Christelle Gualdi’s work as Stellar OM Source has been called ‘visionary’, and certainly her sci-fi synths lend themselves well to visions. Her earliest music, collected as Trilogy Select by Olde English Spelling Bee, is the perfect soundtrack to any journey beyond the stars; her newest EP on Rush Hour the blockbuster sequel. In anticipation for her Berlin show tomorrow with ITAL at the art-collective habitat MindPirates, musician and promoter Brandon Rosenbluth spoke with Gualdi about how spirituality has affected her reality, and the reality of her music.
Tell me a bit about your songwriting process, and how a song finds its way to being released.
The tracks I record come from the live sets. That’s the way I start and since I work for quite some time on those sets the tracks are good enough to be recorded. But through that process some won’t stand out as they may work live but not necessarily on a record. Also the recording process is still something I struggle with. I realize that there can’t be one method applied to everything I record. Some tracks need spontaneity, some more arrangements, multi-tracking, some are all in the effects, etc . That’s why it takes me so much time to release new material!
How did you come to acquire your first synth?
My first synths are the ones that my dad was using when I was a child, which I own now and still use: a Juno 6 and a 106, Yamaha expanders and Alesis drum-machine.
Nowadays there aren’t as many geographically-based music scenes which breed a certain sound or style. Do you feel that you are part of a broader scene or movement? Who are your peers? What is it that ties you together?
I don’t know if that’s so true, otherwise people wouldn’t struggle to live in New York or London but live in the cheap and beautiful remote areas. A lot of new music is made in dirty basements in big cities. I think that the most exciting things happen through those real encounters between people. But I don’t see myself being part of a broader scene or movement. I’ve got dear friends who are musicians and we have a huge mutual respect and love for the music we produce. Most friendships started this way, we played the same bill and we found that we were enjoying hanging out as much as our music.
You recently performed a tribute to JG Ballard at Paradiso. How has Ballard influenced your music?
As I studied architecture, Ballard was very influential for me. I had and still have a strong attraction to utopias and their darker counterparts dystopias, like in the Ballard novels. I made music which could be played at night, driving through suburbs, walking back home after having taken the last subway, those kinds of situations which are very familiar to me as I grew up in the North/East suburbs of Paris.
How did you go about interpreting his sci-fi stories sonically?
Those tracks are heavier than the SOS sound, there’s no real joy and some quite dark melancholia mixed with disturbing thoughts and sounds, long heavy bass, odd-time drum beats. I wanted to re-create the feelings you get while reading his books, more than providing a background soundtrack.
One could call your music and artwork ‘psychedelic’, and you’ve made comparisons to cosmic musicians including Sun Ra. What is your connection to these cultures?
Last weekend I revisited the Ancient Egypt department of the Louvre museum as I’m planning a trip to Egypt and the Middle East. While looking at all this marvelous and secret art, I was thinking of Sun Ra and other 60s and 70s jazz musicians. I’m so attracted to musicians with some spiritual connection, who push boundaries of genres. There’s a quest for freedom and some other higher place which I also try to approach. Music is such a strong medium for that. I can’t really find the right words. It makes me love Sun Ra and Drexciya together.
How have you integrated this love into the non-musical aspects of your life?
Beyond music this is an attitude towards life in general. I wish to see people and society expanding instead of regressing. Spirituality is very strong in my life. I have a daily practice of meditating and yoga, which I teach to artists. Spirituality is also very important with music—when making new tracks, performing live, and connecting with the outside world and people. It probably all comes from having to deal with heavy personal turmoils and trying to stay sane…
Do you believe you can alter reality through music?
Reality is something which everyone perceives in their own way. Just as you can change your perception with different tools, music can alter your perception and therefore your reality. The moment where you surrender to the emotions that the music is unravelling, that’s one of the most important strategies. Same in a live situation: there’s a strong moment that you feel rising, a meeting of harmonies, rhythm combinations… You can’t hold it for too long but just go with it and allow it to change your perception, get higher! That’s why I don’t perform with a laptop and still improvise a lot, letting the unexpected happen, and changing your perception.