Image Credit: Shirlaine Forrest
Episode #91 Sounds like Magic: a journey into the wild magic of sound with Caro C
Caro C has been described as a Soul Enchantress (BBC Radio 3) and a ‘One Woman Electronic Avalanche’ (BBC Introducing), she’s a composer and musician, a sound engineer and a solo performance artist. She’s a rock climber and a dreamer, a creator of magic with all things sound.
She created the music that is our signature at the head and foot of the podcast and she’s been our engineer and producer for nearly two years, weaving miracles with technology and weaving our conversations in ways that bring them to coherence while always being a balm to the ears.
As she launches her new album, Electric Mountain, we talk about her journey into sound, her experience of earth-connection and conscious evolution and how she weaves all of these into into a deeply connected, dream-woven life.
Manda: My guest this week is someone you’ve all heard of every week, because today I’m going to talk to Caro, C, the sound engineer who produces our podcasts and who made the music at the head and foot. And her new album, Electric Mountain, has recently come out. You’ve all heard me talk about Caro at the close of every podcast, so this is a chance to get under the hood, so to speak, of what sound is in the hands of someone who really understands it. Because Caro is a composer and a producer. She’s a live performer of astonishingly adventurous electronica, which is the word, I gather, for electronic music. And more than that, she is an activist and an artist, a philosopher and a scientist and deeply embedded in spirituality. She embodies all that this podcast is about. As you’ll hear, she’s the instigator and project manager of the Delia Derbyshire project, and today, and I’m not going to unfold for you why that is, because that’ll come out in the podcast. But it’s so beautiful and there’s so much more to sound and to the world that sound inhabits than I had fully understood. And I’ve been listening to Caro for nearly two years as we’ve made this podcast together. So people of the podcast, please do welcome Caro C.
Music…: Triumph of a human heart….
Manda: So Caro, the world’s best sound engineer, welcome to actually being a guest on Accidental Gods podcast, rather than being the person that listens to every moment of every track and then takes out all of my worst bloopers, and makes it feel good. How is it up there in Manchester?
Caro: Thank you. Good, thank you. Yeah, I can definitely feel the autumn air is is landing.
Manda: It is, isn’t it? But you’ve been climbing the last couple of days and I am green eyed with envy. How was the climbing?
Caro: I’m sure your finger pads won’t be bad.
Manda: That’s true. Yeah, my iPod still recognises me.
Caro: Yeah, my own computer doesn’t recognise me, but that’s all good fun. Yeah, yeah. Discovered some new grit on Monday. And then, yeah, indoor training yesterday. So yeah, all good.
Manda: For the non climbers amongst the listeners, grit is the Gods’ own rock. It’s just designed for climbing. There’s no other reason for grit to exist other than that you can find a route up it, and it’s beautiful. So was this not terribly well climbed grit? Because the bits I go to tend to be quite polished?
Caro: No, this was bouldering, so it’s in Lancashire, so actually not very far away. So it’s one without the ropes, and not too high. And it’s one of those ones where you’re just looking at the slightest wave, the slightest groove and the slightest pebble, and you cannot believe that you’re going to be able to hold your weight, but you just do, most of the time.
Manda: Yeah, that’ll go. And then you try it. And it does. And the thing about bouldering is you’ll only break your back if you fall off onto the rocks below.
Caro: No, we’ve got plenty of mats and and and yeah, a well-insulated climbing buddy. So I’m good.
Manda: Yay. Someone to catch you as you fall. Well. So we’ve been planning to do this for a long time, and I am so glad we finally got there, because your new album is out. And from what I gather, it’s been quite influenced by the podcast. So before we get to that, as is our tradition, tell us a little bit about how Caro came to be the person who is our sound engineer, and who made Electric Mountain, and who climbs.
Caro: Ok, well, I guess my sort of potted history, or herstory, mystory, is, it all sort of happened for me when my life kind of crashed, really. Early 20s, started with backache, got to the point where I just couldn’t function, and was exhausted, and was basically laid up for nigh on five years. And during that time, there was two things I thought I couldn’t do, which was to draw and to read music. And strangely enough, at school, I actually saw a keyboard, a sort of cheap synthesiser keyboard in the 80s, and I was about 13, 14, and said, You will never get me on one of those. I don’t know why I had that reaction, but I had such a strong reaction to it, and I actually left a school because I was going to have to do a kind of performing arts GCSE. So I had a real repulsion to it in a way. Also I had a traumatic first music lesson, but anyway, at secondary school, which I don’t think helped. And then it was sort of, yeah, I became a linguist and I knew that, you know, I loved music. It’s always been important to me. I loved words. I’ve often written things down, a bit of a poet in my own way, kind of thing.
Caro: And then, yeah, it was this time of stillness. And, you know, unfortunately not being able to get into daytime TV or anything like that. So I just thought, Well, yeah, let’s let’s do stuff that I can do while being horizontal. And yeah, the drawing went quite well. A friend lent me the Drawing from the Right Side of your Brain, which is definitely recommended. It’s a wonderful journey. I got quite good at hands, and cat sleeping, and things like that. And then when it came to the music, another friend lent me, you know, grade one or whatever, book on piano and of course, couldn’t sit at a piano. So instead of that, I bought myself a Sony vintage synthesiser called the Korg Poly 800, and that basically means that it was analogue. So it’s the old kind of circuitry, but you could digitally control it so you could save presets and, you know, save your own kind of sounds. And really, you know, it was so that I could lie down and play the keys. So I did quite well with that, music being another language, and I was already a linguist. And then I realised, I got a lot more interested in the manual that came along with the Korg synthesiser, which explained how synthesis worked, how the sound worked, how the machine worked, but also the principles behind it.
