In this series, KMFA Story Seeker Natalie Zeldin explores Austin musicians and groups that are "on the edge" between classical and...something else. This is her second article in the series, for more, see her first article on line upon line percussion.
Austin-based flutist Kenzie Slottow describes her music as “beatboxed flute, lush cinematic layers, with a little bit of rock, jazz and techno.” She just released her first album, Hold it Up to the Sun, this September. I first met Kenzie when we were both students in the flute studio at UT. Since then, her style grown far from the classical tree. I spoke with her about how her fusion flute funkiness evolved from her classical training.
How did you start playing the flute?
Well, I started playing the violin in 4th grade. At the end of the year concert, I remember seeing my friend play the flute. She played “Hot Crossed Buns” and I was like, “What?!” It seemed like magic because I couldn’t tell if the notes were going to get higher or lower. So, when, when I moved to Michigan the following year and had to start over, so I chose the flute.
What inspired you to branch out from the traditional classical route?
Ian Clarke’s Zoom Tube. When I was in high school, a graduate student at the University of Michigan played it at a concert. That summer I went to that student and said “Can you teach me to play that piece?” It was the first time that I played extended techniques, like singing and playing at the same time. I performed it and really felt like I could groove with that music. Then, somehow I discovered Irish flute and went to a wooden flute workshop in West Virginia. That was the first time I really got into playing flute by ear. It was all folk music with guitars and mandolins.I discovered the joy of jamming in that summer.
When did you start shaping your current musical style?
First, I learned the piece Three Beats by Greg Pattillo in March 2013, which has a lot of beatboxing. Then, I purchased my first loop station. A loop station is a piece of hardware that allows you to layer something that you play, so it allows you to be your own orchestra without other people. That was the simplest piece of technology I could get to start experimenting.
What’s it like to learn about all the electronic equipment you use in your performances?
I learned gradually. I've upgraded to a digital audio workstation, which is a software Ableton Live. This software allows me to do complex things with loops, endless things with a single sound. The other component of the technology is live sound: choosing the microphone and audio interface. When I dance, I have to use a very unusual configuration because I wanted to be moving the entire time I was playing without pushing any buttons. Basically, I learned to automate the score and the software so that when I press play, the program knows which sections to loop back.
You mentioned dance. You dance a lot when you perform. Why?
I consider myself a storyteller. Rather than totally saturating my listeners with senses with different media, I want everything to be integrated. So, my dance choreography enhances what the listener is hearing. It's not really “fireworks,” it's more of a storytelling tool.
You just released your first album. What’s that been like?
I've just learned so much...it's been a whirlwind, and still is. The album’s not done being released to the world. I have a growing list of hundreds of people and organizations that I need to contact about distribution. But the experience has been positive. What’s nice is how well-received it has been from the non-classical musical community in town.
Your album is called Hold It Up to the Sun. Why?
The music came together as a collection of seemingly unrelated songs, and as I was thinking of releasing an album, I realized that these songs were all a part of my self-discovery process. I was either discovering something about the flute, something about electronics, or something about my emotions. So, I thought of when you hold an item up in the light—like a prism—it looks to be one way, but when you change your perspective it looks different and you can appreciate something new about it. That image was a great way to encapsulate the way I've felt about this musical process—hold everything up to the light and find new and positive aspects to appreciate about it. I wanted to encourage creativity with these songs. Even if a listener thinks the music is weird, she won't think it's bland. Hopefully she’ll appreciate her own creativity and maybe try something new. That's why I want to share this music: because I believe it can do some good.