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Natalie Chami (b. January 27, 1987) is a proud Canadian-born Lebanese American who adopted the TALsounds moniker in 2009 for her explorations in the drone, ambient, and improvisational disciplines. Since choosing the TALsounds moniker, Chami has spent 14 years building a brilliant career as a solo artist, first in Chicago and most recently in the Washington D.C. area. Through her masterful synth work, operatic vocals, and nuanced sculpting of mood and atmosphere, Chami’s music strikes a balance between the extremely personal and the selflessly transportive. She spirals effortlessly through a never ending carousel of solo improvisations and collaborations with other artists, and she seems to evolve with each performance, no matter how lofty and grandiose or humble and intimate those performances may be.
After a series of albums released on cassette by labels including Hausu Mountain, Tabs Out, and Moog’s own in-house imprint, Chami released her first TALsounds LP, Love Sick, with New York’s Ba Da Bing Records in 2017. Her second LP, Acquiesce, arrived in 2020 on NNA Tapes. Performed entirely by Chami and produced by Cooper Crain (Bitchin’ Bajas, Cave), Acquiesce was a perfect amalgamation of Chami as composer and improviser. Pitchfork said of Acquiesce that it “always goes deeper rather than bigger,” and that the songs “feel uniquely designed to pull you into them.” Other commentary on Chami’s music appeared in publications including The Fader, which acknowledged that Chami “has spent the past decade developing a reputation as one of America’s most compelling DIY artists,” and the Chicago Reader, which named Love Sick one of the best albums of the decade and identifies Chami as “a crucial contributor and even one of the faces of the city’s contemporary avant-garde electronic scene.”
Shift, Chami’s third LP release, will be released by NNA Tapes on November 3, 2023. While Chami’s performance tactics and conception of her project continue along the path she laid with her previous works, Shift marks a number of major changes to her practice. Recorded exclusively with hardware digital and FM synthesizers, the album trades a measure of the warmth of Chami’s trademark analog synth sound for a more willfully crisp, icy tonal palette. Compared to the often dense sessions seen across her catalog in which her loops layer and build into towering climaxes, Shift highlights a more minimalist strain of Chami’s work, shifting the lens closer to the molecules of her synth and vocal performances and allowing each element to breathe in wider spaces within her austere mixes.
Chami made it a point when conceptualizing Shift to work on its post-production aspects with women that share her Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) descent, knowing that such collaborators could best illuminate the spirit of the work and present it in the way she imagined. Oakland-based Afghan-American producer Maryam Qudus mixed the album and added additional subtle production treatments to Chami’s recordings. Brooklyn-based Egyptian audio engineer Heba Kadry brought the album into its final incarnation with her mastering. Chicago-based Palestinian visual artist Mary Hazboun drew the album’s striking cover image. By getting these artists together, Chami wanted to highlight the presence and importance of SWANA women in the landscape of experimental art and music. She states, quite simply, “We’re out here.”
Whether she’s opening for Merzbow or Mary Lattimore, Tim Hecker or Tortoise, Mdou Moctar or Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Chami is adept at drawing audiences into her entrancing performances and leaving them wide open to receive whatever comes next. Chami has performed across America and Canada, and she traveled to Europe in 2018 for a string of dates with Chicago composer Haley Fohr (Circuit Des Yeux). As a member of free music trio Good Willsmith, she toured the US and released nine albums from 2012 to 2018, including the LPs The Honeymoon Workbook (2014) and Things Our Bodies Used To Have (2016), along with Exit Future Heart (2018), a collaborative LP recorded with Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa—all issued through Mexico City-based label Umor Rex. Chami also regularly collaborates in improvisational ensembles with musicians from Chicago and beyond, including frequent tour-mate Whitney Johnson (Matchess) and Brett Naucke. Johnson and Chami released their first collaborative LP as Damiana, entitled Vines, through Hausu Mountain in Summer 2021, and Naucke, Chami, and Johnson’s collaboration, Mirror Ensemble, was released on American Dream Records in Fall 2021.
Outside of her work in live performance and music production, Chami was a founding faculty member at the Chicago High School for the Arts, Chicago’s premiere public high school for music and the arts, where she served as the Vocal Chair and developed curriculum for a variety of courses, including vocal technique and music technology. She also oversaw the development and implementation of anti-racist and trauma-informed curriculum at ChiArts, and she built relationships with various organizations in order to provide opportunities for students, including music conservatories and universities around the world. In addition to maintaining a private voice studio for students since 2010, Chami was tapped in 2019 to be a video host for the online musical instrument marketplace, Reverb. Leveraging her individual expertise and community collaborations, Chami now works as a Product Manager for KORG USA, where she creates synthesizer curriculum, contributes to sound design, hosts educational live streams, produces marketing videos, and collaborates internationally to define product goals and features while aligning with sales and engineering teams for strategic positioning based on market data and artist insights.
Chami scored her first film in 2020, Head to Head, which follows women experiencing traumatic blows to their self-image after unexpectedly losing their hair due to Alopecia, Lupus, or chemotherapy. Head to Head received accolades from the Beloit International Film Festival, the Milwaukee Film Minority Health Film Festival, the Heartland International Film Festival, and the Chi-Town Multicultural Film Festival. In 2021, Chami composed an ambitious 30-channel improvisational piece for the Sonic Pavilion Festival in Chicago, a series of sound installations commissioned by Experimental Sound Studio for the spatialized overhead trellis loudspeaker array at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion. “The result was an immersive canopy of sound—a fluid sonic architecture that bridged the focus of a live performance and the majesty of the surrounding cityscape” (ess.org). Chami also taught numerous workshops on synthesizers and music composition from 2021-23, including workshops for Northwestern University, George Washington University, and CalArts. And most recently, Chami was a Round Two Panelist for the “2024 Sound Art and Experimental Music Application Review” for the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska.
Shift is available for pre-order now on NNA Tapes, and will be released on November 3, 2023.
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