Following the release of the latest Earth to Abigail EP The Forest, which combines years of experience in multiple aspects of music and coding, it was a pleasure to interview the artist behind the music – Mynah Marie – to find out more about the style, the journey that led to this release, the meanings within the music, and plenty more. Here’s our conversation in full.
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Hi Mynah – thanks so much for the interview, and massive congratulations for the wonderfully unique release! Just to introduce yourself, how long have you been making music, and how would you describe your sound?
I’ve been playing music for as long as I can remember. My father had this dream of seeing me become a professional violinist. So before I was even born, he asked one of the best violin makers in Portugal to build a full-size violin for me for when I’d be a grown-up. So obviously, I started playing violin at a very young age, around three years old.
At the age of 6, my violin teacher noticed that I seemed much more interested in playing piano, so she encouraged my parents to change my lessons from violin lessons to piano lessons.
From that moment on, I studied classical piano all the way up through college and some University, until I dropped out of my Bachelor’s degree at the age of 21 because I felt burned down by the amount of pressure and competition in that environment.
Classical music still very much influences my sound because it’s so built in my DNA, so to speak. Even though I don’t write or compose in a classical form, there’s something in the way I create and understand music that is still very much related to my classical music education.
After dropping out of University, I started traveling. Since I couldn’t imagine myself traveling without an instrument, I traded my piano for an accordion. During my years being a nomad and working as a musician around the world, I came in contact with music and sounds from so many different cultures. All of these sounds are little pieces I carry with me, memories of places I’ve seen people I met. They turn up in my music every once in a while. I’m still very much inspired by a lot of the music coming from the Middle East, because of all the years I spent living in Israel.
Another influential element of my sound is my work with music and sacred plant medicines. Spiritual work with plant medicines opened up my perception about using music as a tool for healing. There are very specific qualities required for music played in the context of this kind of spiritual work: the lyrics have to communicate a clean, positive message, and the music itself needs to be very intentional, with specific moods and energies for different moments during the journey. This kind of intentionality is something that influences heavily the music I create, at least in this moment in time.
Lastly, another important element of my sound is my love for music genres that have something very spacey and ambient. I love ambient, drone, post-Rock, and all kinds of experimental music.
Some of my favorite bands are boards of Canada, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Natural Snow Buildings, and Sigur Ros.
What’s the meaning behind The Forest – what first inspired it, and why did you choose to make these three, extended length compositions, rather than a longer playlist of shorter tracks?
The title track of the EP is a song I wrote many years ago when I was living in Israel. It came to me in a very special way. I wrote the story of how it came to life in a personal essay you can read on my blog here: https://www.earthtoabigail.com/personal-essays/there-are-so-many-ways-inspiration-can-hit-you
Because of how this song came to me, it always served me as a powerful reminder of staying true to myself, and remembering to find my center and my ground inside myself in the center of the heart, where our most pure essence lives. For me, the song The Forest is therapy.
During the pandemic, all hell broke loose for everyone and I was no different. 2020 was an incredibly hard period on so many levels. Because I was dealing with so much emotional distress, the need to recenter and heal myself became a necessity. Most of the music I created and performed during that time had strong meditative energy because it was something I needed for me to be able to go on.
That’s where the inspiration to create this EP came from. It simply arose from the need of creating music that would help me stay centered in positive, healing energy while the world was going through this Apocalypse. I became obsessed with the digitalization of nature sounds, creating natural soundscapes that served as background scenery for the story happening through the music. It was a way for me to be in contact with nature while being in lockdown, to “go out” of my head while it seemed inside was the only place to go.
The reason why I chose to make a few long pieces, instead of many shorter tracks, is partly because of the nature of the art of live coding, and partly because of the love for this meditative and ambient element in music. When live coding, music tends to take a relatively long time to develop because everything is done through typing words on a screen, and typing takes time. When I’m producing music, I usually don’t type the code as I would live, I pre-write it and then modify it and trigger it as I go while it’s recording. Still, I prefer to stay authentic to how the music is experienced in a live coding context by creating tracks that are longer.
Also, I tend to prefer, in general, music with longer tracks. I like when I can put something on and stay in that experience for 10-15min. It tends to be the nature of the music I most enjoy listening to, so it makes sense to me to create music in that same direction as well.
