Claire Morgan: “I can’t think of many things more special than listening to someone you love play music that touches your heart”
Already as a child in Brisbane, Australia, Claire Morgan was deeply interested in music and art and animals. She used to play piano, flute/piccolo and violin for endless hours – when not doing trips to the Outback to experience nature and learning about the disposition or horses and how to train them in a non-violent way, and how they relate to humans.
Well, not that much has changed since those teenager days, she is still mostly pushed in life by these forces if not even more.
Today Claire Morgan is one of Australiaʼs successful electronic music exports, living for the past years in Berlin and is a Berghain regular. Her sets are well known for incorporating a diverse selection of electronic music and not delivering just the straight punch, not saying there are not quite many straight punchlines within her sets. One can definitely tell that she comes from a history of classical music (both listening and composing) and that her idea of Djing is much bigger than just the narrow pattered dichotomy of the Techno world (def not saying that this narrow world can’t be the biggest of them all some magic nights and days). As Claire said in another interview before so well: “I can make instinctive decisions that work, because I automatically make decisions based on music theory, and that adds power and synchronicity to programming and mixing. (…) These qualities were refined through my composing work, and they make me a better DJ. I am adaptable, can connect emotionally with a crowd through music, and I don’t crave attention or make the party about me. My only concern is the quality of my performance, connecting myself with others and taking a sweet, sweet trip together.”
Claire, when and why did you decide to move to Berlin?
I moved to Berlin in 2012 from Sydney. At the time, the Film & TV industries were struggling worldwide post-GFC. I had some meetings in London and New York with a view to move to one of those cities, but the situation was not good anywhere. I was also falling more in love with DJing, but felt a bit like a fish out of water in Australia with the music I was playing. So I threw myself in the deep end and moved to Berlin. I had been once before and had an immediate gut feeling when the plane touched down… so I followed that feeling!
Which music was the first to touch/inspire/move you?
The earliest music I heard (no doubt also in utero) would have been my mother playing piano. She is a beautiful pianist and I grew up to the sounds of her belting out virtuosic works by Lizst & Rachmaninoff.
What made it so special and standing to you?
I can’t think of many things more special than listening to someone you love play music that touches your heart.
What do you hope to find in music? Both your own and other people’s?
I personally find focus, peace and acceptance in both writing and performing music, and it allows me to identify and externalize a fairly busy internal emotional life. In other people’s music, I find escapism and the discovery of feelings and stories that are not my own. I love this, especially when the creator is communicating clearly and I can understand exactly what they are saying. This is a very beautiful thing.
You worked in the past as a composer for television and film productions. Looking back on these jobs from todays perspective, was this only work-work or would you say there was also an artistic sensibility to these kind of musical works?
It’s not possible for me to write music without any artistic sensibility. Even in the driest corporate job, I would invent a story or character so that I could immerse myself in the project and still write music that I was excited about. One of my favourite compositions was written for a pitch to the Australian Parliament for high-speed rail between Sydney and Parramatta. I went so unnecessarily over the top and blew up my new computer in the process with this crazy 112-track session, and totally loved it! You can find fun and passion anywhere with a little imagination.
What do you prefer, the secluded studio process or working in front of an audience?
At this moment, I prefer performing, but the balance between writing music from my own heart, writing music professionally for external projects and DJing is always in flux. At the beginning of my composing career, I spent five years in the studio and it became too isolating. DJing is basically the extreme opposite, but I tend to operate in extremes in all facets of life. Having now focused on DJing for about the same amount of time, I feel the balance has been restored. Next year I would like to somehow find a different balance between these three modes and be a little less extreme. See how that goes!
What is your ideal space/place to listen to music?
Definitely in a dark club with great friends and a hot soundsystem, but I also love Summer festivals and raving outdoors in the sun. My home is also my studio so it tends to be silent when I’m not working in order to rest my ears after gigs and collect my thoughts. If I am writing music, I don’t listen to anything at all because I unconsciously absorb other music too easily and get distracted from my mission. So I need silence and stillness to consolidate my ideas and keep them authentically my own. After each project is finished, it’s basically an orgy of listening to everything I can get my hands on because I’m sick of being exclusively inside my own head. So there’s some more extreme balances – purely internal vs purely external, thundering club vs silent house.
What empowers you or helps you to overcome obstacles and challenges in your work?
My biggest obstacle with DJing was severe stage fright, and for ten or so years I could only walk into a booth at least semi-drunk. Honestly, DJing in Berghain sorted me out. I was playing there one Sunday afternoon in 2017 and had some properly life-changing moments with the crowd at the end (to the strains of Djrum’s remix of Synkro “Look at Yourself”). It finally sunk in that actually we are all in this together, people are not there to nitpick and criticize (well no one that I give a shit about, anyway) and we are simply creating something beautiful – building energy, connecting with each other and celebrating being alive. So I would say a combination of time, experience and the extremely special Berghain crowd helped me overcome stage fright. I still get nervous but it’s not debilitating anymore and I definitely do not need to drink in order to perform. My best performances have all been sober.
Claire, do you see a connection between your femininity and your work?
It is difficult to respond to that without generalizing about feminine and masculine, which I don’t feel inclined or qualified to do. I don’t see any connection between my femininity and the music I write, and I don’t believe that a listener could determine my sex from the music. I do feel feminine when I DJ, not because I am being girly/sexy etc, but when I truly get something off my chest and consider the performance afterwards, I tend to view it in terms of feminine characters. I once expelled some deep rage for ten hours in Berghain and felt like Medusa, with lethal eyes and snakes flying from my head. Another time was more Glinda the Good Witch vibe, bringing only warm sounds, completing each idea carefully and keeping everyone balanced and harmonious. The character changes depending on my life at that point in time, but it’s always feminine.