Enter Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's 'Mosaic Of Transformation' & Hear About Her Label, Touch The Plants

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is a composer, performer, and producer who has recently co-founded the label Touch The Plants, a venture which has led her to explore all aspects of creating music and other visual products and getting that out to audiences.

In her own work, Smith has released several albums and singles, one of which, Tides: Music for Meditation and Yoga, shows her interest and involvement with ideas of daily practice. You'll find more general aspects of that with her latest release, The Mosaic of Transformation, but it's that ambiguity that makes it such a profoundly interesting work. It's accessible and open to all to allow it to engage their senses and encourage them to have deeper levels of experience, but it's not tied to one particular approach and makes a wonderful listening option for daily life.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith spoke to Tower's PULSE! from a small town in the Pacific Northwest where she's finding the natural world to be quite helpful in her work/life balance, and she shared ideas about creativity and inspiration, as well as her observations setting up the Touch the Plants label.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Do you use the word ‘album’ to refer to this collection? Since it’s so much to do with practice as well as entertainment, I’m sure other words might work as well.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: I appreciate that you received that. I don’t have language around it, and I tend to let it just fall into that category. Often language is challenging for me around creative expressions since so much of it is in a somatic or musical language. The song titles and information about the album are the hardest part for me. It is always an interesting aspect to try to put it into language.

HMS: Was it hard to come up with the album title for this one? It’s so deeply related to the music itself, with the idea of “transformation”. Did that come before or after?

KAS: It came in the middle and often times the title is the easiest part of finding the language since it feels like it comes effortlessly. Often, I’ll wait until the music itself tells me, then I’ll start to have something stuck in my head. Then I’ll realize, “Oh, that’s the title. That’s why I have that sentence stuck in my head.” That’s how the title happened for this album as well. It was just a repeating thought for a while.

A while back, I surrendered to not knowing the trajectory of creativity and letting it introduce itself to me over and over again with each project. And even to not knowing the end and sometimes still not knowing. That’s been a relieving process to surrender to that.

HMS: I could definitely use a little more of that in my life. Especially with the chaos in the world right now.

KAS: It’s a lesson that we’ll all being confronted with over and over again. It’s entropy and feeling like we can control it, then it falls apart. Creativity feels like that too.

HMS: When you started thinking that way, did it affect the sound directions of your music, or was it more an effect on you as a person?

KAS: I think so but it’s hard to truly say since everyone hears so differently. It did for me. I think I hear a little bit less of me in the music, but at the same time, I feel like I hear more of me, which I know might sound weird to say. Sometimes my relationship with creativity feels like when I surrender to it, it shows me more of my true self. The true self part that I’m referring to is more like the nature that permeates all things, for lack of better language.

There’s this book that I really like, The Timeless Way of Building. I highly recommend it. The whole book is dedicated to talking about this quality that has no name. It’s an energy that we all feel in buildings or in towns, or in a piece of art. You can use words like “life” or “alive” but that’s limiting. Being an artist is an interesting role that we’re all dancing with of how to collaborate with that quality. It often feels like we’re creating and we’re doing, but at the end of the creation, there’s a turnaround where it feels like the quality was creating the whole time. It’s one of those abstract things.

HMS: That’s very interesting. Thanks for the recommendation. When something is finished and it seems to become autonomous, or separate from the person creating it, that sounds like a similar idea.

What’s was the timeline for you working on this collection?

KAS: That album started in 2017 and I finished in 2019, so that’s about two years.

HMS: Do you tend to work on other projects at the same time?

KAS: Yes, I had lots of other projects I was working on, and I was balancing it between different jobs and commissions.

HMS: I know that your label, Touch the Plants, has a number of projects out, and I know that you’re curating those releases, but it also looked like you might be Producing some as well.

KAS: Yes. My partner that I started the imprint work, we both do a lot of it ourselves to be able to afford to do it. We do a lot of the recording. In the beginning, we started the imprint with older releases of mine so that we could figure out the nuts and bolts and we didn’t have to subject any other artists to that. Once we felt we had distribution figured out, we started to invite other people into it.

We wanted to start with tapes and vinyl and books. So we started with tapes and vinyls of my work, then a book series that I’m writing. Recently we opened it up to other people. We started a compilation series that has been so much fun, where I give artists prompts, and they make a composition based on the prompt.

HMS: Does that result in a collection of themed pieces where artists are responding to the same prompt?

KAS: Yes, so far we’ve only done one compilation, but I’m working on the second one now. The first prompt was “breathing”, and the idea was to make instruments sound like they are breathing or to pay tribute to instruments that sound like they are breathing.

HMS: That’s awesome! I saw that one on your website.

Running a label is so many different tasks and it’s so admirable that you set the goal for yourself to learn how to do all these things in order to create a new entity.

