The unconventional songwriter talks the influence of her indigenous ancestry.
This piece appears in the upcoming AdHoc Issue 23.
Since her early releases as E+E, Elysia Crampton has jammed together sounds from disparate genres and geographical locations to articulate an immersive method of cultural commentary and personal storytelling. Spots y Escupitajo, her latest LP, dismisses conventional musical form, juxtaposing several 10 to 20-second audio clips that she calls “spots” with flowing, song-length tours through a world of processed electronics, sound effects, vocal signatures, and, more specific to this release, the sound of a slowly moving piano. Compared to previous albums, this one is spare, in a way that can feel elegiac; indeed, a press release for the album notes that it honors Crampton’s deceased grandparents.
In the below interview, Crampton discusses how her personal history and certain conceptual frameworks team up to undergird her music. Her statements build on a variety of sources, weaving together such notions as “becoming-with,” attributed to the theorist Donna Haraway, and the stories and traditions of her people, the Aymara, an indigenous group from the Andean region. Elysia Crampton plays with Earthly and L’Rain at The Park Church Co-op in Brooklyn on Saturday 11/4.
AdHoc: Your work bespeaks a strong political point of view. What are some challenges you’ve faced as an artist interfacing with and through the digital world, where meaning is easily distorted and taken out of context?
Elysia Crampton: I’m always treading the irrational in an attempt to uncover the project—beyond value logic, beyond linear time and progress, often having to contradict myself in order to get to where I need to go. Beyond the rational lies a dark, generative ocean that exceeds any value judgment or ethical assignment we would confer upon it, though it’s something like an ethical demand that leads me there, toward that night.
I’m always treading the irrational in an attempt to uncover the project—beyond value logic, beyond linear time and progress, often having to contradict myself in order to get to where I need to go. Beyond the rational lies a dark, generative ocean that exceeds any value judgment or ethical assignment we would confer upon it, though it’s something like an ethical demand that leads me there, toward that night.
The more I live—making mistakes, being messy, tasting and touching this life where the anti-colonial is continually given (as we are irreducible to coloniality)—the more I find it unnecessary to seek clarity or wholeness, or even what one would consider an individuated standpoint. An example would be a clear-cut political view, able to fit neatly into a packet of lessons. I’m learning that those desires are, in many ways, detrimental to the project. What is the project? I’m still learning that, as it is something felt out in a kind of synesthetic anguish and ecstasy not just my own—a demand, a queer desiring for the abolition of what has been called subjection, an end to imperialism and coloniality as things that prefigure such forms of capture. It’s a desiring born from the movement of becoming-with.
Your live performances encompass a lot more than just the music on your records. What informs their set-up and the stories you’re trying to tell?
From an Aymara perspective, there isn’t really such a thing as a static, self-enclosed “being”—a stable ontological bedrock that sits below or behind stuff. For us, movement is key to elaborating who we “are” and how we move through the many space-times; perhaps a term like “becoming” is more apt than “being,” though still carrying its own limitations. From that notion of movement as being, performing the songs in different spaces allows others to feel how they are affecting, even altering, the music—how all of us form and are forming the field of force they emerge out of. I’m inspired by the audiences that attend and share those spaces with me.
Can you explain the story behind the title of Spots y Escupitajo?
The title, “spots and spittle” (in English), is a reference to the figure to which the album is dedicated: chuqui chinchay, or ccoa, the flying feline [in the Aymara tradition] that guards dual-gendered or trans bodies. Oral tradition and the old colonial chroniclers give us stories about the “spittle of the sun,” or intiptoca, and how that relates to chuqui chinchay, the queer feline deity I mentioned, who at times embodies this idea of excretion as tears on the face of the divine. In such instances, images of sorrow seem to carry connotations of a generative or creative act. It is the speckling or spotting on the body of the feline that shows they belong to the liminal space-time we call taypi, that generative place where opposites co-mingle, where paradox thrives, where world-reversal or pachakuti is imminent (and immanent).
In a way, I wanted to honor my disability. On a technical level, I lack education in sound engineering as well as the skill set required to navigate much of the technology my friends and peers rely on in order to make music. So I wanted to follow through with my own lack of ability—socially, medically, sonically speaking—and not attempt to conceal any of that but implement it as a strength, or just as-is, no excuses or wordy explanations. The keyboards I used for that fake piano sound—the Yamaha and my Roland—I’ve had them since I was twelve, so you could say it was also a way of honoring my long relationship with those instruments.
Do you approach making music differently now than you did as E+E?
Not so much. I mean, I don’t make edits [of other people’s music] that much anymore, but it’s not out of any real decision to stop—just organic change, I suppose. I still edit my own recordings and performances the way I would edit any other music files. The genres I defined are all still in my music, elaborated in different moments—whether purposefully, coming from a place of wanting to preserve my family’s legacy, or haphazardly, from being in dialogue with friends or out of traveling for work. My newest record, which should be released in early 2018, sort of looks toward and revitalizes some of the sounds I tried developing before I started releasing work under my own name.