Kara-Lis Coverdale + LXV “David wanted to explore this ethereal idea, whereas I wanted to explore something more violent and commanding.”

Kara-Lis Coverdale and David Sutton have been exploring synthesis and digital process in their respective spaces, Coverdale in Montreal collaborating with the likes of Tim Hecker on his Virgins album, and Sutton in Philadelphia and Jersey City as Current Amnesia, (lately) LXV, and in the duo Car Commercials. Both have released music on the Sacred Phrases label. But on Sirens, the two unite together to craft an album that combines their aesthetics, exploring electronics that drift from drones to various textures and even to melodic motifs in chaotic orchestrations that reflect states of violence, beauty, and religious fervor. Released by the always dependable Umor Rex label, Sirens accomplishes sound explorations with a human perspective, a narrative full of emotion and contemplation.

We talked with Coverdale and Sutton on Skype about YouTube, the virtual world, and the beginning of an ongoing collaboration that has already sparked many joint dates (including a slot on this year’s Mutek Mexico) and a forthcoming follow-up album.


First of all, how did you decide to collaborate and make Sirens?

David Sutton: We met on Soundcloud. I believe Kara messaged me after I had added her and I had asked if she wanted to bounce some tracks back and forth. Then we kind of opened up the dialogue that became this record.

Kara-Lis Coverdale: There was a lot of dialogue before we ever made anything. Really long, lofty, and imaginative emails that were so verbally floral that it was almost daunting to make music that could adequately do our ideas justice. I read some about a month ago, and I was referencing A$AP Rocky.

S: Yea, I guess the process really started with a conceptual foundation, and sort of feeling out each others’ ideas. I think in the beginning I was talking a lot about searching YouTube for “angelic music.”

C: Why did you have angels in mind?

S: I guess this kind of idea of an uncanny, ethereal voice arising from network systems. If information in a mass was synthesized into a voice or something.

C: Well, yeah, YouTube is an informatic system. I suppose it is also a network system.

S: Also, I was interested in the airy ideas behind some new age music I was listening to and if there was something a bit less identifiable under the angelic voice. I was going to say Kara is pretty involved in it with her background as an organist; for me it is a general interest in music that evokes transcendental feelings. That’s pretty broad, I guess, and applies to different things for different people. I have always loved listening to things easily deemed spiritual and that is probably relative to an interest in theology and consciousness.

When we began working together it was like two aliens who met in space. What do two aliens say to each other?

C: So David had this idea of the angels, which I squashed immediately. I think we realized we had common interest in sacred music later on, after we had already made some demos. Our initial exchanges were much more collagist, it was like two totally distinct personalities coming together in a character-encoded space, who decided to try slamming their ideas together and see what came of it. David wanted to explore this ethereal idea, whereas I wanted to explore something more violent and commanding.

S: There was a lot of talk about the states people enter when gaming, and the separation from simulated acts of violence.

C: Yeah, there was a period when we shared a lot of videogame screenshots. We tried Second Life together. There was a particular interest in what happens to the body when the mind engages in violence but doesn’t physically enact it.

At the same time, you were doing this online, chatting and exchanging emails. We don’t think much about it because it’s very natural, we do it every day, but it’s different than being face-to-face with someone. Chatting through the Internet is in a way a projection of your real self.

C: It is also a way to project an artificial self. I think the projection of an “IDEALIZED” self is the most common worry among those who don’t engage in online socialization. What is real, though? Real is what we believe it to be, and when someone else believes your belief.

Part of the process between David and I was just articulating and experiencing what we felt around us, and bouncing it off each other, like sonar. If it bounced back, then maybe it stuck somewhere and ended up in the work.

S: I think on every level the work is derived from virtual communication. A lot of the original source samples on my end, before processing, were soundcard recorded from stream of consciousness YouTube searches based on our ideas and conversations.

C: It’s true, we have been each others’ puppet masters.

Have you two met in real life?

S: Yea, we performed in NY, that was the first time we met…

C: After over a year of working together.

S: …It was so hectic. I was across the city and had been up pretty late the night before. Had to drive into Manhattan and pick up Kara, deal with the initial nerves of meeting. Then we had to put together a set some hours before the show. After the first greeting though, we were already comfortable and ready to work on the live set and hang out.

C: It was very surreal but also felt very natural. There were things that made complete sense and then other things you could have never inferred via virtual communication alone. During the process of making this album, together but also separately we’ve been trying to discern from an ethical standpoint, whether virtualization is a good thing.

And what are your thoughts about it [virtualization being a good thing], so far?

C: I’ve tried to give myself over to it in an extreme way, in order to test the borders of capability.

S: I think it feels pretty fluid for the most part. Lending yourself to the available forms of communication and once you do that there is great potential for conveying ideas and visions. Though there is a sort of barrier sometimes, where you just can’t articulate a way you wish.

C: It’s fluid but it’s also awful. I was initially very optimistic, overtly provocatively optimistic about virtualization. I remember getting into fights with people at parties over this because I was so hardline about the irrelevance of the body, but now it just makes me sad. I mean, sonically and formally, and in every sense, Sirens is a reflection of this exploration.

