Archivist-Electronic Musician Cruel Diagonals Embraces Curiosity

Megan Mitchell's work as an archivist informs her experimental approach to her electronic music project, Cruel Diagonals. (Ned Raggett)

In terms of formal job training, Megan Mitchell is a librarian. Specifically, she's an archivist who got her master's degree in library and information science from University of Washington last year, with a specific interest in sonic collections and found recordings. But Mitchell is also a singer, composer, DJ and essayist. Her different creative practices combine into a process that informs her projects in many fields at once.

“The common thread, it's always been music,” says Mitchell in an interview at a favored Oakland tea house of hers. “There's also a common thread of social justice, and my interest in research and representation, and undoing very heteronormative, colonized, white supremacist ideologies that are pervasive in research, in music, industries, communities.”

These threads influence how Mitchell approaches her archival work; her previous gig assisting prolific indie and metal producer Randall Dunn in Seattle; and her ongoing curation of Many Many Women, a site dedicated to women and non-binary artists working in experimental music. She also organizes workshops and events featuring noted avant-garde figures like the late Pauline Oliveros.

“I think what ends up happening is that all those things end up informing my creative process, as well,” Mitchell observes, "It's just my brain making different outbursts at various junctures on things that I'm interested in.”



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Mitchell’s next step on the musical front is the July 13 release of her debut album under the name Cruel Diagonals. Titled Disambiguation—a library term referring to an expansion of a search process for wider overall results—it’s a remarkable first release, easily crossing boundaries between ambient electronic explorations and avant-garde vocal approaches.

“I think a lot of what I do vocally is in direct resistance to what I was trained on, because I am always concerned with being too pretty with my voice,” she explains.

Yet Disambiguation never feels daunting—instead, it's an album that makes one want to lean in and listen more closely to catch every detail. From its quietly tense opener, “Innate Abstraction,” through the slow-burn drama of the concluding “Intent to Vacate,” Mitchell creates an involved 45-minute experience.

Cruel Diagonals' debut album, 'Disambiguation,' comes out July 13.
Cruel Diagonals' debut album, 'Disambiguation,' comes out July 13. (Ned Raggett)

It’s not goth per se, but Disambiguation is not that far removed in terms of sonic qualities and emotional impact: Mitchell’s vocals can be coolly keening or warmly entrancing, changing like a series of dramatic roles. Dark, electronic swells of sound, subtle and soft melodies, murmuring beats and glitchy rhythms ebb and flow throughout. To say that it all reflects Mitchell’s research interests isn’t a stretch: Disambiguation suggests shadowy spaces of secret knowledge brought into the light, a kind of living catalog of sound filtered through an artist’s particular perspective.

Mitchell says that her occasional DJ work under the name DJ Degenerate is to thank for Disambiguation’s sense of flow. “I wanted the album to reflect the tension and release, the quiet moments, and inserting an unexpected element,” she says. “And disrupting that as well—kind of disrupting the flow in a way that is somewhat jarring. You didn't expect certain elements, but it makes sense once you look at it broadly.”

Just as Mitchell’s work traverses different disciplines, the artist herself doesn’t quite feel at home in one particular scene; her upcoming release shows for Disambiguation take place in a bookstore and an art gallery (Adobe Books and Luggage Store).

“I think that’s kind of a good description of me in any community that I partake in: I’m just a weird fit,” she says. And I’m fine with that.”

Cruel Diagonals performs July 19 at Luggage Story Gallery in San Francisco and July 20 at Adobe Books & Arts Cooperative, also in San Francisco.

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