Rarely does everyday music tap into our conscious state of being and move us to listen to, feel, and experience something far beyond rhythm, beats, and lyrics. Sometimes artists create music that demands our attention, delivering a message that only listeners can decipher. An important question posed by local musician Danielle Cunningham of the electronic, one-woman electronica experience, Shortwave, is: Are you receiving?
Born in Ohio and reared in San Antonio, Cunningham spent her upbringing in a household surrounded by music. "My parents were always into music, my dad was in a band and practiced at our house," she says. "We used to play records and dance to jazz and rock 'n' roll in the late '60s and early '70s." With an early introduction to self-expression through music, Cunningham naturally took to singing and composing.
Cunningham spent her formative years reading everything of interest she could get her hands on, from Sartre to De Sade to Foucault. As she matured and her creative interest progressed, she immersed herself in the music community, joining punk, rock, and blues bands before growing disillusioned with the lack of drive and focus in other musicians. Her desire to create unsatisfied, Cunningham's ambitious nature urged her to pursue her own music venture.
Cunningham departed from the harsh sounds of punk and rock, settling on a more meticulous, electronic sound — inspired by years of developing and perfecting her skills in computer and graphic design. In 1996, she introduced Shortwave, a solo project, to the music community. Fundamentally electronica, the music eludes categorization. Like the music, the name is carefully designed and manipulated. "The whole idea of 'Shortwave' is that you can hear things from all over the world — different sounds from different places. It's not any sound that nobody's ever made before — but when composed, it certainly doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard." Although commonly compared to bands like Massive Attack and Portishead, Shortwave's sound stands alone.
Shortwave does not allow passive listening: The music guides the experience. Tranquil yet contemplative, Shortwave brings sounds together in a way only Cunningham can orchestrate. The music is purely original; her inspiration and her vision are one and the same. "I see things in my dreams that I couldn't imagine seeing in my entire life," explains Cunningham. "Sometimes when I'm sleeping, I hear totally finished music — and I wake myself up enough to write it down. I can remember the things I see and hear with such clarity and I want people to experience it, too. So I try to make you hear what I'm seeing."
After seven albums, Shortwave still satisfies Cunningham as she writes, records, plays, and mixes all of her music. "I tried to get someone to design my first album cover, but it just didn't turn out the way I had envisioned," says Cunningham. "I just decided to do it myself. I know what I see and what I would like to see. So I took the pictures and designed the album covers myself." Six years later, she continues to do it all — marketing, advertising, and Web development (www.shortwave.net).
Her most recent release, Sub:Liminal, is a collaboration with musician Shaun Trevino. Combining the writing, recording, and production talents of Cunningham with the engineering and rhythmic expertise of Trevino, Shortwave progresses to new levels of composition, consistently evolving its electronic sound.
Cunningham plans to extend her artistic efforts beyond mere music and composition, augmenting Shortwave with a "project house" that would enable her to enhance the multimedia experience of her music by including film, photography, and Web design. Cunningham wants the music to serve as a portal for others to experience her creative endeavors. She hopes to take Shortwave on tour with a full band — noting that it would take roughly 15 musicians to effectively pull the sound together to perform without the aid of previously recorded material.
Still, Cunningham's recorded creativity flourishes through Shortwave, bringing bits and pieces of well-designed sounds metaphysically and given to the world in a beautifully packaged jewel case.