Caro: And that was it really, sort of being nurtured on a diet of kind of I guess atmospheric, experimental electronica, it’s called. So it’s not really dance music, it tends to have beats, but it’s very much about the atmosphere. There’s a lot of sound design in there and a lot of emotion as well. Can be instrumental, can have vocals. And there was just, yeah, because I was listening to that, absorbing that and then creating these sort of soundscapes myself, really. And then that was it. I sort of went down the rabbit hole, living in a double decker bus for a couple of years with my partner at the time, because I couldn’t do much, and we were looking for a camper van and he just called me one day and he said, I haven’t found a camper van. However, I found this double decker bus that’s only a thousand pounds. And we were like, well, may as well. It’s cheaper than a camper van. So that was amazing, living living out in the elements.
Manda: Did it go? Could you drive it?
Caro: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was one of the old South Downs.
Caro: Yeah, it would go on forever. We sold it on eventually. And yeah, it was open top at the back. So it was hilarious. We had like solar power, wind generator. 10 miles to gallon, so we didn’t move very often. And when we did, we took up two spaces at the shops or whatever. But yeah, it was, it was a kind of retreat, really, you know, and people say it was some kind of renewal going on there, and being made to stop and all that kind of thing. And yeah, I guess it was, it was. It was hard. My life did crumble. It was almost like, you see it as like a tower, and the tower crumbles and you build it back up again. And I built it up a lot more healthily, obviously. And during that process, yeah, I just sort of saw it as a hobby and all the rest of it. And then it got to the point where it’s like, You know what? Maybe it’s not a hobby. And then someone said, I hear you make electronic music. Will you support us for our next album launch? when I was back in Newcastle. I said, I’m not ready. He said, you’ll never be ready. And I said, Right, let’s do this. And then when I started performing, just got a really good response within the sort of Newcastle scene and they kind of nurtured me. It’s their fault that I sort of took myself a bit more seriously. I then realised being the only woman was pretty much doing live electronic music that I wondered if it was just novelty.
Caro: So then I knew that at that time, Berlin, there was lots of women doing electronic music, so I thought, Right, let’s go there and check. It’s not. The Arts Council sponsored me to go there or supported me to go there, believed in me more than I believed in myself at that point. And then while I was there, I made my first album and and that was when I got it was the mastering process of that, where I was just like, Whoa, the sensitivity, the beauty, the grace, the magic, the mystery of working with sound, and the spaces between the sounds. I know that sounds really cheesy, but it really was that kind of experience, and I was like, Right, I want to learn all this stuff.
So then I came to Manchester and did the sound engineering course. And then, yeah, from then on have obviously carried on making music and, you know, writing music, not just for myself as an artist, but also doing commissions. And then also, yeah, the sound engineering and getting really nerdy in that regard. And then it was actually, yeah, sort of since COVID being freelance, no furlough or anything like that, it was podcast production that sort of saved my sonic bacon really over the last year and a half. We’d already talked about working together in that sense anyway. So I was already working on Accidental Gods. But then it’s sort of, I feel like I’ve really developed that craft, and really got into the sensitivity of it, and the job of really honouring those voices of the people that you’re broadcasting, basically.
Manda: And the various other podcasts that you’re doing now, because you don’t only do Accidental Gods. You do, Natalie Nahai’s The Hive. Are you doing others as well?
Caro: Yeah, I’m a host and kind of producer, but not mastering person for Sound on Sound Magazine‘s podcast. And that’s quite interesting for me because I started off when I was laid up on the dole, with friends giving me their old copies of Sound on Sound, and I was absorbing all this audio nerdity, sort of just absorbing it all. I’ll never be able to afford it. And then when they actually asked me to host the podcast, I was a little bit excited about that. And then there’s another one called Yorkshire Sound Women Network. They’ve got an audio club podcast happening this year. I only have to be the host for that, which is glorious, because then I just turn up and ask questions, and leave everybody else to do all the other work.
Manda: Yeah, it’s fun, isn’t it? Other people doing the work is is always a good thing. So there’s so many avenues we could take with this. Tell me a little bit more about sound design, and the sense I am getting from you of the depths that it takes you to, because this is, as we know, not an area I know huge amount about, or that I’ve explored very deeply. And I’m really interested that you started off as a linguist. Music quite clearly was so not your thing that you decided not to go there. And yet now it’s not just music, it’s the whole spectrum of what sound is. And it feels to me that it takes you into places that meditation and possibly climbing take us also. Is that fair?
Caro: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I quite like the David Toop comment. He sort of writes about music and sound, and he talks about how music can take you away, and but yet sound very much brings you home. It brings you back to the present. And I think there’s a, for me, music has given me a sense of belonging in terms of my own expression, authenticity, permission, permission to be myself. I can’t sit around a table and say, you know, the universe is in you, you are complete. But I can sing it in a song. I can put it in a track. Yeah, and it really is allowing me to be myself, and I would say, my uncontaminated self, if that makes sense…
Manda: It really does.
