A Chat with Lucy Claire
Lucy Claire is a London-based artist who explores the intersections of classical composition, nature-based field recording, spoken word, and electronics. She is a keen observer of small sounds, as well as an incredible sonic collagist, sharing her love of active listening and layered music via traditional releases, but also through her work teaching children. I have long been a fan of her music, and this summer, LC was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions I had about her projects and processes. We played a bit of email-tag between her camping trips and my Northwest travels, but thankfully, we eventually connected. Read our chat below and listen to a few embedded tracks as well.
DC: Before we get into String Figures (LC's May release), I'd like to ask about a couple of your other projects. The first piece of music of yours that I heard was the 2019 work, Untitled 28, and I fell in love with it pretty much immediately. I am aware that the music on this album was created to accompany an installation done by Mary-Louise Jones, and I am curious if you could describe what that process was like. How do you approach collaboration with a visual artist? And sorry to make this question longer than it already is, but could you speak a bit about the final track, Kin? It's my personal favorite and I am curious about the title and inspiration behind the melody. LC: I met Marie at a gallery opening at the beginning of July 2017 and we connected right away. She had just begun working on an installation for a show in a month's time and was right at the beginning of the challenge of creating something in that short time frame. We decided to pair up for the project and that was the beginning of the coincidental theme of duality and pairs. The first part of the process was visiting Marie's studio to see the pieces she was working on and to view her process. The materials she was working with (wood, stone, and metal) play a prominent role in the soundtrack, and the sounds created when collided together were used to create unusual textures, which were then weaved into the pieces. I created a sound piece to pair with each sculpture she was working on and was inspired by duality, thinking about mutalistic and parasitic relationships in the natural world, transmissions between two receptors, wings and flight, masculinity and femininity, mirrored reflections, and connections and partnerships between people. Untitled 28 was one of the projects I am most proud of, as it was created very quickly in a intense, focused burst of creativity, and it came together quickly - there was no time for self doubt to creep in. I love working like that, with a deadline and solid themes to be inspired by. The project was featured as part of Gavin Turk and Anna Maloney’s Inside Out exhibition at Here East in July 2017, but it took me a few years to get around to releasing it on 1631 Recordings. I’m delighted that people are connecting with the music, especially Kin. It’s always good to put work out into the world, otherwise it just exists on my hard drive which feels strange and almost like it doesn’t exist. I do hope the installation gets another airing in a gallery at some point in the future! Kin, the lead track, was partnered with a short film piece that was projected on the wall of the gallery in the installation which contrasted images of materials from the natural world with industrial materials. It is the most traditionally musical of the pieces and concludes the collection, taking inspiration from all the themes and commenting on it. It includes layered vocal loops, and wisps of violin melody (beautifully played by Ioana Forna!). The piano part took me by surprise - I wasn’t originally planning on using any piano in the work but it was written very quickly and I felt it rounded off the piece and brought it all together.
DC: I also adore the Sounds of Our World project that you released earlier this year. As a teacher who is always looking for ways to incorporate sound into his classroom (and a listener who appreciates a good field recording), I just think this educational tool is so great. What inspired this project? Was it a need you saw during the pandemic, or is this something you'd been kicking around for some time? LC: I’m so pleased to hear you’ve enjoyed Sounds of Our World! Did your class enjoy it? I’m always keen to hear how people have used it with children!
*As an aside, I (Nathan) did not actually use this specific work with my students, but have used other audio tools in the past. LC's project is so cool though - check it out!
Sounds of Our World was an idea I started back in 2019 after a trip to South Africa where I’d collected loads of amazing soundscapes. I was trying to fit them into pieces of music and nothing was happening, but the group of children I was working with at the time were really poor at listening, and I began working on something to encourage active listening. Alongside my music, I work in music and arts education, delivering music technology and soundscape projects in schools, and Sounds of Our World was inspired by my experiences with children and the sounds I collected. The project was accelerated by the pandemic and the lockdown in March 2020. I suddenly had all this time and homeschooling became a big challenge for the nation. It felt like the perfect time to release an audiobook of soundscape adventures designed to take kids away from their homes to places all around the world, so I worked to finish the work and create learning resources for each piece.
