Composed under the looming deadline of childbirth, the underlying source for the 'labyrinthine plasmic pulsations' in the US-born, London-based electronic artist Karen Gwyer's debut album on cult label No Pain In Pop is impressively unusual and poignant. Moving through organic cyclical rhythms and 'disorientating psycho-physical disequilibria', Gwyer's debut album, Needs Continuum, is a uniquely dark, brooding and slow-burning masterpiece - a result of personal experiences and lifelong musical progressions, a defining record of a transitional period rendered physical.
Born to two cellists in Iowa before relocating to Ann Arbor, Michigan, the young Gwyer half-heartedly experimented with the cello, violin, and viola amidst all the Brahms and Chopin at home. It wasn't until her discovery of The New Dance Show, a low budget house music program on Detroit TV in the late 80s - early 90s that formed her love of house and techno. At 17, she moved to New York to realise the last vestiges of house culture replaced by guitar-themed tedium and eventually ended up in London where she finally came back to music.
With an EP ('I've Been You Twice') on fellow No Pain In Pop artist patten’s own Kaleidoscope label last year, the single Pikku-Kokki with a self-directed video, Night Nails and the sparse, stuttering Tehe! Blah blah! Shhhh! on NPIP's Bedroom Club II compilation - the new record displays her reinterpretation of classic house and deconstructed psychedelia, influenced by the likes of Nico and Arthur Russell to The Belleville Three and Ethiopian Amhara wedding songs. "I went into overdrive recording, just trying to make something that measured up to the significance of the start of a new life. Or lives, actually."
Dazed Digital: You recorded your album in during your first pregnancy? Must have been an intense time! Do you feel there is a traceable narrative to the record (in this respect)?
Karen Gwyer: I was pretty intense. Your world is about to change radically, and you know that your focus and priorities will shift, but it's all so intangible during that wait. Between endless rounds of toast, I recorded and mixed as much as I possibly could, knowing that my time being my own was about to end. I suppose there is a non-linear narrative to the record, documenting an enormous shift in my life over the last several years. Recovering from some heavy stuff and gaining much more... that sort of thing.
DD: Was it difficult to compile your previous body of work into an album format, or was it mostly made up of new experimentations?
Karen Gwyer: A small part of it is slightly older material that served as a point of trajectory for the rest, which is new, yes. It was fairly difficult, but also very satisfying. And humbling.
DD: I use the word 'experimentations', is that accurate to say so? A lot of your work seems very calculated and carefully constructed? What is your production process like?
Karen Gwyer: Sometimes things work out in a fairly seamless way, where I know what I want to do and I keep honing till I'm there. But more often, I'll try something and it'll go all wrong, so I let it bother me for a while until I have the balls to confront and re-work it. Constructed is a good way of putting it. I'm that person who makes a thousand-track piece. Performing any of it live true to its meticulous construction isn't possible; I have to approach a live show so differently until I can train my children to play all parts. But for the first time, I'm really getting into putting a performance together. Sure, it's different, but it'll hopefully loosen me up a bit.
DD: What are you most excited about next?
Karen Gwyer: More music, really. I'm multi-tasking like mad and maximising this maternity leave to the hilt! There are a few new exciting things in the pipeline, so for the time being I'll just keep on trucking.
Karen Gwyer - Needs Continuum LP launch party at London's The Waiting Room, Wednesday 27th February 2013
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