Why Grand Rapids' electronic duo Pink Sky is meditating on global chaos 

click to enlarge Pink Sky.

Hwa-Jeen Na

Pink Sky.

When the story of how married duo Angelica and Ryan Hay came to be the computerless electronic act Pink Sky, it's almost impossible not to mention the time Ryan almost died.

In 2012, while on his way home from his first day at a new teaching job, Ryan found himself stopped on I-69 when a semi-truck plowed into his car going 70 mph. The crash, which included five cars, a wide range of injuries, and one death, left Ryan fighting for his life. At the time, Angelica was in San Francisco desperately trying to get an earlier flight home.

"We weren't able to talk before I went into surgery, and nobody was confident that I was going to make it," Ryan says.

"I was on my first business trip and I had spent the next 12 hours not sure that I would ever get to talk to Ryan again,"& Angelica recalls, "That was really a difficult moment ... and really eye-opening, too." 

The pair credit the accident and Ryan's extensive recovery as a means to reevaluate their path. Ryan, a musician (formerly of Frontier Ruckus) and English teacher, and Angelica, a microbiologist and visual artist, formed Pink Sky in 2016, releasing a debut record, Forms, last year. But the transition was all but smooth. For years, Ryan says he felt lost — at least until his wife invited him into her world.

"I wasn't able to return to teaching," he says. "I didn't really have a connection with my musical past anymore, and I wasn't able to create or write; I was in too much of a traumatic state. That's when Angelica introduced me to painting. I think the physical action of painting and then having a tangible product, it was so unbelievably therapeutic and healing that after a year or two of painting, I started being able to write music again. And that's right around the same time that Angelica got her first drum machine." 

For Angelica, the transition to music was surprisingly organic. She says that Pink Sky's electronic compositions have required her to use "systematic thinking," which she credits to her visual art and microbiologist backgrounds, for creating a loose blueprint of sound.

"Playing drum machines and sequencers and samplers felt pretty natural," she says. "I think having been a scientist for a while and also being a systematic artist, too, that it just felt pretty natural to me." 

Ryan agrees, praising his wife for being a fast learner and for exceeding his expectations in such a short period of time. He also says that making art together has opened up a "new language" that they can engage in, one that has strengthened their relationship. The collaboration materialized on Forms, which Ryan says was the result of having almost died, survived, and evolved.

"A lot of the material that we recorded on Forms was kind of this optimistic, joyful, playful celebration of our love, and the fact that we're alive," he says. "It was all of these positive factors in our lives. And by the time we got into the studio to record the next album, a couple of significant things had changed. One, our eyes had been essentially opened as to some of the grim realities of the climate crisis."

As a follow-up to Forms, Pink Sky is tapping into the nation's shared anxiety and trauma while also finding space to reflect on their own experiences by offering a sonic antidote. The band's latest, Meditations on the End of the World Through Emotionally Charged Electronic Music, is built on the collective socio-political unrest, uncertainty, and current global crisis, but through an empathetic lens that does not aim to overwhelm the listener, likely already inundated with media and information. But Meditations isn't necessarily meditative in the traditional sense, either. Though the duo describe the practice of performing improvisationally live as feeling euphoric — especially for Angelica, who describes herself as a bit of an introvert and performing as an exciting risk that feels like "you're there but you're not there" — Meditations is deceptively jarring. The release of one track in particular, "Restlessness and Worry," has Ryan feeling both restless and worried. He thinks it could be too much.

"It's the peak of the narrative arc on the album, which resembles the experience of trauma in that anxiety and tension grow exponentially until there is an event, the traumatic event, followed by a release into a state of euphoria and calm and acceptance in the immediate moments after a trauma once you realize either you're safe, or safe but going to die," he says. "But a good friend of ours recently told me that I shouldn't worry, because rage is part of the healing process." 

Pink Sky will perform at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 26 at UFO Factory; 2110 Trumbull St., Detroit. Cover is $10.

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