some of that. That's really cool. So then, but you're not in Minneapolis anymore, so... Otherwise, I would have seen you.
Rachel: Yeah, that's true. So for a handful of years, I think it was 2000 and... I don't remember when it was, but for two, three, four years, I was doing visuals at techno warehouse parties and was the technical, but not really technical, visual crew member of System, which is a local record label, there in Minneapolis. And, so we would do all night warehouse, techno parties, and I would do one off shows here and there. So I was really embedded in that scene, but only visually because I couldn't make it musically.
Darwin: Interesting. It's actually really kind of refreshing to hear you say that because, the fact of the matters is, I think a lot of people just kind of make this assumption that techno it's formulaic, as long as you follow the rules and follow the grid, you're going to be fine, you're going to make a great track and it'll... And it, like anything, really requires kind of that personal voice. And it's interesting that you weren't able to find that. Now, this newest release, Antecedent, is truly electronic, not techno per se, but I mean, it has some of the kind of Berlin-ish minimalist kind of sound to it, while being pretty unique as well. What allowed you to kind of get back into it, and kind of re-embrace doing electronic music?
Rachel: Well, that's kind of the whole reason for naming the album Antecedent, because it means something that has existed before or one thing that logically precedes another. And in 2018, I met the love of my life, who you know and who have interviewed before Marco Petracca, also known as HHNOI. He says hi, by the way.
So we actually met on Instagram, of all places, and he liked my visual art, and I liked his music and we kind of built a relationship off of that. I mean, within that same year, I ended up moving overseas because he was "the one" and with finding that love and with finding a true sense of home and belonging, and experiencing new culture of moving to Germany, that really reinvigorated my inspiration to continue writing music. So, that's basically where the music took hold again.
Darwin: That's cool. That's really wild. And, I know that I had seen the visuals that you had done for Marco's work, which were really quite beautiful. Are you planning on doing any kind of visual work to go in conjunction with this release?
Rachel: Absolutely. Yeah. I actually, on October 30th, released the first single from the album, along with a music video of my visuals as well.
And there's a booklet, that's also coming out with the, specifically on Bandcamp, with the purchase of the vinyl bundle. And it's an A4, 28-page booklet that has notes about my process and all of that, but it also includes some of my artwork. And then a few of the printed artworks can be viewed in virtual reality, which is really cool. All you need is a smartphone and then you download an app, all the information is in the booklet itself. And then you can actually see the pictures come alive through the application.
Darwin: That sounds amazing. How did you get tied into that? That seems like a... I mean, it seems natural, but at the same time it seems like kind of a technological reach too. So...
Rachel: Yeah. Well I'm not really sure, how I got into that, it might've just been some other visual artist that I've been following for a while, they did some virtual reality posting somewhere and I thought, "Wow, that's awesome. Let's look into that."
Darwin: Did you do it yourself or did you have someone else work it up for you?
Rachel: No, I did it myself. The application, it's called Artevice and they just basically host the images and the videos that the artist provides. But the visuals that I created... Yeah, I don't know, I've always really enjoyed digging into different software applications and kind of messing with all the parameters and see if I can create something cool, maybe in an unconventional way. And so, the visuals I actually make with an application called Quartz Composer. You've heard of it?
Darwin: Oh yeah, the Apple thing. Yes.
Rachel: Yeah. But obviously it's meant for making screensavers or for animating applications. So, I'm kind of using it in a different way than what it's intended for.
Darwin: Misusing it usefully. That is cool.
Rachel: But it's no longer supported by Apple, so I'm stuck in the dark ages. I can't update my computer or I'll lose half of my work.
Darwin: That's unreal. Well, I have a bunch of questions already, but before we get into it, one of the things that I like finding out about people, is a little bit about their background and you kind of talked a little bit about it in regards to music making, but I'm kind of interested in maybe going into a little more depth. It sounds like you were kind of put in the piano lessons and kind of found your own way, and you are kind of put into the rave scene and then you found your own way. I'm a little curious about, what in your background kind of led to that? And also, what were the events, or who were the people that maybe opened your ears and opened your mind to electronic music? Some of your stuff is kind of on the edge of experimental sounding, but some is very are also cinematic and I'm just wondering, where are some of those influences come from? Because you clearly, what you're doing now, is a long shot away from 'singer songwriter in a cafe'. So I'm kind of curious, what are the influences that got you to where you are at now?
