Fans of QUALIATIK will know that the project is equal parts creative and scholastic. QUALIATIK has talked in the past of her experience as a neuroscience student and how her interest in human psychology and the science behind it has shaped her worldview and her art. Arielle Herman, the mastermind behind it all, is a singer, songwriter, producer, and visual artist from Philadelphia who once tweeted, “The Nightcore Before Christmas”. Below, we have linked to a mini-mix graciously provided to us by QUALIATIK which we debuted live at an event bearing the name coined in her tweet. She was also kind enough to answer a few questions in regards to her music as well as her personal philosophy.
As someone with a background in neuroscience, do you think there is something in the brain that differentiates artists from people who do not feel the drive to create?
Lmao you could write an entire textbook about this, but for simplicity’s sake I will first say that the concept of “right-brained” vs. “left-brained” is a myth. It was proposed a long time ago, but hasn’t held true with modern neuroscience. One study measured the functional lateralization (activation in each side of the brain) of various brain functions in more than 1,000 people, ages 7 to 29, breaking the brain into over 7,000 regions for the study. While it’s true that some specific functions can be more lateralized (e.g. specific aspects of language processing tend to be more left-lateralized, and attention tends to be more right-lateralized), no individual brain in the study showed an overall greater activation in one hemisphere.
History and experience have suggested that the kinds of people who tend to feel that drive to produce creative material often suffer from some sort of mood disorder. The most common of these afflictions are depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety or panic disorders. Although it would be fair to argue that these creative individuals have aspects of the neural circuitry linked to these disorders, it would be inaccurate to assume that it’s the neural circuitry that bestows them with creative abilities. In an article for The Atlantic, psychiatrist and neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen discusses the long history of overlap between mental illness and creativity, and some of the research she has done to investigate it. (<– amazing read, highly recommend)
Freudian psychoanalysis uses free association—saying whatever comes to mind—as a way to observe subconscious processes. Andreasen notes that many highly creative people describe their creative process as being subconscious in nature, which suggests that during bursts of creative energy, the brain’s natural process of free association is on overdrive. She says in the article that “creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see”. With this in mind, she took an fMRI of 13 highly creative subjects (including six Nobel laureates in chemistry, physics, and physiology, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley, and filmmaker George Lucas) and 13 control subjects during various association tasks, including a free association exercise. The creative individuals—both artists and scientists—showed greater activation during all activities in their association cortices. The graphic below is taken from Andreasen’s study, and shows the fMRI of a creative subject (top) and a control subject (bottom) during a word association task. The activation of the creative subject is significantly greater in multiple regions.
Highly creative people also tend to be more adventurous and exploratory, more likely to take risks for things they feel would have an enormous reward. One of Andreasen’s subjects said to her that a highly creative individual must have “a willingness to take an enormous risk with your whole heart and soul and mind on something where you know the impact—if it worked—would be utterly transformative”. So there must be something funky going on with the reward pathway in highly creative people, where the reward, even if the chance is narrow, far outweighs the risk—maybe because of passion, or lack of judgment, or the laser focus of a determined one-track creative mind. Or maybe insanity. Who knows!
Do you draw upon any visual inspiration for your music production work (tv shows, movies, visual art, instagrams)?
I draw a lot of inspiration from visual and multimedia sources, particularly things that evoke a specific headspace or emotionally-charged setting. Movies that come to mind are Pan’s Labyrinth, Ghost in the Shell, Enter the Void, Nymphomaniac, and movies by Harmony Korine and Ryan Trecartin. Vince Collins’ hallucinatory animations. This Harmony Korine short film starring Die Antwoord. 3D microbiology animations such as this one about cell function and this one about crystal meth. Highly technical surrealist painters like Hieronymus Bosch, Dalí, Roger Dean, Mark Ryden, and James Jean. Surreal comedies like The Mighty Boosh and The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie, especially the “Nowhere Man” scene (1 / 2). Maxfield Parrish, a renowned painter and illustrator whose chemistry lab notebook pages are hung on the walls of my freshman year chemistry lab, as he went to my college back in the 1800s. LA-based filmmaker Actually Huizenga’s short film Viking Angel. Lots of music videos, especially the full-concept, high-production ones whose aesthetics extend to the artist and their project as a whole. Some examples are Die Antwoord, MIA, Brooke Candy, FKA Twigs, Björk, iamamiwhoami, and all of the PC Music/SOPHIE-affiliated videos (“Hey QT”, “Hi” by Hannah Diamond, “When I Rule the World” by LIZ). The music video for Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” is probably my favorite music video of all time, though. I also spend a lot of time just looking at 3D internet art; some of my favorite 3D artists are Vince McKelvie, Steve Smith, Santi Zoraidez, Olivia Derman, El Popo Sangre, Anny Wang, kyttenjanae, Imogen Baker, Daiga Grantina, and Bianka Oravecz. Some of my favorite resources for curated material are Thvndermag, Six & Five, Synaptic Stimuli, butdoesitfloat, and Felt Zine.
