Student Spotlight: Nicolette Valicenti and Lauren Mutschler

Creating an Album Through the Interdisciplinary

Nicolette Valicenti, a fourth-year Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts (ICAM) Music major, and Lauren Mutschler (Oliver Engel).

The concept of the interdisciplinary is a hot topic in just about every field of study: How can biology inform design? How can art influence scientific research? How can I convince my physics professor to accept an interpretive dance in place of taking the midterm?

Nicolette Valicenti, a fourth-year Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts (ICAM) Music major, and Lauren Mutschler, a fourth-year media major, are engaging the interdisciplinary in a wonderful way: through the intersection of visual arts and music. Nicolette is currently writing songs to be released as an album as part of her ICAM major senior project, while Lauren produces her own art and will be creating the album’s cover artwork. Their collaboration stems from a shared understanding of the creative process and a mutual desire to take inspiration from everything they see around them—from Lauren’s interest in animal spirits and collages, to Nicolette’s DIY sound effects and sampling of her own voice.

I spoke to both Nicolette and Lauren to learn more about their personal works and how they have used the interdisciplinary to fuse influences and inspire each other’s creative outputs.


 

OLIVER: Nicolette, can you talk about how you got into making music? Why did you decide on majoring in ICAM?

NICOLETTE: Growing up, I always had creative outlets, whether it was drawing, doing pottery, or writing, playing piano—I sang a lot, too—but it was very introverted. I didn’t ever think I would do it as a career or do it for other people, but then I came into college, and I took three courses in the music history sequence and I was so passionate about it. I knew by the end of my freshman year that I just had this passion for music I had to do something about, and that’s when I found the ICAM program. Since then, I’ve been writing music, spending a lot of hours on the piano, getting into music production, making beats, and trying to combine all these different elements of music.

OLIVER: I was listening to your music and noticed that you do a lot of sampling—what kind of musical influences do you have and how are they affecting your work?

NICOLETTE: It’s hard for me to say my direct influences because I listen to so much music. My parents used to have so many CDs in the car from a lot of blues and soul, rock and roll, and some out-there electronic music coming out of Europe—just so much stimulation and sounds that I was brought up with. Then when it came to making my music, I have this passion for finding something new, creating sounds that haven’t really been heard before. I think it’s good to take it to the next level instead of playing something that someone else figured out. If I’m sampling my voice and turning it into a synth, or a beat, then that’s something that nobody else can do.

 

OLIVER: What are your lyrics about—are they personal to you?

NICOLETTE: I like to sing about things that people don’t really talk about, like mental health and anxiety, fear, but presenting it in a way that’s relatable. I write a lot about reflecting on life and metaphors.

OLIVER: So you’re working on an album for your senior project [for ICAM]. Are you going to be mixing all these elements, like the singer-songwriter piano music and the little bit stranger electronic stuff?

NICOLETTE: Exactly. The album I’m working on is trying to combine these songs that I’ve written for the piano and my voice with the idea of sampling and making these beats, bringing in other ideas and sounds.

OLIVER: Lauren, how did you get into making art? What inspires you most?

LAUREN: One time when I was three years old, my mom had just cleaned the toilet, and I went in and said “Mom! Yellow and blue make green!” … I became interested in colors! That’s a true story. I couldn’t get my hands off of crayons and markers and paints, and I would try dripping the paints and making it into different shapes, and then I started drawing. I started drawing what I saw in life, and became fascinated with how I could make a leaf on a piece of paper, or a cloud, or something from my imagination. I went to an art high school in downtown LA, where I became more familiar with different forms of art, and got involved with all of it. Eventually I was able to make a portfolio and got into UCSD—I didn’t major in studio art because I wanted to try something new, so I majored in media. From there I was able to combine studio and visual media. I really like Georgia O’Keefe because of her vibrant colors—I like anything with color. I also listen to some musical artists while drawing. I love Beck. I will always listen to Beck.

OLIVER: Besides drawing, you also do a lot of collage work mixed in with photography.

LAUREN: Yeah, I’ve always liked magazines and photos, and one day I thought “Oh, what if I started adding eyeballs from magazines to my drawings,” so that’s where it started. Then I started using all photos from magazines, and then with photos of parts of my own face. I just like mixing things together, I think it’s because I come from so many different backgrounds. I was born in this desert country area where people are riding in horse carriages and saying “Howdy,” and then I go to downtown LA with all these art students, and then I come here where everyone’s so welcoming and different. I think the collage stems from mixing all these atmospheres together.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mutschler.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mutschler.

OLIVER: So your hometown is where you got your interest in animal spirits as a topic?

LAUREN: Yes! I am a nature lover, very spiritual with nature. I need to take nature walks every day, and the more I do it, the more I can see the forms and shapes that life takes. That’s how I get inspired, it helps me deal with artist’s block.

OLIVER: Let’s talk about how you two are collaborating—how did you come to start working together?

NICOLETTE: We’ve spent a good amount of time together since we met three years ago—going to each other’s events, appreciating the work we’re doing. I’ve always been a huge fan of Lauren’s work, and the other night she was at the studio with me and I was showing her my music, and I realized that I wanted her to do my album artwork. Her collages inspire me so much—they’re like what music means to me: it’s about me, but has ideas brought in from all these other places.

LAUREN: We could maybe do filming, too! We could make music videos, we talked about that, but mainly the collage for the album cover. She’s super talented. She’s so good!

NICOLETTE: You’re so good!

[A back-and-forth chain of compliments between them ensues.]

NICOLETTE: When it comes to doing art, it’s so important to collaborate with people who practice in different mediums, because you get to bounce ideas off each other.

OLIVER: Do you feel inspired by Lauren’s work?

NICOLETTE: Yeah! She shows that through so much practice you can create these phenomenal things, a great collection of art that comes from different places.

LAUREN: I’m really inspired by her music. This year she’s been performing, and it’s so beautiful. Almost like Beck in a way. It comes from your heart, and you create your own sound effects, nobody else does that!

NICOLETTE: Lauren’s been doing art her whole life, and now we’re working together. I used to be afraid of showing my art to other people, worried that if I asked to work with them it wouldn’t be received well.

OLIVER: What are your plans for the future?

LAUREN: What I really want to do is design different artworks for artists. I want to be able to make their imagination and their thoughts come to life in a two-dimensional or even three-dimensional way, which is why I like album covers. You don’t have to be realistic with it, it can be cool or weird.

NICOLETTE: I definitely always want to make music, always try to innovate my art and try to get better. I spend a lot of time working with business too, looking for a job in a music tech company, and trying to get a better idea of how the technology can utilize art and business simultaneously.