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Lawrence Lek's new album goes skyhigh

The globetrotting multimedia artist taking a Boeing across the Atlantic talks about his rad new album, and why the internet is prosthetic memory

Lawrence Lek is transcending to hyperspace. The London based sculptor, artist, and occasional Dazed contributor, also has a neat side-line in releasing totally incredible internet music. Sharp-eyed underground pop fans will remember his previous album, Screengazers. Recent times have seen him build a projection mapped, 3D printed sculpture, an open-sourced housing architecture format based on Rosarch blots, and recreate a Barbican penthouse a space for free thought, but this month, he's releasing music again. Typically, this is no simple tastemaking-label-then-a-little-tour launch plan. Instead, the album is playing as a temporary digital installation at Channel Normal, along with a 35-minute, digitally rendered video of a flight from New York to London. Here, we play the album (sans flight video, sadly) and talk to him about his best-ever red-eye and the future of his far-reaching art.

Hey Lawrence, how's it going?

Good thanks, I'm glad I finally finished this album – it takes me back to 2009.

How did Continental Drift come about? 

Over the past few years I've mostly been working on visual art, but I always keep recording – usually it ends up as some ambient music in a video or installation. So Continental Drift (OST) is the first official soundtrack for Bonus Levels, my ongoing project about a utopian virtual world. But actually, the album is a really old project - “Overseas”the opener, dates way back to 2009. It started as a drum-guitar jam with my friend Joe and then evolved into a few live audio-visual shows that I did with Awe IX. Working with music, there are always half-finished things that stay in your head. It was also from a time before many of my friends moved away. I always wanted to build an album around that track, just so it feels like it's already nostalgic.

It's themed around a long-haul flight. How many red-eyes have you taken since your last album, 2011's Screengazers?

Too many. Unfortunately that's because people I love are often really far away or I'm doing things in more than one place. I put out Screengazers just when I was studying in New York and had a residency in London at the same time. I had to spend most of the award on flights, just because I was meant to be in both places at once. That flight is about five hours long, just long enough to see a whole transition from dawn to noon, or sunset to night. There's this strange sensation that you're chasing the sun when you fly east. Nearly justifies the red-eyes.

It sounds  more hi-fi and HD than your previous work. Musically, what's changed since then? 

It's not conscious, it's just that I'm really interested in creating depth of feeling within a platform that is overwhelmingly digital. Since in my visual work I deal with computer fabrication and video game rendering, I'm super aware of the seductive qualities of surface glossiness. So it makes sense that those qualities bleed over into music and production. For me, the guitar – and its spectrum of industrial, electronic, and acoustic sounds – is still the focus of my sound. I suppose it's the closest thing I have to an electric voice.

Channel Normal is such a cool site. How did the album debuting there come about?

This is actually the seventh project on Channel Normal – previous artists have been Clifford Sage, Eva Papamargariti, Sabrina Ratté and others. Marios Athanasiou (the artist who runs the site) saw one of my Bonus Levels installations and invited me to contribute something. Stay tuned for Viktor Timofeev, who should have something online early next year. Actually I had initially intended to build a full flight-simulator game for the website, but I decided that having a window seat view of the full album streaming was more in line with the actual experience of flying.

What appeals to you about the idea of a temporary digital artwork? 

The internet is a kind of prosthetic memory, so it's almost expected that digital work will exist in some archive forever. That leads to a reluctance to engage with the mountain of content available online. So temporary digital artworks can be seen as of higher value because of their limited time frame. Actually, it's more like how the viewer's relationship used to be with broadcast television. Quite simply, you had to make an appointment with yourself to watch a show, because it would be happening only once.

Previous works have involved trains and teleporters, and this video is set on a window seat of a Boeing 777. Can you tell us about the importance of movement for your music?

My interest in the use of industrial transportation to create a psychological state of movement comes from my own personal biography. However, I think interpretation should be completely open. Today, the sensation of being in industrial transport is part of collective consciousness. While the railway experience of the 19th century created a new way of seeing, the continuously scrolling landscape, seen from the train window. This way of looking and hearing has been completely absorbed by society. Our visual and sonic culture is now incredibly sophisticated, so I think that each listener or viewer projects their own memory onto the blank canvas of an artwork, or music.

Have you got any unrealised or unfinished projects you'd like to talk about? 

It's taken a while to work Continental Drift is meant to be the soundtrack for an as-yet-unfinished video essay about travel. So maybe one version of Bonus Levels is going to feature a digital airport... I'm also excited to be working on a project on Jing Jin City, a luxury-not-quite-ghost-town in China I explored in 2014 with Andi Schmied. At some point I'd like to present my work with sculpture, simulation, and sound all together. Done in a way that does justice to the unique material and perceptual qualities of each medium: so that probably won't be for a long time!

What's the best flight you've ever been on?

On one flight to Tokyo, the plane was descending over hills that were shrouded in a morning mist. Looking down, I saw a single giant Buddha emerging from under the blanket of clouds – one of Japan's Daibutsu. It was beyond unexpected.