Since the acclaimed duo disbanded, she has been rediscovering her muse using electronics, voice and field recordings to conjure vivid textures and environmental atmospheres.
Taking her time before releasing her solo compositions to the world, in early 2022, she issued her debut album ‘I’ll Look For You In Others’, a bittersweet ambient work documenting a period of bereavement, heartbreak and disconnect. It was swiftly followed by the brilliant ‘See-Through’, a more hopeful and joyous suite of radiant soundscapes that saw Wolf finding her way to a place of lightness that embraces life and the curiosities that it has to offer.
In a break during preparations for an upcoming North American tour, Patricia Wolf kindly took time out to chat with ELECTRICITITYCLUB.CO.UK about her creative rebirth and love of nature.
Some people who know you from SOFT METALS might be surprised at the ambient and field recordings direction you have taken, how did this come about?
In 2017 I got an invitation from my friend Gina Altamura to create a live reimagined score for a screening of Jean Cocteau’s ‘La Belle et la Bête’ as part of her series ‘Fin De Cinema’ which invites musicians to reinterpret the soundtracks of classic art films. This project inspired me to approach music differently. This is when I first started using field recordings in my work. For example, I used the sounds of a rooster crowing, an arrow being shot, the guttural chanting of a monk, wine being poured into a glass, and other sounds to add interesting audio elements alongside the music. All of the sound from the original film was cut for this performance so I wanted to try to add as much as I could within a live context to make the film more sonically interesting for the audience. I loved working with these sounds – manipulating them, using them to reinforce the drama unfolding on the screen.
While I was composing for the scenes of the film, I noticed that the music I was making was more atmospheric than my previous work, but I was happy with how it was coming out. I thought that writing music in this style would be a brief affair, but it was actually a turning point in my way of expressing myself. I had already been a listener of ambient music, but I had never tried to make music like that before. After that experience I found myself composing more and more music in an ambient/experimental style.
These are not the exact versions of what I performed live, but here are some examples of the songs that I created for the new soundtrack for ‘La Belle et la Bête’ which ended up on ‘Sotto Le Stelle’.
Had you considered a song oriented solo career because some would say that you had a strong visual presence with SOFT METALS which might have been suited to the social media environment of today? Or had you already tired of that side of the music business already?
To be honest, I was never comfortable with being in the role of ‘frontperson’, but with synthpop music I think people expect that sort of presentation especially when you are singing. I did have some fun with that persona, but it’s not something that I am interested in doing now.
My desire has always been to let people get lost in the music. I don’t want my image to be the focus. In the work that I do today I like to use nature or nature inspired imagery as much as possible. I want to draw attention to the beauty and complexity of the natural world so that people will feel inspired to appreciate and protect it. Understating my image may help others find a personal connection to the music. I do like seeing images of the artists that I admire so I am going to try to share a little bit of myself from time to time. I like to express ideas that are bigger than myself and then point to that.
How do you look back on SOFT METALS, was it all a valuable learning experience?
SOFT METALS was my first band and I have many fond memories associated with it. I did indeed learn a lot from that experience. We toured throughout North America and Europe and through those travels I learned so much more about the world. I am grateful for that and I’m so happy that I can continue to build upon those experiences with my solo project.
Is there a thread running through your current work from your past because beautiful textures and sound design were very much part of SOFT METALS’ sound.
Like you mentioned, textures and sound design are important elements of my current work. My most recent music as a solo artist better suits introspection where SOFT METALS made music better suited for social situations. You could dance and sing along if you wanted to and it was loud and active enough that people could drink and talk to their friends at a venue or party and it did not ruin the experience at all. My music now needs a much more intentional environment to be understood and appreciated, especially in the live context. It requires you to sit and listen more intentionally. I think that at some point I might make more ‘social’ music again now that the world feels more open and social, but I’ve been slow to get back to that.
There was a period of time between SOFT METALS ending and my albums coming out that I made techno for live performances supporting artists such as SILENT SERVANT and HEADLESS HORSEMAN, but I didn’t release those works. I made a lot of music that I had only performed live before the solo albums came out. I think at that time I was exploring what it meant to work alone. I suddenly had this freedom to do whatever I wanted and I also had to get used to performing alone, which was very scary at first!
