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Sissi Rada: "We were doing an improvised performance with Brian Eno. I wore a burka and played harp with a vibrator"

sissi rada
(Image credit: Press/Sissi Rada)

What is it about Berlin? Not only do a large proportion of the software companies we deal with here at MusicRadar hail from the city but so do an almost endless list of the artists we interview. 

And while Sissi Rada was born in Greece, with a passion for both contemporary harp playing and electronic music production, it was only a matter of time before she succumbed to the creative pull of Germany’s finest city. 

Here she plays harp for Teodor Currentzis’ musicaAeterna orchestra and also collaborates with the Berlin Philharmonic. But as impressive as those two orchestral manoeuvres are, we’re more intrigued about how she managed to rope both Brian Eno and Mouse On Mars’ Andi Toma in for her recent album, Nanodiamond

Tell us how you got into music.

“I am a classical harpist and electronic music producer. I got into music because I was lucky to be born in a family that appreciated arts. I took up piano at age six, but real love came at 11 when I saw a man dressed in white playing the harp. Since then, music making is a form of falling in love.”

How did you get successful? “I just always listened to a lot of music and of a different kind. If you spend a lot of hours doing something, you eventually become good at it. I don’t believe in talent.”

What is your production philosophy?

“Play a lot, record more, produce less.”

I started making mashup tracks at the beginning. My first one was Chet Baker with Burial

When did you discover the computer music route to music production?

“I injured myself when I was 21 and I couldn’t practise the harp for weeks. I was then doing my bachelor at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, which before meant five hours per day practice. Suddenly I didn’t know what to do with my free time. I discovered GarageBand as a game and I started making mashup tracks at the beginning. My first one was Chet Baker with Burial and I remember the excitement. 

"I enrolled at a class in the Pop department where they taught Logic software. Then I switched to Ableton Live, which I currently work with. Computer music making has opened a brand new world, but it still works complementary to instrumental composition.”

Tell us about the gear in your studio

“Two classical harps, an electronic harp, an acoustic bass, my grandmother’s piano, an M-Audio Code 25 MIDI keyboard, DJ Tech Tools MIDI Fighter Twister controller, Ableton, Focusrite Scarlett sound card and my Beyer Dynamic DT770 Pro-80 earphones.”

What are your favourite plugins?

“I die for Melodyne – a parallel world. Big Fish Audio Ancient World – my ideal world. And then SugarBytes Effectrix, Arturia Arp 2600 V and Audio Damage Quanta – like water.”

How do you tend to start a track?

“Mostly I get musical ideas while practising the harp; even before, while tuning. I then realise I won’t practise and I record. Then lyrics will pop up, and lastly a vocal melody that works with the lyrical content. Then, during production, I will add stuff and at the end, I will begin extracting layers, until the essentials remain. Sometimes, though, I begin composing a track with the lyrics. This is usually after something has happened and I need to talk about it; like psychotherapy.”

How do you know when a track’s done?

“I listen to it the next day with fresh ears and then a week after. If it still moves me, it’s probably OK. But then, nothing is ever complete. I am never sure if the EQ is right. At some point, it’s just time to move on.”

Do you have any production tricks?

“Keep just the essentials. Never think of a style and other decorative concepts that are the work of others.”

What would you like to see developed in terms of studio technology?

“How about harps that are perfectly tuned and recorded?”

What’s on your gear wish list?

“A ROLI Seaboard Rise 49.” 

Which historic track do you wish that you’d produced?

“Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack. It is just perfect.”

What advice do you have for playing live and working in the studio?

“For live, the mistakes you make in your general rehearsal you will most probably repeat live. So make any essential changes before going on stage. In the studio leave your phone in another room and keep a toy instrument close by to play while bouncing.”

How did you get involved with Mouse On Mars and Brian Eno?

“I had the honour of meeting Brian Eno in Paris, the Théâtre de la Ville, in 2019. We were there with Currentzis and musicAeterna, the orchestra in which I play harp. One night, some of the orchestra were doing an improvised performance with live music and electronics by Brian. I remember I wore a burka and I played harp with a vibrator on the metal strings to produce an otherworldly sound. 

“Brian likes otherworldly sounds, he makes the best jokes and I laugh a lot, so we immediately became close. I asked him if I could interview him for the magazine Apartamento and he kindly said ‘yes’. In London at the photoshoot, very spontaneously, he asked me if I play keys. I said ‘yes’ and he took me to his MIDI keyboard and I started improvising. 

I would never have imagined asking Brian Eno to produce something for me

"The sound was so beautiful; it was sounds that he had made. I immediately felt so free. I saw that the Record button was pressed and after he returned from making tea, I asked him if he recorded it. He said ‘yes’. I then told him that I make electronic music under a pseudonym, that I was preparing a new album, and asked if I could I possibly use the track? He said ‘sure’, and that’s how naturally this track came out. I would never have imagined asking Brian Eno to produce something for me! 

“As for Andi Toma from Mouse on Mars, there is an interesting link. Andi was my mentor at the Amplify residency I got in Berlin in 2019. I got the opportunity to work with him for a year. He is a very talented producer with his own personal touch. Andi taught me how to lose boundaries and never be afraid of doing so. I was commissioned to do a piece for the Diaghilev festival in Russia that I would probably never have finished if it wasn’t for him. 

Andi invited me to play in probably the last recording session of the legendary Lee Scratch Perry

“Andi also invited me to play in probably the last recording session of the legendary Lee Scratch Perry. The recordings took place in Andi’s kitchen, so that the instruments absorbed the sound of the room. It was one of the most avant-garde moments I have ever experienced: Lee feeding me lotus while I was improvising
on the harp. 

“And the story that links Andi and Brian is that Andi sent his first album years ago to Brian. Brian listened to it and liked it. Andi asked me to ask him if he remembered, and he did. Both of them have a true passion for music and are generous with their talent. I am really grateful. In the end, if you are your genuine self, things will come to you.”

Tell us about your latest release?

“It is an album called Nanodiamond. I had the honour to work with Max Trieder,
Brian Eno, Andi Toma, Lena Platonos and guest musicians such as Nektarios Stamatelos on ancient flutes, Ralph Heidl and Guido de Flaviis on saxophone and Georg Wendt on harpsichord.” 

Sissi Rada's Nanodiamond is out now on Kryptox. She will be appearing at Berlin's XJazz Festival on 5 May 2022.

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