Granny Ark Producer Michelle Irving, aka Granny Ark, has taken her passion for both experimentation and dancefloor rhythms from Vancouver to Berlin with stops in Halifax and Toronto in between. Currently parking her laptop in Vancouver’s funkified Eastside, finishing new releases for Berlin’s Zora Lanson Records, she is also completing her masters degree from Simon Fraser University – examining how performers relate to their computer as a musical instrument.
While Irving counts the west coast as a great place to produce, she maintains fundamentally no matter where you are the studio is the same, which speaks loads to where Irving spends most of her time. But for Vancouver she says it’s the openness of the audience that she really appreciates, and says there’s always a desire for something fresh. Of the coastal city she says, â€œYou can kind of go out on a limb here without too much risk.
How did you get into working with sound?
I started in Halifax. I had just bought a little suitcase of records and there were skips in the records, and I just started to fool around with that. I started doing sound collages. So I had like a collection of oddball turntables and so on. This is like 98 I guess, and then I had an opportunity to do these collages at a lounge and then after that it became more of a DJ thing, and I was deejaying there once a week.
What style of music?
It was everything because when I started I didn’t have a lot of money to go out and buy an hour’s worth of like house or techno or anything. So I had a mishmash of like Value Village kind of stuff. I bought a lot from the used bin from the one electronic store there. So I had like techno and drum and bass and hip hop. Definitely, hip hop was a big influence because at the time in Halifax hip hop was the thing. Buck 65 was there and Sixtoo and The Goods.
Were these influences?
Definitely. I think the first time I deejayed Sixtoo came up and said hey I like what you’re doing, and invited me over and gave me some records that he had. And then I would go over and see Buck 65 play and watch his scratch moves and then go home and practice that kind of thing.
Do you have a musical background?
I had always been into music. I had 9 years of classical piano and I played a couple of other instruments. Since I’d started to go to university, it had been about 3 years that I hadn’t really done much music. I just didn’t have time. Then in my last year, I started to get back into it with the turntables.
What attracted you about the turntables?
I’ve always been into sound period. When I was young I played with high-speed dubbing and stuff. So I was just curious about all the different sounds you could make with it and exploring that, and also just the way you could reconstruct narratives from different sound sources.
Did you see it as an instrument?
When did you start getting into producing?
I did actually produce a CD in 99, which I would kind of like to bury. It’s pretty nasty. It was sort of a hip-hop-style thing. I didn’t have the proper equipment to make proper tracks. It was really more of a learning experience, then I moved in 99 to Vancouver.
What drew you?
I finished university, and I just decided I needed to try something new basically, and through a process of elimination just decided to move out here. When I got here I got proper decks and I continued deejaying. I was deejaying at Clove when it was under different management. Then eventually I bought a sampler. I wanted to produce; it was just a matter of getting the right equipment. I got a sampler and somebody gave me an Atari ST4. Then over winter, I made my first project basically. Actually, the first track I made with the sampler got me a gig in Toronto and that was my first live show, which was kind of crazy.
How’d they get hold of you track in Toronto?
I knew somebody here, and I was headed there anyway, and he said you should meet my friend Neil- Naw’s on Noise Factory. So I sent an email to him and he’s like you send me a demo or whatever. So I made this track specifically to send to him actually. It had been in the works, and I sent him that and a DJ mix. And he was like, I’m organizing this show, and you should play live.
And you hadn’t done that before?
I had done a sound art version of that for Signal and Noise, but it wasn’t where I wanted it. It was pretty rudimentary. I knew I wouldn’t be able to take the Atari all the way to Toronto, so I had the sampler and the keyboard and I had to make it work, and it seemed to go ok.
Then I made the CD and sent the CD to these people in Montreal who were organizing this electronic internship thing and basically got accepted in that program, which meant I could go to Europe for three months. [To] make contacts, that was the idea, and also it just kind of supported me for 6 months.I was still loosely based in Vancouver even though I’d been moving around. I was in Europe for three months, by whatever twist of meeting people. I played a show in Berlin at the Neue Berliner Initiative, which is kind of a classic Berlin [club], it used to be illegal, back of some building where a lot of the main guys who are in minimal techno and so on used to play. Now it’s more official, but then it was still an illegal venue. So anyway, this guy booked me for this show, and when I got back to Canada he got hold of me and said I want to start a label do you want to do a release.