Caro: In the sense of, you know, I’ve got my playfulness, my humour, my thinking about things too much, cogitating on life too much, too much of an observer, or the whys or the whats. And you know, all those things I can put in there because in that moment, sound is mysterious. We can’t see it, we can’t see it. We can feel it, but still, it’s not… I’m I’m getting more and more interested in the physical, almost like the physical experience of music and sound. So, for example, in Electric Mountain, I’ve think I’ve almost got the hang of binaural sound, which is basically 360 degree listening for headphones.
Caro: I started talking about this with a very clever woman who wrote BBC R&D a couple of years ago and how they’re working on this and developing sort of more immersive audio, let’s call it. And also many devices, multi-device kind of listening experiences. And there’s something about once you’re dancing, literally, you’re choreographing the sound in space. I mean, this spacialisation was overwhelming to get my head round, but there was something about that, that sort of wow, how complex sound is! It’s so complex, like it’s so complex how we receive it. It’s almost developed, it’s our earliest developed sort of sense in the womb, isn’t it? After three months, your auditory system is ready, basically.
Manda: Oh, is it?
Caro: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So in that sense, it’s something about feeling, it’s not just hearing. The wonderful Evelyn Glennie, amazing percussionist, who defines herself as deaf. She done a brilliant TEDx talk about how we don’t just listen with our ears. And I think there’s something to that. There’s something deeper to it. So for me, I guess it takes me to myself. It takes me to the ‘what is’ in a sense. It’s sort of, there’s something about that. It’s the essence. Yeah, the essence, in that sense. And I think I like the fact that there are no answers there. We haven’t worked out exactly what it is, how it works, how we work with it. But we all have sounds we love, sounds we hate. We all need silence in some way, however, whether we ever actually receive complete silence. You know, we need the spaces in between. There’s so much there. There’s so much, you know, I hear it in my own voice and other people’s voices. Just the slightest change in tone. I mean, I do listen. I listen sometimes maybe a bit too sensitised, where I’m a nightmare to go to a gig with or anything like because I’ll be like, Oh, if only they just turned down 3.2 kilohertz and everyone’s Caro, just shut up! But I can’t! It could be better! But, but yeah, things like that. Yeah, there’s sort of, I guess there’s challenges to becoming more sensitised to it. But in terms of working on something like your podcast, for example, Accidental Gods, there’s a part of me that feels like I should be on the Greenpeace warrior ship, especially now I can climb. I should be out there on the frontline, and there’s loads of people on your podcast that, you know, so familiar, other people. I can think of the Clarion, the bear guy, all these people that are sort of, yeah, they’re putting themselves out to do what they can, and what, you know, in their heart, as well as for the world kind of thing.
Caro: And in the world they want to they want to see, or they want to live in. And I guess for me, the only way I can kind of be of peace with that is that I see my work, especially as production wise in terms of podcasts, and podcasts that I see as part of kind of Conscious Evolution hopefully, part of the solution, not the problem, then it’s something about being that vehicle of consciousness, really, and that how I’m working with that vehicle. Because by, you know, taking out all the clicks and the ums and the aahs, whatever I’m doing, I’m always balancing between keeping it human, and feeling human and warm, but also clear and consistent. And you’ve got things like, you know, some of the recording qualities you’re always trying to balance, you know, want it to be as loud as possible, but not tire anyone’s ears. And, you know, I’m really careful about things like how much compression I use or, you know, processing, basically. And so kind of extra signal noise that you’re putting in there, because you don’t want to tire people out where on some deep level, some more subtle level which they might not be aware of, they won’t want to come back and listen because their ears are tired after an hour.
Manda: Yes. And they had a quite interesting conversation with another podcast to the other day who was saying that they were going to start engineering their podcast themselves. Not one of the people who comes to you, because it was too expensive. And again, you know, someone they knew who was doing the engineering. And I think having listened that it was being done very professionally, and I think, it felt to me like I used to feel when veterinary surgeons decided that the vet nurses could do the anaesthesia, rather than getting a proper anaesthetist. And this is not to belittle veterinary nurses at all, but I’d done five years training in veterinary anaesthesia on top of the rest, and they’d done, you know, 10 minutes. And it’s because if you don’t understand the depths of things, you don’t know that there are depths. And so our conversation was me saying, I think you’ll find your podcast numbers plummet if you don’t have proper production because you don’t understand what they’re doing, and therefore you can’t replicate it. So one of the things that I have learnt from you on the way through, apart from how to set up the equipment correctly, or not, as occasionally happens, has been this level of subtlety, and the psycho spiritual levels that sound touches. And when we’re dealing only with sound, as a podcast is, and we have no idea at all of the quality of the speakers that it’s going to be played through at the other end, and some of them will be as good as your headphones, and some of them will be as bad as my car radio, then how much skill goes into being able to cater to both sets of listening, and leave people in a way, not aware that you’ve done anything. And it seems to me it’s a particularly clever skill. It’s a bit like flying a plane. You take off and you land and it’s complicated, but the bit in the middle, if you get it right, nobody really notices you’re there. But if you get it wrong, everybody knows you got it wrong.
Caro: Yeah, yeah, true. And it’s a bit, reminds me of how you talk about the knife edge of kind of reality or realities, and is that, it’s so many, yeah, balancing so many things. So, for example, it’s really getting into mastering as well as mixing, and mastering is a very delicate, I think it’s a very delicate art and science, when it’s done well. And that’s when basically you send your music or your sound for someone to kind of polish, but also it’s to make sure that it is balanced enough to be able to sound good enough through most listening devices. So, yeah, and especially when it’s the voice, and it’s an hour.
