A Chat with Patricia Wolf
In the Portland, Oregon music ecosystem, Patricia Wolf is everywhere. She's an innovative musician, pushing sonic boundaries with her unique blends of electronics, field recordings, and voice. She's an artistic curator, hosting community events (when safe), posting online mixes, and promoting local shows. And though Pacific Northwesterners have known about her work for a while, Wolf is now beginning to find a wider audience.
We covered PW's enchanting Life on Smoking Mountain last spring, but since her official debut LP is out on February 4th through Past Inside the Present, we thought it might be a nice time to circle back and ask her a few questions about I'll Look For You In Others. Read our conversation below which covers Wolf's new album, but also pulls back the curtain on her process, touches on the power of grief, explores her artistic inspirations, and hints at some future projects.
*Cover photo taken by Marcus Fischer and provided by the artist.
Wolf performing at Chapel in Seattle.
DC: First off, I can hardly believe that I'll Look For You In Others is your debut album. I know you to be a pretty prolific artist here in the Portland area, so reading that fact was a bit of a surprise to me. What led you to finally release a full, album-length work?
PW: Releasing an album was always a big goal of mine, but I was intimidated by the formality of it. It’s a big statement to make and I wanted to wait until I felt like I had a well formed concept. With what I was going through and with the work I was making in response to my feelings I felt like there was a strong theme that was ready to be released in an album form.
DC: On the topic of inspiration, it sounds like a couple of very difficult, very heavy life events informed the music on I'll Look For You In Others. Grief impacts each of us differently, and every person seems to sit with grief and also work through it in their own way. How did the production of your debut album allow you to both live in and move through this difficult period in your life?
PW: I’ll Look For You In Others was made during a very dark and difficult time in my life. I was experiencing a great deal of grief and felt very alone. Losing people makes you feel more aware of your own mortality and I felt like I should try to leave at least one album behind before I pass. It had been a goal of mine for years and since I couldn’t play shows due to the pandemic, I thought maybe it was a good time to get started on an album. I hoped that working on music might take me out of my pain. The trouble was that none of the instruments, techniques, or songs that I had been working on inspired me anymore. Everything that I made I couldn’t relate to and it all felt completely foreign to me. Previously I would only use hardware to compose and process my music, but in my search for inspiration I started using the Soundmagic Spectral Suite of Audio Unit plug-ins by Michael Norris that implements real-time spectral processing of sound. I started to process some of the things that I had recorded with my synthesizers and was amazed with how it transformed my music. I found this to be very exciting and inspiring. I noticed how the tracks that I processed would transform into something completely new. It struck me that death processes our energy and matter into something new as well. It never disappears, it goes on to be a part of something else. The memories stay with the living. These new, transformed pieces seemed to tell me that those that I had lost are still here, but in a new form. That I can look for them around me in new things. I can choose to see their beauty, kindness, and strength around me. It is a comforting thought. I think this is why I am so fascinated with latent spaces within StyleGAN art. It finds connections between the input data and reveals these connections between them in the output. It probably sounds silly, but those connections make me feel less alone in the world. I hear a similar phenomenon with Spectral sound processing and with wavetable synthesis. I find interpolation to be very interesting and beautiful because of this.
DC: What familiar elements of your sound can be heard in I'll Look For You In Others, and what seems like a sonic departure from your previous work?
PW: I am still using my trusty Novation Summit, Make Noise 0-Coast, Roland Synth Plus-10, and Red Panda Particle II pedal as the main sound sources for the music. I am still very much committed to repetition, slowness, melody. I used the creative opportunity of a debut album to explore new limits to my music. My previous work was limited to what I could do in real time live with my hardware, but with this album I allowed myself to use the full range of tools that a recording studio can afford. I was able to both create layered, intentional compositions as well as blend several improvised takes over one another.
DC: And on the subject of your previous work, I've gotta say that I loved last year's Life on Smoking Mountain - a collection of Mt. St. Helens field recordings. This project was meant to be a field trip of sorts, transporting listeners to a specific landscape via sound. Do you have other field-recording based projects in the works, or was that more of a one-off opportunity?
PW: Those recordings were made for Mount St. Helens Institute to use in their virtual field trips for elementary school children. The virtual field trips give the students a 360 view of a particular area. The institute will use 30 second clips of the sounds that I recorded at each site to give the children a sense of the place. The object is to teach them about how the area recovered after the eruption. I decided that I wanted to share some longer clips with the world at large to bring awareness to the history of this place. I find it very inspiring and I hope that it gets more folks interested in learning about the natural world. I do have another album of recordings from Mt. St. Helens that I am planning to release in late February. It’s from a 2nd trip that I took out there in July 2021. The first album is from May of 2021- so those are the spring sounds. This new album will feature the summer sounds on the mountain. I managed to record some frog choruses, coyotes yipping, and a large number of hummingbirds feeding on the beautiful wildflowers that bloom there each summer.
DC: Now to zoom out a bit: what other art inspires your work? Musical, visual, literary, whatever! Anything you're currently into or anyone you wanna shout out?
PW: As mentioned before I have been fascinated with latent space StyleGAN Art for the past few years which is what led me into experimenting with real-time spectral processing of sound. I got pretty inspired by the Impressionist period of music and art while doing research for the Walking A Turtle VR project by Jeremy Rotsztain that I did sound design for. I fell more in love with Debussy, Ravel, and Satie after learning more about their lives. There are so many contemporary artists that inspire me. I try to shout them all out in the mixes that I make.
DC: What do you enjoy doing unrelated to music? How do you relax and reset? Or what do you do for plain ol' lighthearted fun?
PW: I enjoy taking photos with my digital camera and trying my hand at making music videos for myself and my friends. I have so much to learn about photography and filmmaking, but I have fun with it. I am becoming more interested in graphic design and want to learn more about it. I currently have a phobia of font menus that I’d like to conquer. Learning new skills is a good way for me to reset. To relax, I love to go on long walks and talks with friends, long walks alone, play board games with friends while listening to records and eating good food, reading, hiking, and spending quality time with my wonderful cats.
DC: And lastly, what project(s) will you be working on next? I know it's strange to ask this since you're literally just about to release an album, but I'm curious if you wanna share what else you have cooking. And somewhat related perhaps: what are you looking forward to in 2022?
PW: I have another album planned for release this year with a European label that I absolutely love. I want to keep that a bit of a mystery for now, but I will say that the mood is more light and playful on this new album. It’s a testament to having found my way to peace. I show a new side of myself, too by playing the acoustic guitar on a couple of tracks. It’s still very much an electronic album, but quite unique from what I have done before. I am very excited for it to come out.
I’m also really looking forward to offering support as a DJ at the amazing Fennesz, KMRU show coming up at Holocene on March 28th: https://www.holocene.org/event/fennesz-kmru-patricia-wolf-dj-set-21/
A big thanks to Patricia for her willingness to consider and thoughtfully respond to all of DC's prying questions, and really, for the many roles she plays in our shared online community and the local PDX scene. If you didn't catch that link in the intro, you can find I'll Look For You In Others by clicking this link. It's out February 4th on Past Inside the Present, and check out the fittingly gorgeous album artwork below.
And maybe I'll catch y'all at that Fennesz + KMRU + PW show this March! Day after Treefort though. Yeesh.