Were you received well as a Canadian Artist?
There were a lot of us Canadians over in Berlin that summer, and it had been you know 20 Canadians the year before through the same program. I think it was just a good experience to see what it is like over there. And I think people are open to hearing what you have to do or whatever, but they really have seen it all in a way Berlin in particular is a challenging audience that way. Then again it all depends on the night and who is organizing it.
Did Berlin influence the music you were producing?
I wasn’t really producing techno. A lot of people said it was minimal techno, I never thought of it strictly in those terms, but sure why not. It wasn’t really dancefloor stuff. It was more listening laid back.
Did the experience change your creative process?
I think I was in a really weird head space when I was over there because the winter that I made the demo was a really hard time. And so like to go to Europe at the time was oh god I’m barely holding myself together. So it’s hard to say what direct effect it had on my creative process, except that it automatically changed my way of working because I couldn’t take my Atari sampler all the way around Europe. I had to get something compact. So I got a computer, [and] that changed things quite a bit in terms of playing live, in terms of how I composed and so on.
I’m still using the computer. I had all these romantic notions about going back to the sampler more, but when you’re using a sampler it takes half an hour to get started and half an hour to save.
I mean I still have it. I’m interested in getting rid of the rack-mounted one I have and getting a compact unit because there are things the sampler does a computer doesn’t.
A different sound when you’re pitching things down or up It’s just a different way, a different. aesthetic you don’t get in the computer.
You came back to Vancouver from Europe. How did you find it?
I’m one of these people I don’t believe the hype a lot of the time. Actually for me, although there is lots of opportunity there [Europe], and tons of stuff going on, and people go to shows, and there is a lot of support, and the culture is very different in a lot of very subtle ways; as a place to work and be in the studio, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to me. So coming back was really fine in that way. The main thing for me was coming back and needing to get a job to get the money flowing again.
How were you received when you returned?
The first year it didn’t really make that much difference. The friends that knew me before were still interested in having me play, but I wasn’t going out and trying to promote myself. For some reason, I never seem to have enough time or energy to put into that sort of thing, like going to the clubs or trying to get a club night or something like that.
My friends in the community who support me were interested in what I had been up to. It was really after the record came out that I got a little more exposure in the city. It’s called Resurgo ep on Zora Lanson label out of Berlin.
Is your style of music still techno?
I did a project, an ep for Interdisco this netlabel, which is more kind of listening. There are some beats, but it is less. I don’t think you could call it minimal techno. It’s not minimal. I think it’s more melodic, kind of cinematic in a way. The stuff I’ve been working on more recently is a little more four-four. I don’t really see myself doing all four-four now or something, but I like to make people dance you know. So I’d like to release some stuff of that. I’m also working on an album that is more listening more like a mix of kind of experimental stuff, danceable, kind of groovy kind of stuff.
Me and this guy, who is on Bip Hop, Si-Cut DB, are to be working on something like a file exchange-based remix kind of thing. I’m remixing one of his tracks and he’s going to remix one of mine, and then we are going to try and find a label to release it as a split twelve-inch.
How do you find Vancouver now for an electronic producer?
It’s good. I think it is a really good place to work and to try things out on an audience that is fairly open. You can kind of go out on a limb here without too much risk. I think people are more relaxed here about that kind of thing, and in a way want to hear something that is different. They’re not as cynical I think. It depends what circles you are in, but I don’t feel a sense of competition here. Like it seems more supportive, I always got this sense that in Toronto there was quite a bit of competition … Just a different environment for that. I haven’t been there for a while so maybe it’s changed.
Do you think the west coast has a particular sound?
I think it depends what genre. I don’t think for me there is a definitive west coast sound. There is a Montreal sound.
How would you describe that?
A lot of short edit, click hop, dub, micro-house thing – offshoots of Akufen really.
I don’t think the west coast has that. I don’t even think there is necessarily even a Toronto sound. Maybe a few years ago there was a deep house kind of soulful house kind of thing going on there. In terms of techno there is an American Sound with Kit Clayton and Sea tech and those guys. I think the Canadian west coast not necessarily.
