Electric Indigo

Noisy Leftfield-Electronica & sublime Ambient soundscapes.

Austrian musician Susanne Kirchmayr has worked rather tirelessly over her career. Pedaling leftfield electronica for over 30 years under her Electric Indigo pseudonym, Kirchmayr has explored everything from granular synthesis to compositions for theatre, sound installations and various different strains of techno.

She has played all around the world as a live performer and DJ, and her sound design for theater works producing for multi-channel installations is gaining the attention of larger and larger audiences for its innovation.

01. Hi Susanne, thanks for accepting our invitation and please introduce yourself to our readers.

Thanks for having me! I’m a DJ, musician, producer and composer of electronic music, based in Vienna, Austria with very strong ties to Berlin. I’ve been DJing for over 30 years and I still love it. I also play live concerts, usually the music is then a lot more experimental, more on the listening side of things. In recent years I started to also create visual compositions for my live sets. If you want to know more about me, please see my website and various media channels linked from there, too: http://indigo-inc.at/

02. How did you arrive at music composition? Was it fostered at an early age or did you discover it through playing instruments at school? 

I learned piano when I was a child but I only took lessons for three years. I kind of grew into composing much later, in the 2000s. It started with improvised concerts with other musicians who come from avant-garde or new music backgrounds: Pia Palme, Jorge Sanchez-Chiong, Mia Zabelka. These common projects slowly opened the doors to another scene for me. The most prestigious work I did in this regard was a composition for and commissioned by Klangforum Wien in 2018. To write for an actual ensemble of acoustic instruments was very challenging as I have not learned to play the instruments and neither actual learned composing. It was a great excercise and also taught me a lot about the other work processes in the world of art music, orchestras, conductors, tonmeisters (there is no better English translation for this job: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonmeister) etc.

03. You worked at Hard Wax for a while in the 90’s. What’s your opinion on Hard Wax’ role as a taste maker and its influence over people in terms of what to listen or what to buy?

The Hard Wax “school” was extremely important for developing my taste in electronic music. I think its influence is still strong in a certain sphere. I just recently watched United We Stream from Hard Wax with Mark Ernestus, Arthur, Clara, DJ Pete, Elke, Jesse G and Mischa. I loved it! It’s a quite particular sound and I need more of it (again) 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCL5hgAHvYE
Record stores work like filters in general. Regular customers usually rely on recommendations, so they certainly have an influence on the customer’s taste. Especially if it’s such a legendary record store with strong links to club and sound system culture.

04. In 1998 you initiated the female:pressure database collective of female djs, composers and visual artists working in the electronic music field. What have been some positive things that have come out of this network?

I call it a database and network rather than a collective. It’s way too many artists for a collective. The network comprises almost 2600 people from 79 countries around the world.
female:pressure leads to constant learning. That’s the most amazing thing about it, I think 🙂 It’s constantly growing and adapting and we therefore now speak of “people operating in electronic music and digital arts” who make the network and who are listed in the database. I think we were able to affect the discourse in the electronic music scene. We probably made a considerable impact on the topic of (gender) diversity, in particular with our FACTS Survey series. But more importantly, the network is able to motivate, encourage and empower people from gender minorities. That makes me quite happy!

05. At what point did it become clear you could make a living from music?

I felt very confident about this when I could move to Berlin and started to work at Hard Wax in 1993. By then, I fully immersed myself in this world.

06. ”Ferrum” is a large-scale exploration of inharmonic timbres, oscillating between brutal grinding textures and intricate percussive singularities, created by digitally transforming recordings of various metallic objects. What were the key pieces of musical equipment used to make this album and is there any particular technical process you’d like to tell us about?

Similar to other works in recent years, I used some granular synthsizers: one is an iPad app called Borderlands Granular and the other one is Robert Henke’s Granulator II, a MaxForLive instrument that I like very much. For Ferrum i also used Ableton Live’s sampler and played around with the modulation option it has. My self-imposed challenge was to create all sounds of the whole album from a relatively limited pool of recordings I made from metal objects. You can also hear a lot of a new, unreleased MaxForLive audio effect I got from Robert that takes inspiration from an 1980ies French stereo pitch shifter by Publison. It can create really nice L/R back-and-forth crossing, descretely pitched loops and I loved working with it!

07. Is there any underdog event or thing that you can reveal to our readers, happened during the making of the album?

Not sure what you mean with underdog event. Something that happened and made me start to work on the album? No, not really. But when I finally had my first solo album released in 2018, I felt free to do something completely new, from scratch. While the first album 5 1 1 5 9 3 is a collection of works I did between 2012 and 2018 (or derivatives thereof), I made Ferrum within just a few months. That’s very quick for my standards 😉 I had the chance to develop the material and get to grips with it over several Ferrum concerts. That’s ideal for me, it gives me the opportunity to hear the musical material in different contextes, on various speakers and I get a better feeling for what it actually is supposed to become. The initial concert where I played the very first, very raw version of Ferrum was for Art’s Birthday at the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (https://www.artsbirthday.net) in January 2019.

08. You’ve seen the evolution in technology from using decks, and even cassettes, to the digital era. You’ve embraced all of these. How has technology informed your DJ style over the years? 

I really like the current CDJs, they are extremely powerful tools, especially when you prepare your tracks carefully and with attention to detail. I use a lot of the annotation features, artwork, descriptions, tags, cue points, intelligent playlists, playlists etc. So I now find my way around a lot more music a lot quicker. This is great! I love to layer sounds and the harmonic hints the players give me can be very useful in order to be quick and effective. The underlying DSP of these machines is remarkable. I really like to work with them! I can now, for example, play very short tracks or parts without jeopardizing the flow of the set. It’s a lot of fun to experiment with additional elements during a set in this way and there’s still a lot to explore for me!

09. You have a long history with sound and creativity, performing live in unique spaces and in unique ways that showcase your often avant-garde listening music. Any favourite venue or setting?

Yes, I feel very lucky! I think my favorite settings are rough, empty, industrial spaces, appropriated with love and attention to detail. A good and well maintained sound system is always most important for me. As well as the social context. I guess I’m into a rather paradoxal concurrence of an independent, rebellious, politically aware attitude and cultured aesthetical purism on a solid high tech basis. 😀

10. Actually every corner of the electronic music scene has been profoundly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. This is going to challenge our ways of working but we’re hopeful it will also open up a new paradigm for collaboration, understanding and long-term thinking. Do you envision any changes in the industry for the foreseeable future?

To be honest, I don’t envision any positive changes for the club scene for the time being. A lot of the infrastructure we rely on is being destroyed. It will be hard to make a living of DJing even though it prove to be the easiest way to generate income as an electronic dance music producer in the past 20 years. Not only will the number of clubs shrink, but people also won’t have as much money to spend at the door and for drinks. It looks like there will be a lot less money circulating. Another problematic aspect is the travel ban. This is a major obstacle for me. I could not depend on gigs in Austria or Vienna only. If I can’t cross borders, I’d have to move to a bigger country where I have more opportunities.
On the other hand, we might see some unexpected, experimental formats in an adventurous and creative cities like Berlin. Possibly, some economic pressure that came from the real estate sector will be relieved and physical space is always the key for emerging scenes and projects. The question still remains if anyone will be able to live of that. We will see.
The most convincing positive perspective that I came across recently is this article by Felix Stalder here: https://www.rosalux.de/en/publication/id/42057

11. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us, we greatly appreciate your courtesy.

Thank you for the great questions!


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