Danielle de Picciotto & Friends in Conversation

Laura Ortman – “I was shy as fuck as a kid but always causing rumbles”


Photo by Jock Soto, Santa Fe, NM 2017

I was invited in 2009 to perform together with Alexander Hacke for a Roland S. Howard memorial evening, due to the legendary Australians passing that winter. The venue was a small club next to the Brooklyn Bridge, hidden underneath its heavy brick walls, dark and pretty low key but the evening was memorable in every way.

First up was Peter Mavrogeorgis of the Bellmer Dolls, impressively playing a solo-set on guitar. Next up were And the Wiremen presenting their sad, 1920ies reminiscent Jazz-Blues which I fell in love with immediately and have been following ever since. And then Greg Garing, who sang for 30 minutes, bringing tears to my eyes with his melancholic country tunes, not only looking as if he came from another century, but also sounding like Hank Williams at his darkest, except that Greg used electronic sounds making his songs turn into more contemporary, experimental ballads.

But it was when Laura Ortman came on stage that the audience went completely silent that night. The evening had been a magical, sonic time travel to start out with but her dreamy tunes mixed with raw violin sounds, electronic samples, a small megaphone and her whispered lyrics carried us into a mystical land of ghosts, desert dunes and voodoo chants, hypnotizing the audience into a child like state, comparable to sitting at the fireside and listening to tales from the beyond, creating a perfect good bye to Rowland.

I could not forget this concert for years. So in 2012, when I was touring with Crime & The City Solution, I suggested asking her to support the band in NYC. Crime was happy to comply and we were able to experience her magic once more, the performance being just as strong as the last. Laura and I became friends, spending time together whenever I was in NYC, going to shows and meeting with acquaintances. Laura is a White Mountain Apache and her culture can be felt in all that she does, turning her Brooklyn life as a composer, musician, visual artist into a fascinating mixture of tradition and avant-garde. Watching her work on her second album, experiencing the dedication in spite of NYC´s tough competition was more than inspiring. To support her new album I shot a small video with her in early 2017 and am happy to be able to present her new album here at Kaput.


Filip Wolak photo for the Whitney Museum of American Art 2017

Danielle de Picciotto: Laura, you have just released your new album “My Soul Remainer”. The title is very strong; does the album have a specific theme going through the songs?
Laura Ortman: “My Soul Remainer” is a continuous work in progress. Every solo album is years in the making and years in release as much. It’s home recordings coming to life in the amazing recording studio of Martin Bisi in Brooklyn. I study all my home recordings and see what I think survives the test of time. This is my third solo album… “My Soul Remainer” is seeing things to light. Greeting the new day, step by step.

What inspires you? Do you start with the lyrics or with the music?
My inspirations are from my friends, community and atmosphere. Living in New York for twenty years will give you beautiful wrinkles in your brain and psyche. Step outside everyday and see the crazy dynamic of the crushed together urban life…. go directly to your work or studio or show and have something make sense within the huge realm of creativity. Its a little bit of magic, blood, sweat and tears. I can’t afford to live here but it’s my home and community, something I can’t take for granted and have been so inspired by since day one.

How did you start doing music?
I started the violin from when I was seven years old. My grandma Hummer was a wonderful symphony violinist in Des Moines, Iowa; she had a heart of gold and smiled no matter what. My violin teacher from fifth grade until I graduated high school was a huge influence on finding my own musical voice. I was shy as fuck as a kid but always causing rumbles, so to have the lessons on how to be direct and study the amount of concentration it takes to learn a Bach sonata meant worlds to me. It gave me focus where I was kind of feeling too teenager-y and hormonally wild young brown Native girl. It just might have saved my life.

Do native traditions influence your approach to sound?
Native traditions such as smudging, laughing, massaging, running, crying are in my veins. I just listen to my family and my friend’s family and see what happens. It’s always good to respect your place as an Indigenous soul on this earth, and I love to walk with it to express myself without any self-inflicted misunderstandings.

What are your plans for the future?
I want to go to Mexico City for a month and play and collaborate with the local Native community of artists and see if we can rally a NYC/MC contingent. Just seeing what is possible.


Others on Laura Ortman 

“Ortman writes and composes various types of new and challenging music that crosses categories of genres, moods and ideas—both culturally and experimentally that bring innovative arrangements to the medium. She has composed countless scores for independent filmmakers and has an extensive list of performances and artistic collaborations in the breath of her career. She continues to record on her 4-track tape recorder, making pieces of music that simulate isolated, ambient sounds from environmental surroundings.”
(Native Arts and Cultures foundation)

“She musically collaborates with Native American artists and filmmakers, such as Alan Michelson, Nanobah Becker, Raven Chacon, Jock Soto, Sterlin Harjo and Blackhorse Lowe. She was a member of the acclaimed, genre-bending New York band Stars Like Fleas who has performed at the Centre Pompidou and Museum of Modern Art and has recorded two solo albums playing violin, Apache violin, piano, electric guitar, samples, megaphone and organ.”

    2015 Social Engagement Residency at IAIA’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts Santa Fe, Artist¬-in¬Residence, Issue Project Room NYC
    2008 First Nations Composers Initiative COMMON GROUND


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