I was lucky enough to see Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith perform to a small audience earlier this year at the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta. The LA-based experimental analog synth artist was a resident there for a few days during the Sled Island music festival, taking advantage of the centre’s extensive synth collection and recording studios. During her performance she demoed some of the new work that she had been developing during her stay, and took particular joy out of showing off one of the weirder curios at the exhibit, a pipe organ that could be programmed with MIDI files.
The smile on her face as the pipe organ played a MIDI she’d written said it all. An antiquated instrument controlled digitally opens up a whole new way for her to synthesize sound. That dichotomy between the analog and the digital has been a focal point of Smith’s work as a musician, and it’s fair to say that she revels in moments where she can blur the line between the two. Her latest album, The Kid, distorts that difference even further by couching her synth odysseys in the sounds of the natural world.
Smith’s breakout album, 2016’s EARS, was a free-flowing, bubbling primordial soup of vibrant sound. Performed mostly on her Buchla Music Easel, each song had a warmth to it, bearing no affinity with the cold, precise movements usually associated with electronic and synthesizer music. Conversely, Smith treated and layered her own voice to almost indistinguishable levels, giving it an otherworldly, elemental presence on the record. In her music what’s electronic is made organic and visa versa, melding both into a unique sound that’s familiar and alien at the same time.