Welcome to our new feature, Magic Touch. In this irregular series, we'll be interviewing some of our favourite up-and-coming producers from all over the world, seeing what makes them tick and gaining an insight into their production techniques.

Up first is Arielle Herman, aka QUALIATIK. She's a producer and neuroscience student from Philadelphia. Her tracks are experimental, late night insomniac anxiety-ridden beatscapes beset with a myriad of synth flavours; her voice takes centre-stage, always reverbing into the void, sometimes chopped, pitch-shifted, otherwise altered to become woven into the chilledly neurotic tapestry of music itself. She unveiled some of the secrets behind her otherworldly music for us.




What made you want to start making music?

I've always sang and made music in some way, and ever since I knew about music production I knew I wanted to try it. When I turned 20 last year it just kind of hit me that I was growing up and that I felt this huge void in my life. Something inside of me really strongly felt that producing and performing was exactly what would fill it. It proved to be right, because the day I opened GarageBand and let myself get sucked into it was like the most pivotal day of my life probably, and really set me on the path toward a more elucidated sense of self.



How has your sound developed since you first began producing?

Since I just started producing last year, I've seen a lot of growth and change and development happen in a short amount of time. My first couple of songs were really experimental and abstract. They were almost entirely based on vocal production and beatmaking, where I used chopped vocals as synthesizer-like chords in the backdrops of songs, painted over with a glaze of spacier, vowel-based vocals on top of a verse or so of lyrics. After I made a few weird songs on GarageBand, I made one song that I was proud of, in terms of songwriting--it's still my favorite song to perform because it has a rap chorus, which is really fun and intense to do live.

After that song, I decided to switch to Ableton, and focused on teaching myself production techniques. I worked on three songs for three months as I started navigating Ableton, and released them all together in December. While I'm proud of how quickly I taught myself what I know, I don't feel those songs the way I really want to feel my own music. So for this most recent track, I decided to hone in on improving my songwriting abilities, used sparser production, and let the focus fall to lyrical and melodic meaning. I feel really good about the way my sound has been evolving and how quickly it's happening, but I definitely haven't found my “sound" yet. I hope to bring more experimental textures into my music once I feel good about my production toolkit and songwriting abilities.

What DAW do you use and why?

I use Ableton. I mostly got it because I knew it was what some of my favorite producers use, but I was also very enticed when someone told me you can simply click a button to sidechain things to each other... something that I had just been doing by hand with automation in Garageband, which took forever because you have to draw in each and every peak, like four per measure. I'm sure other DAWs have a sidechain button too, but when someone told me that Ableton had it (I think I had just finished sidechaining by hand for like two hours and was exasperated), I was sold. I downloaded it just six months ago, and fell in love with it pretty quickly. I refer to it as Baebleton.

What is your favourite sound to put into a track?

The main instruments I use in production are beats and my voice, so I'm always trying to figure out creative and unusual ways to make beats and to produce and layer vocals into a song rhythmically. I play with breath and with vowels a lot, chopping and reversing short snippets of sound, layering effects on, effectively creating new sounds from something as accessible as the sounds you can make with your mouth. Sometimes I accent snare sounds with a short clip of a quick breath, and I find that adds a lot of snap to the sound. I often use the reverb tails of sung vowels as a sort of synth sound, chopping and pitch-shifting them and arranging them into melodies, chords, and accompaniments much like the way I draw in beats. There are endless possibilities when it comes to playing around with the voice in music production, and the way a producer chooses to work with vocals can really give a track its own unique character and sound.



Is there a particular style you've always wanted to make but haven't, for whatever reason?

Well, because I'm such a new musician, I don't think I've really made any of the styles of music I want to be making yet. I'm definitely still in the experimentation phase, and I think I still have a lot of learning to do before I can really get creative the way I want to. It would be cool to incorporate elements of trance music, drum and bass and industrial music, and Gregorian chants.

Who are your favourite producers?

I think the producer who's had the biggest influence on me is Alex Cowan of Blue Hawaii. When I first heard Untogether, it completely changed the way I thought about music and I suddenly had all these new ideas- it felt like lots of disparate things I had wanted to do kind of all morphed into a larger concept. I'm also really inspired by Hot Sugar and the way he uses field recordings- in general, associative music is a really psychological concept, so that's interesting to me. Other big inspirations are Holly Herndon, Shlohmo, Julianna Barwick, Holy Other, Odesza and Lydia Ainsworth. I also love Jon Hopkins, Blawan, Sohn, everything Will Weisenfeld (Baths) has done, and Maxo, who I'm lucky to have as a good friend.


Are there any singers or musicians you'd love to work with?

Jeremih would probably be my #1—he's an awesome songwriter, and his vocals are somehow able to be evocative and sensual while at the same time having a certain attitude to them that make his songs really fun to listen to. It would also be really cool to do some production for rappers, like Mykki Blanco or Le1f. I love everything Kitty does, so it would be awesome to work with her. There's also a singer on Soundcloud who goes by kaya, and her music is really raw and emotional. I would love to work with her vocals. Also SZA. And Odesza is just an animal, so it would be a dream to work with them in any capacity.

More and more people are venturing into the world of production. Why do you think this is?

Because of the internet, professional tools and information about them are becoming almost commonplace. Instead of picking up a guitar, a lot of teenagers are now downloading Ableton/Logic/Fruity Loops and starting to produce. There’s something really exciting about being able to control and design pretty much every aspect of a sound, and I think a lot of creatives find themselves drawn to that autonomy. Also, because of how much information people can take in and reprocess from the internet, genres—which I think have been very limiting and intimidating for musicians in the past—aren’t really things anymore. The idea of approaching music isn't as formidable as it would be if there were specific structures and styles and formulas that people were expected to follow in order to be “good musicians”. I dare say that music is more diverse than it's ever been before, and I think people feel welcomed by the fact that they really have the freedom to make whatever they want to make, and the platforms on which to share that work.



Any technical tips or production tricks for budding producers?

I'd say that sidechaining and layering are two techniques that can give music a much bigger and more professional sound. Sidechain anything and everything (vocals, bass, synth sounds, a reverb send) to an invisible kick, and play around with the attack and the ratio until you get a pumping sound that makes your track sound like it's pulsating with energy. Make (at least) three layers of a vocal or synth track, hi-pass one, lo-pass the other, and pan them past each other. Add a fourth and fifth track that are pitched down an octave and up and octave at accent points. Use the Ableton instrument “Simpler” to easily create keyboards out of audio samples. Also, use the internet to find plugins. There are really some amazing ones available for free that can enhance your sounds in interesting ways.

What, aside from other music, most inspires you?

The sounds of nature, busy cities, humanity, Dalí and pop surrealism, the internet, sadness, bliss, fear, isolation, insects, LED lights in the darkness, complete freedom. Being suspended in a state of external transition.

How do you think the future looks for producers?

I think production is the future of music, and I feel like one day it's going to be taught in schools, along with computer programming. The language of the future will be computer, and digital music is part of that language.



QUALIATIK is a producer, singer, artist and neuroscience student. You can find her over at SoundCloud, and over at Twitter.