You bring live coding into modern production and songwriting – for those who don’t know, what does this involve, and in what ways has it opened up new routes for you creatively?
Since my early 20s, I always had the desire to get into electronic music. But because of my background in classical music and the fact that I was much more used to performing than producing, I had a hard time being satisfied by producing music in a regular DAW. Something was just not clicking for me… I was missing this kind of organic and spontaneous feeling of playing an acoustic instrument.
When I discovered Sonic Pi, my mind was blown because with code, I didn’t feel the same limitations I felt with a DAW. I’m not saying that working with a DAW is limited but for me, it didn’t spark up my creativity the way live coding did. I think one of the main reasons why is the unpredictable aspect of playing with code. There’s something magical about not necessarily knowing how your code will sound like and of letting yourself be surprised by the computer.
It’s like, with live coding, I feel I’m a performer, a composer, and a conductor all at once. I’m a performer because live coding is first and foremost a live performance practice, I’m a composer because I produce and compose tracks in real-time, and I’m a conductor because the computer sometimes surprises me in a way the interaction with other musicians does. I’m communicating ideas at the machine and delegating the execution. It’s not easy to explain but it’s a cool feeling.
Was there a heavy editing process, or on the contrary, a freestyle aspect to the music that you left as it emerged?
For producing tracks like in The Forest album, I usually start by performing the track live. the way I play them is different from one performance to the next because I like to leave myself room for improvisation, but performing the tracks live allows me to explore a range of sounds and possibilities.
Then, when I’m ready to record, I have most of the code already written from past performances. I organize it a bit and the recording process is mainly making sure that the mix between the sounds is good and balanced and then it’s about triggering the loops and the sounds at an interval that makes sense to me. But it’s still very much performance-based in a way because it’s always 1 track of electronics all done in one take inside Sonic Pi.
Once I have the base electronic track, the rest of the process is pretty much the same as with any recording: I record the vocals separately and layer them. There are more edits going into the vocals usually, even though I still prefer to have little edits as possible because I don’t consider myself a professional sound engineer and I do everything myself in my modest home studio.
How did you first get into coding, and are you self-taught or was there a course or degree involved?
I got into coding completely by accident. It all started about 5 years ago, I was living in India and got really sick. I’m still not sure exactly what kind of sickness I had but it got very bad and I ended up in the hospital more than once. I think I burned out because of my lifestyle there—I was working crazy hours between flying across the country for gigs and spending nights recording in studios—and my body just couldn’t take it anymore so I collapsed.
Also, I wasn’t feeling satisfied with my life as a musician anymore. I was tired of playing other people’s music, I was exhausted by the harsh conditions being a session musician in India meant and overall, I was bored of the traveling lifestyle because I’d been doing it for so many years.
So when I left India and went to my parent’s home in Portugal to recover from my illness, I decided something needed to change drastically. I told myself I was going to use this recovery time to put my energy into my own music. Also, I didn’t want to put a band together because I was tired of the amount of energy organizing and managing a band required but at the same time, I didn’t want to play alone on stage while accompanying myself with a single instrument.
So all those thoughts led me to decide that if I was going to create my own music, I needed to become more comfortable with technology and include some machines into my creative process.
The first thing I did was to buy a loop station, a Boss RC-505. I remember being super scared to try it out at first because I was afraid I wouldn’t like it, wouldn’t be able to figure out. All of those thoughts came from my past as a classical musician, I had never tried to play with technology before…
But when I finally got it out of the box and played with it for the first time, I fell in love. It was so amazing, such a new world opened and so many new possibilities! It opened up a door for my creativity I didn’t even know existed.
That’s when I started to ask myself a lot of questions about technology. All of a sudden, I looked at my computer with this curiosity of wanting to understand how it works, how it was created, and what are the things I could do with it… I started googling like crazy, asking Google very basic questions at first like “How does a computer work” and stuff like that. I really didn’t know anything at all about it back then.
It’s while reading something on a forum that I read an answer of someone saying that if you’re interested in understanding how a computer works, you should try learning some programming basics. So I signed up for a free Introduction to Computer Science course online and that was it, I was hooked from day 1, coding every day from morning to night.
