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Lyra Pramuk

Lyra Pramuk is an American singer, composer-producer, and performance artist based in Berlin. She collaborates often with artists such as Holly Herndon, Colin Self, and Donna Huanca, and this fall will release her debut EP with Objects Ltd. She is committed to empathy and listening as the central pathways to self-actualization and affirmative collective action, using fictive play to summon a kinder future.

  1. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

    One of the most magical locations in the world. I got to visit last October and was astonished by the space, its history, its acoustics. Completed in 537 CE, this massive place of worship was first a Greek Orthodox church and later a mosque, and is now a museum. Its whole history is on display: The Hagia Sophia was built on the site of a former pagan temple, and its interior layers glittering Orthodox mosaics with Arabic calligraphy. The air feels golden when you walk in. When no one was around, I sang a bit to feel the reverb, which was unreal.

    *Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, July 20, 2011.* Photo: Winston Bharat/Flickr. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, July 20, 2011. Photo: Winston Bharat/Flickr.
  2. DJ Sprinkles, Midtown 120 Blues (Mule Musiq, 2008)

    Midtown 120 Blues is a deep-house album and cultural artifact by Terre Thaemlitz (DJ Sprinkles). I never lived in New York as a queer person, despite growing up in close proximity to the city. I’m now living and transitioning in Berlin, and this exquisite record has been extremely important to my understanding of NYC queer culture since the 1980s. It’s a document of house music’s animating principles: “House is not universal. House is hyper-specific,” Thaemlitz intones over the intro. Later, she recounts a night on which he declared her dance floor a “Madonna-free zone,” to foreground how Madonna sold vogueing to mainstream America without properly honoring the queer, black, and Latino roots of the ball scene. Midtown 120 reminds me that I always have more to learn as a white trans person from the suburbs, and to remember the specificity of each distinct cultural movement now subsumed under the neoliberal label “queer.”

    *Cover of DJ Sprinkles’s _Midtown 120 Blues_* (Mule Musiq, 2008). Cover of DJ Sprinkles’s Midtown 120 Blues (Mule Musiq, 2008).
  3. Anaïs Nin, Delta of Venus (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977)

    In the 1940s, in desperate need of money, Anaïs Nin and her friends, among them Henry Miller,began to write erotic fiction for a private collector for a dollar a page. Fifteen of these erotic stories were published posthumously in 1977. I think these are some of the earliest examples of twentieth-century female erotica. They aren’t so much pornographic as tantric. As usual, Nin uses her imagination and the ordinary experience of her life to approach the divine.

    *Cover of a 1978 edition of Anaïs Nin’s _Delta of Venus_, 1977.* Cover of a 1978 edition of Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus, 1977.
  4. Abida Parveen

    “‘I’m not a man or a woman, I’m a vehicle for passion,’” read the headline of a 2013 Guardian interview with Parveen. The Pakistani singer is one of the world’s most famous interpreters of Sufi music, but her road has not been easy; the music she sings has traditionally been performed exclusively by men. (You may more often hear the name of her late contemporary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.) A few years ago, I started to explore English translations of Sufi mystics, and I sought out these texts’ classical musical settings. Parveen sings like a lion: She is commanding and in full control of the mystical lessons each song contains. She’s a fiery storyteller, and I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be spiritually accountable from the sonics of her voice.

    *Abida Parveen performing at the Jahan-e-Khusrau World Sufi Music Festival, Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi, March 4, 2012.* Photo: Kevin Frayer/AP/REX/Shutterstock. Abida Parveen performing at the Jahan-e-Khusrau World Sufi Music Festival, Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi, March 4, 2012. Photo: Kevin Frayer/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
  5. Donna Huanca

    I’m a bit biased, as Donna is one of my good friends and I’ve performed with her many times, but I’m so excited by what she has done in recent years. Donna’s installations are an interactive landscape of visual and sound works for her performing models. There’s tantalizing interplay between synthetics and skin. Her art is a triumphant discovery of something alien yet also distinctly human and indigenous.

    *View of “Donna Huanca: Jaguars and Electric Eels,” 2017*, Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin. Photo: Adrian Parvulescu. View of “Donna Huanca: Jaguars and Electric Eels,” 2017, Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin. Photo: Adrian Parvulescu.
  6. Björk, Homogenic (Elektra, 1997)

    My friends will make fun of me because I always bring it up, but I have to include it because it is probably my favorite album ever. Homogenic is sci-fi, folklore, warrior-like, empowered, vulnerable, human, inhuman, personal, collective. Crunchy electronic beats that sound like nothing ever made before join carefully recorded strings that collide around Björk’s soft, screaming, wailing narration. It’s an intense ride! These songs have carried me through so many hard times in my life and encourage me to keep pushing, keep hunting, and stay generous.

    *Cover of Björk’s “Hunter”* (One Little Indian, 1997). Cover of Björk’s “Hunter” (One Little Indian, 1997).
  7. Tara Rodgers, Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound (Duke University Press, 2010)

    In 2000, musician and scholar Tara Rodgers launched pinknoises.com, a website to promote women in electronic music. Then, a decade later, she published Pink Noises, a collection of twenty-four interviews with female sound and music practitioners, composers, installation artists, and DJs. I love opening this book and flipping to a random interview. Each one is extremely personal but also technical and conceptual, exploring the artist’s unique relationship to sound and space. It’s refreshing to read about these women ’s musical journeys in the context of a male-dominated field like electronic music.

    *Bev Stanton in her home studio, Silver Spring, Maryland, 2006.* From Tara Rodgers’s _Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound_ (Duke University Press, 2010). Photo: Lori Thiele. Bev Stanton in her home studio, Silver Spring, Maryland, 2006. From Tara Rodgers’s Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound (Duke University Press, 2010). Photo: Lori Thiele.
  8. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

    This film by the Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul was inspired by a 1983 book about a real man named Boonmee who claimed he could remember his past lives while meditating. The film version shows Boonmee in his final days, surrounded by his family, his former selves reappearing to him as he reflects on his sickness. It’s a gorgeous, spacious rumination on the connections that bind us across time to the land and to one another.

    *Apichatpong Weerasethakul, _Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives_, 2010*, 16 mm transferred to 35 mm, color, sound, 114 minutes. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 2010, 16 mm transferred to 35 mm, color, sound, 114 minutes.
  9. Béla Bartók

    Bartók is Hungary’s most famous classical composer, and he has been one of my favorites since I was fifteen years old. His early work is mostly boring nationalistic symphonies, but his practice transformed as he engaged with emergent technologies. He was one of the early founders of ethnomusicology, recording folk music across Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. He transposed these melodies into his own non-conventional musical language, which is experimental and mathematical, yet rooted in the spirit of his people. If you’re new to Bartók, I would recommend Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936), which was used to score Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), or his Concerto for Orchestra (1943).His six string quartets, as recorded by the Hungarian Takács Quartet, are my absolute favorites. And if you want to learn piano, his Mikrokosmos (Microcosms) books are a great place to start.

  10. Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication (Semiotext[e], 1988)

    I picked this up at a Berlin bookstore on my birthday in 2014 and have reread it every year since. First published in English in 1988, The Ecstasy of Communication condenses twenty years of radical thinking into a sparkling, dense, and poetic essay. I don’t read a ton of critical theory, but Bernard and Caroline Schütze’s English translation compels repeat engagements. Baudrillard basically predicted the Internet of Things and the corporate, digital mega-body that rules our daily lives. And he even suggests some solutions to our modern problems!