Since 2009 Chicago-based musician Natalia has been moonlighting as TALsounds; the guise for her experiments with ambient, electro-acoustic and drone.
Matching analog synthesizer loops with her own wistful, drifting vocals and various effects and pedals, she creates compositions that are equal parts hypnotic and meditative. Following a series of tape releases on Hasau Mountain and Moog's physical label, she delivered her first long player Love Sick on NYC-based Ba Da Bing Records which saw her productions veer into more fully formed songs than the improvised approach she'd previously practised.
When she's not working on her own compositions, day-to-day TALsounds works as a music teacher and vocal chair at The Chicago High School for the Arts, passing down her skills and knowledge to aspiring students.
Following the release of her latest album Acquiesce on NNA Tapes, we invited her to take control of today's Monday Is OK mix, easing you into the week with some of her all time favourites...
Please introduce yourself... Who are you, where are you, what are you?
I’m Natalie Chami. I’m currently sitting at my dining room table in Chicago, IL, during a pandemic and hopeful revolution. I’m a first generation Lebanese woman that was born in Canada and became an American citizen at the age of 23. I’m now 33 years old. I’m a musician and music teacher, and a founding teacher and Vocal Chair at The Chicago High School for the Arts. I am a younger sister and a cat and dog mom and a fiancée. I perform and record solo music under the moniker of TALsounds and collaborate with other experimental musicians as often as I can.
Tell us about the Monday mixtape you’ve put together for us.
Some all time favorites, plus what I’ve been listening to lately.
If it were to be drawn what would it look like?
Some doodle or contour line drawing - flowy and elegant feeling, but maybe messy and makes no sense.
If it were a food what would it be?
Your favorite food.
What would be the ideal setting to listen to the mix?
In your home when you’re chilling and cool with getting nostalgic or zoning out.
What should we be wearing?
Whatever you want.
Where was it recorded?
I put the mix together in my house from multiple sitting areas. The dining room table, my couch upstairs, my couch downstairs, my patio, my desk. Travelling laptop style.
Are you on the same wavelength as the boomtown rats or do you actually like Mondays?
Mondays are fine as long as I don’t have to wake up early.
Who got you hooked on electronic music?
My older sister always listened to dance music and went to the clubs. When thinking about electronic music within the rock/pop genres, I think I started listening to Radiohead and Björk in middle school, and my fascination with production and the use of electronics, though maybe subtle in the guise of these genres, became very prominent. That inspired my own playing with electronics. Coming from an acoustic classical background, it made sense to get into synthesizers and affected vocals. I started using loopers as a tool for improvising ambient music, particularly as a soloist and wanting to fulfill the need for rich, full textures by myself, without a computer.
Who would you say are your biggest influences and what are you hoping to achieve with your music?
Björk has been my idol since I was a little girl, and then I became obsessed with her music in high school and through college. I still love her. I love the freedom in her music. Her artistry and uniqueness. Her strength and vulnerability. Her womanhood and feminism. I also have choral influences, since I grew up singing in choirs and am a choral and vocal teacher. I love music from the impressionist classical movement. I love minimal contemporary music and ambient music. And I absolutely love slow jams and R&B. I grew up listening to the best R&B/Quiet Storm music as I was just across the border of Detroit, catching all the best radio airwaves back in the 90s.
I’m hoping to always create music because I love making music. It will always serve me first. It’s always been that way.
What were your original aspirations as a musician and how do you think you're shaping up?
I knew I wanted to teach since I was in 8th grade. I knew I wanted to teach music specifically since I was in 10th grade. I think it’s shaping up pretty great. I have always leaned on music for support during the hardest times and literally just always. I’m never bored or alone because I will always have music. I always wanted to give that gift to children, too. I was (and still am) a sensitive child that went through lots of separation and moving and feeling like an alien, and music is what I always felt like I had. I want other people that struggle to have that gift if it works for them the way it has for me. I feel like I’m in pretty good shape with that one.
What was the first electronic record you heard and how did it make you feel?
My sister’s club mixes were always around back in the day. They made me feel cool and not like everyone else, which I never felt anyway, so maybe they were my cool connection to the darker side. In high school, it was probably Kid A? For some reason that one sticks out a lot to me right now. I still love that album. Or Bjork’s Vespertine? Also still my favorite album.
How does your brain work when making music? How does it work when you aren’t?