After about 1 year of recovery and self-learning, I decided to enroll into a fullstack web development coding bootcamp. It was a 3 month program given by Founders and Coders, an organization based in the UK with a branch in Nazareth, Israel. I’d lived in Israel years before and loved it so I took that opportunity to leave Portugal, travel to Israel and do that web development formation. Meanwhile, I had discovered Sonic Pi and doing music with live coding on the side.
So I don’t have a formal education really, most of what I know, I learned myself by sheer desire of satiating my endless curiosity on the subject…LOL. But honestly, there’s so much to learn and I feel I only touched the tip of the iceberg. That’s one of the main reasons I love what I do so much, there’s always something new to learn, and there’s a million ways to reinvent yourself with coding and tech. Since I discovered programming and technology in general, I’ve never been bored for a day in my life.
Where did the artist name come from?
So fun fact, I found this name while I was actually looking for a name for another band I was involved with during my time in India. I was browsing the internet for potential band names, and somehow I fell on a list of names that had Earth to Abigail on it and it just stuck with me.
It didn’t fit as a name for the project I was looking at names for though, so it just stayed in the back of my mind… Then later, when I started making music with Sonic Pi, I was looking for a name for my project that wouldn’t be just my name.
I felt I wanted this project to be open for collaborations also, and felt like the whole thing wasn’t really about me, but more about being playful with all these new tools I was discovering. So I remembered this name “Earth to Abigail”. I liked how it felt like calling someone from a dream state back to Earth. It felt fitting for this new creative phase I was in. Then, when doing some Googling about the name Abigail, I saw it was the name of a Marvel character, the captain of a spaceship. This also felt appropriate so the name just stuck.
Do you plan to take the project on tour, and if so – what’s a live show like from Earth to Abigail?
Now that things are slowly calming down and getting back to normal, I definitely want to start doing more live performances in person again. During the pandemic, I was very fortunate to have tons of opportunities for doing virtual performances.
I discovered that doing virtual performances is also a lot of fun! It’s really nice to be in total control of your setup and there’s something really quite magical in performing in front of large audiences in the comfort of your living room. Also, I’m an introvert so I can definitely appreciate this kind of setting.
But last September, I gave my first in-person performance in London since the beginning of the pandemic and I admit, I forgot how good it felt to be in front of an actual audience. It felt like being home. So definitely working towards booking more in person shows in the very near future.
I already have workshops and performances lined up in Lisbon every 1st Saturdays of the month starting in December at Artspace (https://www.instagram.com/artspace_lx/) and I’m planning to tour in France, Germany, and the UK during the spring/summer 2022.
Are there any other genres or styles of music that you would like to explore in the future?
I definitely am not the kind of person to box myself in only one genre! I can’t say for sure where my creativity will take me next but I do know I have loads of ideas I’m working on exploring, anything ranging from new songs to new ways of performing/producing music, to new tools I want to integrate into my music-making.
Does your creativity manifest itself in any other ways?
I love writing and I’m working on a few books at the moment, one of them being a book on creativity and the creative process, the other being a memoir putting together many of the stories behind my experiences and encounters through the 15 years I spent as a traveling musician.
Writing, coding, and music are my main ways of expressing myself but I’m also enjoying more and more the visual side of things lately and been experimenting with digital art and graphic design, which I find incredibly fun!
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given regarding your art?
Oufff… that’s a big one… LOL! I think the best “advice” cam mostly from different directions through the years and I kind of bundled them up in simple key lessons now forming the basis of my creative process. Mostly, here are some of the things I always try to remember:
- Learn to love your imperfections and transform them into something unique
- Sometimes, it only takes a small change to transform an ordinary idea into a great one. So don’t give up on ideas too quickly, keep exploring beyond your comfort zone.
- Always push your ideas a little bit beyond the obvious and see what’s there.
What’s next for you?
More music, more writings, and more workshops. I now recently moved back to Portugal so I’m looking forward to connecting with people interested in live coding here!
Besides that, I continue to give workshops and performances online so if anyone is interested in staying up to date with events they could attend, I encourage you to join my mailing list because that’s my main way of communicating with people when I got cool stuff going on 🙂
You can subscribe here: www.earthtoabigail.com/subscribe
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