‘There’s the 20 year build, the point of saturation and then the inevitable rejection… And then the loop goes round again,’ says Elizabeth Walling, aka Gazelle Twin. She’s pondering the future of electronic music, and her role within in.
Elizabeth has been making music for almost as long as she can remember – her classical tuition running alongside a much more abstract creative streak.
As Gazelle Twin, her music and outward persona are lucid and tactile, although she seems to go to great lengths to obscure her vocal and physical identity.
Melodies are electronically treated, synths collide with song structures and elaborate costumes detract from her femininity.
‘The whole music industry (including the media and journalism aspects) needs a very violent shake up,’ she says.
Pushed on her strict musical manifesto, she continues: ‘I’ve even made a list of what bugs me about performing live, or the music industry, or what makes me uncomfortable about representing myself as an artist, as a female…’
Over just one album – her electronic/art-rock debut The Entire City (2011) – Elizabeth laid out her stall as a theoretically minded musician, winning high praise from The Guardian to The Quietus, and almost every music magazine in between.
With her shades of Untold, Anna Meredith and Raime, Elizabeth expanded the boundaries of the electronic LP by combining it with stark black and white videos and theatrical live shows.
Her new album Unflesh, released 22 September, should bring renewed interest to this eloquent producer, and showcase another facet to her work.
We caught up with her for our Women & Machines feature to hear more about her creative flow…
When did you first get into electronic music?
I had a little non-descript Yamaha synth when I was about 15. I used to make bleak, Portishead-inspired songs on it by recording each layer onto two cassette tapes, or I would play out soundtracks to my favourite movies. It was my humble little portal into composing.
What was it that attracted you to it?
It’s hard to say exactly. I was always drawn to synthesisers just purely out of the joy of them as objects – the buttons, the fonts, the colours, the futuristic element to them maybe. Also the freedom to make a really wide range of sounds and textures and to just play… I loved video games and sci-fi movies too, so there are many connections there.
When did you first have the urge to make your own music?
I began composing music on my Descant recorder and those same two cassette players I mentioned just now when I was about eight years old.
As Gazelle Twin you really play around with your image and your stage persona – why is that important to you?
One of the driving forces behind the project is to pursue a vision of total creative freedom, and from unfulfillment and frustration with the culture of performing live as a musician (and as a disillusioned spectator). The music I make is intense, and I decided a long time ago that I couldn’t just be ‘myself’ to represent it properly. There had to be more.
Keeping this idea at the forefront has actually become more personal and meaningful than I ever thought it would. Funnily enough, I have realised I am being closer to my true self than ever before. You’re just seeing the inside, not the outside.
It’s important to me on many levels, as an artist, as a woman, as a human, as a mind. The whole music industry (including the media and journalism aspects) needs a very violent shake up.
You’ve spoken before about your musical manifesto – how did you develop it and how rigidly do you stick to it?
Actually, only a very small part of that relates to musical elements, although I have rules about that too. I make music under different names (my own, and another name called Newt) to serve different purposes. I like that freedom. It means I can change things up a bit.
With Gazelle Twin, it began more as a set of rules for the performance and representation of the music. It’s all very lucid, instinctive and simple. I just made (and continue to make) a list of what bugs me about performing live, or the music industry, or what makes me uncomfortable about representing myself as an artist, as a female etc.
I try to think without any restrictions about what I could push and use to my advantage by rebelling against all those things. It’s easy to forget there are options with our identity that go way beyond fashion and gender. If I could transform into buildings, objects or animals I would do so too.
You come from a classical background. How does it differ from the electronic world?
I’d say the main difference is just in the performance and representation of it. There’s such a huge background tradition with classical music that makes it hard to move away from. It can very often feel a bit stale, a bit rigid. But on the other hand, so can live performances by guitar bands or synth bands etc…
I think there are also barriers for the audience too. Classical music is often very physical and emotional and it feels so frustrating to just sit still when you’re bursting with these urges. That’s why performing in clubs is good, because people can dance and move and express that. But there are still issues with both. It’s a tricky area.
You’ve been working on your new album – how was that? What’s been your impetus?
There was a long break after the first album, but it was enough to really build up a network of new ideas for a new record and to build a very new, natural sound, right a few wrongs from the last record and how I did things etc. I feel very comfortable now, with my music and my live show. But it will always morph.
Are there any women composers or musicians that have inspired or influenced you? If so, how?
I don’t consciously (and try not to) segregate the work that influences me based on the gender of the person making it. Saying that, there are certainly too few female composers, producers and artists getting recognition they deserve. We have a lot of catching up to do with recognising equality, but there’s a lot of history to overcome so I think it will take time.
Anna Meredith is very well known thank goodness, and is a fine example of a modern composer with a really excellent, very creative output which traverses both the concert halls and gig venues. She has got a great attitude towards it all too. That’s just as important as the work.
People have said that electronic music is a great leveller because it can be asexual. What do you think about that? What have your experiences been?
Funny that it should take a machine to level our prejudices rather than our own logic… But then, synthesisers and computers don’t have hormones or wage wars.
Electronics allow anyone to change their vocal identity, and that’s exciting. Laurie Anderson was pretty crucial in this idea.
But of course, there’s always the issue of being heard and respected regardless of one’s sex.
Where do you think the future of electronic music lies?
I do think it will continue to be cyclical in its trends and development, just like all other music and art movements. The 20 year build, the point of saturation and then the inevitable rejection… Then the loop goes round again.