A Prescription for Loneliness: Meet IM SO AL OE
An artist experimenting with her newfound freedom
It’s not uncommon for anyone who cares about music these days to find themselves spiraling down Internet wormholes, swirling for hours deep in unfamiliar terrain. But instead of resisting, maybe once and while just keep going. Occasionally, it pays off and you stumble across that obscure artist who’s not part of any scene and only has a couple listeners, but they’re just as good, if not better, than half the artists out there powered by the hype machine.
That’s the case with Daniella Nguyen, an artist who’s so detached from the creative world that she started a project to express it, called IM SO AL OE. The art and music project began when she left her lifelong home of Moscow for university and found herself isolated in the new environment. “I study plants in Vienna, but have no friends here,” she tells us via email. “I was permanently complaining about it so much that I decided, instead of annoying everyone, I’ll start a page of sketches with the name.” At first, it was just a series of selfie collages, made up of digital drawings and pictures culled from around the web paired with music she liked. But soon a friend from back in Russia asked her if she’d be interested in writing some music to go along with the images, and it evolved into an audio-visual thing.
It’s a very D.I.Y. project, but one brimming with creativity. The songs are raw and varying, with her sing-song vocals skipping over dusty electronics. Sometimes it sounds like something Awful Records would produce, all warbling rap and weird beats. Other times it’s more like a Crystal Castles tune, angsty and clashing. Overall, it’s pretty hard to characterize, and purposefully so.
While the selfie art is entirely hers (with the occasional fan contribution), the music is collaborative. Her producer, Arthur Hodosh, starts with the beats and a couple chords on Fruity Loops Studio and Ableton, and she’ll add vocals recorded on an iPhone 4, then they go back and forth changing parts. “The idea was to make small mini-tracks in different genres based on my voice samples as an accompaniment to the sketches I make,” Nguyen explains. “Soon we started arranging all the sounds into a song-like form.” The project is less than a year old, and they ask other people for advice pretty often.
“We were even looking for someone from Brazil, just so we could call ourselves BAR (as in Brazil, Austria, Russia),” she laughs. “We’re just having fun.”
Part of the reason she’s so new to this all is the lack of freedom allowed back home. “My whole life in Moscow I was officially a foreigner,” she explains. “You are limited in expressing yourself and have no room for mistakes.”
“Most of the time, it’s hard to stay true to yourself because you have solve to all these concrete problems–especially if they are connected with the government at any level–because everything is flooded with bribery, extortion, patriarchy, and hierarchy. I was deported once for administrative offenses and had to travel around the borders for almost three months. Each year, I had to prolong my student visa, and once the woman who dealt with the paperwork started to scream at me, telling me she’d send me back to my roots! I kept thinking about that for a long time. Like seriously, where are those roots?”
But Nguyen made good use of her time there, despite the challenges. She studied horticulture and ran a small community garden with elderly locals. “We fought and still fight against construction which would destroy the whole collection in the garden (almost 300 species). Now the garden is officially turning into a botanical garden.”
There were some musical efforts too: “I sang in the school choir and always loved the idea of singing together, but didn’t want to join anything there. So I started my own called the Venus Choir. It consists of people who probably had never sung before, but it was always fun, because we were singing the songs we liked.”
Now she’s using those experiences and newfound freedom for the AL OE project, and we’re all the better for it. Hopefully, once she’s not so lonesome anymore, she’ll continue making art and music.