Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
Ryan Hall, also known as Soulier, is a Calgary based electronic music artist. I talked to him about his musical interests, creative process and becoming involved in the Calgary electronic music scene.
Ryan’s musical roots go back to playing saxophone starting in elementary school. He was in jazz and concert band in high school, as well as being in some other bands and toured across Canada after dropping out of university. In 1994, he won a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston MA. He says, “That’s where I started getting introduced to electronic music production. They had a library with a bunch of old Mac computers and synthesizers and you could run the Cakewalk software. I fooled around with that making symphonic tracks, and that was the introduction for me.”
After graduating from Berklee, he came back to Canada and was a bass player in a variety of bands. During that time, he didn’t make any electronic music. Ryan explains, “Some friends were DJing and I was interested in learning how to do that. Once I started getting into DJing, like many DJs I just naturally ventured into the electronic music production side of things. I was familiar with it from my time at Berklee. 2012 was really when I started learning about electronic music production and I’ve been learning ever since then. I’ve been creating, producing and releasing music, continuing to learn all the time.”
Ryan has moved through a variety of different styles of electronic music including trance, deep house, tech house and techno. Right now, he is delving into live improvised electronic performances of which he says, “I use synthesizers and drum machines and make music which is a mix of tech house and ambient. There’s a little bit of a retro flavour in there too.”
His music has been influenced by his wide ranging interest in different types and styles of music. Ryan says, “I went through a fairly big jazz fusion phase when I was a bass player. I was listening to a bass player by the name of Alain Caron from Montréal. His music is fairly difficult to listen to for a lot of people. It’s quite technical and has some really obscure chords and musical structures.”
Ryan has also been influenced by film soundtracks by Hans Zimmer, classical piano as well as other electronic artists. He explains, “For electronic music, Brian Transeau (BT) is a genius. I have listened to a lot of his music and his style changes quite a bit from album to album. There’s a duo from Europe called Carbon Based Lifeforms who do live electronic shows. The music is kind of ambient in nature but it’s very interesting.”
His latest album is entitled Math and revolves around the idea of mathematical concepts in music. Ryan says, “I worked with a modular synthesizer which looks like a spaceship console with cables and knobs and switches. It’s pretty crazy to look at and it’s very mathematical. When I was learning about the Indian raga system, you discover ragas are songs with complex mathematical structures. Similarly, with synthesizers, you’re dealing with complex musical technology using oscillators and timing clocks, and things like that. I wanted to put together an album that connected the technology and the mathematics into a musical form, which you can hear on the track Cosmology on the album"
Ryan likes to go into the process of creating new music with an open mind and a desire to experiment. He says, “What I like to do is just hit the record button and let things flow naturally for 20 minutes and usually in there you’re going to find something that’s the beginnings of a track. It might sound a bit harsh and unmusical, but as long as you’re pushing through and manipulating the things that you’re working with on your hardware, you’ll eventually find something that’s musical and it just progresses from there.”
Live performance is something that he finds both challenging and rewarding. Ryan points out, “With the live performance because it’s improvised, it’s a little bit scary because you never know what’s going to happen. You have to think about the audience and if they’re getting into it. Sometimes you worry that you might do something wrong, but I’ve learned that in live performances and improvising, you can push through and turn potential mistakes into things that make the show really interesting.”
Although Ryan is a relative newcomer to the Alberta music scene, he feels quite positive about it. He says, “I’ve slowly been getting more involved in the last three or four years. It’s a very supportive community, there’s a lot of opportunities for learning and a lot of people dedicated to it. I’m getting into more initiatives in the scene here. If you compare to Montreal or Toronto, they have bigger populations and naturally more infrastructure for their scenes, but Calgary is becoming a place that’s being recognized for its scene which will hopefully become more and more healthy in the future.”