Exploring Sound, Time, and Samples with Lia Mice

Artist, student and overall audio explorer Lia Mice is defining the next wave of pushing boundaries in sound. With the release of her latest album, we dug into her discography and asked Mice a few questions to see what makes her tick. Over a decade under her belt performing live, Mice is an artist who knows no boundaries. A PhD student in Media and Arts Technology at the Augmented Instruments Lab, Queen Mary London, her knowledge of audio is well above your average electronic artist.

Eight tracks of Mice’s new album ‘The Sampler as Time Machine’ explore soundscapes where melodic vocals layer on percussive electronica. An artist with a diverse background in music, it’s no surprise that JD Twitch is adding her to the quality catalog of Optimo. Behind a fan of both label and boss, the Glasgow-based outlet topped the list when it came time for demos. Checking in as the label’s fifteenth full length, Mice joins a top-notch roster of unique electronica made for live.

Initially too shy to share her self-produced tracks with other people because it felt like she was ‘letting other people listen to my brain’, Mice kept her recorded music private for several years. Focusing on live from the very beginning, building her performance act was like putting together a puzzle. An uncanny resemblance of her studio (or vice versa), Mice is now using much of the same gear on stage and in the booth. 

I figured out earlier this year I’ve probably changed my live set-up 50 times while trying to develop my show. Each time I would perform live then go back to the studio and swap out one of the pieces of gear for another one. I was constantly selling and buying second hand gear to figure out the jigsaw of what my live set would be.

A recognizably darker and punchier club sound is evident in the upcoming album as it compares to 2014 LP ‘I Love You’. Mice admits that this is her first full body of work produced exclusively on elements she incorporates in the live show. Music that’s truly built around performance is a refreshing find in today’s diluted electronic landscape. Final masters of ‘The Sampler as Time Machine’ mix live recordings with studio finesse for an end product that captures moments from the stage.

Digging deeper into ‘The Sampler as Time Machine’, science and creativity become intertwined in a way only a doctor could understand. Mice’s credentials check out as she defines her own higher level of consciousness build around the sampler. Her study of ‘psychology and neuroscience – like how the human brain perceives time from moment to moment, how we can experience overlapping time, and how we interact with our past and future through memory and imagination’ all added method to the madness that is creativity.

I developed a series of experiments that worked creatively a bit like Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, but based on concepts of time travel that I found in sci-fi and science publications, and in the context of trying these ideas out using a sampler… Each day I went to the studio I would look at the list of experiments and choose one and focus on that, rather than focusing on making a track to put on an album, I focused on how to use the sampler to explore this particular idea of time travel, and the resulting tracks became this album.

Impactful drums define and compliments across the release. Tracks like ‘Human Being’, ‘It’s All Connected’ and ‘We Are the Beat’ provide a club-ready framework that wasn’t as evident in past works. With the aid of an Elektron Analog Rytm, Mice’s self-made sounds have refined a percussive edge. Inspired by the dance floors of London, she admits ‘dancing at these definitely influenced my drum programming’.

It’s taking these sounds to the stage that truly makes this project stand out. Somewhere between a gallery installation and an after hours, Lia Mice was made for live. Her recent performance at London’s Tate Modern Museum affirms the project as an audio and visual experience. At the center of ‘The Sampler as Time Machine’ show, an Elektron Octatrack acts as ‘the brain’. Exploring what an electronic set actually means, Mice’s performance takes different routes each night. Live-samples vocals and samples patterns play off the crowd for a unique vibe based on the venue. In short, she admits that ‘basically I’m live remixing the album’.

Mice has gone to great lengths become and expert of her craft. Currently while pursuing her PhD, she’s now getting her hands dirty in the hardware-side of creation. She tells us how her live setup is an ever-evolving setup that now includes creations of her own. Samplers and drum machines are all confined to the limitations of their designers so Mice has become a designer herself.

Something unexpected happened when I went back to university – I got really interested in electronic engineering and designing new musical instruments… Earlier this year as part of my PhD research I designed a one-handed violin that is voice operated. I put a bit of that instrument on my album and I perform it live from time to time but I am developing this instrument further and hope to perhaps create a new body of work with it as the focus, because it has quite a unique sound, because using the voice to pitch-shift in real time the audio from a bowed string gives it a sound that sounds neither like a violin string or voice but something new from those elements.

As an inspiration for creatives, academics and everyone in between, Mice’s fresh approach to music multi-layered. Taking a curious approach to sound while exploring all genres, this latest album is yet another step in the evolution of her production both live and in the studio. ‘The Sampler as Time Machine’ works just fine for casual listeners, but shines to those willing to dig deeper. 

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