An interview with the ambient artist Motion Sickness of Time Travel
photo by Anne Yarbrough
Having released more than 60 full-length albums in the last 9 years under the Motion Sickness of Time Travel name, Rachel Evans is an important composer for any serious listener of ambient sounds. Besides that, she’s very active in the studio, composing new songs on a regular basis, she has her own label and she collaborates with her husband under the moniker “Quiet Evenings” on their home label called Adversary Electronics. She’s highly passionate in what she does, almost treating her synthesizers like human beings. Rachel studied and holds a dual degree in Art and Music and she likes to use her own voice as an instrument. She found the time to answer some of my questions, as I’m a passionate listener of her works and aesthetic principles.
| Since your debut in 2009 you released no less then 64 full-length albums, according to Discogs. What is your (I presume daily) routine in composing and recording?
It surprises most people familiar with my discography that I have never been a daily recording artist. Most of my recorded solo work is accomplished in a few sittings in one day. I enjoy recording moments in time and do not do too much editing. When I am working on new tracks I layer textures on top of one another, recording to myself until I feel a piece is complete. The Ballades for example were each recorded in a single long-form take on the day or evening of a full moon. I do not like to spend too much time going back over any given piece of music. I'd rather move on, and improve the next time around. Part of this has been out of necessity, and now that this has been my method for years it has become natural to me. Even in years where I released numerous albums I would record at the most perhaps once or twice a month. The only exception in recent memory was Equilibrium which was a daily exercise for myself to record a track a day for a month. That was tiresome indeed! I was a new mom and I really needed to commit myself at the time to short but achievable goals like that with my music after having taken longer breaks from recording.
| Apart from split releases with Nova Scotian Arms, Listening Mirror, Aloonaluna or Spiid, what are your favourite artists these days? Any collaborative album in the works?
My latest release was with my husband Grant Evans under the name Quiet Evenings, a collaborative project we've been recording as since 2009. We just released a new work earlier this year, Espions. Other than Quiet Evenings, my most recent collaboration was with close friend and multi-instrumentalist Leslie Grove under the name Lock. Together, Leslie and I, released a cassette and took part in a 4 way split release which included recordings from our duo's live performance. This year I look forward to working on more Quiet Evenings recordings with Grant. We have also discussed releasing a compilation album in 2018 which will feature many of our solo and collaborative projects.
| What are your favorite sources of inspiration? You seem to be heavily inspired by mythology, astrology, philosophy, science-fiction and esoteric or magic, judging by the titles of your works and the atmospheres you generate.
Most of my inspiration these days comes from my environment and whatever literature I am reading at the time. My daily life is constantly inspiring me, from the scenery where I live, to the space where I work, to the mood of my loved ones at home. Our son has been a constant inspiration since before his birth and continues to enchant and mystify me daily. For more than ten years now I have worked in libraries, mainly academic, and lived mostly in rural areas. I believe those types of settings are highly influential on the types of atmospheres present in much of my work.
| What are your musical influences or personal heroes of electronic music? What drove you to start composing, in the first place?
For as long as I can recall I have been a fan of Eric Satie and Steve Reich. When I was first immersing myself in cassette music I was drawn to Chubby Wolf and Celer. Lately I have been regularly listening to lots of Bjork, Aphex Twin, Derniere Volonte, Martial Canterel, Belle & Sebastian and Of the Wand and the Moon, and second-hand listening to Coil via Grant. I always enjoy Cluster and Rodelius. It's a little all over the place. I remember loving making recordings even when I was very young; I have an early memory of singing and playing piano into my first tiny pink boom box onto a blank cassette. I was probably age 5 or 6 at the time. I started piano lessons at age 4 and remember it always being a battle, even throughout college, with "wasting" practice time writing music rather than working on assignments like perfecting scales or orchestration projects. Needless to say I never really succeeded in mastering any single instrument. I always shifted from one to another. I have continued to return to keys though, and find I enjoy playing with synthesizers (even those lacking keys) most out of all the instruments I have dabbled with.
| What are your favorite synths and why? Do you prefer modulars to build your own patches and sounds?