KAS: It’s been really fun learning all these aspects of the music world and learning what it takes to share music. I think it helps me understand and empathize with other labels that I’m associated with. I know exactly what they are going through now. It’s just been baby steps over time, with a little at a time each day, and I think that’s one of the fun parts of being a freelance artist, because you can fill your day the way you want to.

HMS: Do you have any tips on time management and how to keep from burning out on projects when you’re balancing things?

KAS: You know how Alan Watts says that work and play should be the same thing? I think having discernment so that I’m only taking on those roles, where it always feels like play, and always feels rejuvenating is important. That’s not always the case since there are unforeseen things that can feel exhausting, but I think having your toolset for that can help. For me, that’s nature, and being upside down, like doing handstands. Have your toolset for when those times happen.

I don’t know if other people are having this, but I’ve noticed that I’ve taken on more perfectionistic tendencies during this pandemic, as a remedy for the things I can’t control. Like if I can keep my house really clean, it’ll be okay. It’s interesting to observe that coping mechanism.

HMS: That is so relatable to me! My family is the same, too. I’ve been totally been taking my house apart. It’s very human. There is a plus side to that, because if you focus in on something really close up, sometimes that can help your mind and be meditative.

KAS: Yes. I definitely agree.

HMS: Where do the visual arts come into all this for you? With Touch the Plants, you talk about wanting to create a multidisciplinary space. Then the videos for your new releases are super interesting, too. Do you have a visual inclination too as an artist?

KAS: It’s very much part of the initial seed in my own creative process. At Touch The Plants, we very much want to share visual arts. We’ve been challenged in figuring out the right outlet for it. It’s been hard to figure out how to share a physical form of visual arts, and the same with dance. I want to figure out how to have them be part of the imprint, but that’s been a slower development.

My husband is a filmmaker, so I’ve been very fortunate to hire him to help me bring that seed into the world. We collaborate all the time. It’s challenging because people consume it so quickly on the internet. You work hard, and then they have it for one day. Things are so fast on the internet. We’re trying to figure out a way luxuriate in someone’s creation a little longer, but we don’t have that answer.

HMS: A lot of creative people are working on that question. This pandemic has shown so clearly that we need more stability in how we share creative projects, in music and beyond.

KAS: It’s fun to revisit older ways of doing things, too. I’ve returned to a small town and I was looking for a place in town as office space. And I found that I couldn’t just look online, but I had to go in town and look, and interact with people. I had to look at the bulletin board. It’s a novel experience right now.

HMS: That’s wild. I can’t think when I last did something like that.

KAS: It’s bringing me back to these older ideas. I’ve heard a lot of psychologists talk about how nostalgia is a common coping tool during trauma.

HMS: It seems like physical spaces and physical movement can be really beneficial rather than just looking at screens all the time.

KAS: Since I’ve been back home, I’ve also been into path building, making paths in the woods. I think sometimes, at least for me, it feels like my conscious mind can’t handle the task and I have to get my body involved. The physical movement and physical language of it is nice because it puts responsibility on other parts of my being.

HMS: There are different types of intelligence in us, so that’s an interesting way of spreading that out.

KAS: I remember reading that the Amygdala that is the coordination part of the body. I remember hearing that if your brain gets tired, using your Amygdala rejuvenates the rest of your brain. I can only last a couple of hours on the computer at the time and then I have to go and jump around.

HMS: Most of us don’t even take the breaks we’re supposed to take when sitting and looking at screens.

What inspires you to work on music? Do you listen to other music, or do you try to stay away from influences?

KAS: I don’t stay away from influence, but I don’t seek it out either. I would say that I’m attracted by the ineffable. I want to identify it, and then I use creativity as a teacher to teach me about this thing I see, feel, or am confronting. Usually, trying to translate it into another art form helps me understand it. Often, if I feel something that is a mystery to me, it’ll start to show up in a lot of different places. Like you see that your friend got a certain car, then you start to see that car everywhere. That kind of thing. It’s like I’m a detective on a mystery to understand this weird curiosity inside of me.

HMS: I love the way that you phrased that. That’s so cool. I know what you’re talking about. These weird little syncronicities crop up in life so much and put you on the trail of something. I love that it’s a creative thing to follow that trail.

KAS: Usually, I’ll take notes for a long time. I’ll gather things that I’ve seen, like clues, and keep looking at them. Then music will start to come out and it’ll have that quality to it. Some of the projects I’ve made, I still feel that way about.

HMS: Could that come back up if it’s not totally resolved?

KAS: Yes, I do feel like there are a few albums that I’ve made that are connected but I haven’t figured that out yet.

HMS: That’s kind of exciting that the story is ongoing.

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