Rachel: Well at a very young, well, not very young, but at a young age I was introduced to Aphex Twin. So, that was it a very...
Darwin: That will do it.
Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. And another name that comes to mind is John Brion, he wrote the soundtrack for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I really enjoyed the cinematic value that, that music created. It created a moment that you could even just listen to, and have a feeling from it. And as for finding my own way, it could be related to, I'm the youngest of five, so grew up in a pretty large family, but of course being the youngest, you're kind of just following in everybody else's footsteps. So, maybe it gave me a little bit more ambition to find different things for myself.
Darwin: To map own route. That's really interesting. Now, you said that as you kind of developed your video or your visual skills, you started working with System here in Minneapolis, as well as just doing your own gigs. Let's talk a little bit about your development as a visual artist, because the fact of the matter is, there is no clear map for how you become sort of a live visual artist. Some people come at it from music and then just find... I always joke that, if you know both music and video, you'll almost never get asked to do audio gigs and everyone will only ask you to do visuals for their gigs. Right?
Darwin: There's a lot of people that... So, there is sort of more draw for visual art because it's rare, but also it requires a lot of... There's a lot of digging you have to do before it becomes obvious that it's a gigable thing. How did you spin up to speed on that?
Rachel: Well, luckily I was already friends with people within the scene in Minneapolis and they were very supportive of me just even tinkering around with the first couple of visuals I made. So I was able to, luckily, already be in the scene and be welcomed and be able to try out different things on a large scale, like certain venues in Minneapolis. So, I think that was pretty much luck and circumstance, that I was able to really push myself in the visual aspect.
Darwin: Did you go to school? Or did you have any training in visual design? Or was it all just kind of your own inspiration?
Rachel: No, I don't have any classic training, I essentially learned how to create visuals by watching tutorials and then also joining a Facebook group where I could ask silly questions and yeah, and all the super nerds who were into Quartz Composer would be like, "Oh, I totally know this answer." And it was really, really helpful. And then I got to the point where I could answer those questions and I was really feeling like, "Yeah, I'm amazing at this." Like, "I know what I'm talking about."
Darwin: Right. Well, but then it has to also then make you feel like a little bummed given that Quartz Composer has been kind of shelved by Apple. I mean, that's, I guess if your art is like playing guitar, you don't have to worry about the world stopping and saying, "Oh, we're not making guitars anymore." Right?
Rachel: Yeah exactly.
Darwin: But when you're software focused, that is a real potential problem, isn't it?
Rachel: Yeah, it absolutely is. And, I know that there are applications that I could use, like Processing or Touch Designer, I can move onto those platforms at some point, but I don't know - I'm just really comfortable with Quartz and I really like the way it feels. So, I'm stuck using software from 2015. We'll see how far it gets me.
Darwin: It's a little bit heartbreaking because it's... And especially with the electronic arts in general, there's this kind of whole history of kind of the sadness of stuff becoming unavailable. I, for a while, I spent some time around Woody and Steina Vasulka who were doing early video art things. And I actually worked with Corey Metcalf, we worked on redoing some of the software that she hadn't been able... There were compositions she hadn't been able to do for 15 years because the software or the hardware pieces didn't exist anymore. And she literally couldn't perform them because they were dependent on the hardware and software. And it was really horrifying to see that. And while we were able to get something that worked and allowed her to do the compositions, each time you make a transition to new software, new hardware, it changes a little bit. Nothing is exactly equivalent. And so you lose something in that translation.
Rachel: Yeah. It kind of feels like holding everything together with duct tape. It will hold, but not forever.
