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Escape Velocity

Designing Experience: Klara Lewis Interviewed
Matthew Kent , October 23rd, 2014 13:20

Ahead of a show alongside Nik Void at Birthdays early next month, Klara Lewis talks to Matthew Kent about visual elements, the process of building tracks and how aspects of her being don't define her sound

Sitting in Victoria Station at 6:30 am with sad styrofoam coffee and two hours stretching out ahead like an endless void, it's perhaps forgivable to start to ponder the existence of such odd, detached "between" places. I'm getting more used to these zones of little shape or memory that act as thoroughfare from point A to point B; the point on the plotted line on a psychogeographic map where one is furthest from their place of departure or arrival. Where do these spaces exist? Why do they seem peculiarly out of time, or sync? Travelling has always seemed to make the world fade away, and on this cold morning, the place I have come from and the place I'm going seem far away indeed.

So is it strange, after all that, to say that the music of Klara Lewis is so pleasurable because it seems caught in such a 'between' place? Maybe it's just because I'm finding such refuge in her music when caught in those kind of spaces. Either way, for such a new artist her work is remarkably strong in evocation. Restless and complex, a loose knot of textures and ideas where sounds are deftly re-organised to obscure and redirect origins and embedded sonic profiles. It's tempting to quickly forge a link between her music and the burgeoning interest in medial zones between art and dance music - but Lewis tends to choose agility and delicacy over the tendency elsewhere for greyscale soup, frequently and dextrously cross-pollinating rhythm with experimental technique to the point that she should be held as distinct.

Her debut album Ett for Editions Mego (released a couple of months ago) is particularly remarkable in this aspect, and tracks exude a genial warmth and a consistent depth and variety of texture. Interestingly, the tone often still feels subdued, but Lewis never lets things stray into territories too monochromatic or sludgy. 'Altered' is a great example - unfurling slowly over 12 minutes and most reminiscent of some early Vladislav Delay work; icy without becoming hostile, rhythmic in a way that sometimes suggests the fixed framework of techno, detached enough to appear gently and cloudily and slowly reveal new elements. It's no real surprise that her sound is frequently (and correctly) referred to in coverage as some new created world.

"I'm glad that that's how people perceive my music. To me that sense of a new place is what it's all about," she says over e-mail. "A lot of people tell me that my tracks give them all kinds of images and sometimes they feel like there is a small film going on in their heads."

In conversation with Lewis, reference to visual elements pop up frequently, and she is quick and keen to convey that particular components of film and visual practice may have leaked into and influenced her way of thinking and working. Indeed, she's even suggested in previous interview that the interest in making sound may have developed from first working on films. In 2009, and at fifteen years old, she wanted to work in moving image for an art project. "I needed a soundtrack and decided to make it myself," she says when I ask about it again. "I noticed that the reason I had filmed a lot of material was because it both looked and sounded interesting. So I used the sounds from the film material to build the soundtrack."

Such an interest in film scores and soundtracks might also suggest why Lewis' music is flexible in terms of mood and form, but remains remarkably consistent in the long format of an LP. Where other artists frequently struggle to collect and connect tracks in this vein together as an album - Klara's Ett feels to flow and grow story-like, tracks built from a diverse range of sounds and as chapters in a larger overarching narrative. Again, it's a careful balance of the structural elements, and she puts it down to an interest in repeating motifs and catching them in different lights. "In a soundtrack there is often a 'theme' or some kind of re-occurring element that returns in many different contexts or versions throughout the film. I think I use a similar technique but within tracks."

What might also makes Lewis' work so inviting is the way in which the building blocks are sourced. Nearly everything is originally derived from field recordings she collects, and though they are clearly manipulated and juxtaposed with other electronic bits and bobs ("There are small elements of sampling and synthetic sounds") into a highly intricate and tangled weave, they still retain something tangible and pleasingly penetrable.

"The way I build tracks is quite slow and detailed work. Tons of small pieces that work together. I disappear into the sounds and that's that," she says. "As I see it my music is about collecting sounds from different contexts and creating a new place, so it's of lesser importance where the sounds originate from. It's not a completely fictional world though; it's more about deconstructing, reinterpreting and reevaluating the sounds of my surroundings."

Complex tracks then, but not dense. When I ask if she's interested in dance she counters with the fact that her early favourite records were by Aphex Twin and The Knife, the creators of music that is as complex as it is easy to slip into and enjoy.

