When the world serves up isolation and egotism, Lyra Pramuk responds with a personal spirituality of sense, touch, Eros and seduction. The Berlin-via-Pennsylvania composer and performer adopts software and technology as an extension of her body, generating emotive situational disturbances between the audience and herself. Lyra’s voice is in itself a haunting siren of seas yet to be discovered, with the electronic ambience that soundtracks her divine vocals embodying hope and beauty that are fluid, elevated and ethereal.
With brilliant tracks, radio mixes and live performances both on local ground and beyond, 2018 definitely took Lyra on a journey—a loving and uplifting one, to say the least. Her artistry elevated steadily with each new project she put out, but if we had to pick a date that truly captured the invigorating energy that Lyra’s year has been soaked in, it’d be 6 October: a night when Berghain’s Kantine was a playground for true community-building, support and love. Titled ABOUT FACE: 17,000 ROSES, the event was a culmination of the performer’s ongoing GoFundMe campaign, which saw hundreds of friends and community supporters raise more than 10,000 euro for Lyra’s gender affirmation surgery, allowing her to proceed on her personal journey. Blessed with such incredible support, Lyra is now ready to give back.
Today, the artist premieres her new single, Scrytch, simultaneously launching a ‘download’ feature for all her tracks on Bandcamp. Until 1 February next year, everyone can surrender to Lyra’s sound for a donation of 1 euro, or more, with 100% of the profit given to Diversidad Sin Fronteras—a collective of leadership, research, and trans activism focused on denouncing violations of rights against LGBTQ+ refugees on the migration routes of North and Central America. Humbled to become part of Lyra’s journey as both an artist and community consolidator, Glamcult reached out to the performer. Below is a product of hope and love: from us to Lyra, and from Lyra to everyone who dares to listen.
Can you tell us a bit about the new single you premiere today?
This is a track I started last year—it has fallen in between the cracks, but I like it quite a bit so decided to revive it and add it into my live show as well. I chose a title that sounds vital but yet unknown, a nod to finding a new language for my own expression, personally and in my music.
What prompted you to donate all the proceeds? And why Diversidad Sin Fronteras in particular?
This year, I had so many friends and Internet followers donate to a serious transition-related cost that I simply could not afford on my own. The generosity I ended up receiving throughout this year has been enormous and overwhelming. This experience has been a testament to the good that can exist in the world, and the good I can personally inject back into it.
I haven’t ever had my music available for download online before, but now I’ll have my new track Scrytch as well as two tracks from last year, available for download. I’ve wanted to do this for some time. I’ll donate all my Bandcamp profits to Diversidad Sin Fronteras until 1 February, 2019. Diversidad Sin Fronteras is a collective of queer and trans activists who are literally on the front lines helping LGBT asylum seekers migrate through Central and North America safely and, where possible, without discrimination. They work to protect people like Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a transgender woman and asylum seeker who was murdered in ICE custody earlier this year.
The money will go directly to asylum seekers’ legal fees, phone time, tents, hygiene products, or whatever is most needed at the time. I am able to live a relatively safe and privileged life as a trans, American immigrant in Germany, and so many of my queer and trans siblings simply do not have that luxury. I want to help however I can.
As you know, we’re currently obsessed with Utopias and Dystopias. What do these concepts mean to you?
Like all dichotomies, Utopia and Dystopia show end-points of a linear spectrum. This is a useful tool for orienting ourselves, but it oversimplifies the nuances of our reality. Are we really living in a Dystopia, or could we someday live in a Utopia? The human world, with its ever-evolving systems and economies, cannot be only inherently good or only inherently bad. The subjective experiences of different people, or groups of people, can at times feel closer to one end-point than the other, depending on the reality that that individual(s) face. Can there be an objective truth?
