Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Mosaic of Transformation

Nikita Ephanov
May 15, 2020
[progressive electronic, new age]

The Mosaic of Transformation serves to deliver a message, to nourish the self, to enwrap in an artistically induced mode of being. The album tenderly serves the spiritual possibilities of art at a time many need it most. By the use of a spectacularly special instrument and the artistic language of New Age, Aurelia Smith finds a uniquely modern avenue to inducing peace within. 

Smith describes the album as her love expression for electricity. Inspired by yoga, she dove into a holistic exploration of self through a newly devised practice. By training a specific gamma of physical movement, she channeled impulses from her mind outwards through her limbs and into her synth work. An expansion of her previous album Tides: Music for Meditation and Yoga, which she created for her mother, Mosiac expands on ascertaining the evasive peacefulness of personal energy. As with the rest of her work, Smith concocts an encompassing world. While this specific environment doesn’t possess the immersive power of Ears, or The Kid, it balances on its own artistic context.

Upon a first dive, even a toe submersion into Smith’s projects, one must consider her instrument of electrical expression: The Buchla.

A mythical creature of art-creation, the electronic device beckons swimming in limitless organic soundscapes, a defining feature of Smith’s work. First created by Don Buchla in 1963, the machine comprises unrestrained wave shifting oscillators interlinked through adjustable patch networks. Buchla very deliberately chose to eschew the nature of other synth developers. Rather than replicating the logistics of acoustic instruments, he dove into forging his own alternate sonic rules. A piano-style keyboard became a “multi-dimensional kinesthetic input port” controller. Through modulating frequencies, quadraphonics, and dials instead of keys, the Buchla allowed for constantly dynamic fluctuating soundscapes. Just a glance at the synth already beckons an intricately complex device.

By engaging in the historical foundation of such an instrument, Smith participates in an encompassing process of art-making. To understand why the function of such electronics explores such potently altered artistic realities, it’s useful to turn to the Buchla’s visual counterpart- the video synth. 

In the late 1960s, a Korean Artist named Nam June Paik studied music in Munich, alongside seminal music pioneers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Inspired by the limitless possibilities of musical creation with electronics, Paik moves to Boston and transposes the idea to the visual realm- creating The Paik/Abe synthesizer. Through video signal transfiguration, Paik created a revolutionary opportunity. Expression no longer became limited by the confines of analog tools. Through the words of Paik himself “This will enable us to shape the TV screen canvas as precisely as Leonardo, as freely as Picasso, as colorfully as Renoir, as profoundly as Mondrian, as violently as Pollock and as lyrically as Jasper Johns”.

Paik didn’t see the synthesizer as a pre-programmable code, but an organic instrument in its own right. Constructed for performance, spontaneity. A newly forged introduction to an alternate world contained inside circuits.

The Buchla established mimetic opportunities in music.

History tugged the Buchla down its own course. The synth’s control pad and dazzling permutations of performance proved overwhelming to most music producers. The scene became dominated by its sole competitor, The Moog Synthesizer.

The Buchla 200 faded into obscurity. Rarely, occasionally, exposed into the limelight through devoted pioneer Suzanne Ciani, who describes music-making on the instrument “As being inside of a continuous imaginary spacial environment” (Ciana was also nominated for Best New Age Grammy album 5 times).

And so, in the early 2010s, Kaiyltin Aurelia Smith returns to her home of the San Juan Islands and was lent the use of a Buchla synth by her neighbor. The synth being so expensive and inaccessible, Smith describes her relationship with the instrument coming through the appearance of “Buchla Fairies”. She hopped between owners, writing her most organically dense Ears on an exemplar in Los Angeles. She collaborated with Ciani through a chance encounter and becomes nearly synonymous with the machine in the experimental scene. Her use of the synth became a modern entrance into the revolutionary artistic worlds described by Paik.

With her two most recent albums, Smith concocts musical biomes to serve an enlightening purpose. It’s music not meant exclusively for enjoyment, but for healing. Mosaic of Transformation takes precedence from New Age art exploring spirituality: finding a sense of peace, wholeness, and unity in an anxiety-induced world.

It’s no coincidence the first lyrics appear on the track Remembering are “Together, Together, Together”. Often, such new-age aesthetics arrive with the associated baggage of West Coast crystal shops and elderly flower ladies promising fulfillment, but Smith treads carefully. A few sonic decisions, such as the strangely eastern-inspired woodwinds on The Steady Heart, or the orchestral additions of The Spine is Quiet in the Center, delve too far into such moods (not to mention there’s a song titled Listening to Body Messages). The characteristics of spiritual New Age music possess such strong ties to Spotify relaxation playlists and yoga studio radios, the album occasionally feels like swimming in a shallow puddle.

Such cultural cues diminish the efforts of an artist dedicated to building living musical organisms. Perhaps it arrives with the over-commercialization of spirituality. Even the critically esteemed innovator and collaborator Ciani possess a discography often included in tacky self-help playlists and insert CDs. The magnitude and thoroughness of electronic experimentation is astounding, but the electrical stream loses its zap once distributed through ear-buds on a yoga mat.  

In multiple ways, Mosaic’s New Age approach to spirituality reminisces to the contemporary work of visual artist Shana Moulton. In her acclaimed Whispering Pine Series, the video artist navigates her light pink and blue domestic space, with floating ornaments and therapeutic self-peace flower bouquet constructing exercises. In one instance, she climbs a magically shifting ladder to discover a rave occurring in her attic. The video series intentionally humorizes the aesthetic objects of commercialized self-healing processes. Yet it’s not satire; the quirky digitized pastel flower vases and self-help projects land with poignancy.

Just as the room in Whispering Pines exists as an alternate order for internal peace, The Mosiac of Transformation concocts its own working. The song-writing may falter at times, and the synths don’t gurgle into bigger than life rivers like with previous works. Yet Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith concocts a unique world out of aesthetics typically deemed fit for dusty self-help books. She continues to enlighten with progressive, beautifully detailed music, all the while examining deep within. So next time you’re in a corpse pose and yearn to escape this anxious world, there’s a new opportunity to drift away.


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