Ola Szmidt (Photo: Suzi Corker)
Ola Szmidt is a singer-songwriter, musician, flautist and producer based in York. She is one of the Steve Reid InNovation Award winners supported by PRS Foundation For Music, mentored by Four Tet. As a multi-faceted musician her work combines vocal and instrumental improvisations with live looping techniques, and self produced electronics with sound art and song-writing. Ola’s music shifts between Scandinavian and Eastern Folk traditions, whilst including Soul, Jazz, Contemporary Classical and Ambient practices. She writes and sings in both English and her mother tongue, Polish. Awarded a bursary by the International Summer School in Dartington, Ola studied Jazz Improvisation with legendary free jazz improvisers Keith and Julie Tippett. She has previously completed a Music Technology and Performance Degree at De Montfort University, under Dr John Richards (Dirty Electronics). As a featured artist with the Emmy Award Winning company hitRECord, Ola is an ongoing contributor and collaborator. She has recently supported Braids, cellist Hildur Gudnadottir(Mum), Antipop Consortium, Maja Ratkje and Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab).
Why do you make music?
Making music makes me happy, connects me with people It helps me to define my states of mind, in situations where words are not enough. I feel lucky as when I sing or play I feel like this is my personal war against the world which sometimes overwhelms me with its sad political and economical events. Music is my best friend, meditation and it helps me to shift anxiety away and it’s the best healing therapy ever.
What music do you make?
Evocative and cinematic, a mosaic of memories, dreams, seasons, landscapes, books, sounds, scents and movies. I shift between unclassified genres. My music is intimate and fragile. I adore live improvisation and experimenting. asked my friend once and he answered: You make open hearted vulnerability, cathedral and off beat inventiveness. I think all above summarises me well.
How do you make music?
Solo and with others. When on my own, at home: My set-up is minimal as my space is limited. I do have a chair and a big pillow I can sit on and improvise: day and night. It feels intimate. I learned that I work best with no clutter around me. My songwriting tools are: Hardware looping devices, Iphone, flute, bass, electric guitar and laptop with Ableton Live and midi controller. Using my phone like a diary to instantly preserve creative DNA any ideas when I feel emotional.
How do you describe yourself (e.g. are you a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else) and why?
I’m a composer and a sound engineer. I’m minimal and I let “ inner child” into my approaches. Sound engineering skills allowing me to do a lot of work on my own, without relying on extra bodies. I love experimenting with recordings techniques, microphones and field recordings.
What is the cultural context for your work - how are you inﬂuenced by music from other cultures or the other arts?
The rhythms, patterns, scales, colours from different cultures are surrounding me and I’m influenced by them all the time. I also listen to a lot of radio stations from around the world. In my music eastern folk and Scandinavian traditions are showing the most, also medieval harmonies in live improvisation, as I sang in the choir for many years.
This is very impulsive process. I’m synesthetic and I absorb different art forms constantly - my mind is stimulated constantly by sounds, scents, temperature, shapes and colours. It’s not easy to step away and silence those visual and aural stimuli sometimes, as my soul will scream for time to relax and breath, enjoy simple daily routines like making food or spending time with my family. I separate the world of making music with time for family and being with nature. It is an important balance.
What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a musician?
Putting ego to the side and being directed by intuition and listening to “ Inner child” Being ready to work day/night. Being spontaneous. Challenging myself. Sacrifice time to practice and experiment. Not Procrastinating “ inner” voice calling out to create a piece of music. Communicative , supportive and appreciative to musicians and friends I collaborate with. Networking and marketing skills are essential in digital era. Believing in what I do - truthful, open hearted. Not being scared to step out of comfort zone and not follow the “pack” Learning new skills and trying new technology Planning ahead portable gear when touring. Finding cheapest and effective ways of creating content when promoting music via social media.
How do you use live looping in your work?
The loop station is my most precious notebook and song writing tool. It collects the melodies conveyed from my head. It’s like a flying carpet taking me to places I have never been, helping me to define my moods, experiences and what makes me laugh and cry in song form. I used to play flute in an orchestra and sang in a choir for over 10 years, so I naturally developed the internal need to create multiple layers of sounds; hence why I write my songs using live looping devices. They become my little orchestra and choir, yet all possible with just me in the room.
What is you approach to live performance?
Intimate, live looped improvisations vs songs and material which is partially pre-recorded and manipulated live on stage adding new textures. Most important instruments are: my voice, flute, Boss RC-300 and Electro-Harmonix 45000. I occasionally use iPhone, Ableton and midi controller.
How do you make music?
My music only happens when I feel warm, present, comfy and I can be a bit like a child not supervised by anybody. I feel like that in a room, in my house. It became my studio. I call it "floating", as It's not connected to any of the neighbours walls. It is tiny, full of light and enough to provide me an intimate " I'm truly on my own " space. I can go in there any time during and a day or night, whenever I feel inspired. I feel like ever time I go into that room and is hugging me. It's like mother's womb. I feel safe and I know there will be nobody who can hear me unless I decide to send sounds through monitors or I decide to improvise with somebody.