One of the concerns that I had at first was that people would not be open to me working in another style of music. I decided to not let that stop me. My favourite musician is the late Ryuichi Sakamoto and one of the many things that I love about him was is open-minded approach to music and sound. He wasn’t afraid to jump from classical to pop, to sound art, to playful silly styles. If he found something interesting and inspiring he pounced on it and made something beautiful, fresh and exciting. I want to have that same freedom.
It was 2020 when you released your first ambient work in the live ‘Sotto Le Stelle’ EP that was originally part of ‘Close Up Non-Stop’ streamed performances at the Ferrara Sotto Le Stelle Festival in Italy. How was it to prepare material and perform in this remote way within the strange world that had emerged from the pandemic?
I was grateful for the opportunity to share my work and to connect with others around the world, especially during that isolating time. Previous to the lockdown I was going out to many shows each week and seeing my friends frequently.
I didn’t want to fall out of touch with people and this gave me a chance to stay connected to the music community that I love. Preparing the music was not a challenge as it was work that I had been performing live before the declaration of the pandemic. The biggest challenge was recording the video of the performance. I have little experience with video production, but I’d love to learn more about it.
You mixed synthesized sounds with field recordings on ‘Sotto Le Stelle’, what has fascinated you about capturing the aural environment?
The experience of hearing an environment with field recording equipment (mic, recorder, headphones) for the first time is unforgettable and exciting. Each subsequent experience contains that same magic. You suddenly have superhuman hearing.
It immediately draws you into the present moment. Whatever else is going on in your mind fades out and the real-time, present moment floods in and you notice the amazing world around you. What was once mundane is now spectacular! The world becomes hyperreal and it makes you question why you’re not listening to the world around you with so much attention at every conscious moment.
Field recording makes me sensitive to my environment and makes me question every sound around me, especially the anthropogenic ones that dominate the natural world. It makes me more conscious of the words that I speak and the tone and amplitude for each speaking situation. Since starting my practice of field recording I am now fascinated with the local birds. I am learning more about them and am better able to identify them by their songs and calls. It’s inspired me to take more action on environmental causes and to create a more welcoming habitat for them around my home. If I can entice listeners to draw a similar conclusion then I think there is hope that I can help people connect more deeply with the world around them.
Fast forward to 2022 and you released two albums, ‘I’ll Look For You In Others’ and ‘See-Through’ within 4 months of each other, had that been intentional?
Despite the two albums coming out closely together, they were completed about a year apart from one another. Each release was subject to the schedules of the pressing plants and that influenced when the albums were released. I can understand how it might seem that the two were made back to back, but there was about a year between them which explains why the feeling of them is so different. In retrospect I am glad that the two came out closely together because I do think it makes it easier for someone following those works to see the healing process, but at an accelerated rate.
I was in a really rough place emotionally when I wrote the first album. I was feeling lost and in unbearable emotional pain. I was trying so hard to find my way out of it. Fast forward about a year later and I was working on the material that went on to become ‘See-Through’. As you can hear, I did heal. It resulted in an album that’s much lighter and playful. At the time when I was writing ‘I’ll Look For You In Others’, I didn’t know if I’d ever feel that way again.
What did you encounter to inspire ‘Woodland Encounter’?
Nature itself. This song has a very tender feeling of love and awe which is how I feel about the natural world. The music represents the feeling I have when I’m walking in a natural environment and observe wildlife or a beautiful landscape.
Is ‘Springtime In Croatia’ autobiographical or inspired by your imagination?
It’s a bit of both. SOFT METALS played in Zagreb, Croatia in 2014 and we had a very nice experience there. Many people who came to the show met up with us the next day and took us on a tour of their city. They generously taught us about the history of their country. There was so much kindness and enthusiasm in the people that I met there. I was moved by this beautiful experience.
The field recording that is used in the song ‘Springtime In Croatia’ is by a Croatian field recordist named Ivo Vicic who indeed made that recording in the Croatian countryside during springtime. When I heard it I fell in love with the sound of the birds and water and immediately started playing along with it on my Novation Summit. The song has a romantic feeling to it which I associate with the springtime. The music has a feeling of tender love and longing. In one sense it’s representative of how it feels to me to be in love and on the other hand I wanted to say thank you to the people of Croatia for showing me such a nice time in their country by giving that song that title.
