Blevin Blectum – free and different, ever-shifting
Before flying over to Europe for atour to present her new Blevin Blectum solo album “OMNII”, Bevin Kelley was so kind to answer an endless amount of questions by Thomas Venker about her upcoming as an artist, the daily challenge to produce music and make a living and of course the creation of her awesome album.
Bevin, do you remember the first music that touched you and stayed with you? And why so?
Bevin Kelley: Yes. Wendy Carlos, Switched on Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major – First Movement, when I was about 8 years old, at a dinner party at my parent’s friends’ house. It was something new and wondrous, and it lit a spark. I loved it, and my mom thought it was blasphemous. Runners up: Jim Copp and Ed Brown records, ZBS Media Jack Flanders radio plays.
Are you able to point out the moment you started to think about creating music yourself?
I thought about it since that Brandenburg moment, but was not encouraged (sometimes actively discouraged) to do so. I didn’t know how to actually proceed until I was about 19, when I got access to the college/community radio station WOBC-FM in Oberlin, Ohio. I had a radio show, which included the key to the studio-B production area.
You went to Mills College, where you met your Blectum from Blechdom partner Kristin Erickson (Kevin Blechdom). Colleges like Mills are these days under extreme financial pressure as the whole university world is more and more a business joint venture and less of what it should be: a free field for young people to explore sciences and arts and by that come up with new ideas. Do you feel that you could have found your path for life without going to Mills?
Yes! But it all would have turned out very differently! Sadly the Mills Center for Computer Music, as it was, no longer exists…. it was sold / absorbed by Northeastern.
And what is it that you learned there that sticked most with you?
Fun and curiosity and the joy of collaborating with like-minded and un-like-minded people exploring sound.
Bevin, you studied once upon a time violin. Do you feel that this more classical musical part of your education led you later on working on electronic music with a different approach than artists who do not have that training?
If so what was the impact?
I was pushed hard by my family to be a violinist. I’m sure that what I do electronically is influenced by the violin underpinnings, but I haven’t actually played violin in many years. I played in youth orchestras growing up and got to play a lot of Mahler then, which I loved, and in string quartets at Oberlin, which I also love. There are definitely those kernels at work in what I do, subconsciously mostly, deep old absorption.
Your album comes by the title „OMNII“. What is this about?
The album, as I was working on it, became a wordless space opera dream vision, and I was thinking about a title for it, as it was almost complete. I decided to choose a book, open random pages and point without looking, and see what results popped up. Omni popped up. The book I used to randomize was an autobiography of Rudy Rucker, sci fi writer. He was describing a time when he was almost but not published in Omni magazine. And so I used it and added an extra ‘i’ at the end.
You self position the album as a sci-fi fantasy adventure and refer to movies like „Barbarella“, „The Beast in Space“, and „Planet of the Vampires“. How do I have to imagine the artistic space you create for yourself when you work on music?
Well, I didn’t write that blurb, Brian at Deathbomb did 🙂 but it works for me. Me and my younger brother (Michael Kelley aka electronic musician Kelley Polar) have always read/devoured a lot of sci fi / watched a lot of sci fi. I make music because it’s a strong low-level drive to process and create and channel energy. I admire the universe.
Do you follow a certain routine when working on music or is the process rather free and every time different?
Free and different 🙂 ever-shifting
Can you describe what you search in musical texture?
I’m sure that there’s some drawn-bow string-instrument underlying my love of buzzy layered textured sounds. I like velvety rounded sine-ish sounds too. I like crackly dirty partial transmissions, and finessed atmospherics. I like textures that are urgent and compelling.
As you refer to soundtracks primarily I wonder which ones had in the past a bigger impact on you and why so?
Carl Sagan’s Cosmos soundtrack, the Vangelis parts especially. I saw the series on tv as a 10 year old and found it both exhilarating and terrifying in turns.
What is your favorite soundtrack from like the last two years and why?
