Patti Yang - The Master of Sound and Silence
By Carin Chea
In a time and world that is way too fast and far too loud, musical artist Patti Yang is a welcomed oasis of tranquility.
Born into an artists' enclave, and often touring with her father's punk rock band when she was a child, Yang's origins and life blood are truly in creative expression.
Her upcoming album, War on Love, can be described as "dreamy desert music," but really, Yang's work is best described as undefinable.
Being in Yang's presence, I was quickly overcome by a sense of "everything will be all right because everything is already right."
A musical artist who appreciates silence as much as sound, Yang's work is introspective as much as it is about physical landscapes. Patti Yang doesn't make music. She creates soundscapes for you to dive into.
I normally start off by asking something along the lines of "have you always been an artist?" but it seems that you have truly been an artist since inception.
That's a wonderful way to look at it. I was born into a family of artists, so very early on, I was taught to have quite an independent outlook on life and carve my own path. I didn't imagine doing anything else than rolling out the carpet and expressing and communicating.
I actually wanted to be a sound engineer first. I had pretty technical ambitions, but I was really bad at science. However, I was fascinated with sounds, and I've always had this perception of sound as very complex.
And then, I went from that to theatre whilst also painting all the time. Then I started writing when I was 14. That's when the floodgates opened and it all came together.
Well, in all seriousness, was there a moment in your childhood when you realized that you were going to be a musician in your own right?
Definitely my father was a very huge inspiration for me just because of how courageous he was, carrying on his work despite the conditions of the time, the censorship. He had this strange kind of "catch me if you can" vibe which reflected in his success because people needed the freedom that was encoded in his lyrics. That told me that there was power in metaphors and in sounds.
Every time I collaborate with someone, I learn something new, which is why I moved here [to the Mojave Desert]. It was the idea of exploring silence, because there are so few places you can have that with your windows open.
I also had a few years long stint in New York. I'd come back from the city in shock from the amount of noise that humans create. I'd look at people's windows thinking: "I can't believe you live here and you accept this," but they do.
If you ever wore earplugs for a week, you'd be amazed at the world that would open. In London, I'd sometimes wear earplugs on the subway for days on end, until everything was much more magnified. It's a way to get to know yourself because you have to look into your inner sound. When you take the earplugs out, you have a much more powerful life experience.
As a musical artist, who do you look up to? Who or what are your inspirations?
I had a really curious and open heart to any new music that came my way. There were artists who specifically touched the really sensitive strings in me, more than others. There are a wide variety of people, from classical music like Arvo Part (he's an avant garde classical composer). He utilizes silence.
Also, there are modern, contemporary people like David Bowie. Also, Kate Bush and people like Laurie Anderson for whom art and music were always crossing over, and of course Lou Reed. I love Metal Machine Music.
When you were 16, you left your native Poland and landed in London where you created your first solo album. Tell us about that experience.
That was an unforgettable time. I happened to have the incredible luck of landing in London at a titular time for music.
I remember those evenings when I'd come home and every place that I walked past would play the most cutting-edge electronica at the time, and you'd have these fabulous artists hanging out in the clubs. Everything was really fresh and experimental.
That was the time when Bjork was in London and exploring as well. Massive Attack was also doing very fresh things as was Autechre, and the entire Warp label. Electronic music was experiencing a truly blossoming moment. I was in music college and everything was in this incredible colorful spin of freedom.
London was an eccentric blend of the world at the time. Being 16 and having the freedom to do whatever I wanted really helped.
You make reference to a life-changing experience that happened to you in 2012, which prompted your move to the Mojave Desert in California. Are you comfortable sharing a bit of this experience, and how that has affected your current music?
I was working a lot. I was very stressed. I basically ran my own record label in London and that would entail everything, from art direction, writing, recording and keeping the band together. I tried to hold it all in place and stay very, very focused.
But then, I had a real health scare. I ended up at the ER and I needed a very involved surgery. The diagnosis was pretty gloomy, but I already decided: "If I'm going to work 12 hours a day on stuff that I love, I might as well do it somewhere sunny," so I started heading to the desert.
That health scare ended up in a major surgery. They said to me, "You have to take it easy for 6 months," and I said, "That's not possible. I have a ticket for me and my dog to Joshua Tree." I was supposed to go through extensive rehabilitation.
But, just a month later, I moved to California. I defied them. I got an old house and renovated it. Just the idea of putting your boots on and doing it - it was very symbolic of the time. I wanted a house that was not in town and as far from people as possible.
Tell us about your most recent album War on Love. How would you describe your music these days?
That seems to always be the hardest question.
It was a really long journey. It wasn't meant to be experimental in the sense that I perceive my heroes and teachers to be. I needed to use the formulas that are still familiar to me by heart. I still wanted to record songs with lyrics that would sound the way my experiences felt. In that sense I feel it's pretty traditional.
We did try to stay away from references, meaning it's not easily classifiable or quantifiable. It also has a strong city element to it. Part of it was born in London and in Brooklyn. But, when I hear it being described as dreamy desert music, I can't help but smile.
Here in Joshua Tree, I met Nicolas Vernhes, whose main place of work was Brooklyn. He evokes his sounds in his very unique way. Nicolas, who oversaw the production and the final mix, has this unique and beautiful way of treating sound so that it feels like a soundscape journey. It needs to sound like you want to swim in it.
Something you said strikes me as very profound: "The further I extract myself from the life I knew, the deeper my understanding of the creative process grows, until my sense of time and space sinks in the sand and the album itself no longer matters." Do you feel that a part of creating art is largely dependent on letting go and surrendering to the process?
Absolutely. I don't know what it's like for other people because there are various and different types of artistic disciplines. For me, it starts with an idea to make an album.
From there, you have to determine what's worth sharing. It can't just be all about me. What I do can actually be useful for other people.
Through time, something changed. I could no longer set myself a date of when I would finish this record and release it. The more involved I was in the process of creating, the more I realized that it was the process that would take me to the end result.
I really wanted to make sure that I leave my ego out of my work, clear my mind. I dared myself to curate my own feed of information. That's why I felt the need to disconnect, I didn't want social media to be the fuel or the trash for my mind.
A very important part of this process is to come back to a state where you are in charge. So, whether it's silence through your earplugs or listening to specific types of music, or you decide to read a book - it's up to you what your feed is. The more you curate it, the less toxic it is. It comes down to you.
We have such an amazing heritage of books and culture. The world will be fine if you select your news. I also dabbled in solitude in general to force myself to look within instead.
Are there any upcoming projects you'd like our readers to know about?
I won't be touring this album. We wanted to achieve a type of sound that is actually really difficult to play live without an orchestra of musicians or electronics. I didn't want to create a show that was made of that.
This is the type of record that is meant to be shared on headphones.
If you had to choose one television show for your music to be the theme song to, what show would it be?
I don't have the answer to that. I don't watch TV. I have a vast collection of art house films on DVD. I purposely collect DVDs so that I can be off the grid.
Is there a way for our readers to keep up to date on your work?
Not really, sorry. My record is on Spotify though. It comes out on November 22.
You heard it yourself! Find Patti Yang's War on Love on Spotify because it will be awesome!
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