DC: Speaking of pandemic projects (and switching gears to your recent release), how did you first become interested in string figures, and then how did that curiosity grow?
LC: A couple of years back my friend Alev Lenz lent me a book called String Figures and How To Make Them by Caroline F Jayne and I casually began learning them. I still have the book, I’m terrible at returning books! And the long days of the lockdown led to me revisiting it. The instructions for the figures are really complicated and the illustrations, though beautiful, were quite hard to follow, and usually spread over several pages, which is quite hard to maneuver if your hands are tied up in string! More recently I’ve used YouTube tutorials! It was quite a problematic book in a lot of ways as it is quite colonial in attitude which is troubling, but I hadn’t realized before the book that there were so many more string figures than Cat’s Cradle, and so many different ones from many diverse cultures.
DC: Maybe I should know this, but is each song title on the album named after a real string figure? If so, how do specific shapes or processes inspire your songwriting process?
LC: It was a really organic process, I would learn a figure, then write a piece of music - the two violins representing the two hands. There is also emotional weight behind each piece depending on when in the pandemic it was written. For example, The Mouse is quite playful, which reflected some of the nicer days spent in the garden, and Opening A was written on a much heavier day.
DC: And I see that you recorded String Figures outside, mostly due to COVID. Is there a reason that you chose the Black Forest as the specific location? What was it like recording there, and how did that landscape affect the final product?
LC: The Black Forest location came about because Marie Schreer, one of the violinists in Mainly Two, is from there, and her and John Garner (her husband and duet partner) were over there visiting their family. It had to be outside, as most things had to be done outside those days, and the forest lent itself well to a sheltered place for recording. I liked the idea of recording there, though, as I have had several happy holidays in the Black Forest over the years, and Marie told me when she was a child she would often play little concerts amongst the trees. I like the natural sounds that you hear in the pieces, the buzzing of bees and wasps (I wasn’t there, but Marie and John had to battle a lot with them!) and the motorcycle traffic in the distance. They are all part of the performance. It would be nice to record the pieces in a concert hall or a recording studio at some point but there are no plans at the minute.
DC: You seem to collaborate often with other artists. Is that your preferred way to work? What do you enjoy about collaboration? Are there times during which you wish to work in solitude?
LC: I really like collaborating with other artists, especially other art forms. There is so much to be inspired by, and it’s always refreshing to experiment with new processes and people. Composing can be quite an isolating experience, and the best part of creating any piece of music is always taking it to the studio and hearing it being played by musicians for the first time. It is the bit that makes the long hours on a computer worth it.
DC: Finally, now that you've released a couple of projects this year, what's next for you? What are your plans (musical or not) for the near future? Or even long-term dreams, if you'd like to share those.
LC: I’m working on a collection of pieces for clarinet, violin, and piano at the moment. The pieces are inspired by some sound trace drawings I’ve been experimenting with, and playing around with different ways of developing a melody. I guess they are variations on a theme. I’m talking to Marie about recording options at the moment, so hopefully something will be ready towards the end of the year! Long term dreams? I’m not sure. I’m trying to be more in the present and live with an openness to new possibilities and opportunities. I’m learning to trust my instincts and enjoy the slow process of creating.
Lucy Claire, by Alex Kozabolis (who also took the cover photo)
A huge thanks to Lucy Claire for agreeing to this collaboration, and for volunteering such thorough, insightful responses. You can find much of Lucy's work on her Bandcamp page linked here, and be sure to follow her socials + visit her website to learn about new projects.
And one more final note: Claire just released a song on Piano and Coffee's Realismo Mágico compilation this past Friday, which we highly recommend. You can find that album here, and listen to LC's song below.