Fiona Soe Paing on Alien Lullabies and SPECTRA

With SPECTRA announcing its first ever musical programme, we speak to local musician Fiona Soe Paing about performing her audio-visual project Alien Lullabies at the Aberdeen festival

Feature by Nadia Younes | 02 Feb 2018
  • Fiona Soe Paing

No longer just known as the land of granite, oil and rowies, Aberdeen now has a new claim to fame in the form of light and sound festival SPECTRA. Taking place between 8-11 February, SPECTRA – now in its fourth year – for the first time announced it would also be running a music programme to coincide with the annual Festival of Light. With a focus on Nordic and UK talent, the festival this year will include a range of audio-visual performances from the likes of Warp Records’ Plaid, electronic supergroup Wrangler and world-renowned Norwegian producer Lindstrøm, as well as live performances by rising UK talents.

Aberdeenshire-based vocalist and producer Fiona Soe Paing is one of the artists representing Scotland at the festival, bringing her audio-visual show Alien Lullabies to the underground arches of The Tunnels. “It isn't all that often we get a really big major event happening up here so I think it's really important for everyone to get a buzz about it,” she says. “I was there last year for the first time and I was really gobsmacked by how vibrant the city seemed on a dreary dreich night at the beginning of February.”

Paing collaborated with moving image artist Sara Stroud on a sound and light installation at last year’s festival, focusing on Aberdeen’s Music Hall, which has been closed for refurbishment since March 2016 and is due to reopen this summer. The installation took the form of a 12-sided miniature fairground carousel, with an iPad on each side displaying archive footage of the Music Hall and interview clips with people that had been or performed there, accompanied by sounds created by Paing. This time around though, she's showing her own project at the festival.

Alien Lullabies is a stunningly sinister, haunting and completely captivating piece of electronic music, in which Paing’s experimental vocals switch between English and Burmese over the course of 12 tracks. “It was [a] complete exploration to find out if I could actually make music and what kind of music was it going to be,” she says. “I didn't set out with a plan, it was just total exploration really of what I could do with a computer and my voice and whether it would be any good.”

For its live performances, Paing developed a visual element alongside the music with New Zealand-born 3D animator Zennor Alexander. The pair initially met when they were both living in Brighton but it wasn’t until Paing visited Alexander upon his return to his home country that the project really came to life. “We had started working together a little bit in Brighton but I went over there with the intention of carrying on the project, so I was there for two years really, in New Zealand, helping him, collaborating on the animations and developing more music.”

While over there, they performed the project at the Auckland Fringe Festival and numerous other venues before bringing it over for its UK debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015, as part of Creative Scotland's curated showcase Made In Scotland. With its initial development beginning in 2006, the project has now been over ten years in the making, but over the course of each performance it has taken on a different form, adapting from show to show. “It is constantly evolving… but I think the show that I'm performing [at SPECTRA] is the final version. I think that's it finished now, but it has taken a long time to get to this stage, with a lot of different versions.”

Although the project has now finally reached completion, Paing is not ready to give it up anytime soon. “It's just such a powerful piece that I think it needs to be a bit more widely seen,” she says. “It's really weird how I never get tired of performing it. Obviously, because it's vocals and I'm going to be giving a slightly different performance every time, so even though it is the same material, it's always a fresh take on it.”

A champion of fellow female electronic musicians, Paing is also involved in the female:pressure network, an international network of female, transgender and non-binary artists in the fields of electronic music and digital arts. Founded by Austrian DJ, composer and musician Electric Indigo in 1998, the database intends to strengthen networking, communication and representation among women in electronic music all around the globe. “They did a huge bit of research on the actual statistics of how many women are involved in line-ups and produced some nice little graphic images… that got quite a lot of traction on social media and then that did bring it out to people's attention of how dire the situation was.”

In a guest blog on Female First in September 2016, Paing wrote: “Rather than bemoaning the shortage of female producers, let's celebrate the fact that there actually are armies of us – it's just that we're not visible in mainstream media due to lack of coverage.” With a strong line-up of local and international female artists and musicians set to participate and perform at this year’s SPECTRA festival, it seems like the perfect place to celebrate – and hopefully the tide will begin to change.

Fiona Soe Paing will perform at Tunnels, Aberdeen, 9 Feb as part of SPECTRA; SPECTRA runs from 8-11 Feb at various venues in Aberdeen