Manda: Yes. So earlier you were saying that you were talking to a BBC producer about binaural sound, and the bits of that that I’ve explored have all been within the context of meditation, and the idea that particular frequencies, I think, of sound waves can move us into particular frequencies of brainwaves, if they are played slightly differently into left ear and right ear. And so then I hear that the BBC is doing this, and I think my political view of the BBC could be said to be less than favourable. And so I assume that the BBC is going to try mind control by playing us things that we don’t really know we’re getting, in order to switch us into, I don’t know, Alpha when we’re not really intending to be. But I’m really curious as to what binaural sound does outwith the scope of meditative music that may or may not kick us into Theta and Delta.
Caro: Well, let me reassure you that binaural sound is not the same as binaural beats. So binaural beats is the premise that you have one frequency in one ear or speaker, and another frequency in the other, and your ear or brain creates the third frequency, which is the one that aids you to drop into a meditative state, so Alpha or Beta. I was speaking to a very experienced sound engineer the other day and electro acoustic composer who works a lot with multi-channel work, and she says it’s all cobblers. She said it’s not actually doing what they claim it is. A bit like the kind of novelty ASMR, which is like, I was doing it anyway. I didn’t realise it’s kind of when you’re looking for the kind of sweet spot of frequencies, usually quite high frequencies that are the sizzly sounds that make you go, Ooh! That kind of thing, which is a big YouTube thing over the last few years.
Manda: Tell me a little bit more about that. Because I’m not aware of sounds making me do that thing that you just did. What happens on YouTube? You sit and listen to this for an hour and your whole body is juddering or something?
Caro: Yes, it’s like a kind of, you get a tingly sensation, and it also can be very relaxing. So I know a member of my family who’s use it to help her get sleep. So it’s a kind of very intimate, amplified sound, but it’s all like, it’s all up there. It’s all in the kind of sibilant or the higher frequency.
Manda: Okay. And so we could play a little bit, because you can put sounds into this podcast. And we’ve never done this before. But as long as it’s only a little, so that people don’t go to sleep while driving, you could give people an example. (Sounds…)
Manda: All right. So stepping on from that, it’s a bit like that, and it’s not doing what they said it was,but…
Caro: Apparently, however I have, I do know of a psycho acousticion, a composer called Maryann al-Mashat, who was one of the pioneers of electronic experimental music, and she was very interested in that, what they call the third ear phenomenon. And it’s a very similar thing, I think it’s similar to what binaural beats is wanting to say it’s achieving, which is that if you have two frequencies that are different, your mind or your ears will create the third one. So I think there’s something there, there’s something there, and I think that there will be other elements. Personally, I think there’s other elements to binaural beats music that are also meditative, which is the drones, which is the frequencies and the mix. So I think there’s other elements that aid with that. So that’s binaural beats. And then you’ve got binaural sound, which is more about spacialisation. So it’s still stereo. It’s still left and right, but it’s headphones only. And the idea is it’s meant to mimic more how we actually hear. So you don’t hear everything just left/ right. Your brain’s always placing sounds around you, 360, aren’t you? It’s not just like a lateral plane of two speakers in front of you. That’s not how the world is kind of thing, in your experience within it, your listening experience, and that goes to whether you can hear or not. Because again, because I think in the sense of you feel frequencies, everything is frequency.
So in the sense of what you’re doing there, is instead of just a left/right mix, you’re making a 3-D mix. So I’ve done two tracks where I’ve actually made the mix literally like, you’re stepping into a world, you are literally stepping into a sound world. Now I was accused of creating 3D sound with stereo anyway. So for me, it was like a small step further just to be able to find it easier in a sense to get that depth, to get the space. Like I can put a piano sound right between your ears, or I can make a sound that maybe, there’s a couple where my voice sort of does a kind of sigh or any kind of sound, and it travels off. So, you know, you can you can do swirling stuff. And obviously, again, it can be gimmicky, and people overdo it and you feel nauseous like you would with a VR headset. But at the same time, it can do – yeah. To me, it was a new level of grace and beauty in what’s possible.
Manda: And what happens if people are listening to this, not through a headset? Do they then just hear it as as relatively straightforward music? Or is it still doing stuff, even though it’s not directed left and right?
Caro: Yeah. Generally, it can cause phase issues, what we call phase issues, where the frequencies are clashing or cancelling each other out ,and doing weird stuff, but is probably isn’t very pleasant and not very good resolution.
Manda: So when I downloaded the track from your album earlier today and there’s the two at the end that of the binaural versions, the early ones, they definitely need to be listened to with headphones.
Caro: Yeah, it’s designed for headphones. Yeah, because I think there’s something about, there’s an intimacy, and as I say, it’s very personal for me what I’m expressing through my music. So in a sense, when I’m recording my vocals, I’m imagining I am speaking to one person, whereas I’m in a gig, you’re speaking, it’s more collective. So there’s something intimate about that I’ve always sort of encourage people to listen to. To have that moment really with my music via headphones: good ones, of course. Decent enough quality so they get nice, and not things stuck in their ears, but sort of each to their own. But nah, I’m going to be opinionated on that one.
Manda: Okay, we’ll put some links in the show notes that say ‘Caro approved headphones’.
Caro: Yeah, and it’s that thing, obviously volumes as well, not blasting it too much. But in terms of, yeah, having that moment. And it is a meditation, it’s a journey, and it’s a journey into yourself as well as out there, if that makes sense.
