My Mac Interview: Emilie Autumn

Autumn is Here…

Emilie Autumn, that is. Haven’t heard of her? Oh, you will, and once you have, you won’t soon forget her.

Singer – Song Writer – Composer – Musician – Artist – Mac User. Looks different… see differently. Sounds different… listen differently. Go beyond the faerie wings, platform combat boots and stage costumes. Sit back, relax and meet Emilie Autumn.

My Mac: Emilie, welcome to My Mac. In your own words, who is Emilie Autumn?

EA: An enigma.

My Mac: Can you provide our readers with some background on yourself, your work and your musical background?

EA: Well, I’ve been a musician my whole life. When I was two, I would sing the theme from Star Wars in my crib; my mom taped it for proof. Then, when I was five, I asked for a violin. No one knew why I would want one, but my wish was granted and I ended up a classically trained fiddler by age 12. The only problem with that was, when you’re a classical violinist, everybody expects you to be satisfied with playing Tchaikovsky for the rest of your life, and saying you want to play jazz, rock, write songs, sing your songs, hook up your fiddle to a guitar amp, sleep with your 4-track recorder, mess around with synths, dress like Tinkerbell in combat boots, AND play Tchaikovsky is equivalent to spitting on the Pope. I’d always been into computers, so once I got used to being the classical outcast, I started writing and recording all the time and ended up coming out with a baroque classical album (On A Day…), some alt-rock singles and EPs (By The Sword, Chambermaid EP), and now my full-length album (Enchant). So while I am classical trained, my musical background is pretty eclectic.

My Mac: How would you describe your music?

EA: A lush, angry mix of ancient and modern, fact and fantasy, sung with heart and played with soul.

My Mac: Besides playing the electric fiddle, what other instruments do you play?

EA: I play three types of violin at present, the electric (a Zeta Strados Series), a classical Gand & Bernadel from 1885, and a beautiful baroque violin and bow. In fact I play the electric with the baroque bow as well, which people find quite a peculiar mix. Then I also play piano, all keyboards and programming, and vocals of course. I do play all of these in the show excepting the Gand & Bernadel which I generally keep off stage due to its immense value. I have this bizarre desire to master the pennywhistle, and I want to learn left-handed drums as well, even though I’m not left-handed.

My Mac: What kind of Mac do you use at work? At home?

EA: Now that I run my own label, Traitor Records, I use Macs for just about everything except eating and sleeping. My first experience with a Mac was when I was making the graphics for one of my recordings. I was introduced to a lovely Tangerine iMac, and have never touched a PC again. In the studio, I record entirely on a G4 using ProTools, also Cubase when I’m programming electronics. For everyday office use, graphic design, video editing and general correspondence with the outside world, I alternate between my beloved silver iBook, “Puppy,” and a G4 system. Then, and perhaps most importantly, I use my iBook on stage during my performances to sequence programmed electronics via Cubase.

My Mac: Since I know the readers will want to know (and I already do), I have to ask- How did your silver iBook get the name “Puppy”?

EA: Isn’t it obvious? Sorry, joking. “Puppy” came about because I was really heartsick for a dog but couldn’t justify purchasing one when I was touring for lack of proper time and space. My ideal was a very small Italian greyhound, beautiful, sweet, and silver, so when I met my silver iBook, it immediately took on the persona of “Puppy,” my Italian greyhound substitute. It’s really come to be a companion, being so portable and having so many uses, especially in performance. It’s the perfect touring computer.

My Mac: How did you first get interested in utilizing a Mac as part of your equipment for your performances?

EA: That’s an interesting question, because it wasn’t the first thing that occurred to me when I was trying to find a solution to the pre-programmed electronics issue. My music has always been an equal mix of acoustic and electronic, so I was really quite tortured for a while, trying to make my stage show resemble my extremely elaborate recordings at least somewhat. First I thought to bring aboard a keyboardist to play live synths, but found that it would be asking a lot of any keyboardist to reproduce all the symphonic elements I needed. My other option was to have the live band play along with a DAT tape, but that just seems a bad idea from the start. Finally, I set my iBook up with Cubase and programmed in all the parts I needed present during the show, everything from sound effects, pads, and loops to a really frightening storm replica. Once my drummer got used to playing with a click in his ear (to coordinate the band with the computer), everything has gone quite smoothly.

My Mac: What kind of software and other hardware do you use at work?

