Soundwalk Collective and Lyra Pramuk are rethinking the distinction between humans and machines
What does a multi-headed, algorithmic feminine deity desire look and sound like?
‘Can the future of sex and sexuality could instead be an exponentially expanding kaleidoscope? Could the machine be another technology that brings us closer together?’ These are just a few of the many questions addressed by ‘Lovotic’, a conceptual album written and conceived by founder of Soundwalk Collective, Stephan Crasneanscki and realized and produced with Simone Merli.
Released earlier this month via Berlin imprint Analogue Foundation, Lovotic features artists Lyra Pramuk, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Atom™, Willem Dafoe and Paul B. Preciado, each one contributing to the project’s scrutiny of organic/mechanic distinction through their respective artistic, intellectual and technological prowesses.
Inspiration for such musings comes from a burgeoning field of research which seeks to explore the possibilities of sexual and emotional relationships between people and robots, interrogating new forms of intimacy. It makes the case for a reformulation of traditional notions relating to sexuality and gender, bolstered by the idea that with an ever more prevalent entanglement between human and machine must come a consideration of how they interact.
Throughout the course of 11 tracks, meticulous sound design evokes the cyborgic fusion of rubbery human flesh and metal’s hardness, whilst spoken word and operatic singing explicitly make the case for the fluidity implied in the music’s amorphousness. The transparent vinyl double LP is supplemented with a 16-page booklet containing painted artwork and lyrics including those written by leading thinker in the study of gender and body politics, Paul B. Preciado.
In this conversation, Soundwalk Collective and Lyra Pramuk discuss artistic collaboration’s enlightening potential, together with the potentially lethal impact of advanced AI. Read on for meditations on the power of the human voice and the discovery of unknown languages…
Soundwalk Collective: What is Lovotic to you?
Lyra Pramuk: To me, Lovotic is a collective body, a chance at true collaborative exploration of multiple, sensual communication and interpretation, a multi-platform of poetic expressions of love and desire across physical and organic technologies. It is one of the most collaborative projects I’ve been a part of recently, and features some artists I really really love and have been blessed to be brought into orbit with. It’s a very dreamy space with you all!
SWC: Were we able to evoke any particular sentiments in you, around the themes raised by Lovotic or around the sonic / musical dimensions we have created?
Lyra: In one sense I am a big fan of Charlotte’s film work and quickly felt a sense of joining her impulses in a kind of collective feminist material performance. What does a multi-headed, algorithmic feminine deity desire and sound like? I allowed myself in this project to feel connected to and complementary to Charlotte’s voice and work. A similar dialogue unraveled working through and connecting to Paul Preciado’s own readings in the studio. In this sense it felt like a vast philosophical conversation!
Personally, as someone whose sonic impulses have been so based on my own voice and layering it, this was a beautiful opportunity to simply be and feel. To allow myself to be just an individual, or a ghost. To simplify. To just feel and spin and be free, sonically and vocally.
SWC: What was your experience in working on Lovotic and working with us? Was it in anyway different than the artistic processes and / or collaborative work you are used to?
Lyra: I am still quite new to collaborating on electronic music to be honest, so this process has been very educational for me! It’s been special to learn about SWC’s way of working and the many steps taken to achieving the final result, it’s very inspiring to be a part of.
SWC: What is your favourite song on the album, and why?
Lyra: I have to say ‘Empower and Enhance’ is quite close to me. I am in the process of getting all my work on a new Apple computer with the M1 chip. This track speaks to me of the power of becoming spiritually grounded and sure of what one desires, combined with the speed and new processing power of contemporary technology. It’s future facing, and this inspires me.
SWC: What do you think your voice has been able to contribute to this project?
Lyra: I think my voice has given the project an added layer of mysticism, blending the human and non-human and adding an extra mist of sexuality to the story that unravels on the record. It has been such a great pleasure!
Lyra: The text for the album is extremely interesting and I was very excited to hear about your process constructing this. What was your vision for the texts and how did it come together?
SWC: Stephan came up with the idea for the lyrics: cut-ups of researches on sexuality and sexology essays over the past 100 years or so, in the style of William Burroughs. The whole idea of putting together sentences about sexuality and making a story happen for each song, was such a creative process, full of accidents and surprises. Through this process of cutting up a text and re-arranging it, new structures of communication emerge. Between the words, there is a message leaking through, the possibility of an unknown language finding its way. Words gain power when they lose the boundaries of semantics.