Manda: It really does. Yes. And you’re opening doors to a reality that I don’t experience much. But so in the world that you inhabit, people would know that those tracks should be listened to with headphones on. They would have good headphones to listen to them with. Is that, I’m just exploring naively a world that I don’t really know much about. Is this.. do people just sit and listen to music with earphones on?
Caro: It would probably be more while travelling, or relaxing while reading, or yeah. Or it will be a sort of scheduled if you like, a carved out bit of time with those is what I would see it as. It could be while driving or travelling, I think is probably quite common. I don’t think many people listen to things in decent quality speakers anymore. I have to accept that.
Manda: Especially not in cars I think.
Caro: Yeah, yeah. But also at home. And then I don’t think people have that. However, that’s why I think binaural sound is interesting. And I think headphone listening, you can still get quality because I have a little bit of a bee in my bonnet in terms of how we’re meant to be evolving. You know, we’re meant to have amazing technology, when a lot of our audio technologies are, if anything, getting worse, but definitely not getting better in the mainstream. So that sort of, and that’s consumerism, of course. Like I can envisage the live show, which obviously hasn’t been able to happen yet for this album in particular, but also my last two albums, I’d say it is that: people are there, and you can feel it. Everyone’s in that moment, and people come out with the right adjectives afterwards, and you’re like, Yes, they got it! They got it! You know, mesmerised, they’re enchanted. It’s hypnotic. It takes them to their heart centre and, you know, all those kind of things. And that’s exactly what all those interweaving intentions in what I do.
Manda: Brilliant. And are you planning a live one? Is there a date set or are we just waiting till Covid lets people get together more, in bigger numbers?
Caro: Yeah. Someone was asking me that just last night, whether I’ve got a gig. And the short answer is I do have one, but not an album, not the album one, because I do have a vision for it, and I’m not sure when that will come to life. And I sort of feel like I’ve learnt enough not to force it.
Manda: Hmm. Ok. Yes, definitely. So in your email conversation we had when we set this up, you wrote something which struck me as incredibly poetic, and I wondered if you could speak a bit more to it, which was: I pay the price for popularity here, but got to do my thing, heartened by adventurous ancestors who dared to do their thing. Which I just thought, the poetry of that, I can tell that you were a linguist to begin with, but the sentiment underlying it. And I wondered how much you know about your adventurous ancestors, and whether they are the spiritual ancestors that you connect with as archetypes, or whether you actually know of some adventurous ancestors? And also, paying the price for popularity and getting to do your thing. Can you unpick those for us?
Caro: Yeah, I think for me, there’s a kind of toxic element to success. And that might be me. It might be my personal perspective, but it feels like, especially when I was about to release this album, it’s like I fell so much more deeply in love with it last year because of the isolation, if you like, because I was so in my creative cave last year because of the pandemic, and the kind of place I went to with it. And because of that, I somehow felt like, oh, it’s going to be, it’s like it’s a different world, because it’s like I’ve created a different world with this album. Therefore, when I put this album out, it’s going to be like a different world. And then I was like, No Caro, it’s still the same world. It’s still the same capitalist world. And just because you make experimental music doesn’t mean that it’s separate. Unfortunately, it’s the same old, I don’t know, it just feels like the same old things. And then it’s like, Do you? You know, it’s a tricky line to tread in terms of being a woman in electronic music and sound engineering because yes, we’re in the minority statistically. And I don’t want to be known as a female, and I would feel uncomfortable with that word anyway, but in terms of am I a female composer, or am I just a composer? Am I an artist? Am I a woman in electronic music? And I don’t want to dwell on that at the same time as ‘got to get real on planet Earth’. It’s a reality. You know, we do live in a patriarchy that doesn’t do anyone any favours, I don’t think.
And then you’ve got as Miki Kashtan talked about, the separation and the scarcity and the, you know, and the kind of – I think there’s some kind of pressure as an artist. And I did have a podcast conversation with Isabelle Anderson about this. And she was saying, particularly with music, there’s sort of like a pressure that if you’re not popular then.. or popular enough, then you’re not valid, or something? Or, I don’t know, it’s… I guess I’m trying to find that balance between, yes, I want to communicate. I have friends who make music, and they’re not bothered about releasing it. And I envy them. Like, You don’t have to do all this bit that I have to do! that takes my ego to horrible places. It’s like, and you know, all that brings up all the childhood stuff, you know, everything. Any little crack in your psychology, you’ll know it from releasing books. I’m sure none of us are immune to it. However, it’s another way, it’s another gruelling process of, yeah, becoming more uncut, uncontaminated, which is hard work in itself. But also there’s something about, I will not compromise, I just will not. And I do not want to be on Instagram 24-7, telling people I’m the most important face in the world and what I do is the most important thing. I just won’t do it. And if I won’t do it, then I’m not hyping myself enough. And if I’m not hyping myself enough, then it’s like, you’re not hungry enough for it or something. It’s like, well, I don’t know. It all feels a bit toxic, really.