Darwin: Well, at some point you're going to be kind of waylaid just because you're not going to... All of a sudden nobody's going to be able to deal with a signal that's not an 8K signal, and you can't produce that anymore because the software was never intended to be able to handle that.
Rachel: Yeah. Change is inevitable, I guess.
Darwin: Change is inevitable. Well, one of the things that's interesting to me, and probably this is what's going to be the saving grace for you, is that just listening to your story, both your story of music and the story of these visuals, what it's like, is that your whole operational aesthetic is like, "I'm just going to get something and play with it until it works for me." You seem to be totally unafraid to just dive in the middle of something.
Rachel: Yeah. I'd say that's true, although I hate the anticipation before doing so. Maybe that's also why I'm staying with Quartz Composer because I just, I'm too anxious to start something else.
Darwin: Right, right. So, when you do it, do you ever fill your head with pre-knowledge like - this is the thing that I do, and I think I actually get in trouble for it sometimes, is I imagine I'm going to do something, so I watch a million YouTube videos, or I'll read a book, or I'll read a bunch of articles about it and I get myself ramped up to it, then I try it and I'm like, "Oh, I kind of stunk."
Rachel: Yeah. It's funny you say that because that's what I was doing when I was trying to write techno and house music, I was trying... I had a vision and I wanted to create that. Whereas with my visual art and with my latest music, it's purely just... I'm going to start with one little thing and then I'm going to push it to make it bigger and better just based on messing with the parameters, just to see what happens.
Darwin: Right. Let's talk a little bit about your release, because I think it's a beautiful piece of work. What's interesting to me is, first of all, I can hear Marco's influence on it. When I first heard it, I was like, "Oh yeah, that makes sense, this is on the Modularfield's Label." And then I happen to note that you have a hyphenated name. I was like, "Oh, I get it, she's tied in to Marco." And that made a lot of sense just from a sonic aspect of it. But it's also very different and there's one thing I especially noticed, and I wanted to dive into this as a sort of a conceptual pattern.
So there's nine tracks on this album, I found it interesting that in each one of them, kind of the sonic space was different. And this is something that is like very... It's different from what I normally hear people do. Normally when I hear people, they put out a release, there's this sonic mileau that everything sits in. And generally it's certain kinds of effects, combinations, or often it's really, especially a certain reverb effect that just fills the background and is very peculiar for everything in the whole release. I noticed that each one of these tracks has... I mean, right from the beginning, it establishes its own kind of sonic place. And I'm wondering if that was intentional or if it just happened because of the way that you happen to assemble these pieces, or if it is just the way you work, because, what it strikes me, is that you're matching the sound to that piece rather than having some kind of overall song that is "your sound". Right? Do you see what am getting at?
Rachel: Yeah, yeah. I think, I think I understand. How they all kind of have, maybe it's my signature sound, I guess. But yet each track can stand on its own... is that kind of what you mean?
Darwin: Yeah. So I would say, for example, all of them have kind of this cinematic quality, I think a lot of that comes from the choice of the sounds that you use, and how you layer them, but, for example, the third track, Riot, has this really deep and spatial reverb. I mean, it's sonically beautiful and it just sounds like multiple reverbs layered on each other, something like that. Right? But another like Accretion, is much more focused and close and again, the layering and the note selection and the sound selection, locks it into being part of this release, but it's a completely different sonic environment. It's really interesting. And in some cases, that would be jarring, but because you have other connecting bits, somehow that difference in background environment is really kind of refreshing.
Rachel: Well, thank you. That's definitely not intentional. I think it's, I mean, my process is basically starting with a sample or a sound and then really just tweaking it and pushing it to become something that I find interesting. So I mean, I could take the samples from anything or anywhere, and just mess with all the parameters to try to create something beautiful to me and so maybe that's why they all have a different sonic space, yet they all sound the same. Because my, like you said, my note selection is similar.
Darwin: Sure. Where do you get the sample material from? Are you out doing field recordings some stuff like that? Or are you surfing the web? Or...
