Exploring a post-human, non-binary understanding of life, Lyra Pramuk’s debut album, Fountain, is a journey through experimental sounds and electronically reshaped vocals. Inspired by a wide range of influences that span philosophy, numeric ideas, films, scientific concepts, relationships and personal experiences, Pramuk released an intimate and highly conceptual 7-track album, which highlights the physical, material, psychoacoustic properties of sound and song.
As Fountain is your debut album, did you feel any pressure to do your best while working on it?
Sure, I think I felt some commitment to investigate a profound effort and a deep exploration in the first project I have shared with the world. I don’t think this arose from a pressure to please others, but rather a kind of spiritual commitment to myself to take very seriously the sensual, cultural, musical elements and learned lessons that have led me on this path of sonic action, to share an honest and ambitious kind of document of the things I’ve been learning through my body.
Your music feels very intimate and personal, is there a sense of anxiety in putting your emotions on the record and revealing them to the world?
I think that intimacy or vulnerability always feel risky because they necessitate a removal of protective mechanisms that allow us each to exist in a state of isolated autonomy. So, of course, the process of telling the truth to ourselves, and eventually being truly honest with others, takes energy; it requires overcoming fears of lost privacy or lost autonomy.
But in fact, I think that learning to share empathetic, emotional resonances between us as organisms is perhaps the most important work we can all be doing now. The new world that we need to build together requires emotional honesty, trust, and a deep commitment to listening. We can and must learn to be more gentle with each other over time.
Making music alone can be quite an isolating experience, is that something you thrive in or does it become overwhelming at times?
I am often simultaneously engaged in a solitary music-making practice alongside many other collaborative projects, but while during the solo aspect of my musical practice I am alone, not lonely. This solitude is an important place for me to cultivate intimacy with myself and to focus on my own spiritual growth. I function best in solitude, filling up my own cup and working through the energies surrounding me, and it is through this solitary work that I am able to be more present and make more meaningful contributions in my community and in collaborative work.
Was your family always involved in your artistic progress? And is working with your brother on this record something that helps you stay close to your roots?
Well, I’d say most of the time my family hasn’t been involved. But my brother and I began to explore electronic music and produce tracks together as teenagers. We each took our own musical paths and have met up now more than ten years later, which is super nice since I think we have developed a really nice way of collaborating despite the somewhat different musical paths each of us has traveled.
Reshaping and restructuring vocals electronically is something many artists include in their music nowadays. How did you realize that playing around with your voice is something you want to explore and focus on?
I studied singing intensively at a music conservatory for four years. This practice of practicing singing and expressing myself through authentic song became a defining part of how I experience the world. My voice is absolutely the instrument I know best. Using my voice is also the most enjoyable and intimate way of composing for me. It’s something that comes instinctively, almost using my voice and computer as paints, brush, and canvas.
Even though there are no words on the album, the storytelling is very present. How do you manage to create a narrative based on sounds and feelings?
I am inspired by many things that I read – philosophy, essays, poetry, films, visual art, other musical works, scientific concepts, geometric or numeric ideas, places, senses, experiences, relationships… I think of a kind of narration for myself and my voices, use some abstract or visual concepts to help me structure sonic architectures. It’s a sort of concept web of concepts, ideas, and quotes, which arose for me into some kind of whole narrative.
“The new world that we need to build together requires emotional honesty, trust, and a deep commitment to listening.”
Are themes like nature, spirituality, post-human future that permeate in Fountain something that you have always wanted to incorporate in your music?
Yes, I would say these themes I’ve generally been interested in, curious about and committed to for many years. I feel like it’s an ongoing research, not just within artistic work but also in the union of concept and life – a life lived more fully through the ideas I commit myself to. In other words, these are some foundational areas and themes that I try to incorporate throughout my life.
Your collaborations with Holly Herndon and Colin Self had a very successful outcome. Is there anything that you learned from these artists and applied to your own music and creating Fountain?
Oh, yes! We have so much fun together always. I have become so much more playful in my work as a result of our shared play together and conversations about politics, technology or science-fiction. It is so important to share in an engaged sense of artistic community with like-minded individuals, and I am so grateful to share time and space with these two.
You previously mentioned Erykah Badu, Björk and Audre Lorde as figures that inspired you musically and personally. Is there any new artist that drew your attention recently?
I’ve recently read a book by philosopher Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitics, which has been very inspiring for me in terms of understanding further the dynamics of power and population control in our neoliberal, data-driven, digital society. While DeForrest Brown, Jr. has been producing work for some time, I’ve been extremely energized by his latest album as Speaker Music, titled Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry.
The artwork for the album was created by multitalented artist Donna Huanca, known for her experimental approach to shape and the human body. What about Huanca’s work appealed to you, and how was the idea behind the cover formed?
Donna and I share a deep friendship, and I have collaborated in her work on a long-term basis. The collaboration was an instinctive union representing our friendship and shared artistic dialogues. Donna’s work is so vast, generous and transporting, and I can’t imagine a visual artist I would have rather collaborated with for the artwork.
You combine classical vocals with elements of folklore and urban electronic. Pushing boundaries and bending genres became prominent in your art and progress. Do you believe that the music industry is moving towards a genres-less future?
I think that many experimental artists have been building a collective body of work that blurs all genres and categorizations, and I have never wanted to be limited in my approach to music. “Everything is permissible as long as it’s done in good taste,” composer Kaija Saariaho once said. While genres have been helpful to sort, classify, and sell music, I hope that we are coming to a point where the music industry is able to recognize the collective, empowering, healing, communal potential of music, rhythm and sound. We are in a very interesting time to reevaluate and redefine the value we ascribe to music in our society, and I personally think that the physical, material, psychoacoustic properties of sound and song should be foregrounded.
You were about to perform at Urvakan Festival in Armenia – as well as many other live acts. Because of Covid-19, things have changed drastically, with live music and the performance arts deeply affected. How are you coping with the situation both personally and artistically?
I’ve been involved in a personal research around astrology, I’ve taught myself how to cook Szechuan food at home, I’m reading a lot and notating these inputs, and beginning again a kind of physical research practice with my body and singing. I feel lucky to have some time and security now to go deeper into myself and my body and prepare for future action.
The future of concerts, festivals and live music is uncertain. What do you hope for the future? How would you like the industry to change and what would you like to keep from what we were used to before?
The entire music industry, especially the electronic music industry, stems from and is rooted in extractive, capitalistic ideals that have even earlier roots in European colonialism. Colonial genocide, the theft of lands and culture, and built into the DNA of our capitalistic models, and this is no different for the music industry.
My wish is to see the power and wealth of the industry redistributed into the hands of marginalized BIPOC artists and organizers, communities whose struggles, dreams, and sounds have been stolen, extracted, and monetized by a white, colonial industry for far too long. It is our time now to listen and learn from the leaders in our music community, the folks who have originated the genres and musical movements that the world loves. I wish for justice and I wish to see BIPOC people holding more power, wealth, and creative decision-making potential throughout the Western music economy. It is not too late to heal.
For ideas on new structural models for a more equitable, interdependent musical culture, I suggest to follow Mat Dryhurst on Twitter or check out some of his infographics and lectures for his conception of ‘interdependent music.’
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