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MELBOURNE SYNTH FESTIVAL INTERVIEW: CHIARA KICKDRUM


Chiara Costanza (aka Chiara Kickdrum) is an Italian born, Melbourne based composer, producer, music educator and DJ. Her artistic appreciation and blend of music disciplines allow her to produce an eclectic range of musical outcomes. Classically trained in piano in Italy and later exposed to electronic music after moving to Melbourne in 2004, Chiara has since moved into a well respected position in the Melbourne Techno movement through her dedication to a refined DJing technique and production of electronic music. This eventually led to extra studies in sound art and design at RMIT University, extending her interests into composition and sound design for screen.
Chiara’s work now ranges across composing and producing music and sound design for film and TV commercials, creating electronic music for live performance, composing soundscapes for immersive environments and art installations, and the experimental use of field recordings with analogue and digital synthesis.

Chiara’s latest soundtrack was created for a short film, All These Creatures, which won Palme D’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival 2018. In the past couple of years, Chiara has also been a sessional lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne, in the Creative Music Technology Department.
Chiara will also be performing at the inaugural Melbourne Synth Festival.

Ahead of her Synth Festival appearance, Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke to Chiara about her musical journey.

Tell me about growing up in Italy and the kind of music you were exposed to.
I started learning about classical music at a very early age with my dad, who had a lot of classical music records and also opera. Maybe towards my teenage years I started listening to more rock and heavy metal. My brother is ten years older and he was into a lot of that Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Then I played in bands where I was playing keys and singing … punk rock and metal bands. Those were my first attempts to play live. Also when I was seven years old I had started studying classical piano and I continued doing that all the way to uni and while I was at uni, at around 18 I started listening to jazz, fusion. So I went through all the stages and then when I moved to Melbourne, that’s when I got exposed to electronic music and started listening to techno, house and even hip hop, which I had never listened to before.

I believe you had a Deep Purple cover band but only songs from the Glenn Hughes period?
That’s right. I was a big fan when I was younger. We just did Come Taste The Band, I think the Stormbringer album as well. Glenn has a very high voice so I could sing those songs. To find a man to replicate those vocals was very hard so I ended up doing it and it was a lot of fun

Do you recall the first time you heard electronic music?
It was here in Melbourne and I was at my ex-boyfriend’s place and he had an amazing collection of techno records from the 90s. I don’t remember which day but one of the first days that I went to his place he started playing his stuff and straight away, I was like wow, how have I never listened to this? I was working part time because I didn’t have a full time working visa and when he went to work I used to go through all of his records and CDs and did lots of research and that’s when I fell in love with it

Your music projects are so diverse, are you ultra curious or do you get bored easily?
Both (laughs). Music is like that and that’s why I have been listening to so much music, it just interests me to listen to different songs and I do get bored very easily. I do it because I can but also as I get older I find I’m starting to understand what I like to do more and what I like to do less. I think in time, I will start to do less of a variety of music and specialise more into what I enjoy doing.

When did you start to DJ?
The DJ thing started about five years ago. That started because at the time I had been in Australia for eight years and I had collected records and I had some turntables. I didn’t really know if I wanted to do it or not but then just thought why not? So I had all this music I wanted to play and the idea of people listening to what I enjoy was really exciting to me. I did a party with a friend and there wasn’t that many people there but that gave me the confidence to keep going and then by word of mouth, people come and see you play and that’s how everything started.

It got so popular that you played the Meredith Music Festival. What was that like?
That was amazing. That was one of the best experiences and I played live at that event. It was probably the biggest thing I have done in terms of live shows. It was nerve wracking but very exciting… all these people all concentrating on one stage. It was incredible. Meredith is a very nice festival, very well organised.

What led you to doing film soundtracks?
Learning classical piano I have always played around with that piano soundtracky stuff, just making things up, writing my own music. Also listening to a lot of stuff like Philip Glass, even now in the car I am listening to Ryuichi Sakamoto. I’ve always been interested in how music can be connected to vision and how it can effect the way we think and feel. It’s telling a story and it’s a whole 360 degree thing that is very interesting to me.

You recently performed an original soundtrack to a silent horror film, Vampyre. What tools did you use to perform that?
I used Virus TI 2 Desktop, which I have been using for quite a while and Elektron Analog RYTM, which is the main drum machine that I use. Because I was travelling I didn’t use much else gear, as the event was held in Sydney and Canberra, so I kept it quite minimal. I don’t have that many old synths, I have a (Roland) SH-101 that was given to me by a friend and he hasn’t taken it back yet! Apart from that I have a MIDI controller keyboard, reverb pedal. I used to have a Moog Sub 37 but I left that behind at my old place with someone else. Now that I am moving house I can create a proper studio and do my work there. I use a lot of soft synths as well, especially for my soundtrack stuff, the Kontact instruments, things like Spitfire.

All These Creatures, a film that you did the music for won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. That must have been a thrill to be involved in that?
That was an amazing experience and completely unexpected. It was a very low budget movie and we really didn’t think that it got to where it did. So I ended up going to Cannes, not knowing that we were going to win but knew it was a really nice film. We experienced the whole red carpet, the festival, the networking, the win, the ceremony and the after party, everything about it was incredible and working with the director Charles Williams, was an incredible experience also and it’s given me a lot of confidence and the inspiration to keep going. Sometimes when you do these jobs, the budgets are low and you don’t get the recognition when you are doing creative work. It is very personal and it can get quite emotional at times but doing this was a really important experience in my life.

You are performing at the Melbourne Synth Festival. What can we expect from your performance?
I believe I am playing quite early in the morning … 11.45 am, so I am not planning anything too crazy. I have been producing a lot of ambient stuff lately and so I think I will be doing a lot of that and I think I’m going to improvise a lot with my drum machine. I’ve got a lot of new samples and things that I have recorded and put in my drum machine, so I will be using that as a sampler. I think I’ll do something quite organic and maybe moving towards some beats for the second half of my set. We’ll see what happens.

Part of the Synth Festival will be tours of MESS (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio). You spent some time there. Did you have a favourite piece of gear?
Yes, the Jupiter 8 was a favourite, it’s a beautiful synth. I wrote a lot of stuff with that which I really loved. The Buchla was great to use because I am always wanting to explore more the modular world, so that was a good start for me. I would say that those two were my favourite pieces of gear, the ones I used the most. Obviously while I was there I used the 808 and the 909, which I’d never used before. There is so much stuff there.

What’s on for 2019?
A few things, I’ll be producing music for theatre which is another thing to add to my list. A couple of new films that will take some time but I’ll start soon. I am doing some work for the Sydney Dance Company at the end of November, creating music for a dance performance which will be shown at Carriageworks in Sydney. There are quite a few exciting things coming up. At the same time I will take the time to write my own music and hopefully release some more stuff myself.

https://www.chiarakickdrum.com/

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