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The Oberlin Review

On the Record with Rachel Katz, Electronic Musician

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Electronic Musician and College junior Rachel Katz recently released her second EP.

Electronic Musician and College junior Rachel Katz recently released her second EP.

Aleks Merkovich

Aleks Merkovich

Electronic Musician and College junior Rachel Katz recently released her second EP.

Victoria Albacete, Production Editor

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Rachel Katz, who makes music as Xuan Rong, is a junior Computer Science major from New York who released her second EP, Bushka, in March. Her first album, Myria, was released in May 2015. She has performed live at Sidewalk Café and Pianos in New York City. The Review sat down with Katz to discuss the inspirations behind her latest release, her involvement in the TIMARA program and the intersectionality between computer science and music production.

Katz will perform live at Clubhaus on Saturday, April 9 and at Leftfield in New York City on Friday, June 3.

I was looking at your Bandcamp page, and you released Bushka under the name Xuan. Is there a reason behind that?

That’s my Chinese name. I was born in Taiwan, and that’s the name that my mom gave me — my Chinese name. And I didn’t really know I had a Chinese name until I was halfway through high school learning Chinese. And, I don’t know, I felt like I wanted to give something to that name, so I made it my stage name.

What was your inspiration for this EP?

I think each song has a very specific inspiration.

Is there one in particular that you’d like to talk about more extensively?

[Laughs.] Sure. I mean, I could talk about them all, but “Onwards (zombie dreams)” is a big one that a lot of people like. I wrote that song about zombies because when I was younger I would constantly dream about zombie apocalypses. It was like every night for stretches of weeks. And every night it was like super detailed, super elaborate. I could go off on many stories right now.

So each song is similarly inspired by a unique experience?

“Be Here Now” … is a little more abstract in terms of what inspired me. I just wanted to make something really, really big. … And then the first song, “dddash,” is actually about liking somebody but then trying to convince yourself that you don’t actually. Like, you’re so fine, like it’s OK, like I’m going to pretend to not actually like you, but deep down I do really like you. I don’t know if anybody else can hear this, but I’m kind of worried they can and it’ll give it away a little bit: The sample is actually me saying “you’re mine” over and over again, but the rest of the song is me being like, “I’m so fine, I’m lonely but I like it.” There’s just these samples in the background that are like, “Gahhhh, I want you!”

I knew there was a reason I felt so much for that song.

[Laughs.] Yeah, I think that’s probably why it’s my favorite song, too.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve been working on some of these songs for over a year and a half. How long has the entire EP been under construction?

It takes a really long time for me to finish writing a song. … Usually, it takes me about three weeks to finish a song if I work on it a little bit every other day, at least. So all of these songs basically got written over the course of a year and a half.

You do this through TIMARA, right? Or do you do it on your own?

I do it on my own. Xuan I do on my own. Sometimes it’s all very abstract, you know — acousmatic music, that’s all very abstract. But I do sometimes take sounds that I’ve created in TIMARA classes and use them in my pop songs — Xuan’s my pop songs. But the really nice thing, at least in my experience, is that all of the professors know my [pop] music. … I’ve showed them my music, and they’re all like, “Yeah, your shit is awesome. We know your stuff.” Like my professor last semester, I had multiple meetings with him talking about this EP, showing him the music that I was working on. So while I didn’t use any of Xuan’s material for class, all of my professors have been so supportive of my solo project. It’s been so great. Having that support has just been amazing.

Do you think that being a Computer Science major influences your music? Are there connections between that and your music?

Yeah! Oh god, there are so many connections, most of which I don’t even consciously realize right now. But I started programming once I got to college. I took [Introduction to Computer Science] my first semester. I didn’t start writing music until my second year of college, so honestly, I think being a Computer Science major helped me get acquainted with technology and being a woman

in a field of technology. It allowed me to become more comfortable with being a woman surrounded by a bunch of guys, so that when I finally did decide to start doing music in a very technological way, producing an album as opposed to playing an instrument — which I’d done since I was four — I was way more comfortable. Because in computer science, you have to believe in your own ideas in terms of how you think a problem should be solved. Because if you don’t believe in it, then how are you going to keep going? The thing is that even though you believe in it a lot, you can still be wrong. I’ve wanted to write music since I was in middle school, but I was always too afraid to because I was like, “What’s right? What’s wrong?” I was very black and white, but computer science has, ironically, helped me find the gray area or be comfortable in the gray area.

Do you think there are bigger connections that people are missing between the sciences and music and the humanities in general?

Nah. [Laughs.] I think in the past, before the rise of computers and stuff, I think there were small pockets of people who were making a small variety of connections between the arts and sciences and stuff. But I

think now, with the advent of technology and us trying to express art through technology simply because technology allows us to be like gods, it allows us to have more flexibility and more possibility with what we want to create. But I feel like that’s something that hasn’t been happening until recently, and it’s only going to get bigger and bigger and more convoluted.

What are your future plans for your music and your work as a computer scientist?

I don’t know. I really just want to do music for a really long time. I really enjoy CS, and actually this summer I’m going to be teaching with Girls Who Code. I’m so excited! I’ll be in New York City leading a classroom. I got a teaching position instead of an assistant teaching position, which is amazing. Honestly, at this point, I’m just thinking about this summer. … I did this last summer, too, and I grew so much, so I’m expecting to grow a lot this summer — or if not grow, at least feel more grounded in whatever ideals or concepts or passions. … So I’m not looking past this summer yet, because I don’t know who I’ll be at the end of this summer.

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Established 1874.