One of the first artists booked for Sónar 2019 - Armenian-Syrian-American artist K Á R Y Y N, bowled us over with her swooping, emotive voice and stuttering electronic beats. Part of a rich lineage of electronic songwriters (including Björk, who is a declared fan), and signed to pioneering 80’s label Mute (Depeche Mode, New Order), her music also looks forward to the future of the art-form, combining social and political commentary, idiosyncratic song structures and cutting edge technologies such as AI to devastating effect. Prior to her show at SonarComplex on 20th July, we caught up with her via Skype from her LA home to discuss her music, visions and her transformative view of popular electronic music.
Hi K Á R Y Y N, thanks for joining us,
Thanks for having me.
And congrats on the forthcoming album release. We’ve loved what we’ve heard so far.
That’s amazing thank you so much.
Will the Sónar show on 20th July be your first time in Barcelona?
This will be my first time at Sónar. Actually my first time In Spain was this summer, and I got to spend a couple of days in Barcelona, which was just so beautiful. It really reminded me of Aleppo, which is interesting. So i’m very very excited about visiting and getting to walk the streets a bit and eat the great food and be around the amazing people.
It's a really nice time of year to visit
It’s really one of my dreams coming true actually. I’ve always seen Sónar like “oh my gosh” I can’t wait to play there and share the stage with so many incredible, creative artists.
Thanks very much! Going back to the record. You’ll be releasing it on Mute, which has been really influential on electronic music over the years, do you feel part of that continuum? Or any musical history or legacy?
Well I don’t have any grandiose ideas about myself. I feel really honoured to be part of this label because of its history. I feel the throughline with mute is Daniel Miller who has a real passion for supporting the artists in their wild ideas. And I hope I can add to this dialogue with my vision. I do feel that it makes sense for me to be on this label. I spent a long time making a decision about who I landed with, and it is because there’s this passion towards working with people who have a very focused unique perspective of sound, and how they want to express it in a collage.
How important is the idea of legacy and lineage to your life and music?
Lineage is very important. I come from a very rich line of artists, obviously being Armenian there’s so much history there, and having spent so much time in Syria and the US, I sort of feel like a bridge between those cultures, within myself.
I have this kind of romantic notion of electronic music, which is that it's kind of a home for the disenfranchised, like a thing people can belong to when they don’t have anywhere else. Is that need for connection something that led you towards electronic music? I know you come from a traditional musical background…
I started to make electronic music because the sounds, just on a primal level excite me. I had been playing guitar and piano as a child, but when I circuit bent my Casio, the alarm sound that happens in the middle of playing the note - that just turns me on. It makes me want to sing. It really brings me alive. And that’s really it, and the idea of transformation, that’s really the core of everything that really drives me… For me art is the process, that’s the art. The idea that in order to transform and affect other people you yourself must be affected and transformed. So that’s where my focus is. I hope that when you have that strong intention and transmute it into the work then other people can sit with the work and have their own experience. It becomes almost an “alien hymnal”, a space, a container for people to just feel their feelings, and sort of explore their memories and their lives.
A lot of your lyrics are to do with these geometric concepts and people have described your music as “architectural” which I also think is true. I was wondering if and how this would be translated into the live show you’ll be bringing to Sónar.
Up until now I’ve been very focused on the sounds, sort of settling into being an artist that is consistently working. I mean my record is about to come out and I’ve already started on my next one. So everything is simultaneously happening, and really it’s in the last month where I’ve really been having these strong “downloads”. When I compose I see images and shapes and colours, and it’s like a mobile that sort of hangs and stops when it’s finally sort of balanced in a symmetrical way. I know the composition is finished then. That’s a sort of visual feeling. So [the live show is about] making the connections with all the right people to be able to bring my visuals to life. Something I’m quite interested in doing is creating a visual film for my music. But the first thing is to create an architecture for the show, and to do that with lighting, to set out the shapes and spaces. On this record I’m in a lot of different spaces, sort of in this metaphysical place, and then in this primal sort of cave space, and in the middle of that I’m in a computer, travelling through reality and time. So how to materialise those visuals is something I’m working on now through collaborating with different artists. So I’m just as excited as you are to work out exactly how to convey that.
Many of the other artists on this years’ line up are experimenting with AI in their live shows. You also recently collaborated with Darren Cunnigham’s Young Paint Sprite. What is it that attracts you to working with AI?
As an artist I find it quite romantic this idea “to become computer”. I’ve always loved this question of “are computers gaining consciousness or are we as humans becoming more computer?”. I love to use granular synths to process my voice into these weird things, and then stutter it and confuse it, as if a computer is breaking down. I think about it in a very literal way in like how can my voice, how can my spirit get put into the electronics of it. That’s really where I think I fit into that. My focus is really on being the creator that’s using AI to sort of infuse a soul into the computer, and I’m the soul. Does that make sense?
Yes completely, despite obviously being electronic, I find your music to be very relatable in a way. And I think it’s interesting that while these algorithms were invented to streamline processes, to make things more automated, there are a number of artists who are using them creatively to almost accentuate the human element.
I use computer software to accentuate my voice all the time, but I want it to be accessible to a guy on a farm in the midwest. It’s important for anyone to be able to listen to it and go to this place within themselves. It’s incredibly exciting for me to think of the computer as a creative entity in its own right. As a creator, I do find I’m infusing the tools with humanity, and that intersection has so much potential. In my head it’s all quite romantic!
There’s something I wanted to ask you, given what’s happening in Venezuela at the moment, and obviously what you’ve seen in Syria, are you worried about how quickly things can fall apart?
I sort of look at something that’s negative and try and turn it into its highest potential. It comes down to the individual waking up - people doing their part to change the consciousness of the many. I’ve obviously experienced an entire breakdown of a community that I was part of that doesn’t exist any more,and that was devastating. But again, I think of how we can transform that, how we can alleviate that by using it and creating potential from that.
Finally, do you think music can unite people, faced with the fragility of society?
Yes. Music is a language that is beyond words and beyond borders. Obviously you have styles of music influenced by culture, but music is universal. Music is how you get to the heart.