Maybe this counts as a guilty pleasure but I really liked some of the more electronic/orchestral music in the “Mandalorian” tv series. Also in love with the opening music for the tv series “Succession” – something over the top and dramatic and wonky and damning in it, brilliant.
How important is humor for you as a musician as well as human being in general?
Very important! while also being deadly serious about the enterprise of creation, but simultaneously engaged with chaos and tangled up in wonder and messy dissolving
One big topic for Kaput are reflections of the economic environments off and for artists. As someone who started off in the 90s I saw the rise and kinda fall of independent music structures. I am of course not saying you can´t make a living with music these days anymore – you can, but you def need a much tighter set-up and professional structures than back then. You decided early on not to put all financial weight on your arts and worked for companies like Thomas Dolby’s Headspace and Beatnik Inc., LeapFrog Enterprises, Ableton as a beta-tester and sound creator. Right now you are Senior Sound Designer at Amazon in the Consumer Robotics department. First of I would be interested what led you to this decision back then?
(quick correction, I use Ableton but have never worked or produced sounds for them. I was a beta-tester at Orban and Beatmik/Headspace in the late 1990s)
The decision was really made for me, just trying to stay afloat, working/living in financial survival mode for many years. I had debt from various medical and scholastic scenarios, and I didn’t have a financial safety net, so needed to maintain steady (usually corporate) employment to stay housed / clothed / fed.
I appreciate the complete autonomy (outside of the day job) to do whatever I want with music. The day job, increasingly, supports whatever I want to do musically. Time is always being juggled. I would like someday to not be tied to corporate golden handcuffs, working on that.
Have there been times where you doubt if this was the right decision?
I’ve done the best that I can do in the past and I don’t doubt myself. I found academia to be more difficult than corporate work, in many ways. Of course it would have been nice to have freedom to tour more over the years but such is life. I like touring but really I’m more of a hermit.
Do you feel that the sound creation for a company like Amazon and your own artist music creation have something in common?
They definitely do, I mean it all comes from the same brain – they feed back into each other, I get to access more gear/software through work, I get to play around with formats/aspects of sound design / composition that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. For the record, I really dislike Amazon as a company. My work there is mercenary.
You live outside of San Francisco on the coastline in what looks on photos like a beautiful landscape. Why did you decide to let the big city lights behind you?
I now live in Point Arena, which is about 3.5 hours north of San Francisco. I grew up in Sebastopol. which is also on the Sonoma / Mendocino coast, until I was 7 and my family moved to the East Coast / New England. I imprinted on the Sonoma/Mendocino coast and always dreamed of getting back to it as a kid and as an adult, so it’s finally happened. After COVID and living in Seattle for 5 years, I made the leap back to rural forest and ocean. I love peace and quiet and solitude and it still feels almost too good to be true, living here.
Do you feel that this changed your approach on and with music?
It’s changed everything, including music, everything gels better here, for me.
You are going right now on a long tour for the album. Is this easy to combine with your day job?
I’m only touring for about ten days 🙂 I have vacation days hoarded. At this point I have leeway and seniority to take vacations when I need them.
November 11th Blectum from Blechdom – Mills After Mills: Three Days of Crazy Love, The Lab, (SF, CA)
November 13th Blevin Blectum OMNII tour, Iklectik, London
November 14th Blevin Blectum OMNII tour, ACCA, Brighton,
November 15th Blevin Blectum OMNII tour, H15 Scene, Copenhagen DENMARK
November 17th Blevin Blectum OMNII tour, Power Loom at KM28, Berlin, GERMANY
November 18th Blevin Blectum OMNII tour, Le Non_Jazz, Paris, FRANCE
December 2nd – Blevin Blectum OMNII tour, Fiume, (Philadelphia, PA)
How do we have to imagine your live show, do you stick more or less to the recorded music or do you rework the sounds each night new?
Definitely lots of reworking, some more changed than others.
Okay. This is far too long already. Thanks for your patience with my questions and the time you invested in answering them. Last one: Favorite song or track of 2023?
Fav song: that’s easy. Datassette‘s “VideoHorse” (or anything by Datassette really!)