I have never worked with a truly modular synthesizer. I would love to someday but that process can be a pricey habit. Early on when I was listening to lots of computer music I enjoyed experimenting with building my own patches using applications like Pure Data and Max/MSP, but it has been many years since I have created new ones or used those in recordings. These days I prefer small, portable and practical synthesizers. I like that they are affordable, and although we have a large dedicated studio space at home, I still find myself most comfortable recording late at night in the bedroom floor with an instrument that fits either in my lap or better yet in the palm of my hand. I like the visual appeal of oversized synth systems, but they are just not practical for me. I prefer to sit with a couple small synths I can plug directly into my laptop's built-in input. Even better if they are battery operated and don't need a power outlet. I'm a big Korg fan and have gravitated to more of their instruments than any other manufacturer. My newest synth is the Monologue, and I have kept a tiny Monotron and Mini Kaossilator nearby for many years now. I also have a solid analog synth box that I love for adding thick textures called a Sound Lab MFOS. And my absolute favorite current synth is the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-14 Sub. It is incredibly rich sounding and powerful to be so compact and affordable. I still regularly return to my classic Microkorg for getting pad-like sounds. It's always good to have at least one polyphonic synth in the rotation to help fill out a piece. For a very long time I enjoyed a Dave Smith MOPHO but last year I decided to give the Monologue a shot and haven't regretted that decision. I prefer the sensitivity of the Monologue knobs. My MOPHO knobs always felt a little "jumpy" when I really needed it to be subtler, and the weight of the MOPHO made it uncomfortable for my late night recordings, whereas the Monologue is lightweight enough (and battery operated) so that I can hold it and not be tethered to the wall or any furniture.
| Does your music transcend you into a state of otherworldly trance? I use to listen and get into higher states of consciousness while listening to Ballades, Seeping Through the Veil of Unconsciousness or Abditive Abature, for example: it works for me!
Otherworldly-ness is a bit of an exaggeration for me personally, but it is certainly a form of relaxation and meditation. It is always refreshing to make time for recording and, at least temporarily, forget the stresses of daily life. I can focus more inwardly and give myself a chance to resonate with the feelings and thoughts that don't always reach the surface except through the experience of immersing oneself in music.
| Your latest album, "The Circuit" is more danceable than previous ones and it almost lacks your voice, apart from the beautifully crafted "Love song" and "Dissipating". Why is that? Do you still "try to make your voice become the synthesizer"?
I do still see my voice as one of the instruments and try to use it in such a way as to be another instrument alongside the synthesizers I am utilizing. Though I personally feel that my voice is resurfacing on The Circuit. In the past it has been more prominent (especially on my earlier releases) but the last year or two I have intentionally removed it from my palette. I would like to bring it back more so in my forthcoming recordings. As mentioned previously, I tend to record in the evening after my loved ones are settled in for the night and recording vocals is a more complicated set up than the nearly silent direct-in recording sessions I have grown accustomed to these last three years.
| What is your favorite recording medium?
I am more fond of cassettes than any other medium. They have been so very affordable to produce whether it is at home or through a duplication plant. Even in small numbers they can be practical. They are also nostalgic for me. I was born in '88 so I grew up listening to more cassettes than anything else. My family were slow adopters of technology and it took a very long time for me to get my first CD player. That being said, I am increasingly fond of Compact Discs. With the resurgence of cassettes, CDs are now slightly more affordable for small artists like myself, and with some creative packaging even a CD-R can become a collectable art object. Vinyl records will always hold a special place in my family's music collection, but they are sadly just not cost-effective for smaller artists or imprints. The minimum quantity for production is a deal breaker for most imprints since even artists with a fairly large listener base can find it difficult to sell enough copies to break even on record manufacturing. The cost of duplication and increasing postage has been a large factor in our own imprint decisions. In recent years we have greatly scaled back the amount of released and we opened a more personal label, Adversary, which we keep limited to our own musical endeavors.
| What's your opinion on music piracy? Almost all your work is to be found online. Hard to find, but available...
I am of the mind that it is a losing battle for artists to expect to be compensated for all their work by every individual. The digital era has changed the landscape of music dissemination and ownership. If people like your music they can and will steal it. With this in mind I prefer not to hunt down sites or individuals that put my work up illegally. In general I am just happy that people are enjoying it. Serious fans of any work will purchase physical releases and hold onto them in their collections. I would also encourage other artists to adopt Creative Commons licenses. I prefer using these licenses for all of my music so that people hopefully know that I am not against others sharing or transforming my work as long as I receive credit for the original. Although the internet today can seem to be working against many artists, that same technology which has transformed the business side of music for the worse has also enabled a host of amateur artists to create and share more music than ever before. It isn't all a bad thing, and only time will tell if laws governing music piracy will catch up to the technology and the artists using it.
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