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Angelica Olstad Creates Immersive Storytelling Experiences

Angelica Olstad

While dreaming bigger and louder then everyone else, Angelica Olstad understands that in this modern day art world, developing your artistic practice is as essential as possessing entrepreneurial skills. she loves to inspire and being inspired. I was especially intrigued by her debut collaboration on her EP Versions with Emmy award winning composure Chris Child. Towards her new project SPACES starting up this November in NYC, Olstad talks inspiration, obsession and collaboration.

You are a performer who makes storytelling experiences, can you elaborate on the process and how you reached the point of storytelling?

I've always been interested in stories. As a kid I loved reading and by the time I finished high school I had already fallen in love with the works of Thomas Mann, Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Italo Calvino and many more - I've just always had a strong affinity with stories. For me, a great novel has the ability to evoke a sense of humanness, a commonality, or emotion through different worlds. Reading literature taught me that a really great work of art finds a way to resonate everyone - to make us realize that we are interconnected through time and space with a universal human experience. Most importantly, great art forms, like classical literature can last the test of time and feel relevant for anyone in any time period.

With that framework, I really started diving into storytelling through music and multimedia when I was in graduate school studying piano. By this point I had stopped reading and was spending my time learning the repertoire. Academic music is mostly focused on perfecting music over long periods of time for juries or degree recitals. There was one point where where I was working on a Rachmaninoff Prelude for something like 5 months and my mind was starting to slip in weird ways. My obsession with perfection started to change the piece into an unrecognizable form (this, by the way, was also the genesis of my deconstructionist technique which I now use in all my work). This practice technique was helpful but it was also problematic for me - so as a practice tool I actually wrote a story, lyrics almost, to accompany each part of the piece to help me follow a through line as I was working on memorization. This began an entire exploration of music in a new context not just as a task or a beautiful piece to listen to but as the proclamation of the composer.

I began thinking about things like, what was Rachmaninoff thinking when he wrote this? Did he write this for someone? I started thinking about the piece as an extension of an individual who lived a very successful but lonely life. This idea of context is what began my practice. I want to bring audience members into my world, my view of the world, and as a result, view their own experience in life through a different lens. Yes, I create my work with an audience in mind but at the heart of it, I'm always thinking of ways to individually connect with the viewer, to intimately create a one-on-one conversation. It's like, this is me, take it or leave it - but I hope that you get something out of it, and whatever that is, it will totally be based off your experiences, your perspective and your context and that's fine with me. I don't have an agenda for the viewer and I always love to hear other people's responses. Usually what stood out for one person is completely different for the next person and so forth.

I think another thing that defines my work is that it's always changing because I'm always looking at whats happening - right now I'm looking at combining storytelling with emerging technologies. I'm also obsessed with TV and how it's developed into this incredible art form. There's so much good TV now and like novels, it satisfies my craving for long story arcs and juicy character development. I recently just finished a job in Melbourne, Australia where I was a producer for a fantastic digital studio called Sandpit. Those guys are doing really great creative work within the GLAM space and it really got me thinking about space, design, and architecture in a whole new way. I'm feeling very inspired by that work and want to take this further.

Angelica Olstad

Does your creative process normally start from playing, or do you tend to blend the music piece later?

To begin, I'll actually spend a lot of time thinking about the world and observing changing patterns in human nature and to be honest, a lot of this is done by engaging in social media and observing people's changing relationships with this technology. So I read, people watch, and spend a lot of time letting the soil "fallow" if you will. Sometimes I'll think about a concept for years before I decide to act on it. I think about all the variables and permutations that a concept can go through and sometimes, with the passage of time I'll decide to let go of a creative concept deciding that it's not either for me, or that it didn't pass the 'test of time'. Then I go through a period where I play through a LOT of pieces and start listening for passages that pique my interest. Once I'm in this zone and mode of concentration, I can actually write a new piece in a matter of 15 minutes or just a couple of hours. Generally, the performances and/or installations are pretty complicated and require collaborators and technical infrastructure. Luckily, I have a strong background working in production so I'm able to self-produce my projects and I'm lucky have a pretty good network of individuals as collaborators. Another part of my process if just forcing myself to produce under a deadline by either booking a performance or actively applying to residencies and galleries. Otherwise, I would probably sit on these ideas, letting them float in the air for forever.