You don’t think west coast producers bring something distinctive to the global dance floor?
Maybe you could say the kind of organic thing, but I’d be reluctant to say that in absolute. No doubt they bring something unique, but it’s hard to put your finger on what that is exactly.
…The organic part, which I think is related to just the lifestyle here, more into the environment and respecting nature and just acknowledging the fact that we have nature here
[However]With the computer you are stepping outside of the straight-up electrical sounds because you can take any sound that you record in the environment and explore it. And I think you get that dimension now by using the computer. That wasn’t as easy before; you had to use tape and that was quite an obscure practice when people were doing that.
Do you work with any local label?
I havenâ€™t sent them anything, and there is really no reason for that. I’m not a person who churns out a track a week. Iâ€™m working on finishing the next record.I have an album that is supposed to come out on Andrew Duke’s Label, Cognition Audio Works, after that.
There’s been offers from labels. but I just have been waiting to have the right material for them. If a local label was really interested I wouldnâ€™t say no, if they were interested. For me to get something on vinyl is great. I’m not really picky in that way.
Is this growing place for electronica?
I think there has been some movement. When I first started producing here there wasn’t any live pa happening that was in like 2001. I know maybe guys like Ben Neville or whoever, but they weren’t really performing here but in Seattle or something. That has definitely changed and there are more producers now than there was back then.
Do you see trends in electronic music here?
In Vancouver over the last year or two definitely a move to, ambient is not the right word, but a kind of experimentation with noise and ambient sound. And in Vancouver, there has been a community of people come together around that, which I think has been really nice. And people also not just dealing with computers, but dealing with feedback and mixers and making their own noise-making machines. Not just glitch. But a lot of analogue stuff coming into the mix and a real exploration of sound and not trying to cater to a dancefloor at all. I think it’s been interesting.
Also, the lack of club scene here frees you up?
I think that’s a good kind of thing that’s been going on here. What was going on for a while were the underground parties, which were people wanted to dance and maybe have this chill-out area or whatever, but now there’s quite a number of producers, not [focused] so much on the dancefloor more focused on exploration.
Bluetech said downtempo here is treated like a full-on event; It’s very well supported. Why do you think?
I think itâ€™s the laid back… sounds cliche, but kind of has a joint, laid-back vibe. People fully value that here I guess. Even if you are not somebody who smokes.
Part of this kind of ambient sound exploration noise thing does get some kind of breakcore stuff that happens. Vancouver has a history and relationship with punk as well. I know it influences some of the experimental stuff that been going on for sure.
What about individuals you’ve noticed have been influential in the Van city music scene?
I think as far as ambient experimental scene Michael Red’s Environments Series really provided a space for some of the experimental stuff and non-dance floor-oriented stuff to kind of gain support and grow, beyond the downtempo parties. [Also people like] Team Lounge.
Blim is another venue that also started to fill a gap in terms of providing a venue for music that was never going to be supported in a club scene or even a lounge scene or an indie rock venue, you know what I mean. Those two things together have been good and also the New Forms Festival.
You’ve been involved with that?
I played two years there. It sort of put the spotlight on a different thing that is going on in Vancouver and brought in some outside acts that have been interesting. ….New Forms has got two faces. It’s got the serious academic conference side and then the kind of party-down electronic music side.
What are your future projects?
Right now, I had a remix come out on Zora Lanson. And then I’m supposed to have another ep come out on that label in October, sometime in the fall Iâ€™m supposed to have a CD album come out on Cognition Audio Works. That’s out of Halifax; it’s Andrew Duke’s label. He’s kind of an infamous guy in the techno scene. He had one of the first internet radio broadcasts going on back in the 90s. So heâ€™s connected with the early time. And then and then this collaborative project with Si-Cut db
Where is your main market when your release your music?
The Zora stuff technically isnâ€™t distributed here. It is distributed through Kompact and Hard Wax.
So to get a Granny Ark record in Vancouver, you have to import it?
You can order it through the mail through Zora Lanson directly
by Romna Wendell June 200