So there is a there’s a wonderful woman called Cat Byles, who runs a company called PR with Heart, which is lovely because it’s very much about being, yeah, she’s very grounded. It’s about connecting to what she calls source, and it’s about connecting to your heart’s true vision kind of thing, all that kind of stuff, which I know sounds fluffy, but it isn’t. She’s really grounded. She’s really sound. And it’s really coming back to that integrity, really. It’s coming back to integrity, it’s coming back to authenticity. But more than anything, for me, it is about the artform, not the artist. So I get caught up. Of course, I get caught up. I’ve got an ego like anyone else. I’ve got, you know, I’ve got my psychological weaknesses like anyone else, but I just try to keep.. from the start, I remember somebody said, Don’t believe your own hype. And that could be seen as like, you know, don’t get too big for your boots, which I don’t believe in, that I don’t want to subscribe to. But there’s also something about, yeah, you sort of become it’s easy to become a sort of Furby or a toy that somebody puts on the shelf for a bit and looks at, and then doesn’t look at anymore. And then, oh, I might give you a big album deal. I’ve been close a few times to, you know, industry people saying, Oh, I’m going to help you with this and then you never hear from them again, and things like that.
Caro: So it’s almost like, there’s always these… because, you know, when I was a kid, I was listening to, I remember listening, let’s say Ultravox’s Vienna blew my mind as a track, and I remember listening to it over and over, and trying to work out how it worked, and thinking that’s what music is. And if I’m not as popular as that, then it’s not, it doesn’t really count, kind of thing. So there’s all that to manage, which I’m sure you can relate to in terms of the writer as well, that publishes. But I self-released my music, cos there’s all the questions around does the world really want it? Does it really matter whether people, I don’t know. There’s all those kind of questions. There’s Sylvain Chomet, the guy who’s a director, he’s made some beautiful animations. And he was at a Q&A after his films – because I’m one of those people who watches the bonus bits on DVDs. And he was, somebody was saying to him, Oh, you’re amazing, you’re an amazing artist. And he went, No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Worship the art form, not the artist. And that, for me was just like, Oh, remember that, Caro. Just remember that. And yes, there’s all that kind of integrity, trying to balance being bold and needing to communicate my art, whilst also not getting terrified of being a narcissist. There’s all that kind of stuff. But then there’s also the fact that you were talking about, yeah, the ancestors.
Manda: You were talking about the ancestors. You said, heartened by adventurous ancestors who dared to do their thing.
Caro: That’s right, yeah, and I’ve actually set up an electronic music charity called Delia Derbyshire Day, and that’s because Delia Derbyshire Archive arrived in Manchester about the same time I did, in 2007. Now, Delia Derbyshire was one of the, I’d say, key figures really, in the development of electronic music in this country. She worked for the BBC Radiophonics Workshop for 11 years, when you were only meant to work there for like six months, because they said electronic sounds send you crazy, because it’s not real music or whatever. I say that tongue in cheek, something like that at the time. But her most famous work would be her realisation of, or collaboration with. Ron Grainer to make the original Doctor Who thing.
Manda: Really? Wow.
Caro: Yeah, she’s a key figure. And listening to some of the stuff in the archive, you know, one in particular, I remember listening to it, and it is one of those moments where you go, time is not linear, because, when you really feel it as well, not just think it. And in 1971, she wrote a piece that nobody knows what it was for. But basically, it’s sort of, yeah, 90s trip hop, or sort of Depeche Mode sort of synth pop from the 80s, but way ahead of its time. There’s also a piece that’s basically techno dance music from 1971, that she made for a kids’ TV programme. So she’s just got all these bodies of work, and sketches really.
Caro: And of course, she’s not the only one you uncover, especially women, and not the obvious demographic that sort of is, that speaks the loudest in the narrative of electronic music. These people exist. There’s an Indian guy in the 80s that was making acid techno way before we were here. So in a sense, it’s like you start to uncover these people that their names aren’t there, but they’re part of the ecology. So I see them as my ancestry. And there’s a film that I was part of making last year as a researcher on it, called Sisters with Transistors. And that was following 10 sort of key experimental electronic women, music and sound pioneers. And in a sense, it’s almost we’re uncovering these people that were dedicated the art, to the art form, more than they were the PR of them as an artist, if you know what I mean. So it’s, some of them are attached to academic institutions. Obviously, that gives them that kind of support. But there’s something about those that, yeah, that dare to be rare, really, that sort of that give me that… I guess, depth of support or reassurance? that I maybe I could be more popular or maybe I could be more this or that or, but really, my journey, I think my journey really is about I just need to do what I need to do.
Manda: So I have a question about the creative process. Because as you said, I write books. And I’ve just started writing another, which arose from one of the shamanic dreaming evenings that we do together, you and I and the group, and descended out of nowhere. Genuinely, it wasn’t an idea that I have ever entertained before, and now it’s really hard to think about anything else. When I wake up in the middle of the night, or I wake up in the morning, or I’m walking the dog or anything else, I have to make a physical effort to think about something else, if I need to think about something else, like a podcast. And I’m wondering, is that the same when you’re making an album? Does it become something that feels as if it’s living through you and needs an outlet into the world?
Caro: Yeah, I think so. I remember warning my partner that I wouldn’t be as available. I knew. I felt quite selfish and self-centred, and I was like, I just don’t think I can be as available. But in terms of, there is something about, you are getting in that pool, aren’t you? You’re getting in that pool of creativity. And it’s not something that you clock on at night and finish at five. At the same time as, I think you have to let it grow as well, because I think something like an album I could, you know, turn up, go away, turn up, go away. Probably easier than you can with a book, to be honest. But still, I do think of it as a whole journey. So the album, it does all interweave together, and it does reference itself and all that kind of thing, to just have those resonant frequencies really, so people know what they’re sitting down to on some level. But when it’s things like, for example, when I do the morning, my morning sort of routine, what you call the morning ceremony, out in the garden, I just had a massive light bulb moment one day, as I’m, you know, honouring or giving a nod to each of the four directions, the four elements, if you like: the fire, the air, the water, the Earth, and I was just like, Oh my word. Without them, we’d be toast. And it’s like, how didn’t I know that?
Caro: And of course, I say it to my step kids and they go, Yeah, Caro, that’s science. And I go, Yeah, I know, but I only really understood it. I only really just got it, you know? And yeah, wow. Oh my god, that’s so integral to our life on Earth, you know, and you can think about, yes, we might go off planet and all those kind of futures, but I’m actually quite attached to the life on Earth, and what Earth brings. And that’s definitely been, there’s no doubt that’s been strengthened by the work that I’ve done with, with the dreaming, and with yourself. And I think also in the terms of… how would I describe it? I remember on the foundation course that you do, the dreaming, and asking a question. And the question was, how can I find work that makes my heart sing, or something like that? And we took ages framing it, getting the words just right. And then as soon as I dropped into the dream, they went, what are you on about? You’re doing it already! Oh yeah! I am!
Manda: That happens so often.
Caro: So in that sense, yeah, I’d sort of found my way through there through the painful chrysalis of body pain. But yeah, in a sense, I guess there’s something about for me, it is the everyday. It’s definitely the everyday, you know, getting through the crux of a climbing problem. You know, we’ve all got our crux, it’s how are you going to get through it? Are you going to get round it, or are you just going to sit and look at it and take your time? You know, are you going to fight it? Are you going to fight against it? Are you fighting for? You know, I think there’s so many metaphors, I guess. that sort of… again, I’m not just being poetic. It is, I feel it. It’s a tangible thing. So for example, the magma in me, the magma in you, that came from doing the morning grounding. And just knowing that we’ve all got that, and how almost that spark that won’t let you give up, you know, when life’s just just too bonkers, there’s more crazy than than there is wonderful, there is that, yeah, there’s that spark that won’t let me give up anyway. And those things like that, that just relating to those things. And it’s very Bjork. She does exactly the same, you know, in terms of, you know, getting in there with the elements and the bodily processes or viruses. You know, she uses all sorts of with, especially with her album Biophilia. But it’s somehow being of that, you know, I think I am of, I’ve made it my home, the Earth, and therefore it is part of me, and I’m part of it, kind of thing.
Manda: The lyrics of your tracks reflect so much of your life. There’s the Mighty like a Mountain, and it starts off ‘climb when ready’. Which is, for those of you who don’t climb, the signal that the person who’s holding the end of the rope gives to the person who’s about to climb to let them know it’s OK to start. Because sometimes it’s not. And it feels to me as if, I suppose it’s an obvious thing that you are weaving your world into what you give back to the world. So because you have engineered every one of the podcasts, and because your music is so much coming from wherever the creative well is that feeds us, and coming out into the world, it seems to me as a gift of transformation, and I am not sure that the world is just the same, as you said that it was. I think it is changing faster than we know. But I wonder: one of the things that we do in the podcast is to endeavour to envision the world that could be, if we got everything right. The world where we have consciously evolved. And I know that we can’t see it from here, because it’s the nature of a total shift that it’s invisible from the starting point. But if you were to be given the power to craft the world, and the world in which you don’t feel as if your music has to enter into the predatory capitalist paradigm, what would your world feel like?
Caro: My latest conclusion is: honesty is a given. Then forgiveness can flow, and emotional or Conscious Evolution can emerge. So I think as long as we cannot be authentic, as long as we cannot say this, this is part of my story, this is what I’m working with and this is where I want to be, and this is who I really am, kind of thing, which I know is a very simplistic way of putting it. But until we can do that, it’s sort of all just, we all just have to pretend and lie, don’t we? And as long as we’re having to pretend, then there’s no end how much we can pretend. And I think that’s sort of where I come from. And a couple of albums ago, the title was Love Yourself till you’re No Longer Blinkered. And that was very much inspired by isolation, and having a sort of, it’s almost like an olive tree kind of concept, if you like, or metaphor in terms of, you know, that sort of being you having to go into yourself in order to, we have to be able to nourish our inner landscapes in order to have an impact on the outside. At the same time, as I’m not all about just, you know, just sort yourself out, and that’s fine. But there’s something about we’re just able to turn up and not have to pretend too much. And then there’s something about that humanity can really be, you know, that we don’t have, we’re not we’re not clever, we’re not sorted, at the same time as we can offer loads of genius things. Yeah, I think it’s opening that up a bit, if that makes sense.
Manda: It does. I’m really interested in the dichotomy between honesty and authenticity. I remember a woman that I met completely in passing. I only met her once. I’ve never met her again. But we were discussing life, the universe and everything. And she said that she knew that the man who became her husband was somewhere quite far along the Asperger’s spectrum and beyond when he said that she was the second most beautiful woman he’d ever met. And I think there’s sometimes that level of honesty is possibly not entirely necessary, and we can perhaps be authentic without having to say exactly what’s floated to the top of our head.
