Elizabeth (Eli) Hougland's soundscapes are mysterious and captivating, built upon a foundation of samples and electronic ambience. While difficult to categorize, listening to Hougland's music is an enveloping experience, whether enjoyed by itself or within the context of one of her many collaborative projects. An accomplished violinist and violist, Hougland is also a member of the Mnemosyne Quartet. We're honored to bring you an interview with this composer and sonic architect, along with her reading recommendations and music samples.
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work?
I am Elizabeth (Eli) Hougland, and I live in KC and work at Hallmark as part of the Retail Technology team. I’m a part of the help desk for the retailers and owners of Hallmark stores. I grew up in a suburb of KC—Lee’s Summit, and have been living in the city for the past 6 years.
I went to college at UMKC for Music Composition. I started violin at the age of 4 and started composing when I was 16. I also play viola, which I picked up around age 14 or so. I can’t sing or play the piano to save my life, though.
My emphasis in college was music technology, and I have been teaching myself different programming languages since leaving college. My main focuses are HTML and Python. I became fascinated with Artificial Intelligence while in school, and always wanted to combine my music with robotics and technology, but don’t have the complete know-how yet.
Describe your music for new listeners. Who are your influences? How has the music you create evolved over time?
My music generally falls into one of three categories: ambient, atmospheric, and very tonal; rhythmic, sample based, and inspired by glitch; or over-the-top, cheesy instrumental writing.
For the past couple years I have composed either collaborative installation works, or works for Mnemosyne Quartet, which I play in. I moved over to writing music with electronics pretty quickly after starting college.
Influences? Anything and everything. I grew up listening to violin solo rep and symphonic literature because my mom taught violin. I like metal, bunch of British rock, alternative/ experimental rock. Some specific bands/ artists include: They Might be Giants, Avenged Sevenfold, Muse, Ben Folds, Brian Eno, Paul Lanksy, and Laurie Anderson.
What tools do you use to compose and perform?
I use Logic and Sibelius for almost every project. If I ever work with midi in a project, I actually use Sibelius to compose. I use midi to trigger recordings and especially rhythmic short samples. I do a lot of fixed media, which means I just worry about running sound rather than performing. I use a standalone program created from supercollider and Reaktor for when I do perform live. I also use Logic for playing live.
Tell us about your live sound design label and publishing company Eli-Tronics. What are your goals for this project?
Well, most composers self publish, and do all of their own marketing as well. I decided to give myself a name like a band would do. About a year ago, Michael Miller came up with that name, and handed me a score with my part labeled as “Eli-Tronics.” It just sort of stuck.
I’m most interested in installations and doing sound design for a specific space—and I don’t mean sound design like in film scoring. I want to create and recreate spaces sonically, and have been exploring this the most with Mnemosyne Quartet. However, I want to do a more permanent installation soon on my own. I also want to recreate these spaces after the installation online, and publish them somehow, thus why I call it a sound design label.
What inspires you the most about the Kansas City experimental music scene?
The opportunities I’ve gotten here. I’ve been able to play at Prairie Logic—the rooftop of Cosintino’s Downtown KC—and in Museums and galleries. I got to design sound for a room in the Nelson Atkins Museum as part of the Composers in the Gallery series. I positioned speakers underneath paintings and created a soundtrack for each speaker. I was most interested in the space in the middle and how they could combine. That’s one of my favorite things I’ve been able to do here. Added to that has been working with Art in the Loop, Charlotte Street, and of course the Library!