EA: For graphic design (I prefer to do all my own graphics, control freakstess that I am), I use Adobe Photoshop. For website design, it’s Macromedia Dreamweaver. I edit a lot of live show footage and also make commercial advertisements with Apple’s own iMovie and Final Cut Pro, which I adore. I find it necessary to mention that I use the Mozilla web browser because it is far superior to Internet Explorer (gotta love those tabbed windows), and eliminates the need for me to support MicroSoft products any more than I have to. For midi recording I use Steinberg’s Cubase at present, for audio recording (vocals, live instruments) I prefer ProTools, and for illegal downloads I find Limewire works quite nicely. Just kidding.

My Mac: What’s a typical day for you and your Mac?

EA: We’re performing a lot at present, so I’ll give you a description of a show day: Wake up early, check e-mail. Answer a lot of letters. Fix a broken link on my web site(s), Have tea. Warm up my voice. Warm up my fingers. Hook up the iBook to my Roland RS-5 for a run through of the set; make any alterations in keyboard patches, song order. Get dressed, glittered, winged, and have more tea. Load the van with mounds of gear, computers, keyboards, and an array of fiddles. Meet up with the band and drive to the venue. Unload and set up the stage, gear, lanterns, etc., in time for sound check. Most important item, check the volume of the sequenced electronics going through the iBook! Position the Apple logo such that the crowd can get a good view of it. Run through a song or two, and then we’re on. We start the show with me playing solo electric fiddle followed by the sequencer making an unbearable racket which then segues into the first real song. Once we get this far we’re usually home free, though once I didn’t have daily indexing turned of and the iBook started to index at midnight, stalling the sequencer and resulting in the keyboard being stuck on an F# pad for what seems like an eternity. We learned from that one. Oh yes, and after the show, the iBook goes back on my desk so that I can check e-mail before bed — very important.

My Mac: You rely on your iBook as a main part of your performance. Besides the F# pad problem, have you encountered any other problems?

EA: Ha! The pad sticking at midnight was probably the most humorous disaster we’ve ever had, second only perhaps to the time the power cord jiggled its way out of the computer during the show, resulting in a dead battery and thus no sound. We’d built this sort of case for stage use containing the iBook, the USB device, and other connected items all encircled by a sort of foam for stability. One time we had forgotten the stand that the case rests on, so we ended up putting it on top of the bass amp. Halfway through the show, the sequencer just stopped playing and no one knew what had happened. Jim (Vanaria), my bass player who also mans the computer during the show, was sweating gumdrops because, for once in his life, he couldn’t get a Mac to work. I played solo Bach sonatas while he rebooted the computer and finally realized why it had stopped. The vibrations from the bass amp had come up through the case and caused the power cord to fall out of the iBook. After a few movements of the sonata in D minor, “Puppy” was back up and running, Cubase reloaded, the set list restarted, and we continued where we had left off. Wouldn’t you know, the audience never even realized that anything had gone wrong. Besides that, we’ve had great cooperation from the iBook, and can count on even increased stability now with OSX.

My Mac: Is there a “Puppy” backup waiting in the wings just in case an unforeseen problem arises?

EA: Of course not, Macs never fail! In fact, there probably should be a backup, just in case of a lightening blast or something like that. In fact, Cubase is more apt to hiccup than the iBook, so for that reason alone it would probably be a good idea. I’ll be accepting all iBook donations.

My Mac: Once you have set up a performance/concert, how long does it take you to arrange the sequences, play or setup the parts you need for the show and program them into the iBook?

EA: At the moment, I’ve pretty much cemented in sequence what gets played from show to show, though I do make alterations within the set list, something that’s quite simple to accomplish from within Cubase and only takes about 15 minutes. if I decide to add a new song that I haven’t yet programmed, it will generally take me about three hours to find the right synths for, program, and tweak the song until it provides me just the right amount of electronic support for the stage.

My Mac: Where do the ideas/inspiration for your music come from?

EA: I’ve learned over time to use every occurrence in life for inspiration, because otherwise both positive and negative events are wasted on us. Often if I’m quite upset, I will try and think to myself, “How can I use this? Can I create something from this?” I’m largely inspired by history, legend, folklore and fairytale, and I’m not above just making up fantastic dramas simply for something to write about. “Chambermaid” falls into this category; the song is not necessarily about me as I have never been the neglected and venomous woman that personifies the main character, but I have an overactive imagination and can easily conjure any number of spirits for inspiration. When I was little I would write about things I couldn’t possible understand, like love triangles and dying of consumption. It seemed so horribly romantic at the time. Suffice it to say I am never bored.

