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The Fawn - k + Marina by Jacob Graham SQ
The Fawn by Jacob Graham and Ryan Hover

Marina Abramović and Sound of Ceres’ K on aliens and the meaning of life

The performance artist and dream pop experimentalist turn their attention to the cosmos – talking aliens, black holes and the meaning of existence

There are not many people who can take on the role of the universe. But if anyone can, it’s Marina Abramović. The performance artist’s latest role sees her team up with New York dream-pop band Sound of Ceres for an interstellar adventure to the far corners of the universe. Emerald Sea, the band’s upcoming third album, sees Abramović and lead vocalist k engage in a cosmic dialogue between two deities, the universe and Venus, to tell the story of how existence came to know itself. 

Stretched across three acts – The Void, The Deep, The Firmament – the album, and its accompanying visuals, is a fever dream of fierce orchestral passages and 80s-era Lynchian set design; a metaphysical tumble into the very core of our existence via Gustav Holst's The Planets, and Les Baxter's midcentury exotica Emerald Sea. As Abramović puts it: “The main question isn’t just ‘what is the cosmos’ but ‘what is behind the cosmos’.”

Abramović first met the band after attending one of their performances during a 2017 Brooklyn residency. “My attraction to Sound of Ceres comes from the fact that the music feels so galactic – from a very part of the universe,” she explains. By exploring the relationship between humanity and the cosmos, k – whose own alienoid features merge seamlessly into the record’s trippy aesthetic – explores the meaning of intimacy, both personal and cosmological, fleeting and eternal.

Below, the performance artist and dream pop experimentalist expand on their joint project, turning their attention to the cosmos – talking aliens, black holes and the meaning of existence.

How did this collaboration come about?

Marina Abramović: My partner is so passionate about music. He always wants to show me some new things. I come from a very classical music background. I was brought up on Mozart and Beethoven. I didn‘t even know what the Rolling Stones was until I was 30 years old. Because I left Yugoslavia at 29, I wasn’t interested in any of this type of music. But then, slowly, I started to include much more interesting types of music. But again, it was tribes and aborigine music, Zulu or Chavela Vargas from Mexico.

Then, I went to Alphaville for a residency and saw the Sound of Ceres, and I was totally captured for many reasons. What I saw there was captivating, it was so different. 

K: We met at a residency that we were doing in Brooklyn at a dive bar in 2018. Someone as powerful as Marina is the last person we expected to show up at this location we were playing. But I remember she stood right in front of me as I was performing, literally feet away, and stared at me the whole time. I think most people might find that intimidating, but I actually found it super inspirational; a warm, calming presence. After that, I remember her telling me to never blink, which makes sense for her to say as the master of being present with her audience. That really stuck with me. I‘ve obviously never forgotten that line.

Marina Abramović: Never blink!

K: Yes! Never blink. I‘ve tried to bring that into my performance and be more aware in general.

Marina Abramović: I‘ve been reading Yukio Mishima's book, Beautiful Star, it‘s the first book that he wrote that actually deals with science fiction. And it‘s to do with the different planets and galaxies and an entire family. The father comes from Mars, the children come from Venus, and the mother from Ketu, which is only seen in Indian mythology. So they‘re all coming in differently and they‘re all talking about UFOs and strange objects that are visible to earth.

My favourite thing is that they hardly use any technology; it’s a telephone or battery lamp. You can see all the little dust particles floating in the air. I always imagine that these little particles of dust are actually planets coming from different galaxies, with all the aliens inside – but they‘re too small. The humans don’t see them, but I saw them. They’re parallel galaxies and the music is like this, too. It was very emotional – I wanted to know more about them.

How did the dialogue between Venus and the universe come about?

K: My art allows me to occupy another realm and mythical world, making them tangible for myself and the receiver whether that‘s someone listening to the record or someone that‘s there at the live show watching it visually. We wanted to make that immersive experience that takes listeners and viewers into that land with us. It’s really important that we kind of can bring that parallel universe, but make it real, make it something that people can actually experience. And I think that was, to me what was most important to get across with this album and this concept, and this kind of project.

Marina Abramović: It’s also the way you sing, the way your clothes look, your presence in front of the audience. Even in normal life, you really look alien to me. You look like you’re from a different planet. 

K: I feel the same way for you. You are a character that you‘ve brought to this world that is from a different place, and space and time. 

“There’s always that kind of understanding that we are just the little dot universe on the outskirts of the Milky Way” – Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović: How did you design the costumes?

K: We have a very low budget. A lot of times the things that we use on stage, whether they‘re lights or props or costumes, are made from things that we found in thrift stores, or maybe even trash on the side of the curb. 