I tend to think that our individual feelings and perceptions are most valuable. Just because one feels something different than another does not mean that both cannot be simultaneously true. The only reality I can know intimately is the one I perceive in this body. Nature is chaotic, and now made of plastic. As confusion in the world surges and reassembles us, Utopias can help lead us to each of our subjective truths. By sharing our intimate truths with each other—and believing each other—we can, perhaps, come closer to building a real world we all want to be a part of amid the expected unpredictability of the planet we share.
Your performances demand the audience to take a reflective moment for themselves, to be involved in a process of active listening. Are you a listener yourself? Why is it important to listen?
Ursula K Le Guin wrote a beautiful essay called Telling is Listening. In it, she argues how oral communication between humans is so much more than a binary computer-like command. When we share communicative moments in real space with each other, it isn’t simply [BODY A] submits information to [BODY B], who receives the information like a computer terminal. Rather, she uses the analogy of amoebas that share their DNA by simultaneously cutting off some genes and swapping them through a momentary joining of their bodies. In this sense, Le Guin reminds us that human storytelling is listening, and vice versa; we, organisms, are always simultaneously affecting the message and how it is received in a real-time dance between teller and listener.
A live performance is different than a conversation, but I hope that my live shows disturb the notion of demarcating the audience member purely as consumer. I’d like to give strength to the notion that listening is essential to doing. Listening has become a fundamental part of my practice, as it relates to improvisation, composition, and to my relationships as well. Some of my favourite experiences as an audience member have been extremely rich and personal journeys of active listening. I’d like to continue to explore the involvement of the audience in performative aspects, creating further situational disturbances between audience and performer. Since January, I’ve been hosting a monthly music listening and discussion group in Berlin, Zusammen Zuhören. It’s been so rewarding to question how I listen to music, to form relationships through shared listening with others in that context too.
Your body of work is a multifaceted collage of words, sound, body expression… How does the language of words converse with the language of the body within your work and process of creation?
Well, I’ve only written one song with words in the last three years. Most music I perform has evolved from a process of improvised playing and singing without words; trying to approximate some sort of new folk tradition that could encompass my body, my training in Western classical music, my affinity for almost every kind of other music too, and my love for electronic music and club spaces. I’ve used spoken word quite a bit in my shows recently, as this feels somehow authentic to me right now.
More and more I feel a skepticism toward words having any real expressive agency in a market that is now so oversaturated it feels that words are constantly forced into our ears and down our throats. I hardly even register words in music anymore unless they are very, very special. The focus on the wordless song of my voice and body is a therapeutic approach for me to discover my own relationship to the world and myself. By singing wordless songs of longing, desire, or comfort, I can create a physical aura of feeling without overwhelming myself (and others) with text-based content.
You’re also very much interested and involved with technology?
Yes, using software and technology as an extension of my own body and voice is important to me. It’s a huge part of my process and a major aspect I will continue to explore—manipulating my voice through re-sampling and production techniques, using haptic controls for live effects processing or combining motion sensors with sound parameters. There’s a lot to explore here, with many artists and technologists doing fascinating work in these fields. In digital space, we can connect many different inputs with many different outputs regardless of the medium. Codes can be written, edited, shared, and rewritten. We can build our own instruments with minimal resources. It’s an amazing time to make art together with our computers!
Do you also wish to send out a spiritual message to the audience through your performances? What got you interested in spirituality in the first place?
Actually, as a young kid, my birth parents didn’t get along so well. Although they were both Christian, my mother was Presbyterian and my father was Catholic. Until they separated, my brothers and I had to attend both of their churches and Sunday schools for 4+ hours every week for almost 12 years. The whole thing was quite silly, as we were the ones responsible for being at each place on time, and they didn’t necessarily help each other get us to their respective institutions. None of us was particularly religious, but we sang a lot in the church and children’s choirs, and maintained a sense of community through this. There’s something beautiful about the Christian sense of spirituality, and while I felt alignment with Christian music as a child, I think I’ve always been interested in defining sound and spirituality on my own terms; especially outside of dogmatic and often hypocritical religious institutions, and with respect to my experiences in transness and queerness. I’ve become more concerned with what my body wants in the sensual experiences that the world offers. A personal spirituality of sense, touch, Eros, seduction… and listening.
