Natasha Barrett

Oslo-based electroacoustic musician Natasha Barrett reveals her influences – from owls and raspberries to Soundfield microphones 

Photo: Fernando Lopez Lezcano

RAVEL’S SPELLS 

“When I was very small, I used to listen to my dad’s extensive classical LP collection. I wasn’t allowed to touch them, but he would let me listen on his very nice headphones. I didn’t know it at the time but that was my first immersive sound experience. 

“One of my profound memories when I was about eight is from Ravel’s ‘L’Enfant Et Les Sortilèges’. It’s just a two-minute section, an evocation of this magical place, of spells that have been cast, with animals and plants coming to life. These sounds and imagery have somehow transferred into my music, I take care of every sound with attention to tiny details and that is also what I notice in Ravel’s orchestration.” 

GETTING IN THE ZONE 

“I often think about Tarkovsky’s film, ‘Stalker’. In particular, the scene when they travel into ‘the Zone’ which is like a constantly shifting maze where there are these sand dunes, like on a beach but indoors. A raven flies across the screen and suddenly disappears mid-flight – pop! – for no reason. It’s a fantastic, amazing scene. I try to capture this moment in so much of my work. I made a piece called ‘Zone 1’, which was inspired by ‘Stalker’, but I wasn’t happy with it. Maybe I was trying to make something as incredible as Tarkovsky’s film in a piece of music, which just wasn’t possible.”

MICROPHONES AND MIRRORS 

“I don’t have any valuable things, except in my studio, because I spend all my money on sound equipment. But I do have one of those convex mirrors that you see in some of the Dutch Masters’ paintings, that reflect the whole room. I always wanted one, and some years ago I managed to find a very old one in a second-hand shop in Paris and squeeze it through customs to bring home to Norway.

“My microphones are my most lovingly cherished items. I guess my original A-format SPS200 Soundfield microphone bought in 2007 is the one thing that I still love to use. It is an ambisonics microphone and will pick up directional sound over 360 degrees, a bit like the convex mirror. I always use it when I’m outdoors recording. You can focus on the sounds without worrying where the microphone is pointing because you get back to the studio and just correct the rotation of the sound field. You have to know a bit about ambisonics to decode it in the correct way to get the best results. When I started it was all word of mouth, test it, read a paper from the 1980s, gather your own information. Now it’s much easier to find out what you
need to know from the internet.”

THE NIGHTMARE OF HIDDEN SETTINGS

“One of the rules for me now when I’m out field recording, is to only use my own equipment. Even with the best borrowed equipment, if you don’t know how to use it properly it will end in a disaster. Once, I travelled a long way to record all day – sounds of water, animals, a donkey. I was using multiple microphones and had borrowed an eight-channel recorder because my batteries had failed. I got home and found it was all completely distorted. I did get the donkey though, who performed perfectly on cue.”

SUGARS AND ACID 

“I don’t particularly like vegetable gardening but I love raspberries, so I grow them. They don’t taste any good from the shop because they are grown too quickly and kept too long. If their flavours accumulate over a long period of time and if you eat them straight from the bush they are so tangy and sweet with a very strong and unique flavour, but about an hour after they’re picked they start to go acidic.” 

FACTORY LINE

“My first job was on the production line at a Rank Xerox plant, manufacturing photocopiers. I could assemble components really fast because I was very good with my hands, putting a cable shoe onto a cable repeatedly, all day long. I was working night shifts too. That was tough, but it was OK because I needed the money for my first cello.”

BATS OVER OWLS

“I love the sound of a night owl. I live on the edge of a forest, and in summer I leave the window open to hear owls and other night animals. I haven’t yet recorded any. Last year, I bought some sensors for recording over a long period of time – little computer circuit boards with built-in microphones. You can programme them to record for a certain period of time at particular times of day and even leave them out for a whole month. They can also capture ultrasonic sounds, so I could deploy my little recording devices and record bats over a whole season without having to stand out all night in the cold.

“But I realise there’s a big difference in the equipment bioacoustics scientists use for the data they are after and what I need. I have to make sure I’ve got really high-quality sound for my music, which is different to just having a nice owl noise.”

RISSET RHYTHMS

“I was always a bit intimidated by older composers, but when I met Jean-Claude Risset he was the most interesting, fun, cosy man you’d want to be your granddad. He created rhythmic versions of Shepard tones, where you perceive the sound as if it is speeding up forever and ever.”

FOGGY DEW

“One summer, I visited Værøy, an island off the north-west coast of Norway, with my partner. We took a small boat across the sea and went on a long hiking trip. We climbed the mountain, although we could hardly see because there was dense fog everywhere. Through the low-hanging mist, you could see the glowing refraction of the sun. When we got to the top, the fog around our feet kind of rolled over the peak and down onto the other side revealing a bright summer landscape of mountain and sea. This transition from one secret, magical place into an expansive clear vista has had a lasting impact on me and is in all my music.”

‘Heterotopia’ is released by Persistence Of Sound

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