Magazine I by I 05.04.24

Interview: Lyra Pramuk

Lyra Pramuk on how collaboration, space and healing are central to her live performance.

Lyra Pramuk’s artistry has been documented meticulously. The Berlin-based singer, composer, producer and performance artist is known for her dedication to metaphysical spirituality, her unwavering sensibility, and how, the two manifest via her spin on electronically-focused, futuristic folk music. But the being Lyra Pramuk becomes on stage is less describable.

Through collective healing rituals, Lyra Pramuk uses collaborative learning and performance practices to invite audiences on an intimate journeys that explore the connection between the mind and the body. A live Lyra Pramuk performance is built on nuance; external and internal circumstances dictate the trajectory and Lyra Pramuk and the audience are just along for the ride.

Through a series of collaborative works, Pramuk has incorporated mediums spanning contemporary dance and compositional chamber music. By giving way to improvisation and working closely with artists outside of her own practice, her approach to both music making and live performance has changed dramatically. Through deep introspection, Lyra Pramuk reflects on her awareness of literal and abstract space, embracing vulnerability among strangers and rejecting the industry’s urge to interpret artwork.

This feature was originally published in Fact’s S/S 2022 issue, which is available to buy here.

CLAIRE MOUCHEMORE: Your debut album, Fountain, was released at the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, and in 2021, you followed up with Delta, a remix album that gave a dozen artists the opportunity to freely interpret Fountain through their individual styles. The audiences that you’ve been performing to over the last year have been some of the first and only people to experience these bodies of work live. How have they been received?

LYRA PRAMUK: A lot of people formed a connection to my music through Fountain and still relate to it on a very intimate level. But, due to the pandemic, they weren’t able to experience the album live, and now that I’m touring again, it’s become clear that there’s a longing to properly experience that piece of work. So I’m still playing Fountain because I crave that communion with listeners. I don’t care for commercial album cycles. It’s not something that interests me. I wanted to create this album to be something that had longevity and that I could continue to revisit. I didn’t want it to come with a timestamp or an expiration date. As far as Delta is concerned, that project is very close to my heart. Fountain was conceived through such a solitary process; it was meditative and solo, and all that experimental acapella electronic vocal material was a recontextualisation of a dream that I had. I wanted to expand that dream into my community, bringing on other composers and producers who I really loved, to build a collective world around the music. On stage during this tour, I play excerpts of Delta throughout my set, as a sort of transition, interwoven with traditional performances of Fountain, so the two continue to morph and blend more, depending on how I feel.

CM: How have you made use of collaboration during your recent live performances to reimagine the possibilities that lie within Fountain and Delta?

LP: I’ve always thought about performance in a very interdisciplinary way, so it feels natural for me to do different versions of the same piece of work to recontextualise it for different audiences. Even though it’s technically the same album, all of the shows involving collaborators who explored Fountain felt completely different. The show with the dancers was very much about our collective bodies on stage, to the point that it transcended dance theatre to become a meditation on the ways bodies relate to each other in certain spaces.

As a vocalist performing that music live, it became less about my personal expression and more about tracking the journey of all three of us together. It felt different singing with the Chamber Ensemble, just as it did performing with two dancers from KDV Dance Ensemble. It was about inviting all of these incredible performers to dance and play on the surface of this music through a collective reimagining of synergies.

At some point, it feels more like jamming rather than performing music that has been recorded in a traditional studio environment. The music feels quite different after those collaborative performances. The music now belongs to not just me but also to my 40-plus collaborators who have taken part in it.

CM: Collective performance is often very reactionary when it relies on elements of improvisation. At a point, as you mentioned, it’s no longer just about the music; it’s about the other bodies that you share the space with and having an awareness of who and what’s in the space around you. How does physical space, whether it be the architecture itself, or the negative space between bodies on a stage, influence your approach to performance?

LP: When I concentrate on the aspect of performance, I think about space first and foremost. Architecture is really important. I started out in my performance career playing a lot of bars and clubs with really low ceilings. That creates such a different feel for how you move and how you navigate space. Even before I brought collaborators into my work, I made sure I had a very intimate sense of space when I played live.

The height of the ceiling really affects the acoustics – though even more so, it affects me psychologically, in terms of how I feel I can deliver sound from my body. There is a very sensitive ecosystem involved. I consider the acoustics of the space – materials the walls are made of, the height of the ceiling, the size and shape of the room, how windows change the way a space sounds, the size of the stage – all of this affects how much space I have to move, physically and through my voice.