Your work is also an exploration of energy transmission, an experiment to transcend the material world and its values.
Yes. And not only to transcend the material world and its values in a traditionally religious sense, but also to challenge the ways in which corporations, governments or institutions condition us to certain ways of isolated, egotistical living. We’re taught to seek segregation, our private lives partitioned in small boxes to avoid the “other.” We’re stuck in an illusion of ever-expanding capital and aspirations of private consumption. We’ve got to transcend an affinity for ignorant luxury at the expense of others. This feeling of transcendence can be in our hearts and spirits, but it can also materialize in the world constructed around us, and in the corporate-sanctioned digital spaces we navigate daily. I want to bring an artistic sense and a spiritual power into action, into materiality, and into the worlds we build with each other each day. It doesn’t remain private: it wants to become physical, like a drop kick. Energy energizing!
You mentioned digital spaces: what do you think has been their influence on the way we relate to materiality, to art, and to our own selves?
Now sandboxed by major corporations and private investors, digital space is far from the utopia we once anticipated. Surveillance is now conducted privately with personal data that we give readily, just to exist in the digital spaces that define the progressive culture of our day. Still, platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook do give many people, especially marginalized and underrepresented communities, new ways to connect and share; and this is a vital development in our culture. Considering these intricacies, I think we have to stay attentive to the fact that these companies do not necessarily care about our mental health, well-being, our relationships, or our access to capital. Most accurately, these companies represent a digital manifestation of the American oligarchy, which now, through each smartphone, extends to almost every other nation.
I know what a good relationship feels like because I have them. I am, perhaps, conservative, but my feeling is that the very concept of human relationships is at risk of being out-designed. We just really have to stay vigilant, as each small change in the digital landscape is now barely noticeable, with no data on how our use of these ever-changing platforms is affecting us. After all, there was never a designer who didn’t think their design was making some positive change on humankind. But we’ve seen how that goes.
Has Instagram, for example, aided or hindered you in any personal transformations or aspirations to transcend the physical world?
Instagram has given me an important sense of agency beyond the physical world, especially going through medical transition and negotiating an evolving sense of my physical self. It has given me a place to materialize my self-image in times of trauma and self-doubt, to strengthen my sense of how that image can survive in physical space, and most importantly, to connect with others going through similar journeys across long distances. At the same time, Instagram is perhaps the most visible example of how our social lives are now being cannibalized in an insidious global experiment in digital marketing. There’s no question that these advertising models of social media are here to stay, but I have to ask myself: Who am I beyond the limits these platforms have given me? How long does a post remain influential, anyway? What do I have to say beyond 280 characters? What stories can we tell—visually, orally, textually—that transcend the little screen, the app, the like count? And which stories are better left untold?
Back to physical reality. You seem to be part of a loving and supportive artistic community in Berlin. How did you find that safe creative space?
When I first moved to Germany, I thought I was escaping the U.S. But I soon realized I was actually trying to escape myself. For almost 2 years, I was stuck, performing some contrived idea of masculinity that led me to feel powerless and unhappy, and this was totally a struggle in myself. It wasn’t until I became comfortable with my transfemininity and gender nonconformity that I began to show others who I really wanted to be. That’s when my community started to fall into place too. That’s my personal story. My relationships have been built in the club, dancing; long chats and one-on-ones; intimate moments, artistic collaborations, sweet conversations over wine and a shared commitment to community-building. My social persona has evolved out of the hope that queer spaces can offer.
What’s your advice for the kids struggling to find their peers in queerdom?
I’d say that the best way to find your community is to jump into the river and let it carry you. Maybe it takes a while, and you might get some cuts and bruises, but the only way to learn who your people are is by risking yourself in public, loving with your eyes closed, and trusting your intuition.