Yumé NET, combining the Japanese word for dream (夢) with “net” for “network”, signifies the combination of both the human and natural with the digital and electronic – a juxtaposition that is at the core of the music 24-year-old Mei Kirby creates.
Between juggling a PhD in Bioelectronics, live gigs, and finding time to work on her own creations, it’s clear that the Vancouver-born jazz musician and producer has a multifaceted talent and innovative creative process.
Yumé NET’s music explores different aspects of the modern human experience. Taking influences from romantic classical music, jazz, dubstep, experimental electronic and hip-hop, the complexity of her music defies the boundaries of genre as we know it.
We sat down at Qube East to talk about Yumé NET’s journey from start to finish, her influences and the message her music conveys.
To start things off, we brought the conversation back to the beginning of Mei’s story. It may come as a surprise to you that her musical talent was not necessarily something she grew up around.
“I hear a lot of musicians talk about growing up in a musical family, but I didn’t really have that. Neither of my parents are very musical, so it’s strange how I came out to be very musical. I started classical piano lessons when I was 6 but it was mostly something my mum encouraged me to do to expand my palette. I never took it really seriously as a kid and didn’t have big aspirations.”
It was only when reaching her teenage years that she developed a love and passion for jazz and began exploring the genre.
“When I was about 14 or 15 I started getting really into jazz after hearing it on video game and anime soundtracks. I eventually asked my mom about it and she introduced me to jazz pianists that my grandad had passed down to her such as Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. From there I did my own explorations.”
“I then tried to replicate that with my own playing and would try and get my classical teachers to teach me how to play. But it wasn’t super successful because jazz is just such a different skillset.”
“When I was about 14 or 15 I started getting really into jazz after hearing it on video game and anime soundtracks.”
One thing about Mei is when you watch her sit down and play the piano, anyone would think it’s second nature. But there is one point in particular she remembers that freed her from the restrictions of classical teaching and introduced her to a new way of playing through jazz improvisation.
“I was 14 and hanging out with some friends that had a rock band. They were all in the rehearsal room, jamming and said, ‘Hey do you want to play some piano with us?’. I was like ‘I don’t know what to play!’ and they said, ‘Just make it up!’. So I played a scale I knew would work and ended up having a lot of fun. From there I discovered the joy of improvisation, joined my school jazz band, and spent years trying to figure out jazz on my own with a bit of help from my classical teachers.”
“It’s been a really long journey. I feel like I’ve only really started to get to grips with jazz in the past two years. I’ve found a jazz teacher to really guide me and now I feel like I’m finally making progress.”
It was around a similar time that electronic music began to take a hold of Mei’s creative outlook, with genres such as EDM and dubstep inspiring her to experiment with electronic sounds and techniques.
“Dubstep was my entry point into this electronic world. A few artists introduced me to the genre. For example, Skrillex pioneered so many interesting production techniques that are now a mainstay of so much modern electronic music and production. Especially the sound design of the basses and the way he switches between so many different sounds in the drops – it’s something that has been really transformative and still continues to have a huge influence.”
“One of the biggest paradigm shifts I had with electronic music was listening to Ryoji Ikeda’s ‘Dataplex’. It’s electronic/contemporary classical, experimental, explorative and very minimal. The physical nature of his sound design kind of parallels what we now call ‘ASMR’. But some of his tracks are also quite musical and rhythmic. He definitely inspired my love for clicks and you can probably hear a lot of his influence in my music.”
“One of the biggest paradigm shifts I had with electronic music was listening to Ryoji Ikeda’s ‘Dataplex’.”
As with many artists, one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to creating electronic music is finding access to the right tools and software. Despite this challenge and lack of resources, Mei found new ways of being creative with whatever free tools were available online.
“I had Garage Band on the family laptop and used to watch YouTube tutorials for ‘Making Dubstep in Garage Band’. That started my journey of making electronic music. I think in 2016 or 2017 our Mac started getting a bit old and our family switched to windows, so there wasn’t really a free programme to use to make music. I ended up switching to Audacity, which is free. It’s really basic and not made for making music. It’s just used for recording audio and podcasts. There’s no grid but I would align the drum sounds, and then play, and then adjust it by ear until I got what I wanted. I still have some of the weird wonky drums from my first Audacity projects somewhere.”
“Some of the producers I was following were using Ableton at the time. French Kiwi Juice, for example. I liked watching him make things on the spot and loop them – it felt quite similar to my process at the time. When I first got Live 10, I started off by mimicking producers I looked up to most, such as Flying Lotus and Iglooghost.”
Yet ‘Still Here’ conveys a sense of triumph, portrayed through a simple 3- note, ascending-rising melody that unifies the piece as a whole. Spelling out ‘I’m still here’, the overriding message is one of optimism.
Through an array of juxtapositions, the piece uses sound to convey a powerful narrative: the conflicting experience of transphobia in the age of the internet.
“The internet is a very weird place. You’ll be scrolling on Instagram and you’ll be presented with so many different things. Someone’s just got killed, there’s a cat, my friends having a party, and there’s a gig I want to go to tonight. All of these things bombard you all at once.”
“As a trans woman, people will really be at your throat if you show any sort of anger or aggression or any sense of fighting back. People will accuse you of not being reasonable and you feel pinned against stereotypes of male aggression. It’s frustrating that our ability to be angry is stripped from us and we’re not allowed to express it. Yet we’re put in these horrible precarious positions of abuse. The people who criticise us for reacting are often the ones setting us up for it.”
From the education system and limited access to trans-related health care to rates of suicides increasing and the recent murder of Brianna Ghey, it is clear that the UK has a long way to go when it comes to trans rights.
Yet ‘Still Here’ conveys a sense of triumph, portrayed through a simple 3 note-rising melody that unifies the piece as a whole. Spelling out ‘I’m still here’, the overriding message is one of optimism.
“There’s so much hate everywhere and so much stacked against us in many ways. It’s easy to be devastated by all of that and feel a sense of doom. There’s a space to feel that too.”
“At the same time, it’s important to feel joy and I’m so grateful I’m here and I can live my life being who I am and be supported by all these incredible friends I have around me. We’re still here and it’s a beautiful thing to be able to share this life with all my friends.”
“And it’s through the internet that I’ve found such an amazing community of trans people. Whilst there’s so much hatred and bigotry, it’s also a tool to connect people in the community.”
“We’re still here and it’s a beautiful thing to be able to share this life with all my friends.”
Although ‘Still Here’ is yet to be released, Yumé NET has other exciting plans for her music coming up. One being the opportunity to work with Sony’s new immersive sound experience, 360 Reality Audio.
“Immersive audio is incredible because you can put so many different sonic elements around you, and really create a story that surrounds your listener.”
Composing for the medium opened the door to a whole new creative way of thinking since there are new things you have to think about. For example, how the placement of sounds in 3D space can affect its timbre. When you work through those new challenges though, you end up with a really exciting piece of art.”
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