The physical act of cutting up systematically rewired linguistic structure and form, revealing submerged meanings and a sense of déjà vu. Burroughs saw human consciousness as a cut-up, sexuality as a cut-up and reality itself as cut-up.
Lyra: What are any of your favorite poetic lines that occur at any point across the listening experience of Lovotic?
SWC: Hmm.. there are so many. And it’s interesting how often times they acquire new meanings as you read them again over time.. At a first glance you think you’ve understood them, but then you find yourself wondering..
Some favourites that instantly come to mind:
‘The eyes of absence’
‘The north star wonders south’
‘To understand the act of procreation is to seize truth whole’
‘I am for you and you are for me’
‘The mind focuses on experiencing the lip sound of breathing’
‘The birds fled from me, everything perishes’
‘You are poured from Nairobi gold, black night, red dawn’
‘Lose yourself in sexual translation, sweet disorder’ – these last ones are the ones that you sing, Lyra, so beautiful end entrancing.
Lyra: You work often with many different artists in multiple phases to construct a final vision for the album and for each track. How did you approach the various phases of collaboration for Lovotic?
SWC: Well, as in all our projects, it has been a process of multiple layers and phases, as a continuous and repeated expansion. We rework the material over and over and over. Often times eliminating, replacing, re-recording, adding, multiplying.. It’s hard to know when to stop, and every time is a full dive both emotionally and psychologically, but also technically. Collaboration is always a true mind-opener, and also a saviour – in that, when things work out, you are able to instantly see how what you are doing is bouncing off the other person in the most interesting and inspiring of ways. This is also means reassurance, and the possibility of exponential growth.
For Lovotic, we initially spent some weeks in a Berlin studio to explore and experiment with sound synthesis and various instruments, and especially around ideas for voice fragmentation and processing. The aim was to try and evoke a sonic territory that could be aligned with Lovotic as a concept. We then recorded Charlotte’s voice speaking and singing, playing with the words and texts that Stephan put together, and later rebuilt the music and sounds completely around her voice. This is when things started to take a first shape. The music composition then expanded once again, and we produced new voice recordings with Charlotte to express this new breadth and depth. It all resulted in 12 songs, and that is when we opened the door to multiple collaborations: there was so much more to be said around this project. And when you think things sound good and make sense, well, this is a good sign that you are not done and you actually have to expand further and see what happens.
Your voice has brought a whole other dimension and depth to some of the songs, bridging into the operatic but also into new languages and sounds that are evocative, unexpected, sensual and perfectly pertinent, leading the imagination and senses further out there. It has been very enlightening for us! And we found an instant connection from that very first session together at the studio in Berlin.
Lyra: So much of what we think stereotypically about artificial intelligence has to do with its ethereality or it’s kind of disconnection from a human sensuality, when this could not be further from the case. We are so connected to these technologies, our problems are their problems, they consume energy just as we do. Did you learn anything more about the sensual union of man and artificial intelligence through this record?
SWC: You are so right! This is exactly how we see it as well. Honestly I feel that we always learn most by looking at ourselves from another angle. In the making of this project, we inevitably had to project ourselves into a possible future and into a possible other mind in order to be able to look back at us today and simply question our beliefs when it comes to human identity, intimacy, sexuality, desire, reproduction. And by doing so you can’t avoid but questioning your own beliefs and codes of how we and / our society relate to such topics.
And we came to the voice being so central for this album. A voice is an instrument, the way you deliver words, the punctuation, the rhythm and the silence in between. It has such a deep impact. We take it for granted. But a voice is like the wrinkles we carry on our face. It tells a lot about us. Could it not be the voice of AI to arouse us? And if so, what is there behind that voice? Is there a body? Certainly not as we know it. Or is at all just about the mind? And if so, will sexual behaviour still exist the way we know it today, or will it exist at all?
Lyra: Where do you see the conversation about the merging of human beings and technology going from here? Are there any other topics or themes that interest you or that you look forward to exploring?
SWC: Can systematic machines still be creative? Algorithms that synthesize all our data and bring us unthinkable possibilities, such as the Chinese board game Go, for example. Up until now we thought all possibilities were explored, and then this deep learning algorithm shows us a move that was in front of our eyes this whole time, and we didn’t see it… At the same time there is an increasing discussion on the possibility of AI being developed to the point where it would reach a “singularity”, beyond which it will continue to improve without human help. The default outcome from advanced AI is human extinction, one might fear. Another possibility that we might have not entirely thought of.
‘Lovotic’ is out now via Analogue Foundation. Order here.