S: I wonder how it would have came out if made in person, traditionally collaborating.

C: Well it wouldn’t have been an immersive of a collaboration, there is access to a very intimate space with virtual communication.

Also, I think in these kinds of interactions, time is very fluid as well. You can wake up at 3 am and message the other person with the idea you just had, whether if it was a traditional IRL collaboration, you would have to make a note of it and then present it to the other person next time you met.

C: Exactly. It’s a 24-hour working clock. It’s exhausting and demanding but also becomes a drug as you learn more and go deeper.

During the process of making this album, together but also separately we’ve been trying to discern from an ethical standpoint, whether virtualization is a good thing.

It’s easy to become obsessed, to make you think of it all day long.

C: Yes, I enjoy obsession.

Kara, you mentioned that the irrelevance of the body, the virtualisation of things makes you sad now. Why is that?

C: It feels like a narrative where a visionary architect spends half their life designing and building what they see in their mind, then dies before it’s finished and never gets to play in it. We are at this strange point in the architecture of our ecosystem where there is so much of a world in both realms — physical and virtual — and no portholes to connect the two in a real way.

S: Second Life wasn’t quite there yet.

C: My avatar had a wedgie.

S: Mine’s still underwater.

C: I think we collectively work on this architecture with great vigor and enthusiasm, but when you step back and actually look at it for what it is, it’s terrifyingly lonely yet the call is so strong.

S: Who really knows if it is capable of fully compensating face-to-face interaction, ever.

David, you mentioned YouTube earlier, what’s the appeal for you? What do you look for in those videos you watch?

S: YouTube is a great open source for sampling. I’m sure if I had taken a field recorder and picked up certain things I would have some sentimental connection to the archived recordings. When working with YouTube I can start by wanting a violent sound: a person pulverizing a punching bag. Record a clip, push it through some patches, blow it up and reassemble it, and it is transfigured into something completely new and alien. By day I work as a digital archivist; information, images, and sounds float past me and my mind is always running with ideas, the search for specific sounds to weave a concept. Coloring these ideas is complimented very well by having a search tab and a card recorder.

C: The complementation isn’t incidental.

S: There is always this lurking idea to me, if you take like a totality of someone’s browser content or something, boil it down and let it solidify into something new. What it would sound and look like ghostly remains of these deep corners browsed, and information sought out.

K: It would look or sound like a grave.

S: Maybe, or some uncanny entity that looks back. I don’t know.

C: Yes, spirits of the grave. These ideas never change, only take new forms.

There’s a conceptual, intellectual part to Sirens, like we have discussed, but I think — and correct me if I’m wrong — that you were trying to reconcile your shared thoughts and feelings on the subjects you were touching.

S: Certainly, but I think that on a lot of it it was bouncing ideas till we realized we were kindred on a lot of what we were trying to create. If anything it is possibly more often reconciling our different processes to creating works of sound. Kara being a classically trained musician, me being a student of digital arts and arriving at sound in a conceptual method.

We are at this strange point in the architecture of our ecosystem where there is so much of a world in both realms — physical and virtual — and no portholes to connect the two in a real way.

C: The classical world and digital worlds in music have traditionally different ways about creating or communicating meaning. I would say digital practice is much more concerned with presenting an arrangement of the world by literally representing it materially, whereas the classical world is more an art concerned with abstraction through musical idioms and conventions that slowly morph and change throughout history. So when we began working together it was like two aliens who met in space. What do two aliens say to each other?

S: Although there are difficulties sometimes in bridging the two, I think they do complement each other very well. We both brought something to the equation the other had to adapt to.

C: Maybe I’m more an expert on musical mechanics of transcendental evocation through devices and harmonic conventions, whereas David acts as more of a shaman curator, a wizard of aesthetics. It wasn’t really an accommodation, or there was no need to recoil or regress, it was more like a warring, an enjoyable wrestle. There is still a lot I don’t understand.

And now that you have done Sirens, I’m sure you will be working together again, right?

S: We already are. We kind of just jumped into riffing the next project.

C: Yeah, I mean while we were working on Sirens we already had a thousand other ideas.

S: We also want to perfect a live set which we haven’t had much time to work on yet.

C: We are working on Fracture now.

S: The next project we have been hashing out sounds more separated so far, but in that respect is complementary in a different sense.

C: We’re stripping it down to the essence, maybe as an effort to see what Sirens is.

S: When we can hold the two together I will understand that better. Right now they seem like they are made by different people. The concept is also completely different, so I guess that is good.

C: In a sense Sirens is maximalist, It’s sort of a survey or a cartography of an imagined landscape.

S: It is definitely a claustrophobic record.

C: Sirens is like when you jump into the lake with all your clothes on, and you take photos of yourself with all of the wet garments, dripping, goosebumps on your skin, hair stuck to your face, one shoe lost in the water.

Fracture is more like, we are standing on the dock, throwing one item in at a time and jotting down observations.

S: [laughs] I would say maybe Sirens is a landscape and Fracture is the drill tearing into it.

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