Lichens on trance states and the human voice | CDM


The human voice and trance, as Lichens challenges how we listen Much can be said and felt with the human voice without words – and that’s where Robert AA Lowe comes in. With his solo drone/improvisational project Lichens, or lending his talents as a singer, synthesist, and instrumentalist to the likes of OM, Lowe has carved out a unique and powerful space as an artist with a deep focus on vocal exploration. Before we move further, put this on while you read: Lichens played an especially entrancing set during the opening concert of Ableton’s Loop event in Berlin – starting a fully unpatched modular rig complemented by subtle vocals, building to some incredible psychedelic drones and crescendos. Still recovering the next day, I had the chance to sit down with Robert for a discussion about hypnagogia, collaborative improvisation, and performance. There seems to be this spiritual, almost holy element in your performance. How do you get yourself in the mindset for this performance? It seems like, in additional to the technical preparation, there’s a mental and spiritual preparation? Well I guess, for me, a lot of where I’m coming from, and a lot to do with my process, has to do with circumstance and environment. Also, patching the synthesizer is something that, in a way, is very soothing for me. Because I do improvise, and every patch is done from the ground up. I was speaking with James Holden last night and he said, “I saw you open your case, and nothing was patched”, and I said “yeah, that’s how I work”. This idea of predestination is uninteresting to me. So, in that moment, I will make that decision on where to put that first patch cable and go from there. It’s something that’s nice because I’ve been working with modular synthesizers for quite a few years now, and I’m very comfortable with them. And I’m very comfortable with the choices I make for modules. Even if I’m not fully understanding what they are, it’s the idea of the sense of discovery that comes along with patching them, moving them around, seeing what happens. Even before that, when I started to engage this particular process as a solo artist, something that was very important to me was an idea of moments. This idea that you create a space, you create and environment, you create an atmosphere in this particular moment, and it’s something that’s happening in real time. Therefore, you will take that with you in a very specific way – as will the audience, in a performative situation. It’s something that’s interesting to me, is the fact that the human mind, and memory – these moments, or these memories, are approximations. They’re not exactly how they happened. Dealing with these ideas of perception of illusion, you get into this zone where you will revert back to that memory at a later date and remember it in a very specific way. For the individual it’s really nice, because it will hold something very singular for that particular person. I think the human voice is an incredible instrument, and something that has not been utilized and really pushed. Something that I thought was very important to me was this idea of trance, and losing the self, in a way. Even before I was utilizing modular synthesizers, I was focused on the human voice. The human voice is one of the most fascinating things to me, because they are unique – and they are. In my estimation, a little more so now than the time I started doing this, I’ve seen a lot more people utilize the human voice as an instrument. I think the human voice is an incredible instrument, and something that has not been utilized and really pushed. You could look at artists like Meredith Monk or Diamanda Galas who have used the voice compositionally and instrumentally. My idea was to further this process, but, of course, cultivating my own technique. That’s also very important to me – this idea of not remaining inside of any sort of a box. One of my biggest problems – and when I give talks and lectures, I talk specifically about this – when, say, a young person goes to a conservatory or gets inside of academia, not every time, but I think more often than not, they’re taught that, “you are meant to utilize these tools in this specific way. You are meant to create in a very specific way” within these sort of rules that have been handed down. Not only with music, but any sort of artist endeavor, these things can’t be qualified or quantified because they are creative. You can’t qualify art – it’s done, but it doesn’t make any sense to do so, because it’s an individualist expression. This individual expression is something that that person sees through, and they are compelled to do so in a specific way. If it is truly coming from a place of expression, then you couldn’t say that it was wrong. There is no rule. So, that’s a whole lot of my process. You mention the struggle in teaching people how to make art. It reminds me of William S. Burroughs – as a professor, after a while…

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