Chris Child and Angelica Olstad

On Versions you collaborated with Chris Child, how was the experience working with him, and do you feel it is more challenging to work with other artists?

This is another example of an idea that was floating around for a few years before it actualized.

I had been wanting to work with a producer for a long time and after another producer had to back out last minute for an upcoming faculty performance, Chris was nice enough to step in as a personal favor. From there we started collaborating to write the EP "Versions". Obviously it was amazing to work with him. He's an Emmy winning composer and having the opportunity to work with someone on that level was completely invigorating and very exciting. I was lucky that Chris is a formally trained composer so we could really approach some high level concepts using a shared language. A lot of the time, producers are self taught musicians so it was cool to be able to geek about the finer points of counterpoint, concerto, and chamber music. I think there's a lot of depth to the EP that feels very orchestral at some points. I really could not have asked for a better collaborator for a debut collaboration.

I learned a lot from the experience, mostly on the logistics of pairing acoustic piano with analog synths and the nitty gritty details that go into recording an album on that scale. I think the most challenging element of collaborating with artists is to find a way to continually serve the integrity of the project no matter what. Sometimes one person is going to see something one way and there's always going to be a difference of opinion, but I actually think there's a great strength in collaborating because when you bring different skill sets to the table the end product is of course going to be more multilayered.

Angelica Olstad in New York City

You founded Pop Up Yoga NYC, do you feel that entrepreneurial skills are important for artists these days more then it use to be in the past?

Absolutely. When I was in school, social media as we know it didn't even exist much less this concept of the artist as an entrepreneur. For context, Facebook was invented in 2004 when I was a freshman in college, so the landscape of branding, promotion, and marketing has completely changed since then. When I was in school I was still a part of a more purist, almost parochial, belief that either you performed or you taught - there was no in between and there were definitely no programs or opportunities to pursue multimedia or interdisciplinary studies for me back then. When I started Pop Up Yoga NYC, I had just moved to NYC and I was a 24 year old kid straight of school with no official real life experience, and no clue what I wanted to do as an artist - I had to learn all that stuff from the ground up.

Even thought it had its challenges, Pop Up Yoga NYC ended up being this really beautiful practice in itself. I think most importantly it forced me to go outside of my comfort zone which came from growing up within the insular world of the performing arts. It forced me to interact with people I never would have met. Through my company I had to become really comfortable doing a lot of things that the modern day artist has to do - interviews, working with marketing and PR departments, write up press releases, take meetings with CEOs/general managers/event producers/sponsors, write up budgets, proposals, newsletters/social media posts, and a lot more. I think it's easy to think only about the artistic process, but the reality is, if you want to do any of it on a serious level you're most likely going to have to interact with these people and understand how to operate in different departments, so it's good to know how to be able to wear different hats in different settings.

Angelica Olstad

Which projects or performances are you working on currently?

I'm currently working on a new multimedia piece called "Spaces". I was just accepted into a Banff music residency to write music for a non-linear documentarian experience that takes viewers inside the homes of New York women. Like I said, I've really been interested in architecture and space and I wanted to find a way to step inside the homes of women and showcase the various socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, and different neighborhoods of New York City. It's also a reflection on domestic duties, daily rituals, and how women balance home life with their professional endeavors. I'll start filming content in November and I'm really excited to see what comes of it, I think it's a topic that will resonate with a lot of people particularly highlighting the struggles that come with living in high density and high cost cities.

This artist introduction and interview was curated by Shally Zucker for Artqol.



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