My Mac: The events of September 11, 2001 had an impact upon everyone. You sat down and wrote “By The Sword.” What made you react in this way?

EA: On Sept. 11th, I felt I needed to help before I could allow myself the luxury to grieve. It was just an instinctual reaction to write a musical gift, something that would do its best to rally up some hope that we have at least a fighting chance at a peaceful and just world, though I know we are nowhere near close to that at the moment, nor in fact have we ever been. “By The Sword” utilizes Arthurian imagery, knights of the round table and such, as a metaphor for the good people in this world and how we must band together and actively fight for our freedom to live without fear. The song also stresses that we have a right to be angry. I’ve always been a problem solver, and, though my contribution is admittedly a small one, it was only after making it that I could sit down and cry and feel completely broken. It was my Mac-powered home studio that allowed me to write and record the song on the same day as the tragedies.


By The Sword
Words & Music by E. Autumn
From By The Sword – Charity Single

 

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‘Days of Old’ I tell my restless mind

Searching mountains, fields, and meadows green

What is it my heart can hope to find
All that I long for I have never seen
Tales of glory written in the dust
Tapestries of deepest purple gold
Legends carved in stone tell me I must
Journey through the mist and bitter cold

CHORUS
For in this brotherhood I still believe
And for the ones we’ve lost my soul will grieve
Yet through the world alone I wander
For I know somewhere
I will find my brothers
By the sword I swear

In my memory awakening
Like a dream too sweet to cast away

Shadows of the past begin to sing
Calling to me in their gallant way
Come away with us brother in arms
Through the seas of silver, fields of gold
Join us as we battle those who harm
And fight with valor as in, in days of old

CHORUS
Seeking in the corners of the earth
My companions I have never known
Blindly riding forth is honor worth
Endless hours in silence spent alone

CHORUS
Rescue damsels fine and maidens fair
Free the noble who have done no wrong
Though it seems the world may little care
Some are left that to the Round belong

For in this brotherhood we still believe
And for the ones we’ve lost our souls will grieve
Yet through the world alone we wander
For we know somewhere
We will find our brothers
By the sword we swear

(Lyrics and music used with the permission of Emilie Autumn)


My Mac: At age 22 you have your own record label. How did you accomplish this so quickly when other artists are still recording for someone else?

 

EA: I’ve always known what I wanted. I’ve planned my own empire since I was just a little girl, and that began with running my own label. From there, who knows. I had the chance to record for other labels, and I think it was these bad experiences that pushed me in my independent direction as well. When recording a major label project, producers would start rewriting my songs and telling me how to dress and to cut my hair, so I just snapped and things got pretty ugly. After that there’s no turning back. The music business is challenging enough without people making you miserable with yourself and your work. I would rather be known only to a select audience while staying true to my artistic instinct than achieve the over-rated worldwide fame while being artistically empty and personally miserable. There’s really no contest.
I also wanted to be able to offer something to other artists at some point, a label that cultivates, not damages, while making a profit, in short, a female-run label as you can tell by our logo. We’re still a new label, but I am already involved in many different musical genres and am able to release my classical and rock recordings side by side. I’d like to release a jazz violin recording in the future, inspired by my favorite jazz heros, Stuff Smith, Stephane Grapelli, and Nigel Kennedy.

My Mac: You mentioned your Mac-powered home studio. Can you fill us in on what exactly you have there?

EA: Sure, I’m running an Apple G4 733Mhz (OS X.1.5, 9.2.2) along with the following gear:

Roland RS-5 Keyboard
Roland Alpha Juno 1 Keyboard
Yamaha P-80 Electronic Piano
Gand& Bernadel Violin made in 1885
Pajeot Violin Bow
John Speak Baroque Violin
Ralph Ashmead Baroque Bow
Zeta Strados Series Electric Violin
Novation BassStation Rack
Akai S2000 Sampler
Akai AX-60 Keyboard
Boss DR-5 Drum Machine
Midiman MidiSport 2×2 USB MIDI Interface
Electrix Warp Factory Vocoder
Zoom 1202 FX
Roland SRV3030 Reverb FX
DBX 166A Compresser / Limiter
Mackie 1202 VLZ Mixer
DigiDesign DIGI001 Audio Interface
Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver D.I.
AP Audio 48 Point Patchbay (x2)
Alesis Monitor One MK2 Biamp Ref. Monitors
Steinberg Cubase
DigiDesign ProTools
Studio Projects C1 Microphone
Roland Jazz Chorus-55 Guitar Amp
Fender BXR100 Bass Amp
And the latest addition to the family: Midiman Oxygen 8 Controller Keyboard.

My Mac: Have you totally switched over to OS X for everything that you do?

EA: I struggled at first, updating all the software I had on the OS 9 side, and to be perfectly honest, I threw a few tantrums in the process as my boyfriend can attest to. But once I had my software on the X side, I loved it. The most beautiful part of OS X in my opinion is the multi-tasking ability. I never anticipated how useful that would be until I had the opportunity to try it, and I was sold. I miss a little bit of the “snappiness” of OS 9, but I expect Apple will perfect that in a future version of X. Even so, I do everything in OS X except for my work within Cubase, because I’m still waiting for Steinberg to release the X compatible version.

My Mac: How much more difficult would it be for you to write, produce and perform without your Macs?

EA: I suppose because I grew up in the classical tradition of staff paper and feather pens, I still do most of my writing just sitting down in a quiet place with paper and pencil. I like the sensation of actually drawing quarter notes and treble clefs, and I think that there is a healthy spiritual balance that exists between earthiness and electricity. So from that perspective, my Macs don’t necessarily help me when I want to write a string quartet. However, the development of things like drums patterns, fleshing out songs with instrumentation, and creating general electronic music is made much easier, and in many cases altogether possible, by my Mac usage. Then of course comes the recording process, which, as sweet as my 4-track memories are, is made infinitely easier and more professional by the combination of good software and great computers. Regarding performance, I’ve performed all my life on acoustic instruments in concert halls without amplification or any other sort of artifice, so the incorporation of Macs into my live performance could still be supposed relatively fresh. I can say with certainty though that without my Mac, I would not be able to pull off my rock albums live. My alternatives would be playing along with a DAT tape, or hiring approximately six keyboardists, neither of which options seems especially attractive to me.

My Mac: If Apple could build you the computer of your dreams, what would it be and what would it be able to do?

EA: Damn, that is a brilliant question. Now you’ve got me fantasizing, and that’s a bit dangerous. I’d like to poll a hundred Mac users and find out how similar their dreams were…do you mind if I employ that on my website, just for kicks? We could call it “FantasMac.” Let’s start with a couple of whimsical ideas, and then move on to the “Big Dream.”

1. Creating Original Personalities: First, customization would be key, and that would extend as far as the language in which my computer spoke to me. It would have the ability to mimic my interests and speech patterns, drawing upon specific information I had exposed it to (I could choose when and in which programs it is allowed to observe and “learn” from my actions), and coming up with original messages and content on its own. This is in the vein of the popular game “Black & White,” in which the player actually “teaches” a pet behavior, morality, and consequence by letting it observe the player’s actions. For instance, instead of giving me the usual error message when I can’t connect to the net, my dream computer might say, “My Lady, can you imagine it? That beastly cable must have come loose again, or I’ll eat my codpiece.” And in Kenneth Branagh’s voice. After a few months of getting to “know” me, my computer would be truly original and impossible to replicate.

2. Artificially Intelligent Research: By incorporating a small degree of artificial intelligence, I could say to my computer, “go and collect some various information about the percussive patterns of the indigenous tribes of Africa,” and, after asking me how extensive and far-reaching I would like my collected information to be, it would go online and search for my chosen topic, bouncing from one site to the next as it found relevant links, and compiling text, graphics, and media files into a folder for my perusal. Thus, I might end up with not only the basic explanation of my topic, but also the various ways in which African percussive patterns have been employed in music throughout the ages, all the way up to the present. In essence, it would “think”, “learn”, and be able to solve problems (what to do when it encounters a broken link or stumbles into an illegal site) without any prior knowledge of the situation. The basic criteria for this sort of thing already exists, the computer’s knowledge base and ability to understand simply has to be broader. And now to my most desired item…

3. Remote Access: Picture yourself in your home studio that is cleverly set up with your computer and gear at one end of the building and your soundproof vocal/recording booth down the hall. You no longer need the assistance of an engineer to push record, re-record, re-record, re-record, and adjust settings, effects, midi channels, etc. With your small, hand-held PDA device and stylus, you have a remote connection via a Timbuktu-like technology, and you now have the ability to stay in your booth, have a small screen view of your full screen monitor at the other end of the hall, and make changes in real time, from pushing pause and record to editing mixer settings in ProTools to changing the midi channel, reverb rate, or synth patch of your outboard gear, all of which are connected to each other through wireless fidelity (“Wi-Fi”) of course. Delicious, yet plausible.

