It was during a long and cold isolating Winnipeg winter that Samantha Selci hunkered down to immerse herself in the rarified world of music production, audio editing, mixing, synthesis and sound design.
It didn’t come from nowhere. The previous year, the musician had graduated from the University of Manitoba’s music program, where she had studied classical vocals.
But she also studied composition and took a class that placed her in something called the Experimental Improv Ensemble, which specialized in mixing art installation, technology and experimental music and helped send her on a bit of an alternative path. Through it all, she discovered not only a love of electronic music but a curiosity about how it’s produced.
“I was just absolutely taken by it and fascinated by it,” says Selci, which is the one-word moniker she uses while performing. “I was just as passionate about that as I was about singing. I had never really found another instrument or any other thing in the music world that had compelled me as much as learning about audio did from a technical standpoint. After that, it took me. That’s been my path since then.”
So it’s hardly surprising that Selci’s debut EP, Effervescence, seems a perfect combination of skillfully produced electronic beats, chill grooves and icy ambience mixed with direct, soulful vocals and melodies. It makes for a unique listening experience, one that suggests both an adventurous bent and adherence to more traditional songcraft.
“My main intention when I’m composing music and producing music is to blend pop music styles with a more experimental approach,” says Selci, who will hold a CD release at the McHugh House Community & Arts Hub as part of the BUMP (Beltline Urban Murals Project) Festival on Aug. 28. “When I’m doing my sound design, I definitely like to push it outside the box a little bit.”
On the haunting hymn-like Eyes of Amber, a processed chorus of voices rides a soft wave of minimalist electronica backing. On the hypnotic Strangers, Selci offers a nuanced and soulful vocal performance over jittery beats and synth swirls.
The experimental bent offers appropriate backing for Selci’s lyrics, which finds her mining her own history for content but often in a decidedly abstract manner.
“Lyrically, it’s definitely about personal growth and moving through certain things with my mental health, certain things with my own relationships,” she says. “It’s about growing and moving through things and coming out the other side changed in a way. All the songs are slightly about different things but are all about growth and a personal journey. I think my writing is abstract, I like to play with a bit of surrealism and wordplay. So it’s not about ‘this is what I did today’ but it does have commentary on my life over the past couple of years.”
It’s a life that has included a move to Calgary and job as an audio tech at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. It has allowed the artist to sample some of the centre’s impressive collection of vintage instruments and amplifiers, some of which make it onto the record.
Calgary jazz keyboardist Timonthonius lends some Fender Rhodes piano on We Could Be Together, while a vintage 1970s synthesizer is put through something called “Old Nasty,” an equally seasoned amplifier once owned by Neil Young, on the delicate Old Wounds.
It’s all part of Selci’s continuing education in sound design. It’s an area that until recently has tended to be dominated by men.
“I think when you are in electronic music and electronic production, there’s a huge technical aspect to it,” she says. “You have to know the way that audio functions and you have to know how to manipulate audio. There is a lot more technical side of it and the audio-tech world is super male-dominated just because that transition hasn’t fully happened yet. I think we’re in the midst of it now. If you are looking at the electronic charts, a lot of the producers on there are going to be male, a huge percentage. I think it’s slowly changing.”
Which may be why Selci has been so inspired by Sylvia Massy, an American producer and engineer who has worked with everyone from Tool to Prince to Johnny Cash. An Winnipeg engineer recommended Massy’s 2015 book, Recording Unhinged, to Selci. When she finished recording Effervescence, Selci compiled a dream list of people to mix the record. Massy, who was on the top of the list, immediately responded and invited Selci down to her studio in Oregon for a one-on-one mixing session.
They plan to work together again.
Like Massy, Selci eventually wants to move onto production for other artists in the electronic realm.
“That’s my long-term goal,” she says. “Right now, I’m really focused on this project. But I love collaborating with other people and it’s a huge goal of mine to produce for other people in the future. It’s in the books.”
Selci will hold an EP release show on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at the McHugh House Community & Arts Hub as part of the BUMP (Beltline Urban Murals Project) Festival. She will also play Aug. 31 at the HiFi Club.