My brain feels so fuelled by sensory experiences when I make music, especially when improvising, which is my preferred mode. I lean into a separate state of just reacting to sound. I struggle in pop/experimental projects that are more conceptual or organized, because then my Type A personality never goes away, and I like stepping away from that side of me. It’s great when rehearsing structure works, but the practice and process isn’t as thrilling in those genres for me.
What were the first and last records you bought?
First record I remember seeing, besides my dad’s tapes, was my sister’s Snoop Dogg Doggystyle tape. I remember she hid it from me because I was fascinated by the cartoon dogs, but obviously, she didn’t want me to see how explicit it was! The first album I bought was a Spice Girls CD. Girl Power. They ruled. I was obsessed with them. The most recent record I bought was likely a friend’s tape or LP at whatever last show I went to or played. I really couldn’t tell you since they’re all mixed together both physically and in my brain. If I’m buying music from a record store, I tend to buy non-western music.
What are you obsessed with at the moment?
Honestly I don’t listen to that much music lately since I’m working on music a lot. I enjoy silence when I’m not working on music. When I do put music on, it’s usually chill: Alice Coltrane, Robert Fripp, Gas, Harold Budd. I just listened to Blonde Redhead’s Misery Is A Butterfly, and I haven’t listened to it in so long! It was nice to geek out and realize it still holds up, for me, anyway. What am I obsessed with doing? Walking outside and playing with our animals. I spend a lot of time doing those things these days. And exercising. Trying not to be obsessed with snacking.
If you could travel in time... where in time would you go? Why?
Maybe the Gothic, Baroque, or Victorian eras. I feel like my soul fits into those embellished, ornate, dark vibes, dramatic-yet-reserved times. Plus, I like the function of Baroque music in western culture so much. Maybe I’m just idealizing it. Who knows. But a part of me feels like that’s where I’d like to be if I was a musician or artist in any time period.
Some self help questions for a Monday...
Am I excited to dive into the challenges that I have lined up for the week?
I’m feeling a little overwhelmed honestly, both on a personal and global level, while still having to keep up with deadlines this week. But I’ll make lists and try my best to stick to them so I keep some sort of sane balance. It feels pretty easy and chill when I prep my brain for what’s coming and take it one day at a time.
Am I looking forward to engaging with the people I am meeting or working with?
Very little face-to-face engagement these days. But generally yeah, I do look forward to the people I get to interact with.
Am I going to my dream job?
Yeah. I am. Working on music and teaching from home during the quarantine is pretty dreamy. I actually have to go into ChiArts this upcoming week to help with instrument returns from students. I’m a little nervous about that. Last month when I went into school to grab some stuff (first time since we closed in March), it felt super weird, like everything was frozen in time in our classrooms. Creepy and sad. I miss my students and my teaching community and music community.
Am I being compensated fairly for the value I bring to my job?
Pretty sure we all know teachers are not compensated enough in comparison to other jobs. I’m fine with it, I do fine, but there really should be a redistribution of wealth. Let’s even the playing ground. It’s ridiculous when I think about how much a professional athlete makes while people are struggling and working their asses off. Booooo. But otherwise, I’m a total hustler, so whatever, I’m grateful.
Do I feel energized, rested, and confident?
Yeah, I try to be rested so I can feel energized and confident.
If you were trapped on a desert island with one other person, who would you choose? How long would it be before you eat them?
My partner! I’d never eat him.
Your doctor says you need more exercise....what do you take up for exercise?
I exercise almost every day. I do yoga, go on my elliptical, bodyweight exercises, and I walk. I also really love jumping rope, but I haven’t been doing that lately.
What's your answer to everything?
Ask more questions.
Anything else we need to discuss?
Give back to your communities! Connect with and help the people right in front of you. Be vulnerable and stay strong.
Alice Coltrane - Keshava Murahara
Radiohead - Morning Bell
TALsounds - Opening
Archie Shepp - Blase
Fairuz - Kermalak
Sade - Love Is Stronger Than Pride
Hailu Mergia - Yemiasleks Fikir
Blonde Redhead - Pink Love
Bjork - Undo
GAS - Pop 3
TALsounds - No Rise
Mulatu Astatke - Tezeta
Augustus Pablo, King Tubby - Stop Them Jah
Francis Bebey - Sanza nocturne
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