Last year’s Fountain made Lyra Pramuk’s talent clear for all to listen, an intricately metaphorical view of creativity as generative interactions, her voice an augmented stream of emotional code from which a multiplicity arises, a productive erasure of what belongs inside and what belongs outside. This is the basis for Delta, a fertile ground for collaboration where artists as diverse as Gabber Modus Operandi, Valgeir Sigurðsson, or Kara-Lis Coverdale entirely reimagine Pramuk’s work, a remix that does not strictly reap new ‘versions’ out of the originals, but rather highlights and nurtures the potential others within them. After all, the delta is a poetic geographical accident – all the sediments of a river’s encounters with another large body of water produce a variety of selves we usually call branches, all of them distinct waterways of their own. The Nile delta, the Yellow river Delta, the Ganges delta, all of these natural expressions of encounters form a part of our common humanistic mythology, whence we emerged as well, a unifying we that nonetheless encompasses truly infinite variety.
The album opens with label-mate Sigurðsson’s “Offering”, an aptly titled piece that submerges Pramuk’s voice into a different dynamic than Fountain’s electronic sway of call and (distorted) response: in his hands, the voice is clear, its computerized outgrowths a network of supporting elements, guiding listeners towards appreciation of its sheer lyrical quality. Where the original “Witness” presents the main voice line as molded within a minimalist, droning system of modern composition, “Offering” uses it romantically, capturing the individual song of a mysterious forest clearing by the edges of a running stream. The second track, “Witness (Selfless Rework)” by Colin Self stands in stark contrast, and couldn’t have been better selected; a system has no center, and the voice is the result of a clash between a myriad (digital) elements, creating an expressionist swirl in which the minimalist construct collapses upon itself, yielding, at the end, to the hard emotional core of singing. From lyricism to expressionism, minimalism to maximalism, that is the grand expanse of this delta’s branches, all deriving from the same fertile sediments of creativity. This is further exemplified by KMRU and Hudson Mohawk’s contributions, a spacey ambient set where the voice is a soothing background for the former, while it works as the very texture of beats for the latter, highlighting the percussive qualities of intonation.
The mid-section of the album is an engaging, often surprising journey through the more computational side Pramuk’s work, where the antagonistic alienation of the voice externalized (as in the original “Xeno”) results in drone soundscapes like Coverdale’s “Returnless” or Caterina Barbieri’s “Germinative Rework” of “Tendril”, in which the voice is fully transformed into synth tones, a beautifully mechanical rendering of the voice-becoming as process, as an artifice of self, something seemingly generic, belonging to an outside but still profoundly connected to something particular, originating deep within. Vessel’s “Fountain (ars amatoria)” finds the baroque essence of this programming, the system not as modern site of rational expectation, but as the sensible body of organized experience, the overload of the senses and the consequent shutdown that is the ecstasy of a million interactions. Eris Drew’s contributions find a path of both eerie electronics and dance, dub-like takes for which the voice is an echo, a trace of something solid before the airy quality of the drones and beats, mirroring KMRU’s move earlier in the album. They share with Ben Frost’s participation an interest in the role of the voice as the mark of presence: his “Cradle (Patience Rework)” pushes the original’s slow, almost somber tone to an extreme, slowing down and chopping up the voice even further to give the track a funereal quality. This voice is haunting, a birth undone, a sorrowful marker of something that is now gone, of which only a trace is left.
What are perhaps the most radical takes on Fountain are left for last, closing the album with a powerful surge of energy: Gabber Modus Operandi’s “Kaca Bulan Baru” give Pramuk’s most expressionist phrases a home as a howling choir, her methodical calls and responses overturned and driven towards something much more loose and flexible, letting the very power of her voice shine through. It even sounds like the work of noisier performers like Diamanda Galás, giving Pramuk’s trained, controlled character a wild spin. Heaven in Stereo’s “Gossip (Catalyst Rework)” once again provides some contrast while using a similar approach, using the voice as background harmonics to highlight the dubstep potential of the original’s rhythm devoid of its cheerful, celebratory choir, replacing it with hints of many voices mixed into one. Nailah Hunter and Tygapaw finish the album with their reimagination of Fountain closer “New Moon”, a joyful track in which the systematic, the estranging, the passionate, the quiet, and the digital aspects of Pramuk’s work fruitfully come together all at once. Hunter transforms it into what I can only describe as a chamber piece, restrained and delicate, building up its textures as a web of bright drones that result in one of the most moving pieces in the entire album. Here, joy retains its alienating character, its heart-felt erasure of anything other than itself, highlighting the original’s ecstatic core. Tygapaw’s techno take on “New Moon” channels this same dimension as a dance-floor machine, relentlessly driven while Pramuk’s voice hovers, a happy swirl of body and mind that in feeling unstoppable also feels fierce.
Collaborations such as these are hopefully remaking the panorama of experimental and electronic music-making, and it makes me think of the also recently released Fantas Variations by Caterina Barbieri. But where Variations follows a more traditional, canonical format, Delta metaphorically grows beyond the referents of remixing and interpreting someone else’s works. With its geographically-inspired underpinnings, it opens up the possibilities of collaboration to an extent in which the dialogue between artists feels free from the many constraints and rules of the remix. The versions and basically new material from various artists in here demonstrates that this way of working produces extremely interesting results, and it hopefully strengthens the idea that creativity is, in the end, a pattern of collaborations, even when they come from within. (David Murrieta Flores)