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Bethany Ley | St George's Bristol

Feature: Bethany Ley on her Sonic World-Building, the Bristol Scene and More

Bethany Ley’s sonic world swirls around a universe of intricate arrangements fuelled by her eclectic musical background. Driven by collaboration, landscapes and cross-pollination between the organic and synthetic, the Bristol-based artist has left audiences spell-bound nationwide. Ahead of her upcoming Listening Room concert at St George’s in May, we caught up with Bethany to find out more about her sonic world-building, the Bristol scene and so much more.

The theme of this programme guide is ‘nurture’. What does this mean to you?

To have the space to breathe, to make mistakes, to be supported and giving an artist the platform to create their art in whatever form it wants to be.

In addition to performing around the UK and further afield and developing as an artist yourself, you teach practical music making and experimentation. How do you find the process of sharing knowledge and how does it in turn influence your practice?

Regardless of what instrument it is, it’s just really insightful to see how different people are learning and I need to adapt to pupils in lots of different ways. But it definitely encourages me to think about a broader spectrum of music and explore different avenues of research—and their new wave of inspiration often gives me a new wave of inspiration.

When did you first begin to experiment with sound and form the foundations of the sound you create today?

I started very much in the classical world and that definitely still influences my sound today. But I don’t necessarily think that encouraged me to experiment as such. My classical background has been really amazing in terms of my understanding of harmony and playing with other people and all the amazing experiences I’ve had within that scene. But listening to a lot of experimental music when I was growing up—people like Aphex Twin and Coco Rosie—has led me to explore new instruments in my compositions and electronic production. Hearing a lot of music like that was very formative. Also, film music has been a big inspiration—that cinematic world-building.

But the first time I began experimenting with anything to do with laptops and production and basically anything that wasn’t an acoustic musical instrument—I think I was 15 or 16. I downloaded this really janky spin-off of Garageband for Windows and used to do this really convoluted way of recording onto my iPod! But I started to see all the possibilities of recording the instruments I was playing and how I could craft them together to make the structure of a song. I also experimented with different effects so it opened that door for me.

How do you find the music scene here in Bristol and how does this influence you as an artist?

The scene in Bristol is so diverse and I really love that. You think you know the scene and then you meet someone and they introduce you to a whole new pocket you had no idea even existed. I’ve lived here for quite a while now and I still experience that. I’m always in awe of how many amazing new bands and projects are popping up all the time. It’s also a really inspiring place to be in terms of events. Last week I went to a performance art and film event which wasn’t something I have been to much before so it was nice to know there’s a whole scene creating sound-based performance art in Bristol.

When I first moved to Bristol, the jam nights were pretty instrumental for me—just getting up and meeting all these inspiring musicians when I’d just moved to a new place. There are just a lot of people up for experimenting and making new music and that’s always incredibly inspiring and these are people I continue to play with today.

You’ve been performing for some years as STANLÆY along with a host of acclaimed Bristol-based musicians but have recently relaunched as a solo artist alongside this. How has this influenced the sound you create and your performances?

Internally it’s given me freedom to push myself in new directions. Performing with STANLÆY for so many years has been and continues to be great for experimenting with friends and making music together that has definitely evolved into its own sound and entity that we’re all really proud of.

In terms of the relaunch, I don’t think I can escape the sphere of sounds I inhabit and my voice is definitely still very central to it all. But the main thing I can feel evolving is bringing more of the electronic world into it. I just finished my masters in Sound Art which has been a big factor in exploring this different path and wanting to explore sound installation and sound art more. It’s just a completely different way of experiencing sound if you take it outside of the gig setting—you can put it in a museum,

it can be an installation, it can be live and real-time—there are so many different ways you can experience music and that’s something I enjoy celebrating and something that I’m trying to bring forward into the new music I’m making as Bethany Ley.

What can our audiences expect from you during your performance at St George’s?

It’s going to be very fresh and very new. But I’ll also be performing some older work and songs that were written as STANLÆY. I’ve also written a neo-classical suite—Suite for Solo Violin and Software Abuse—so will put together a mosaic of all the things I’ve created over the last few years. I’ll just be bringing a hue of sounds and presenting a special one-off performance.

Book your tickets to see Bethany perform live at St George’s.

Words by Louise Goodger