Rachel: Sometimes it's online, just various samples here and there, but the majority of them actually come from Reason 11. I write all of my music in Propelleheads Reason 11, and a lot of the samples are just preset samples that come with it.
Darwin: That's amazing. I wouldn't have guessed that in a million years. I think some of it is, again... There's so much orientation in music making of like, "This music comes from this tool using this formula in this way."" Right? And I would say your music definitely does not, to me, like "Reason music", but you're probably happy to hear that, but it's also, it's interesting because when I think of using Reason for this kind of stuff, it makes a lot of sense because your access to a lot of different effects, processes and stuff like that would give you the ability to really change up the environment of the sound a lot.
Rachel: Yeah. So, one of the songs that I'm working on now, I actually use a sample of a drill at a dentist's office, but I've tweaked it so much that it sounds like a voice in the distance.
Darwin: And so, what are you using for the sample manipulation, which of the Reason devices gives you that kind of flexibility?
Rachel: Basically, any of them. I kind of will just run through a handful of samples and, or even a sample of patches and if I hear even a small piece of the sound that sounds interesting, then I just go with it.
Darwin: Now, one of the things I notice is, just now, when you were talking about developing music, you said, a song that I'm working on and I'll tell you, it's interesting, first of all, because you have a songwriting background that kind of way of talking about music is still there. But also when we're talking originally about why you came back to electronic music, you sort of talked about... I don't know, you talked about how this came about, because you were experiencing love and you were experiencing a move to Germany, which is a new cultural change. And you had opened the door for you to get back into writing, into music again. I find that really interesting because again, what it strikes me, and maybe this is something to that is why I connected to your release so much, it seems like you have very much an emotional connection. I think a lot of times when people are making electronic music, they're coming at it from either some sort of technical concept or something like that. It almost sounds to me like you're taking a lot of what you learned as sort of a traditional songwriter and are using some of that to bring an emotional and personal context to this electronic stuff that is kind of rare.
Rachel: Yeah. I think that's exactly what it is, especially because I use writing music as more of a therapeutic creative outlet.
Darwin: Right. So how long does it take you to do a track? When you're working on a song, is it something that happens really quickly for you, or is it kind of a painstaking and drawn out process?
Rachel: Well, it really depends. Sometimes I could write a track in a day, other times I have tracks that are sitting in a folder for three months, and then I don't look at it for half a year and come back to it and finish it.
Darwin: Well, one of the things I often ask people, especially people who have done work that I really appreciate is, how do you know when the track's done then? It's a thing that is really hard for a lot of people and it's deadly for me, is saying that, "Okay, this is done, this is my work." It's really hard to pull that trigger, it seems.
Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I can even listen to the tracks on my release and think, "Oh, I should have changed that or that noise doesn't cut out at the right time." Or it's not faded equally enough, it's too jarring. Yeah. So, I don't know if my music is ever really completed, but it gets to a point where I've listened to it and tweaked it again and again, and again, probably I don't know, 20 different times. And then mixing down and listening again and then mastering listening again and, "Oh, this is too high and that's too low." And so at some point I get tired of it and say, "Fine, it's done. Whatever."
Darwin: Sure. Now, are you planning on doing any live performance to back this up? I mean, it's kind of hard right now, given that we're all going into lockdown mode again, but I mean, do you have imaginings of doing live performance to support the music?
Rachel: Yeah, I would love to, and actually I have one performance under my belt. It was a Modularfield's showcase live stream. It was in either June or July. So it was in a venue on a stage, but no audience just cameras. So, that was a really interesting experience. Not having the audience feedback. And another thing that's, I guess something that I need to work on is, I don't really have a formula for playing music live, at least not electronic music live.
Darwin: Yeah. That's what I was going to ask, because again, working in Reason and stuff, that's very much a studio practice. And I was wondering how that transfers then, into live performance.
Rachel: Yeah. I'm wondering that too. So I have the live visual aspect down and I guess I'm searching for a way to at least be able to play a few notes or the baseline on a keyboard and that while maintaining live visuals as well, so that I have like a piece of both, but I'm still working on that.
