Loula Yorke: Good Vibrations

With her improvised, hardware-only sonic collages, composer and modular specialist Loula Yorke has become a live performer of high repute

To watch Loula Yorke at work testing out patches in her Cottage Studio, you’d think her modular practice had been a constant stream of undulating harmonic bliss filling out well-lit spaces. Framed by flowers in her rural Suffolk setting, Yorke’s elegant experiments capture that strange synergy between the unpredictable flow of a densely configured modular rig and the marvel of an ecosystem and its myriad patterns.

Currently refining the patches for her next album, ‘Volta’, Yorke is in a steady evolution from more chaotic endeavours. You only need to track back through her Instagram feed to earlier studio set-ups to see tables groaning with super-sized vintage synths like the Yamaha CS-60 and the fibrous forest that grows from untamed quarter-inch jack cables.

“I guess my old releases were ‘experimental DIY punk Loula’,” Yorke muses. “Now I’ve entered my kind of ‘luxury Loula’ phase.”

Before her solo releases, Yorke and her partner Dave Stitch were playing darkened corners of Glastonbury in 2016, on an array of outboard boxes as live rave duo TR-33N. When they called time on the project, they already had enough modules for a small Eurorack rig, which they housed in a hollowed-out log. One modest rig soon turned into a collection of instruments they dubbed the “Innalogs”. Around the same time, Yorke’s ElecTribe ESX-1 bit the dust, which was the final push into modular abandon.

“When I decided to make music on my own, I had no option but to learn to use the Eurorack as it was what was to hand,” she explains. “There’s definitely a sense of mysterious allure about modular for me. When I was first getting into it all, I loved the look and feel of these funny wooden creatures with wire sticking out all over the place.

“Beyond that, I loved the absolute heft of the sound I was getting from them, and the fact I didn’t have to write riffs because the Turing Machine did all that. I could take an unexpected turn and end up in places I couldn’t have mapped out if I’d tried.”

Music Thing’s Turing Machine is one of the most popular DIY module kits of all time – an affordable random sequencer which can throw out patterns and send you off on a journey into the reeds of your patch. For a long time, this and a modest array of other modules housed in her trademark logs were all Yorke needed to perform gigs and develop her practice.

The progression in her sound can be charted through her discography, with the first three albums emerging from her initial log-based set-up. The errant experimental frequencies of ‘YSMYSMYSM’ and scratchy techno punk of ‘LDOLS’ are the sound of an artist testing limits, but it was with 2022’s ‘Florescence’ that Yorke reached a transition point in her approach.

“I experimented with different modules on ‘Florescence’,” she says. “But I still relied on the Turing Machine and a quantiser as a source of pitch information. I came to understand that I wanted to have a crack at composing some music that was in some way fixed or repeatable, so I’ve bought a sequencer and spent literally months programming in the information to make ‘Volta’.”

Sharing her progress online and bringing a refreshing honesty to her daily wrangles with patch cables, Yorke’s story as an artist is relatable in a way that’s rare for the mysterious world of modular synthesis. In the process, she’s yielding many-sided music which refines exponentially over time.

For more, see loulayorke.bandcamp.com

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