What is your background?
I have a diverse background, I studied musicology and theatre. I was also singing classical and jazz. I actually didn’t really know what to do when I was around 20, but then I found this one-year course in music technology. It is important to say that I have been always interested in dance, theatre and visual arts. Something interdisciplinary. When I started music technology it opened up a world that was closer to what I was looking for, working more open with sound since I was not the producer type, but preferred more working with sound collages.
What brought you to the field of music technology?
I guess my motivation was to be in control of the microphone and sound when I was singing. We had a workshop with Maja Ratkje, I remember her as a super inspiring person. It was overwhelming the way she was talking about what she did and how she used sound, the playfulness she stood for as a performer and composer. I just asked her if I could have some vocal lessons. And I had. She lived in Oslo but was quite often in Trondheim. It was her that woke my interest in going deeper in working with sound and composing. I’m not originally from Trondheim, I’m from an Island in the west coast, I moved here to study, then to Oslo and then we moved back to Trondheim with my kids and family last year for the PhD, right before lockdown.
What are your experiences being a woman in the music technology field?
I would say it is very positive for me, I had Maja Ratkje as a mentor. So, it was an easier way in, she is very generous. When I moved to Oslo she was like ‘ ah you have to meet this and this person’ - very inclusive to introduce you to people. I don’t know if everyone has that kind of experience but as a student here, we only had male teachers. But I never felt that was a problem, they were very encouraging. I never felt there is a difference. We were three or four girls in that year, and I didn’t have any experience of being treated differently. Of course, you always have that experience that people want to help you and explain things. I think also some men get those explanations from sound technicians, to tell you how to set up your stuff. I see that there are some challenges, that there are too few teachers, but I’m crossing fingers that there are applying some new people in Oslo and Trondheim. I hope there will be some female teachers, for some students I think it is very important to have a role model you can identify with. Students told me when I had workshops here that they wanted to continue because they saw that it was possible to have a family and be a woman at work with this. Then again, I was inspired by Maja Ratkje the same way, although I can say that it doesn’t matter, I think it matters more than I might realise.
She has been your role model then.
She was one of them I would say, there are Hilde Sofie Tafjord, she played with. I got to know them at the same time. Tone Åse, in Trondheim, I always loved her way of singing and the way she was using electronics when I lived here. There were quite a few using it, but she did it in the most outstanding way that I experienced. Artists like Jana Winderen. By accident she was my neighbour, we were sound nerding in the corner of our house when she was there, she is a huge internationally known artists and was travelling all the time. But when she was there, I tried to grab her and talk. She is also very generous, sharing and talking about her work. There is Ewa Jacobsson, she is a visual artist and sound artist and composer, working in between different fields, which is inspiring. And of course, younger musicians like Hilde Marie Holsen that I’m playing with which is also very fun to play together with.
You can watch the latest piece from the collaboration with the Swedish light artist Evelina Dembacke «Den varme pusten på ruta» by Gyrid Nordal Kaldestad in the video below.
Please introduce more closely your current piece of work.
I have this PhD going on, the title of it is very open, it is called “What is in between - to compose a room”. I try to work with different ways of composing the room with lights, contact speakers/ transducers. And try to balance the acoustic and the pre-recorded and the live electronics. This is something I’m working on right now; I’m going to have a pre-production next week with a guitar player (Are Lothe Kolbeinsen). I have done some recordings that I will play through guitars and some that I will play as an ambience. I will work with different layers of closeness and distance; I call it electro-acoustic chamber music. I want it to be close like in a chamber setting. I don’t use a huge number of speakers, now I have eight. I will try to work with the listening and how I can create different perception spaces in the room. The lights that I use is more to create an atmosphere, or set the room, this is something I learned from working with theatre and dance. I have been working a lot with dancers and visual theatre where sound and lights are treated equally on stage. I’m taking it into my research, although lights are not my discipline, I think I can include it into a way of thinking composition. It is inspiring to see that a lot of composers are working with it now, because of its availability. Playing with perception is the keyword. I must see how it develops, but I’m happy that I can work with those musicians next week. When you work with sound you can always do something on your own, it is a luxury to be able to work alone. The research will consist of concerts and installations. The idea in the beginning was to have this blurriness between the audience and musicians. But it is not possible now because of Covid, so I just have to work around it and see how it develops.
What are the technologies you use?
The music technology is not always at the front of my work, rather behind the scenes. It is there but not very present or interactive or visible. I use contact mics and transducers a lot. I build them myself, a lot of soldering of course. I did some research where I build objects for the musicians, using contact mics. I don’t do that so much in my research now, maybe I will, but then I had to and now I know how to do it. It is nice that every project gets you to learn something that you might need later. I would not sit down and solder a contact mic if I wouldn’t need it for something, a workshop or a piece. The process creates the urge to learn. I use ProTools a lot to edit and record, I also try to learn Reaper which is much cheaper and very good. But I tend to go back to ProTools to just work faster. Then I also revisited MaxMsp last year, just to be able to use it in installations and for live gigs. I had some courses, but if you don’t use it you just forget it all. It was good to come back to it and not be afraid to use it again. And Ableton live was good also because I worked so much in theatre, when I started Ableton was quite new and I didn’t learn it until 2012 when I had to learn it. And I asked myself why I didn’t do this before. Just pressing buttons can be a bit boring as well, when I do live gigs, I always have variable parameters. When I work with dancers I never have like push and play, I either work with the volumes or effects or other tools to create more of a live feeling. In theatre and dance I always work with people who like to have this more open approach, where there is space for accidents and chances.
What advice would you give to women who are interested in pursuing a career in music technology?
Just do it! And do it your way, which is important. Because I was stressed out by all these knowledges that I didn’t have, and I didn’t feel the urge to have. Like in programming languages, in reading about every effect box in the world. I don’t know if that is a male/female thing but I’m not like that, as I said I’m learning something when I’m using it in a project if I’m motivated to learn it, that is one possible approach. Don’t be afraid of using pre-made things or ask for help. It took me 10 years to realise that I can just ask one of my friends that is an amazing programmer, to program for me or help, telling me how to do it. I can pay or have a trading that we sometimes do. Some of my best male colleagues just share all the time, sending patches. The threshold for asking should be lower, just don’t feel stupid, men feel stupid as well they just don’t tell. If you want to study, there are some great master’s program in Trondheim and at the Music Academy in Oslo for those in Norway. Just see what is out there and start. It is good to be in a network like WoNoMute, Nuts and Bolts etc. to get to know other people working in this field. I think that is the best advice. Don’t be afraid to do it your way, there is no right and wrong.
Do you have a final comment?
I think to be generous and share to others and to yourself. To ask and get advice or help. Because most people are helpful when it comes to nerdy stuff. Of course, when you live in Norway, even now everything is close, usually you can go to Notam and get to know people. You don’t have to follow a master’s degree in music technology, it is just one way. There are a lot of composers and artists using music technology in their pieces. It depends on the possibilities you have, your focus. I think that is my last word.
This interview was conducted online on April 20, 2021
- Gyrid Nordal Kaldestad on Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/gyrid