Sally Decker is in the midst of a new beginning. Originally recording ambient music under the moniker Multa Nox, the Bay Area artist shed the alias a few years back, as she came to feel a stronger personal identity in her work. First showcased in live performances and last year’s collaborative album with Brendan Glasson, An Opening, this new era culminates with In the Tender Dream, her first solo album as Sally Decker. She answers our questions about the new record, vulnerability in artistic creation and collaboration, and harnessing feedback. And as always, she’s prepared a guest mix, featuring tracks by Jenny Hval, Beast Nest, Nailah Hunter, Eliane Radigue and more.
Name: Sally Decker
Hometown: Evanston, IL
Where you live now: Oakland, CA
What are you reading? Currently reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.
Congratulations on the release of your latest album, In the Tender Dream. Is this your first time releasing music under your own name? What led to the change from your previous moniker, Multa Nox?
For the last four years I have been performing under my own name, but this the first recorded music released under my own name, yes. I got to a personal enough place with this album that it felt time to use my own name. This music feels more exposed, to a point where it didn’t make sense to use the moniker anymore. I was maybe hiding myself with the moniker a bit in some way, or maybe exploring within some external-feeling project space. This work felt like it was begging for some kind of new beginning. The palette of sounds and approaches felt different – the container of this album and this era of work has always felt intrinsically tied to myself in a different kind of way. It’s been a pretty immediate, intimate mirror.
Feedback is a tool you use throughout the album – what was it like trying to control something so chaotic?
I was drawn to working with feedback exactly for this chaotic, unpredictable aspect. Playing the instrument feels more like collaborating with it. There is behavior that can be learned, and time with the system yields more control. I love the sounds themselves: their sharp edges, the buzzing, pulsing, both organic and machinic qualities intermingled somehow. And there is always an aspect of non-control in the experience of performing with the system. This space interests me, because on a psychological and emotional level I am interested in/working on what it means to negotiate, choose, yield kinds of control and what acceptance means. The relationship I have cultivated with the sounds that surprise me, that I reign in, let happen, encourage – and my own emotional response to that process – is a really valuable one in this sense. It demands presence.
Two people in particular helped you with the recording of the album – Briana Marela Lizárraga and Emily Cardwell. What did they bring to the album, both literally and more conceptually / inspirationally?
‘Affirmation Pt. II’ is a section of a piece for performance that became a recorded track on its own. ‘Affirmation’ is a piece that I wrote for Briana to perform. Bringing both of them in at the point I did felt like a different practice in acceptance, as well as a kind of sharing of control. Similar to the way I think about collaborating with the chaotic nature of feedback, there is something particularly vulnerable about bringing collaborators into a process. Composing the way the text should be read was a big part of working with both of them, which was an incredible process of clarifying tons of detail and intention within a composed space, so that they could then loosen and explore within that particular space. This is the beauty of what they offered – within the elements of unison, the way their individual voices and expression of the words comes through is mesmerizing. Briana’s interpretation and performance of ‘Affirmation’ was a really inspiring moment for me, seeing the way a piece I wrote could come into being through interpretation. ‘Affirmation’ is a text score that guides the performer through instructions of how to devise a personal affirmation to them, and then how to deliver this affirmation in collaboration with the delay pedal. Briana’s words she chose, and the way she plays with the spectrum of sung and spoken performance of those words, is something totally unique she brings. Working with both Emily and Briana was expansive in the ways I understood how compositions I wrote could encourage and open up others’ expression and interpretation, and provide a wider power through more voices in the mixture.
Do you have any live performances planned for the album?
I don’t right now. I started to plan a small release show in Oakland but things became more uncertain with Covid. I’m excited to get back to live performance, but not rushing to it – I want to take my time with what feels right performance-wise after releasing the album.
Finally, let’s talk about the mix. The tracklist is pretty much an all-star starting lineup of women in contemporary experimental music. I definitely thought of Jenny Hval when first listening to In the Tender Dream – Is it safe to say these artists are big influences and inspirations on your work?
This is the music I love listening to – a mixture of stuff that has been around for me for a while and has definitely been influential, yes, and just stuff I’m listening to now and loving. All made by women without intentionally choosing it that way, that’s how it often tends to be.
Can you pick two tracks from the mix and say a little bit about them?
The Eliane Radigue piece ‘Usral’ is from her Feedback Works album which is a fascinating early era. Feedback was the first electronic sound she worked with – she created feedback using tape machines and a microphone and loudspeaker. A lot of the feedback tones are slowed down which gives them an eerie quality, and also many of these pieces were originally realized as installations, with multiple loops played simultaneously so the listener could direct their own experience in how they moved through the space. I love her feedback work because you can really hear her control in the way she is listening and responding, because the system demands such patience and careful listening.
Out of all the pieces on Kali Malone’s The Sacrificial Code, this track ‘Fifth Worship II’ stands out to me in a really specific way in where it is placed in my body and spatially in my imagination. This whole album has a kind of grounded yet exploratory feeling to me, like down in the earth, down in my feet and fingers. But this one makes me feel like the whole time I am being lifted further and further upward, it is extremely expansive and seems to take place in my spine and my heart, like an opening up.
Grouper – “Unclean Mind” – Shade (2021)
Nailah Hunter – “Quiet Light” – Spells (2020)
Beast Nest – “Judgement // Rebirth” – Songs for Puppies (2015)
Maggi Payne – “Shimmer” – Ahh-Ahh (Music for Ed Tannenbaum’s Technological Feets 1984-1987) (2012)
Cherushii – “I Dreamed I Saw You By The Lake” – Memory of Water (2015)
Julia Holter – “Another Dream” / Beast Nest -“Judgement//Rebirth” mix~
Cuushe – “Twilight” – Butterfly Case (2013)
Ana Roxanne – “- – -” – Because of a Flower (2020)
Kelly Lee Owens – “Night” Inner Song (2020)
caro<3 – “heart in 2” – Heartbeats / Heartbreaks (2021)
CEP – “Lillian’s Pavillion” Drawing the Target Around the Arrow (2017)
Julia Holter – “Another Dream” – Aviary (2018)
Kali Malone – “Fifth Worship II” – The Sacrificial Code (2019)
Jenny Hval – “Take Care Of Yourself” Apocalypse, Girl (2015)
Eliane Radigue – “Usral (April 1969)” Feedback Works 1969-1970 (2012)
photo credit: Nathan Kosta