Acoustic guitar appears on ‘The Grotto’ while your voice acts as another instrument?
Yes! My brother left an acoustic guitar at my house after a visit and I decided to try to play it. I played a bit of guitar as a teenager so I knew how to tune it and how to play some chords. For years and years I have only worked with synthesizers and drum machines. I found it to be refreshing and inspiring to play so I just started layering these improvised strummings and chords. Processed through a lot of reverb and delay they had such a dreamy and romantic feel and I felt compelled to sing.
Your voice is very prominent on ‘A Conversation With My Innocence’ in an abstract manner, but do you miss singing and lyric writing?
I enjoyed the challenge of writing lyrics for songs, but I also feel like my lyrics often fall short of what I want to express. I like instrumental music for its ability to allow the meaning to be open to interpretation. Adding lyrics can restrict a song’s meaning, but if the lyrics are cleverly poetic and the song is beautifully sung it can be deeply affecting. Sometimes though, you either don’t feel comfortable saying explicitly how you feel or you can’t find the right words so music and abstract vocalisations fit better.
‘The Mechanical Age’ has this wonderful sense of space about it, yet it is very melodic?
I’m glad that you like that one. It was inspired by my research into the late 1800s Paris while I was working as a sound designer for a VR game called ‘Walking A Turtle’ by Jeremy Rotsztain. It was the era of Exposition Universelle, the introduction of the phonograph, the telephone, the mechanised world, and industrialization. With my song ‘The Mechanical Age’ I wanted to capture the sense of wonder and curiosity people must have been feeling at that time.
‘Pacific Coast Highway’ is unusual in the context of ‘See-Through’ in that it features electronic beats?
That one is an outlier on the album, isn’t it! I remember at the time I made it I was looking at my Elektron Analog RYTM thinking, “Hey old friend! I haven’t forgotten about you!”. I was thinking back on a track that I had made years before but had never recorded. I wanted to try to recreate it just for fun and ended up making this song. I liked how it turned out and it reminded me of driving on the Pacific Coast Highway.
In terms of tools, what do you prefer to use now in composition and production?
I am very dedicated to my Novation Peak and Summit which I was an official sound designer for. It’s easy for me to express myself through those instruments and I still find so much inspiration with them.
Having worked with analog equipment a lot in the past, how do VSTs work for you?
I find them to be a nice complement to working with hardware/ analog synths. I mostly use VSTs that process sounds for example GRM Tools and Sound Magic Spectral. If you’re interested in sound design I think you should be open to all the available tools. I love working with a mixture of hardware and software. I make the broad strokes with my hardware synths and then refine things further using software.
How do you find the divide between streaming and physical product as an artist today, what are the pros and cons for you? Do you think they are actually different audiences for each?
I like the convenience of being able to stream music, but as someone who wants to have a deeper understanding of the music, get to know the artist and the team that was part of the work coming into being, I prefer physical releases or digital Bandcamp releases because they often come with so much more information. I wonder how many people who listen to music mainly on streaming sites get to know the artists that they are listening to. Do they know the artists’ names, the intent behind the albums, or is it now these days for some people just about finding the right ‘vibe’ to be in the background of their lives?
Bandcamp is the main place where I discover new music and it’s much easier to learn more about an artist and their work there. I love it when you can buy the physical release of an album and there’s so much information to absorb alongside the music.
Are there any other artistic directions which you would like to pursue? Does film soundtrack work interest you?
Yes, I would love to work on film soundtracks! I have done sound design work for video games and really enjoyed it. I think that the type of music that I make would work well in films.
What’s next for you?
This May, I will be supporting the great Bonnie Prince Billy on a tour of the Pacific Northwest. I am currently in the process of setting up a different tour in the fall with some European dates. Hopefully I can make it to the UK this time around. I’ve been working on new music and hopefully I will have a new album to share with the world this fall.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Patricia Wolf
Patricia Wolf opens for Bonnie Prince Billy on the following 2023 live dates:
Victoria Capital Ballroom (10th May), Vancouver St. James Community Square (11th May), Bellingham Wild Buffalo (12th May), Portland Aladdin Theater (14th May)
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
20th April 2023