"I've always been interested in beats and surprised by how limited and dull most of the mainstream beat-orientated music is. It's not like it's impossible to have a great beat and still make something interesting! I simply don't like listening to music that bores me. I think it's also important to discuss the reversed situation - that experimental music doesn't have to be overly difficult or unpleasant to be interesting."

Clear influence also comes in the form of her father Graham Lewis, man of Wire, Dome, He Said, etc., and no stranger to the connection and co-operation between visual and sonic elements. His two albums All Over and All Under - also released this year on Editions Mego under the name Edvard Graham Lewis - have a huge overlap with the themes, content and delivery of Ett. Klara explains that her younger visual work developed from a growing interest in her father's projects, and that her music-making grew from his encouragement.

"It started when pappa noticed that we hear things in a similar way. He would play me tracks he was working on and ask for my opinion - it was a fantastic way to learn how to communicate about sound and understanding what one values in music. So before I'd started making music I had built up a strong confidence in my own taste. I knew what I liked and sometimes even why I liked it.

"He taught me the basics of Logic and engineered my first track, in 2009. Since then I've been experimenting my way forward and finding my own techniques and preferred workflow. We always play each other stuff we are working on when we meet and give each other feedback. It's an excellent set-up!"

A new EP from Lewis, entitled Msuic (to convey something familiar being rearranged), is now forthcoming on the label run by fellow Swede Peder Mannerfelt. Here there's a sharper exploration of contrast and the way in which a sudden twist or turn can bridge as well as divide separate parts. The first track sputters and overloads with zaps of high voltage noise, while others take more of a softly softly approach - manipulating smoothed out sighs and loose chords. The balancing has been shifted for a more striking effect, but Msuic still feels a distinct and resolved piece as a whole.

"Transitions also fascinate me," says Lewis. "How do people manoeuvre from one phase to the next within music? It's easy to be lazy when it comes to transitions, but when people choose to be creative some of the most interesting moments can occur. For me it's often what makes a track." I ask what has recently caught her ear and she cites Oren Ambarchi's Quixotic and links it to this idea, it showing a "kind of flow that is very inspiring."

It seems the new connection to Mannerfelt has also offered some local access for her. "It's been a great way to get a connection to the Swedish scene, and also to the more techno-orientated movement," she says. "It's been interesting to see how people from very different scenes accept my music - to be able to be part of both the art and club context is really exciting."

"I had the impression that the scene was quite small and closed-off - a members-only club. But so far people have been very welcoming."

Does living in Sweden influence her? "A lot of people talk about the Scandinavian mood or effect. I'm sure living here has affected me, as any given situation would, though these things are often easier to notice in other people than in oneself. I think this has more to do with how people perceive me and my work, rather than how I see myself. When I'm making music it's not like I think about being Scandinavian - or being a woman for that matter. These are of course aspects that are part of me, but I wouldn't say that being these things define my sound."

Live performances are also a crucial part of Lewis' repertoire, and in light of the performance due for the Quietus show next month I'm eager to get a glimpse of what to expect from her. How do the performances work? How does such delicate and carefully-composed work translate to a live setting? It seems that it's a rare chance for her to exert a little more control over the way the music is presented - combining tracks with her own projections to develop the sound in different, potentially unpredicted, ways. "The live situation is about the possibilities of presenting the work in a new context. The acoustics of every venue, the sound systems, etc., affects the tones and therefore the entire tracks - and what I do live is dependent of these factors. Projections are also part of this re-contextualisation. When people are at home listening to music they decide how much space the music takes. In the live situation I get to design the experience."

Beyond the new EP, one particularly tantalising upcoming project is a collaboration with long-term Quietus favourite Simon Fisher Turner and Rainier Lericolais; a new composition for the classic 1920s documentary by Walter Ruttmann, Berlin: Symphony Of A Great City - based on field recordings from the city. It marks Lewis' first break into proper soundtrack composition, and signposts an artist branching out in exciting new directions.

Klara Lewis will perform live alongside Nik Void on November 3 for a show presented by the Quietus at Birthdays in London. Tickets are available here.

Her new EP Msuic is due on Peder Mannerfelt's label on November 10.

The new soundtrack to Berlin: Symphony Of A Great City will be performed live to a screening of the film on November 16 in Clermont-Ferrand, with several subsequent performances scheduled for 2015