What is the most meaningful interaction you’ve had with a fan of your music?
Sometimes people tell me about experiences they had tripping to my music or art and it always feels really special, like some piece of my creative output was invited in to share a vulnerable moment with that person’s psychology. I hope that one day I will hear about my music helping someone in a time of need and serving as an emotional crutch or something to relate to. I also hope to help young girls overcome the internalized misogyny that limits women from pursuing all of their interests—creative, technical, scientific, whimsical—without discrimination, and to the fullest extent.
Tell us about the concept of the “Renaissance man” and what draws you to that.
I’ve always been naturally excited about many different disciplines, and I think my parents were really good about exposing my sister and me to lots of activities when we were young. I was probably less than ten years old when I first learned of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and the concept of the “Renaissance man”. It resonated instantly and I vividly recall having the thought, “I want to be a Leonardo da Vinci!” I remember learning about more polymaths all throughout school, and it made sense to me for people to pursue every one of their interests with as much intensity as they feel for it, rather than pigeonholing themselves to one discipline. It was inspiring and exciting to see how famous thinkers puzzled all of their interests together, and it helped me not feel as weird about wanting to do so much.
What do you think is the function of art in society?
I think art is a form of collective consciousness. Especially when it’s paired with the power and reach of cultural, political, and social conversations on the internet, “art” exists as its own macrocosm of ideas that morphs and grows at a level that transcends the limitations of the human lifespan and the capabilities of any one person’s creative output. In this way, I think “art”, as broad terminology for any forward thinking output of humanity, is the next step of evolution. At the same time, art lends itself to personal evolution on a very individualized level, as each person curates the images, sounds, and ideas that make their way into their consciousness. This, in turns, creates a new “super-brain” in the human race. I think members of today’s society, especially younger ones, are the most informed and outspoken that people have ever been, all because of the accessibility and ease of propagation the internet brings as a public forum for art and the ideas it represents.
What musical scene or scenes do you consider yourself a part of and how you contribute to and improve this scene(s). What do you think is the importance of community, artistically and psychologically?
I’ve been cultured artistically over the last decade of my life by the internet, and I feel really lucky to have found myself in a digital community of hundreds of other young creatives who have gravitated toward (and away from) the same things. There’s a definite sense of “home” online— we go to each other for emotional support via Twitter group chats or long Facebook posts, we share inside jokes via memes and viral Tweets, and we fuel each other to continue creating and pushing our visions forward. The real weight of the community is especially tangible when you go to events that your internet friends are at, and you see how naturally these URL friendships transition into the IRL. Coming up during the Twitter-Facebook-Soundcloud triad era of music has definitely raised questions about people who over-network, or create more “content” than music, but the power of the internet breeds a very exciting and powerful environment for art to develop. Everyone steps into the community with a myriad of their own unique influences. They add those images and ideas to the constantly-evolving matrix of concepts and aesthetics that we are all dipping into with our work. The danger of this kind of creative sphere is getting trapped inside of it by recycling and repeating the same ideas (see: circle jerking). I’ve found it’s easy to forget that our creative directories inside of this “internet sphere” can be near-sighted and much more niche than we realize. So I guess it’s important that everyone continues to reach outside of the aesthetics our community has cultured to keep accessing new ideas and speeding along the evolution of thought. I think what I contribute to the scene is important in terms of its interdisciplinarity; hopefully it sparks excitement about uniting concepts that might not intuitively seem related. I also think I add a more humanizing dimension to the sometimes-too-cold-and-computerized aesthetic of digital art and music production by being a singer and performer too, and not using my laptop live. But honestly I don’t think I can be objective about that—hopefully I can just make some people laugh or feel inspired or something!
Tell us a story from childhood.
When I was in fourth grade, I was convinced I was a dolphin who got reincarnated as a human to observe the behavior and interactions of the people around me and report back to the dolphins about the human race. I used to stand in the lunch line making sounds into my blue Baby-G watch, which I believed was my communication device to talk to them. Most of the kids at school didn’t believe me (shocking, I know), and I remember crying on my mom’s bed that no one believed the truth about “who I really am”. Childhood angst at it’s finest.
Lastly, I’ve got a question from our existential series. Please take a look at this poem by Paul Celan and let me know what you think of it.
It feels like someone is lonely, acutely aware of passing time, and missing someone (presumably the “no more to be named”). They still feel the presence of this person (“hot, / audible in the mouth”) but can hear their absence, which is becoming familiar (“no one’s voice, again”). They seem apathetic, or some part of them is apathetic (“the lid / does not stand in its way, the lash / does not count what goes in”), but they are feeling a great emptiness. Perhaps they are becoming numb to it? The line “the sharper lens, movable” feels very poignant but I’m not sure what it means. I’m imagining something sharp in my eye and it’s uncomfortable and not particularly poetic. I don’t think I’m good at analyzing poetry lmao. I’m gonna go with general vibe is lonely, someone’s crying, eyeball is sending images to brain, images (or lack thereof) make person sad.
Thanks! Here’s that nxc xmas mix you made.