Darwin: Right. I would imagine that it's difficult, especially since for you, the visual component is going to be really important. It's not a tack-on, it's literally... It's a big part of your artistic recognition too. So that it's important for it to be top notch. That's got to be hard. I don't envy you trying to juggle that all at once. Have you tried collaborating with anybody on that?
Rachel: With my music?
Darwin: Yeah, or just with like, I mean, have you ever worked with anyone where someone else is doing visuals or have you always managed the visuals yourself?
Rachel: Oh. I've always done the visuals. I don't think I... I wouldn't want to trust anyone.
Darwin: You can turn the... See, you nailed exactly what I was wondering, given that you've been doing visuals for so long, could you ever trust it in someone else's hands?
Rachel: No, probably not. Not if I'm showcasing my work, I would want it to be a specific way. I'm very stubborn in that.
Darwin: That's hilarious. That's funny. So, again, I had seen you do visuals for Marco's work, I saw some stuff that was online. Have you done any other work with other artists where basically you were providing visuals for their YouTube videos or whatever? Have you done much of that?
Rachel: Here and there. Every once in a great while, but since I've moved towards trying to build my own audio visual performance and work, then it makes it more difficult for me to try to put time into somebody else's project.
Darwin: Well, especially, so this... We talked about working on the music and how long does it take or how long does it take to craft a track, but working with visuals is a little bit different because what you're kind of doing is you're kind of building a tool box or some conceptual things that you end up using in real time. It's a little different of a thing and I... How long does it take you to develop a visual component that's useful? I would think that, that's not something that you just pop off in a day.
Rachel: No, no, definitely not. My visual performances - it's basically one set that I've continued adding and changing over years. So, it's really... I don't really make that many newer visuals these days, I'm more so just building off of what I've created in the past, which brings new visuals in itself, just with the same guts, I guess.
Darwin: Got it. And then do you use a MIDI controller or something like that, to do hands-on or is everything done off of the screen?
Rachel: Well, I would love to use a controller, but I haven't found anything that has really worked for me. So I'm using my keyboard, and a mouse, unfortunately.
Darwin: Jeez wow. Man, that further makes it difficult, I think, to try and make it, so you're going to be juggling that and music at the same time. It's really quite amazing. Unfortunately, our time is just about up, but before we go, I'm just wondering, what have you got in the pipeline? You talked about already kind of working on some new tracks. Are you working on a next release already? Are you working on some new visual magic maybe trying out some new software? What's on the laboratory bench for you?
Rachel: Well, I'm definitely continuing to write more music, because it's kind of very much flowing out of me, like a waterfall at the moment. So, I'm going to keep riding that until it dries up, I guess. And yeah, I'm just really looking forward to the lockdown and pandemic to kind of subside so I can get back up on stage, not only just to get back on the stage, obviously I would love the world to be at peace and lives to be saved, but I'm really missing the onstage presence and performing really.
Darwin: Yeah. Performing and seeing performances. I miss so badly watching other people's work and being influenced by others as well. That's such a great point. For people that are interested in learning more about your work, both your visual and your audio stuff, what's the best direction to send them?
Rachel: Well, I update my Instagram account most often. My username is _RachelPalmer.
Darwin: Okay, great. And then the release is on Modularfield Records on the 27th of November, correct?
Rachel: Absolutely. Although, it has nothing to do with Black Friday.
Darwin: Sure. That's what everybody says. That's awesome, you said that there's going to be a vinyl release that includes a booklet, right?
Rachel: Yes. Yep. And that's the same release, but it's only if you purchase the bundle on Bandcamp.
Darwin: Right. Okay. Fantastic. Well, Rachel, I want to thank you for having this talk. It was really fabulous to get to know more about your work and your process. I'm looking forward to more releases, again, I'm a huge fan of Antecedent and I look forward to more. I also look forward to more opportunities to see your visual work as well.
Rachel: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me.
Copyright 2013-2020 by Darwin Grosse. All right reserved.