Jacob, one of our bandmates, is the master costume designer. But he and I work together to create the different designs for the show. I think the costumes are more about how they reflect light and receive light. Light is definitely a big piece that plays in with the costumes, rather than just thinking of what looks beautiful. It‘s kind of how will the light interact with what we‘re wearing.

Marina Abramović: This idea of low technology is not just the question of the money, but it‘s also a question of choice: you actually embrace it. The quality is more plus than minus because of the simplicity. I remember when I was a child in ex-Yugoslavia that only had a programme in the evening, maybe two movies and news, that was it. The rest of the time was a static picture and you could see particles of electricity on the screen. I was fascinated. It probably was my first introduction to meditation. Just looking at the particles and looking at the atoms of energy passing by. You have the same type of that kind of low technology, so I‘d say you should never use high technology, in my point of view. But is this something that you embrace?

K: So we did create a new live show than what you‘ve seen in the past, but it‘s still with incredibly low technology of what we’re both able to afford and that we both set up ourselves. What’s special about the band is that we all have the things that we’re good at – and, luckily for us, we have someone looking out for the visual aspect too. But we do all have a DIY mindset.

What attracted you to cosmology in the first place?

K: The idea of expansion, endlessness, eternity, the unknown is what attracts me to cosmology. The idea of the furthest reaches of human understanding that inspires our art. Our reaction to that inspiration is to make art that's inspired by those ideas in a fictional world. Since we don‘t know exactly everything about the universe, we have a lot of guesses. Bringing that into a fictional world allows me to put a romantic tint on reality. When we‘re performing live, or when someone's hearing our record, they will be able to experience all of that unknown in real time – and, hopefully, it will feel more real to them.

Marina Abramović: This fascination about the cosmos always comes back to childhood. For me, the main question wasn’t just ‘what is the cosmos’ but ‘what is behind the cosmos’. When you ask this kind of question, your brain just collapses; you can‘t think that far. Then there’s black holes and black holes suck planets in. But what’s on the other side of it? How does it all function? When I was a child, I was thinking that we are all on a hill atop of a big, fat cosmis lady, and she’s kicking us around in her own will – and we can’t control anything. 

As an artist, it’s really important to have a big picture rather than the small picture. I always like to see things universally and how they look in space and time. There’s always that kind of understanding that we are just the little dot universe on the outskirts of the Milky Way. Planet Earth is a tiny blue planet and the surrounding millions of stars and asteroids can crush us at any second and we all can disappear. That kind of feeling of polarity has always been with me that actually this could happen any minute – and all that we have is to live in the present.

“We think that we are superior as humans, and that we rule the cosmos, but that’s not true at all. We’re all part of the same universe” – Marina Abramović

How do you see our relationship as humans to the galaxy?

Marina Abramović: Poor humans! What can we do? We can disappear at any second from this planet. That’s one thing that we should really learn. We think that we are superior as humans, and that we rule the cosmos, but that’s not true at all. We’re all part of the same universe. Everything is reliant on each other – even a butterfly. We have to understand and learn to be more humble.

K: Yeah, I agree with that. Our relationship with the universe has to do with the fact that we’re made up of the same thing that the universe is made of. I think that’s the larger story of our album bio. And the concept of this record is the fact that we are the universe because we are made up of the same things that the universe is made up of. But we also have an awareness of it. And I believe that’s what makes the human perspective special, because we actually have consciousness, a highly functioning cognitive function, that we can really understand and be aware of the universe itself. 

Marina Abramović: But we actually understand that we don’t understand anything. We don’t even know how life began – we don’t know shit. 

Another question: why did you choose my voice? I have a terrible Slavic accent and my English is so poor.

K: That‘s so interesting that you say that because we view your voice is like so powerful and iconic. But, basically, the band had a narrative that there were two characters travelling through space and time together, one of those characters being the actual Universe itself. I would play one of the characters. So then it came down to well, who is the voice of this other character that is, in fact, the universe and our mind jumped to Marina straightaway, because, Marina, you have defined a lot of the art world that we're now inhabiting. So your voice as the universe to us was incredibly fitting for the project.

Marina Abramović: I am the universe!

K: At the beginning of the album, there’s an innocence of the unknown. Then it moves into the physical world where, as Venus, I move around the Earth as a creative force in the physical world, changing and having impact as humans do. The final form of the human mind and heart is reaching your full potential. 

Marina Abramović: For me, every death is a new beginning. It’s a loop going on; this deconstruction, reconstruction, destruction and new beginning. So it’s never dying. It's just changing the forms, changing the shapes. But that’s it. It's more like a dance with the universe.

How does it feel to be the universe?

Marina Abramović: It‘s big shoes to fill. I enjoy this whole idea of being the universe. It’s just a moment in time, then next time, you‘re just dust and disappear. One day you’re the universe, the next day you’re a black hole.

“The Fawn” is out now. Emerald Sea is out on June 17 via Joyful Noise Recordings