In summary, all of this affects the totality of the experience for everyone present in the room, and I believe it is truly a collective ritual. So it’s not about me versus them. For example, performing the last track of the show, ‘New Moon’, for me, is a total wild pagan catharsis. It’s the song that finishes my album, and it’s the moment that I really get to crack myself open and use the space as an expansion of our own souls, minds and bodies.

CM: Generally speaking, your approach to performance is very theatrical, which is reflected in your recent work with the KDV Dance Ensemble at Volksbühne in Berlin and your collaboration with the Chamber Ensemble that premiered at MoMA PS in New York last December. I’m interested in understanding the journey that you embark on during each performance. You referred to the final part of each show as a moment of ‘a total wild pagan catharsis,’ in which you ‘crack’ yourself open to the audience. How do you reach that point of vulnerability in which you trust the audience enough to be so open with them?

LP: That performance structure mirrors the intention of the music; this was always music that I designed as a collective healing ritual. The songs are set in a particular order because the album is a tracking of grief and the reclamation of self and subsequent joy. It’s in an order for a reason. It’s a cycle of grief and transformation. And even though I was inspired by many personal events when I created Fountain, it was always my goal to create a space for a collective healing ritual that transcends my personal experience. And by bringing people into that space with me and inviting them on this healing journey, I have embarked on another series of collaborations. I’m interested in exploring each individual’s relationship to grief and healing by investigating what the music brings out for each individual. It’s a really emotional process to do that, to hold space for everyone in that way. But it’s so worthwhile; I’m not interested in wasting time on superficial aspects of performance. Yes, I’m obsessed with aesthetics and form, but always with the broader goal of bringing our interior worlds into the perfect expression of the exterior. There’s always a deeper purpose for me to do this work.

CM: When you’re working on new music or piecing together a new performance, what sort of space, whether it be literal and physical or abstract and imaginary, do you envision your music being experienced in?

LP: The contours of that world aren’t so clear to me; it’s an emergent space of potential, a space that becomes more clear to me the more I inhabit it. It’s a space that I feel blessed to inhabit, but if I try to shine a light on it and show its many details, it would disappear, and I have a deep reverence for that. I’m not interested in trying to turn the light on and expose it and see it for what it really is – that’s not the point. This space isn’t a fantasy world but more of an abstract utopia that is connected to the challenges of this world, as well as the beauty and joy of this world. But it has to exist in this separate unknowable space in order for it to maintain its status as a utopia.

CM: You position your audiences to lead and undertake their own individual healing journeys during your live performances. What role do interpretation and agency play in your work?

LP: I’m not at all interested in dictating what people should feel; it’s not my job. I’m interested in creating. I think of it almost like a material work, such as a sculpture; it just exists and whatever people get out of it is beautiful. I ascribe my position on this to Susan Sontag’s essay ‘Against Interpretation’, which you could summarise by saying that interpretation kills artwork. I find it cheapening and degrading to try to describe artwork in some totalising way that impoverishes the artwork but also impoverishes the individuals who experience it. By doing so, it cheapens people; it’s degrading to people to try and describe their individual lived experience because there should be a multiplicity of possible interpretations of a work. And most of that isn’t even interpretation, it’s simply felt. Briefing someone on the experience they should have before they’ve actually had it disconnects the individual from a potential world of feeling and understanding that they might have experienced differently if it hadn’t been so bludgeoned.

CM: You speak a lot about embracing the fleeting nature of performance and how being present in the moment should take priority over documenting the experience. How does where you’re at, physically and emotionally, determine how present you are on stage?

LP: I talk about this with my friend Colin Self a lot. It’s about asking yourself, ‘What do I need from this performance? Where am I now, at this moment?’ It’s an opportunity to get in touch with yourself and see how you’re transforming and zoom in on where you are on that day. To allow yourself to succumb to the flow of your own life and to learn something from that through performance. I think this touches on the ritual aspect of performance. Each performance is a kind of portal through which you can learn so much; it can transport you and transform you in realtime.

It’s important, on a philosophical level, to operate knowing that the brain and the body are not disconnected. They are, in fact, very much connected, and a lot of what’s guiding us is intuition and feeling. Our nervous systems picking up feeling is a really essential aspect of thinking, especially in terms of what that means in the context of performance or modern life in general. The more we trust our bodies, the better decisions we ultimately end up making. It’s all encoded and has to do with the non verbal feeling space it provides. Everything we need is there; if we’re able to focus, meditate and pay attention to it, that is.

WORDS: Claire Mouchemore
PICTURES: Pedro S. Küster

This feature was originally published in Fact’s S/S 2022 issue, which is available to buy here.

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