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Chagall Holds an Electronic Symphony in the Palms of Her Hands

06/08/2022

Chagall Holds an Electronic Symphony in the Palms of Her Hands For music innovator Chagall, new technology opens a door to connect with audiences on a deeper level.

By

Daniel Pesquera

August 3, 2022

Image by Eduardo Fitch

If you've ever watched a live performance of electronic music, you might be familiar with the image of an artist standing behind a turntable or digital controller, one headphone pressed to their ear, rotating knobs and hitting buttons to create a flurry of wild-sounding effects. Amsterdam-born electronic music producer and singer-songwriter Chagall offers a drastically different picture: an artist not behind a table but in the middle of the stage, conducting an electronic symphony with dramatic hand motions, controlling LED drones and massive light installations with her movements, directing a choreographed dance with a 3D avatar that shadows her every move on a giant visual backdrop. With the power of new music technology such as MiMU Gloves, Chagall is stretching the limits of what a live electronic music experience can look like.

An early adopter and brand ambassador for the MiMU Gloves and a lead designer of the accompanying Glover software, Chagall has been touring the world for years, demonstrating how the gloves are able to fade, filter, compress, and modulate sounds to weave a sonic tapestry in real time. Importantly, the physical freedom afforded by the gloves allows her to sing, dance, and maintain a captivating onstage presence all while controlling every aspect of the music making process with gestures. When Chagall visited Berklee in the fall of 2020 for an interactive performance seminar and workshop, students witnessed how artists like her are changing electronic music performance. This led to the Dream Machine project, a collaboration between the colleges Electronic Production and Design and Liberal Arts and Sciences departments and Boston Conservatory at Berklees Dance Division.

Chagall has been a featured speaker for organizations such as TED and Ableton, and is one of only a handful performers tapping into the full potential of MiMU Gloves and other forms of motion-capture technology. Her latest projects include a fleet of LED drones that fly around the stage in sync with a dance routine, and her current tour incorporates a huge art installation of lights that respond directly to movement to enhance an already mesmerizing performance. On the heels of Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day, we were fortunate to talk with Chagall about her vision for the future of live electronic music.

Watch Chagall perform with the MiMU Gloves at the Den Theatre in Chicago:

How did you become interested in MiMU Gloves initially? My first introduction to the MiMU Gloves was a TED Talk by Imogen Heap, the famous artist and company cofounder. She did a demonstration with the gloves, and I remember a moment where she was looping her voice and she kind of grabbed her voice over her head, which put a high-filter EQ on it, and then she let it go and basically threw her voice all over the room, which brought all of the frequencies back into the mix. I was blown away by this because that's the kind of digital effect you usually see a DJ creating by turning a knob. But Imogen Heap showed us that as a singer, you could now do it through this really powerful physical expression. That was really amazing.

I was so excited by the capabilities of the product that I wrote the company a very enthusiastic email, and somehow I got an email back from Kelly Snook, the company cofounder and instrument's inventor, who has also been to Berklee to demonstrate the gloves. Even though I had no direct experience with the technology, she decided to bring me on board to work with the company and help design the next evolution of the gloves. I ended up becoming the UX [universal experience] designer for the software called Glover, which we released last year.

How would you compare playing, recording, and performing with MiMU Gloves versus a more traditional digital instrument? I always felt like I had to choose between two avenues to perform my music. I could either try to make this music feel as live as possible, which meant I would be at a controller looking very busy, pushing buttons and twisting knobs and that kind of thing. Or I could sing and tell the story at a more emotional level and feel that deeper connection with the audience, but that would mean the music would have to be prerecorded. The MiMU Gloves made it possible to do both. I could create digital music and effects in real time while also being a singer and connecting with the people in front of me, where they could see exactly what I was doing through my movements. The gloves are a bridge between these two worlds that have really elevated what I'm able to do with my music.

You are one of only a handful of artists currently implementing the MiMU Gloves into your songwriting and performing. What are the key ideas you try to convey to people who might not be as familiar with this instrument when demonstrating its abilities?

Chagall performing with B.A.B.Y., an interactive light installation featured in her new project Unlocked

Image by Ben Houdijk

There's a few different aspects of the gloves that I always try to get across. The first is that you can learn anything. Musicians can be a bit scared of computers, programming, and things that aren't traditional instruments. What I really try to convey is that they shouldn't be. I wasn't trained in any of this; I studied history! I just knew that I had an idea and a vision of what I wanted my performance to be on stage and I figured out that I needed MiMU Gloves and a 3D scan of myself and an LED installation to make that possible. The tools are getting easier to use by the day as well, so it's really worth investigating what's out there
LINK: https://www.berklee.edu/berklee-now/news/an-electronic-symphony-in-the...
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