By Lynn, Rock At Night The Netherlands
I was roaming diverse platforms to discover productions made by artists who don’t have the intention to perform for a sold out Royal Albert but wanna’ share their productions with an interested public and building a serious fanbase.
Via Twitter I discovered Cristi Nicola, who promotes music on her YouTube channel called Desu Azu. She makes electronic music, but not in the sense of club music. I listened a couple of tracks and I heard very imaginative compositions based on their arrangement, structure, and use of themes. And, she releases a new song almost daily. This caught my attention and so I invited her to chat.
Cristi Nicola (she/her/they), her artist name is Azu, is an American based composer, 18 years old, and her music is heavily inspired by games she’s playing. In high school she enrolled in performance and composition music courses with concentration in keyboard instrumentation. Now, she’s studying psychology at college. She told me she’s a transgender girl and it’s important for her to be open about that, to show other people of her age to live their own life independently of gender and sexuality.
“The Crystals Project” is composed like a game. Crystals has four sequences, and each sequence has its own storyline with characters, scenes, adventures. And those elements relate to themes: leitmotifs, not only within a sequence, but also over all four sequences. So the whole Crystals Project is connected on several manners, constructed like a good game.
The basis/foundation for the Crystals Project began sometime around September of 2019. Cristi was still in high school and spent most of her free time composing some of the earliest songs in the first album. She said, “However, I didn’t actually officially begin composing them until nearly a year later, with the story/concept sort of coming together over the course of September 2019 – September 2020.”
The Crystals Project contains Crystals Zero – Historia, Crystals Illumination, Crystals 2 – Insurrection, and Crystals 3 – Terminum. Each story focuses on the main protagonist working to either save the world, stop the destruction of time, assimilation, or the unification of the universe, depending on the storyline. When you read the song titles you get an impression of the storyline.
Cristi explained, “It’s role-playing game stuff, most jRPG fans should feel right at home. The Crystal albums are composed with the mindset of video game composition, tracks that non-diegetically reflect the environments they’re made to represent, music that can be looped over long periods of time without becoming stale or repetitive, and music that heightens and complements your actions as a player, despite there not being (at this present time) a game to play.”
The four sequences of the project contain 145 songs, and including some extras, the compendium provides 156 tracks. The date of release was July 23th 2021 and it took Cristi about a year to create this huge opus.
The music is a blend of electronic, orchestral, jazz, an occasional hint of rock, and some chill stuff, and occasional samba and other tropical influences, and many sound are used for the different spheres, like piano, flute, clarinet, violin, combined with typical electronic synth sounds. Because of the important role of the synthesizer it reminds me sometimes of the sound of the ‘80s and ‘90s – in the good sense.
I asked Cristi about her home studio and how she records her music. She said, “Studio? It fits literally in my pocket. I have a Yamaha YPG-535 with two speakers. All my music is recorded via video by strategically placing my phone in between the two speakers of the synth. I then take that video, compress it to remove some of the background noise, and then manually adjust the qualities of it via a mobile app called Dolby ON. I then export the new file, add the thumbnail, and upload. Sometimes I combine sequenced samples with some of my own touches to create drums that both keep in time with the rhythm AND better fit the track. The whole thing actually relies on the absolutely stellar recording capabilities of my Galaxy S21.”
Okay, that’s a very simple way of recording, I’m surprised by the quality. But why not? In the 1930s many big bands were recorded with two microphones.
Cristi, a.k.a. Azu, aims to make music that anyone can hypothetically enjoy without feeling like they need to dive into the deep ocean of compositional knowledge to understand and appreciate. In my opinion she succeeds in that. I’m not into role-playing games and its music, but the Crystals Project lead me into binge listening.
Check on Cristi’s YouTube channel Desu Azu the playlists and chose an album, or the complete Crystals Project and immerse yourself in it.
The Crystals Project
The complete compendium (156 tracks)
The Four Sequences
Crystals: Illumination (40 tracks)
Crystals 2: Insurrection (30 tracks)
Crystals Zero: Historia (30 tracks)
Crystals 3: Terminum (45 tracks)