My Mac: Apple has a new advertising program that features ex-PC users extolling the virtues of switching to a Mac. Since you’ve made the switch and haven’t looked back, if you were in charge of Apple’s advertising program, what would you do differently, if anything?

EA: Pepsi and Coke. Backstreet vs.Ă”NSync. Creation vs. Evolution. I’m not saying that Microsoft and Apple are twin companies fighting over customers, because any Apple user knows that’s not the case. In fact, they couldn’t be more different in quality, application, and corporate vision. Add to that the fact that I did indeed switch to Macs after using PCs most of my life, and now feel an affection for these machines that can only be described as unnatural. Still, I think the “Switch” campaign can only go so far before people get tired of hearing one company dis another. Not that it isn’t a great campaign (it is), and not that is isn’t a valid dis (it certainly is). It’s just that Apple has a lot more going for it than simply being better than Microsoft. For example, its ability to generate a sense of community amongst its users was an unexpected benefit I discovered when switching to Macs. The generosity, good will, and creativity of the Mac community is something I have never before witnessed in any other context. So I suppose that my contribution to the Apple advertising department would be a campaign highlighting its unique spirit, something technology companies are usually completely devoid of. I have actually created a logo for a campaign I dreamt up called “iLove.” I envision some lovely, modern-looking footage of musicians sharing ideas, programmers collaborating, performers interacting, all drawn together in the end by the “iLove” logo. Am I hired?

My Mac: What do you want to accomplish in the next year? The next five years?

EA: Within the next year I hope to have released my second rock album, as well as another classical record, this time with my Baroque band, “Ravensong.” Also, I will be spending some time producing a couple of other projects on my label. My first goal within the next five years will be to establish myself and my label as a fully functioning, successfully selling, online music source. I’d like to help tear down some walls and prove to other young musicians that they can do more than just break the rules; they can create their own. Through my music, I desire to bring a sense of magic and fantasy to the listener, but I want to do something for my fellow musicians as well, and to this end I will make it my goal to constantly think of and help to develop new and better ways to create, market, and distribute music, through new software, hardware, and online resources. I also would like to acquire a ruined castle in Scotland, star in a remake of “Anne of a Thousand Days,” opposite Kenneth Branagh (can I mention him twice in one article?), and start my own tea company.

My Mac: For those readers who aspire to perform and create, what words of advice can you give them?

EA: I don’t presume to have all the answers, but I can say with certainty to be creative, you must not be afraid to be different, to be on the outside sometimes, to be misunderstood. When Beethoven wrote his 5th Symphony, everyone hated it. You must develop the spiritual strength to know what’s right for you, and the mental strength to persevere in harsh situations. Never, ever compromise yourself.

My Mac: Will My Mac readers get a chance to see you up close without traveling to the Chicago area any time soon?

EA: I certainly hope so. I’m looking into several tour options as we speak.

My Mac: Emilie, thank you for taking the time to talk. Before I let you go, I have to ask- How do you relax?

EA: Rela…what? You know, it isn’t that I work so much harder than anyone else, it’s just that I don’t take time off. It’s a struggle for me to sit down and have dinner. My ambition is the real culprit; there is just so much I want to do in this lifetime, and I discover something new to add to the list every day. For example, today I decided that I would really like to try my hand at making short films of the film festival variety. Now when exactly am I supposed to have the time to do that? Arg. When I do take a break from music, I like to divide my time between other artistic endeavors like painting, poetry, and calligraphy, with physical activities like pilates and yoga. I also enjoy fencing, and I used to ride horses competitively until I simply didn’t have the time anymore. I also craft the wings you see me donning in most of my photographs; I have a room you can’t even walk into without being attacked by giant moths and faeries.

My Mac: For those of you who are interested in hearing more of Emilie’s music, both classical and alternative, or to find out what other projects are in the works check out http://www.emilieautumn.com. Also check out the full version of “By The Sword” while you’re there. Proceeds from the sale of the recording are donated to the American Red Cross and AmeriCares to aid the victims of the attacks on 9/11/01 and their families.

By they way, Emilie Autumn will be following up on the idea of “FantasMac” at her website. So those of you who are interested in participating with your ideas on the ultimate Mac or finding out what others think it should be, go on up and check it out.


Russ Walkowich

 

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