The Los Angeles-based sound recordist can make your air conditioning unit sound like Madonna.
When you cleaned your teeth this morning or ordered coffee from a shop on the way to work, did you stop to listen to the sounds the machines around you were making? You probably wouldn’t think that the buzz of a toothbrush or the clatter of a coffee maker was particularly musical, but LA-based field recordist and electronic musician Katie Gately has a knack for finding tones in everyday objects.
“I have an espresso maker and that vibrates at a C, like a C1 on the piano,” she explains. “Electronic toothbrushes are also designed to vibrate around C. It’s interesting how we design objects that aren’t musical instruments and that, maybe because we like music, we design them to have familiar tones.”
Much like humans, other common objects aren’t quite as inclined towards being musical. “If you listen to the collective hums in a room, like with an air conditioner or a refrigerator, they can all glom together into something that’s not specifically a tone,” she explains. Not that this stops her from trying to get something more out of them. “They can be pushed towards a note,” she says.
“It has an interesting ambient effect. I definitely find myself drawn to industrial sounds, machines, things that squeak, door hinges, anything that moves. Anything that moves will get rusty and the rustiness will squeak and it’ll sound kind of vocal, so there’s always that potential there.”
Currently, Gately has a new obsession – yet another often overlooked but non-electrical piece of furniture. She tells me: “I think the thing that excites me most is door hinges. If you open a door you never know what you’re gonna hear!”
Gately’s enthusiasm for field recordings and the ordinary have worked their way on to her debut album, ‘Color’, a collection of songs that compress the everyday world into often unrelenting maximalist electronic compositions. Tracks such as ‘Lift’ are blasts of unstoppable energy, sounds and vocal loops layered on top of each other to create a leftfield rave, epitomising her “49 per cent obnoxious and 51 per cent fun” mantra. Meanwhile, the likes of ‘Sift’ tone things down a little and focus more on pulsating rhythms.