By Sharon M. Chin
Sitting on the lush, green grass at the Lewis Latimer House in Flushing, Queens, 40 listeners are actively grooving and pulsing to the electronic music of Claire Marie Lim. It’s a preview party for Colors of Us, Claire Marie Lim’s soon-to-debut electronic music album inspired by the experience of Asian-American female youth from Queens. If the demographic sounds oddly specific, and, indeed it is, the music and lyrical messages regarding identity, empowerment, and emotion, powerfully resonate. Claire Marie Lim is a brilliant music technologist- capable of E. Pluribus Unum, amalgamating many individual voices and sounds with lucid and catchy clarity, of making a multitude chorus into a singular amplified voice.
Claire Marie Lim, aka dolltr!ck, is a music technologist- composing and producing music made with computers and technology. Claire notes this often “manifests via music composition and production and DJ-ing on the radio.” And at 23 years young, petite, female, Asian, and quite baby faced, Claire has often been met with skepticism and challenged in her identity as an electronic musician. Claire recalls “I’ve walked into countless industry spaces where I am the only female identifying musician and I’m often been mistaken for the DJ’s girlfriend and not the DJ. There’s this perception that Asian females don’t become electronic musicians , but that’s sexism and racism.” For Claire, this experience has fueled her desire to be more visible and to embrace her identity as a female Asian electronic music technologist. “I know how powerful mentors and role models can be and when young Asian women see other young Asian women doing this, the realm of what’s possible becomes just a bit larger. I wished for these examples when I was younger.”
Looking at USC Annenberg’s 2019 women in music industry study, women are lacking in representation and numbers. Disturbingly women approximate only 2.1% of producers and 21.7% of artists within the music industry. And for women in the recording studio, many face objectification, being dismissed, or serving as the sole female identifying individual. Claire keenly felt this even as a student at Berklee College of Music, and by studying ethnomusicology and dance music culture in addition to music technology, she became more aware of where she came from (Asian, Singapore) and how important this lineage was both to her and to potentially her ethnic community at large. “In 2018, I actually had a wake-up moment on how powerful embracing identity was to me. I was invited to play in honor of Berkee’s new electronic music undergraduate major and I invited 4 other musicians to work with me. We performed one of my original songs called “Chemistry” about standing up for yourself and doing what you were meant to do. And I recognized that 4 of the 5 musicians were Asian and female, and I was so proud to see all us (an Indian, a Korean, a Malaysian, a Singaporean, and an Argentinian) being unapologetically who we are, combining our individual talents and sounds to make a more unique and powerful sound.”
When Claire saw the Queen Council of the Arts Commissioned Art grant opportunity in October 2018, she was inspired by the prospect of creating an outlet for Asian-American youth to see themselves in music. She conceived of an electronic music album made with the voices and creativity of female-identifying youth of Asian descent from Queens- “recognizing that girls in many Asian families are often treated differently from their male counterparts. And sometimes by focusing on a specific group, we can start to build more openness.” Claire conducted intimate workshops and gatherings with over 50 youth from middle and high schools in Queens, sharing both her music DJ and composer career, demonstrating music composition technology, and then collaborating collectively on music production. Claire was struck by how engaged the students became in electronic composition, once they had the space to voice their ideas and understood how accessible it was. One middle school student, Emily, from Taiwan/Flushing noted “I could never do this with my parents, my two older brothers- but I love doing this and being here with you.”
Conducting “word vomit” exercises, students would spit out phrases and ideas describing their goals and concerns about identity, with various themes repeatedly emerging. For Claire, one powerful concept begged to be morphed to song. “the idea of choosing to be a leader versus a follower.” In Asian families, where the family identity often supersedes individual identity and choosing to listen is perceived and rewarded as a desired trait, Claire notes “choosing to be a leader instead of a follower- in the context of school or family- becomes a choice. This theme became “Follow” and it’s the song I’m proudest of ideating. “ The lyrics point to the strength of the community and role reversal, noting “take my hand this time, we’re going to make the stars align.”
At the preview listening party, Claire noted “If Colors of Us were to have some highlights, they would probably be “Hello” and “Skylight.” Hello emerges with voice recordings from workshop participants, stating greetings, origins, and hopes. Claire quickly realized many of the concerns from the youth participants were universal across Asian American women and she broadened her collection of voices to the NYC Asian Creative Network (ACN), a FB based group, soliciting “introductions” and recorded speeches, which Claire then amalgamated into the beautiful “Hello”. “Skylight” is another powerful and upbeat track, in which Asian-Americans, familiar with the concept of the ‘bamboo ceiling,’ are reminded to stay ambitious and to “light the sky.”
Colors of Us will officially premiere on September 15, 2019 at the Queens Borough Botanical Gardens. Viewers can expect a selection of songs grounded in electronics but eclectic in term of genre; “You will hear electronic pop, tropical house, and drum & bass. I was originally a classically trained pianist and flautist- and if you listen closely, you can hear Bach and other classical influences.” Participants can expect to hear the songs in person at the world premiere, and be ready to dance, clap hands, and move in solidarity with the music. The album will also be available as a free digital album on September 13th. Claire notes “I was once a kid with no pocket money and I want this album to be available to anyone and everyone digitally. I want these voices and themes to be accessible and these voices will live on in my future work. And I would be thrilled if this inspired other voices to let themselves be heard.” Claire, in embracing her identity deeply, empowers her own voice and all the amalgamated voices, with the vibrantly engaging electronic music of Colors of Us.
More from Claire Marie Lim
Where can we see you next: “Sunday, September 15th, 4pm in the Queens Botancial Garden will be the premiere. You can join my mailing list at https://www.dolltrick.com to be kept in the loop for my new music and future shows. On September 13th, you’ll be able to stream Colors of Us on digital platforms like YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp!”
Why dolltr!ck? dolltr!ck is my artist alter ego and it came about as an accident. I took a lesson in college on turntablism – which was a lot deeper than I thought it would be- and our first assignment was to come up with a DJ name. My peers often joked that I looked like a doll and I knew I wanted to have a trick or two up my sleeve, so I decided to go with dolltr!ck! dolltr!ck is more free spirited whereas Claire Marie Lim can be a bit more instructional.”
Who are you watching: “I’m definitely watching TOKiMONSTA, a Korean American electronic music producer - who is the first Asian American woman to be nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Dance/Electronic Album. She’s a proponent of lifting up younger people and is proud of her heritage and story. I also like Conrad Tao - who excels at electronic music composition - taking what has influenced him in life and rephrasing that musically for other people. Also Igudesman & Joo - a classical music comedy duo - who take their passion for music, combined with comedy, to make it relevant for others.”
How has NYC influenced your work: “Diversity, diversity, diversity. And representation! Just being able to see NYC pride and how open everyone was, I felt such joy for being in this space .If any city encourages you to be who you are, it’s New York. I feel like NYC gives Colors of Us a place to stand.”
One fun fact: “I am obsessed with food- particularly Singaporean food. My guilty pleasure is char-kway-teow, a noodle dish that has dark soy sauce, and little cockles, and noodles. Oh, and soup dumplings! Is that my mouth watering or yours?”