Caro: But the honesty is about who you are. It’s not about who anybody else is. It’s about who you are. It’s about showing up. It’s about showing up as to who you are. So basically, it’s saying, I’m sorry, I was an idiot at that time. I’m sorry. I was a plonker. I’m sorry I did this. Or, you know, it’s not even sorry. It’s just saying, I did this. I’m taking, I’m showing up and I’m saying I did this, and I know I did this, and I know it wasn’t right. And when that can happen, then the then the other people around or anyone that’s impacted at the brunt of other people’s, what I’ve got the lyric ‘no longer at the brunt of someone else’s game’, which is my kind of survivor’s anthem that’s in the album. And it is that processing my own childhood stuff, and somewhat experiences. And someone said, it’s people don’t do things to you. They do them for themselves. So it’s understanding that if we can just all show up and say, I did that, I sort of wish I hadn’t, or whatever. But then the other person can go, OK, well, then you can’t help but go, work towards forgiving that. And once you can forgive that, then we can all start to work with actually that more fertile ground, I think, to work towards. Because I think we’ll probably always be working towards this, humans, I hazard to conclude.
Manda: Because if we are holding on to the unforgiven, rage and regret and everything else, then we are also not able to be authentic. Is that where this is heading?
Caro: Yeah. And that’s also where people are at the brunt of your behaviours and your actions. Ok, so if you think parenting, for example, you know, it just gets past the baggage, gets passed on and on in some in some kind of, most of the time. I mean, I love the story of Norman Wisdom, how he changed the story with his situation where he learnt to do his comedy falls because his dad used to throw him up very high. You know, it was violent. And then his mom left, and left them with this violent father. And then that’s why he ended up homeless as a teenager and joining the army and and entertaining people. And that’s you know, and then when he became a father himself, the same thing happened. The mother left and he was offered, that was when he was offered his first Hollywood job kind of thing, and he gave it to Peter Sellers and instead decided to stay at home with his kids with, employing a nanny. But still, he decided to be present and stay with them. And that’s just, you know, it’s very difficult when people are able to change that. I mean, look at adoption, the reason why kids are up for adoption. It’s just the same until you no longer need to have other people at the brunt of your stuff. Then yeah, it’s hard work. But I just think, yeah, that’s that’s the only way we can, really. And I also think it hugely connects to how we respect the other species and the planet.
Manda: Yes. It feels more like a rather big mountain to climb because most of the people that you and I encounter outside of Accidental Gods and the dreaming work, I would suggest, are possibly not doing as much inner work as that would take if the entire transformation of humanity depends on everybody sorting their stuff out.
Caro: That’s why it becomes part of education. You know, if you think of it, the Thought Box, Rachel Musson that you had on. And you know, it’s part of that, isn’t it? It’s part of, you know, it becomes the norm that, you know, that this is how we manage things and it’s how we start to manage our circuitry, if you like. Then we can start to, yeah, uncover some of those things that, the unconscious drivers, most of the time that I think are, tend to be the destructive ones. But yeah, I mean, if I think of like for me, sitting out again, that sitting out in the morning thing, 10 minutes, and now I have my two cats. Well, the cat that I live with, and the cat next door, we have our meditation club where they basically just wait for me if I’m not there, or they’ll come and wake me up and go, Come on! Meditation time,
Manda: Meditation time, Caro, it’s meditation club! Come on!
One of them sits on the fence, obviously still undecided whether he’s joining or not, but that’s OK. And then that whole feeling part of the web of life thing. And I think once you’re there, it’s heart mind, isn’t it? It’s heart mind. Once you’re there, then it’s just, that’s home, really.
Manda: I think that’s glorious. I so can see these cats now spreading heart mind, morning meditation, morning practise, connecting to the elements and just sneaking around the whole of Manchester spreading these vibes. This is how transformation happens.
Caro: It’s that listening as well, listening to the world around you and and not expecting silence. So, you know, when I sit there in the morning, and you’d hear somebody shouting at their child because they’re not ready for school and there’s a part of me goes, Please be quiet. I want tranquillity to start my day. How dare you? I was like, there’s another part goes, this is the web of life! And that, you know, I do live in suburbia, so we’ve constantly got traffic sounds. Or, you know, some days I’ll hear the tram and some days I won’t. And that will be because of the wind direction. Or, you know, and obviously all the birds, and you know, and there’s the other day, Russell the Hedgehog, because he rustles around, and you know, there’s things like that where you just, you feel part of life, you know, you’re part of life and that is again, it’s that home place where if that’s your starting point and you can keep coming back to that anchor, I think you can’t mess up too much, hopefully.
Manda: That feels like an incredibly good place to end because we’re at our hour. But thank you very much, Caro, for being our best and most perfect sound engineer, and for being a guest on this week’s podcast.
Caro: You’re very welcome. Obviously, I’m just showing up in service, doing what I can. (Sings) I’m just one tiny particle, calling the party, a vital piece in the giant jigsaw called life. One tiny particle calling the party, calling the part a vital piece… a vital piece…
Manda: So that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Caro for all that she is and does. And for the integrity and authenticity that she brings to her work with this podcast, and her music and her teaching and the world. And I know it does feel as if everything is going on with business as usual. But the nature of change, particularly complex change, is that it’s happening under the surface and it only emerges when things have reached a threshold. And it genuinely feels to me with the work that Caro is doing, with the work that Rokia’s doing, or Howard, or Sharon Blackie, or any of the other people that we have interviewed on this podcast, that the world is changing. A lot of the things that we’ve talked about were not out in the open 10 years ago, even five years ago. The pace of change is getting faster. And so there’s anything that you can do in your world to help to speed things along, then I completely encourage you to do it. And for those of you who’ve got in touch and who are doing astonishing, amazing work in your own lives and in your own communities, I thank you.
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