Wellington local and classically trained vocalist Rose Blake (Blaek) steps into a different territory with her exploration of electronic music. With strong connections to folk music from her time working with groups such as Ida Lune and Pales, Rose brings a wealth of musical knowledge to this project. Blaek’s music is detailed, emotive, delicate, all the while maintaining an immaculate and distinct production signature. Last week we sat down for a chat with Rose about Blaek and the upcoming Performance Arcade.
So at The Performance Arcade, we have a vision for Wellington as a city for live art. We are so excited to see you play at this year’s Arcade, and our first question is around the experience of live performance vs. recording— how do you feel the effect of your music upon the audience changes between performing in each of these ways?
I would say for the recorded stuff, in a way it’s like this perfectly organised thing that you’ve created, that you’ve thought about and it’s taken a long time to get there, but with live performance I feel like some of that just completely goes out of the window. It depends on your mood and how you feel, it depends on the audience, so it feels like a way more interactive or intimate thing.
I don’t generally perform the music exactly as-is. If it’s the same as it is in the recording, then I feel like you kind of lose something, it’s not exciting anymore. So there’s space for something a bit more unexpected which just changes that experience. With Blaek, it’s just me so I kinda have to strip the whole thing back as well, so that’s also quite a difference from an arrangement of a recording to live performance.
Right! Interesting also that you can see the audience responding to your work in such an immediate sense—which of course, you don’t get with recording.
I think that definitely changes things. I think it’s really easy when you’re performing to go into your own zone, but when I get comfy and it’s going ok, I want to look out and see what people are doing. And I want to communicate, to them, because that’s the difference. They can see you. And they can see your face, they can see your expressions…
Can you give an example of how you might do that? Respond to a different audience?
I think you can just feel the mood of an audience, and as a vocalist if people were talking you might sing a bit louder, a bit more forcefully, or if you felt like people are really intimately listening to you, you might take the whole thing back. And sometimes you have performances where people aren’t listening, so you’re just like “oh, I’m gonna do my own thing” and not worry about it. If people are getting stuff out of it, that’s amazing. You can feed off that. If they’re not, then you also want to get something out of it. You want to enjoy it as well, and I think you get used to that space. So it’s an ever-changing thing, definitely.
At the Arcade you will be performing on our music stage, which is part of a shipping container. Can you remember the most unique or memorable place you’ve ever played, as Blaek or otherwise?
I think the most unique place I’ve played has been with another band that I’m in, Ida Lune. We played behind a wall in a gallery and it was bizarre, it was like we would be voices coming out of nowhere, but it really didn’t work. we were crouched behind this wall trying to play, and then we ended up on the stairs in this tiny gallery space. With Blaek, I think, I had a beautiful gig in a big garden in Newtown, that was really amazing, but I don’t think I’ve had any crazy places.
So the one in the gallery—could people see you if they wanted to see you?
No, no! There were these narrow stairs next to the gallery, so I guess you could’ve looked over if you wanted to, but we couldn’t stand properly in the space, so we were sort of crouched. And people were talking, so they couldn’t hear us. It was hilarious! It was then that we lined up on this stairway and then it was cool, people stopped and started listening. But it was a strange experience.
So funny, how strange. The theme of The Performance Arcade this year is ‘The Pink Line’. Do you have any routines or habits that you have to keep yourself ‘in-line’ as it were, creatively, with your work?
I think it can be a really challenging thing to do. I don’t know if I have a set routine, being like ‘you need to do this to stay in line with your creativity!’ but I think that I actively plan, and it might be like ‘I’m just gonna do some singing’, or ‘I’m just gonna play my synth tonight, or ‘I’m just gonna sing a song I’ve already written’… I’ll sort of plan what I want to get out of it. But then the struggle with that is, if you don’t achieve that, you have to forgive yourself too. And be like ‘I had a go at being in this creative space for this time and maybe I didn’t get very far, but I did it.’ And I think I have to remind myself of that, because I’m definitely someone who’s like ‘ok, you need to do this and this and this’. Keep moving forward.
That sounds like a good way to keep yourself in check, and that part about forgiving yourself if you don’t reach your targets is so important. So what led you to realise you had an affinity for music? Was it something throughout your life that you have known as a skill?
From a very young age I fell in love with singing. I was obsessed with it, and when I was really young I loved writing—I’ve got some really great songs from when I was really young that are a bit painful to listen to now! I started getting singing lessons, and that led to classical singing. I did a degree in classical singing and for a while that was my main passion.
I totally got back into writing music and met other people who were writing, and it’s slowly led me to where I am now. It kind of went to acoustic music first and has naturally progressed to electronic stuff as well, which I could not have imagined initially. Eventually, I always thought I was going to be an opera singer, so it’s a very different path I have now taken. But I think I have focused on writing my own music because I’ve developed a need to do it, I can’t seem to stop, and it started with singing and tapping into this thing that I loved doing, and now it has all led to writing and composing music.
Lines can acts as points of connection between distant places, but also can be used to separate and divide. Can you identify any examples of separation and connection included in your music?
I often think about the connection and separation between using your voice to create a melody and then using different forms of technology to create a song. In many ways, the act of creating electronic sounds via a synth etc feel like very separate processes than creating a melody with your voice. Yet it only takes running your voice through an effects pedal to mary the natural sound of the voice with technology and suddenly there is the connection! And it’s magical!
Can you draw a line between some of your musical influences and your own work? So maybe even the opera, I wonder if you could draw any parallels from that?
Yeah, I don’t know - maybe there’s parallels in the fact that I think in a melodic way, or I think as a vocalist and then kind of learning how to do all the other stuff around it? But, I have a number of musical influences that have influenced me as well - I love, Bjork who has definitely been an inspiration, or Aldous Harding is amazing. They’re all really unique artists, Chelsea Jade, I love her production - I think subconsciously elements of these artists have crept into my work.
So, as Blaek, it’s easy to identify your place as a performer with your music. But you can pinpoint the act of performance in other areas of your life?
I think with singing classical music, you’re performing as a character, as someone else, you’re interpreting someone else’s music. That’s a completely different area of performance to Blaek, where you’re yourself communicating a message to people. Those I think are two different aspects of performance in my life, even though they have similarities, if you’re performing your own music it’s super personal. In opera, even if you’re playing a character, if they’re going through some kind of distress, your trying to tap into that character’s emotions of how they’re feeling as opposed to ‘here are my emotions which you are all seeing’
Great answer, that’s an interesting connection between performing as yourself or adopting someone else’s story, as it were. Thank you so much Rose, we can’t wait for your performance!
BLAEK will be playing at The Performance Arcade on Saturday 23 FEB , 5.30pm
Thank you to Hiria Hallbutcher for putting this interview together.
Check out Blaeks music at: