“That’s my biggest inspiration, feeling connected to… anything, actually.”
It might sound overly vague, but consider what Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has to say about how she works delicately and intuitively with sound before you pass judgment.
Her childhood home, Orcas Island in the northwest corner of Washington State, was an important training ground.
“Orcas is a place where I’ve had the most experiences of just pure listening without an expectation of trying to understand the sounds around me,” she says.
“So it’s really developed that exercise in myself for when I go to a new place to listen and feel, ‘What’s the energy of this place? Does it resonate with me?’
“Then it really is fascinating when I go to compose, it might not be right away, that a sound has affected me from a place. Maybe months later I’ll be zapped right back into that feeling of that place and I’ll know that’s where that inspiration came from.”
Inspiration has also come to her from two sprawling pieces of intricate, minimalist and ambient music, Steve Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’, and Laraaji’s ‘Essence / Universe’.
“They’re both pieces that I could listen to on repeat for the rest of my life,” she says. “It could be on just in the background in my world and it wouldn’t interrupt me and it wouldn’t distract me and it wouldn’t paint my emotions in a certain way.
“They both add a lot of life to my environment. But they don’t add it in a way where they’re colouring it. They just draw my attention to life that’s already existing in whatever space I’m in.”
Patient and deep listening has given her greater insight into the potency of these works. Though she admits some might struggle to see the appeal.
“To some people it might sound repetitive, but I can hear that its changing and shifting. It’s very subtle,” she says. “So it makes me feel like the randomness that you can find in nature, where your brain can’t predict what’s going to happen next, provides some sort of ease of like letting your brain go.”
While listening to Reich and Laraaji’s pieces might well provide for an eased state of mind, there’s also a sonic by-product which gives her renewed pleasure with each listen.
“I grew up playing mbira, an African instrument, used in ceremonies,” she explains. “It’s a healing instrument."
“When two mbira players are playing together the harmonics of the mbiras create these melodies that aren’t actually there, that you’re not actually playing. It’s the two parts interacting with each other. That’s what I hear in these songs as well, the more times I hear it, I hear these melodies that aren’t actually in the music.”
Whether it's birds and cicadas, traffic and pedestrian movement, or great works of ambience and minimalism, Kaitlyn is using her Orcas honed ears to absorb and access the many layers of sounds around her.
Everywhere she goes she seeks an understanding of the pulsing, vibrant, living energy that nourishes and inspires us when we take the time to strip enough away to make that genuine connection to, potentially, anything.
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith on Don't Look Back.