Amsterdam-born artist Chagall is, like her modernist namesake, very good with her hands. It helps, of course, that those hands are encased in a pair of mi.mu gloves – the wearable instrument invented by Imogen Heap and a crack team of developers. The wireless gloves uses analog bend sensors to translate the wearer’s movements and gestures into music, and can be combined with other music tech to create a truly responsive musical experience.
Chagall is one of the leading exponents of this futuristic new instrument, incorporating its potential into her slick, sensuous electronic compositions. She’s also made them into a key part of her live performances, where they can also trigger the visual imagery onstage.
Having recently released lustrous new single ‘Aroma’s Haul’ and in the process of preparing what promises to be a truly unique ‘Calibration’ tour, we thought it would be a good time to ask Chagall a few questions…
Chagall is an unusual name – should we presume your parents were big fans of the artist?
Yeah, they like Marc Chagall. I think my mum was pregnant with me when they saw a poster for a Chagall exhibition in France and then really liked the name. As a child I always wished I had a more “normal” name, you know, one that people would pronounce and spell right, but now I’m really happy with it.
What sort of music were you exposed to when you were growing up?
What I remember mostly is the classical music, I literally was in love with Mozart. But my dad’s a big fan of Van Morrison, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and my mum loves gospel and soul. So a mixed bag really!
When did you start making your own music and what was it like?
The first song I recorded was the title track for a Dutch feature film called Tirza. It was pretty minimal, very spacious and had a bluesyness to it. That suited the music I was making at the time, which wasn’t electronic – I was in an acoustic soulful pop band. In 2011 I discovered the beautiful tension electronic production could create around my voice and stuck with that way of making music ever since.
You’re one of the early adopters of mi.mu gloves – can you explain what they are and how you use them?
The mi.mu gloves are gestural controllers & musical instruments, that take the movement of your hands and turn it into any sound or effect. I use them in my show Calibration to control almost all of the electronic sounds and layers of my music and also the visual[s] react to my hand movement.
What led you to start experimenting with mi.mu, and how did you come to work for them?
I went to Reverb Festival at the Roundhouse where Kelly Snook & Adam Stark hosted a mi.mu gloves workshop. Kelly then told me they needed an extra “hand” to produce a bunch of gloves, so I started helping them out.
The nature of mi.mu means it involves a lot of expressive movement, more so than most traditional instruments. Did the techniques involved come intuitively to you, or were they something you had to work on?
They actually allow you to create a very personal music/movement relationship. I’ve never felt I’ve played music more intuitively than I do now!
Imogen Heap is the most well-known mu.mi ‘player’, but what other artist using mu.mi should we be watching out for?
Check out Lula xyz, she’s a really interesting artist and producer who started using the gloves in a theatrical sphere.
Your recent single ‘Aroma’s Haul’ is about immigration – as an immigrant yourself, how did you find moving from Amsterdam to London?
I’m not going to lie, it was pretty difficult. The scale of the two cities is so different, both geographically as well as financially. I am also very close to my family and my friends, so I was homesick a lot and in the beginning went home almost every month (you’re welcome, Easyjet). But once I found my feet, made new friends, it’s an exciting place to be. Still hard, and harder than I think “normal” life would be in Amsterdam, but hey, art is suffering isn’t it 😉
What do you think the next big development in music technology will be?
Probably something brain-wavey. You just think of the music and the computer spits it out.
Can you send us a photo of the view from your window?
Does your local area influence the music you make?
Yes definitely. I’ve moved to London because that city just breathes music and has such a powerful musical history to it. I now live in Peckham, which is the home to a crazy crossover between African and underground youth culture. It’s slowly getting pretty gentrified, but the neighbourhood is doing well I think at maintaining real, hosting cheap artist studios, parties, concerts, exhibitions etc. I live on a street with lots of Nigerian hair salons, where they throw pretty rowdy parties during the Summer blasting out the high life music. I absolutely love it (even when it’s 2am and it’s so loud I can’t hear the tv indoors) and those rhythms are slowly creeping into my own music too.
Where in the world would you most like to perform?
What’s your favourite album of all time?
That is such a mean question!! Just one? It might then have to be Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life. Just because it’s been with me in all the phases of my life. It’s a double album though, does that still count? [Hell yeah – Ed]
What’s your favourite track of 2017 so far?
I really like Bernice – ‘St. Lucia’.