‘New music’ is often misunderstood—it has classical roots but is tied to the minimalist, modern tradition of the 1970s. Is it pretentious silence in an art gallery, or the stuff that only academics name drop? While sometimes seen as the high road to pop, Lorna Dune, who was trained as a pianist, goes from her new music roots and makes a foray into electronic with her debut EP, Miamisphere, (out now) which sounds exactly how cosmic Florida would sound: plastic at some points, balmy at others. Sunny, smiley and even scorched.
The Brooklyn-based musician, who has played with the Philip Glass Ensemble and Steve Reich, makes music which is deep, atmospheric and danceable. She is also totally brilliant, having kept a sense of humour about coming to the definition of what ‘new music’ is exactly. She notes that a classical musician is someone stuck in a practice room, while an electronic musician improvises on the dance floor. Few people are as unique as Dune in her influences and output.
We chatted to Dune (who is also known as Lorna Krier) about tripping out in the Dreamhouse and getting stuck with star composers in elevators.
Music video premiere for Agnes Day by Lorna Dune.
NOISEY: You have classical roots. How did you end up in electronic music?
Lorna Dune: Alongside classical music and playing piano, I grew up listening to a techno, grunge, punk and combinations therein. My first boyfriend was a raver and we’d get together and talk about Schenkerian music theory, I’d work on Bach fugues, and then we would play on his MC505. I didn’t have MTV, but I was always really stoked on Amp whenever I could get my friends to tape it for me. In college, I got into a different kind of electronic music. I remember performing Steve Reich’s “Pendulum Swings” and seeing Alvin Lucier’s “Music on a Long Thin Wire” at the Milwaukee Art Museum (where I’m from) as being very formative experiences. When I first visited NYC, I visited Phil Niblock’s loft and also had the trippiest experience of my life at the La Monte Young Dreamhouse. I then started performing more experimental music for piano and electronics and buying whatever organs I could find at yard sales and thrift stores to capture that “Glass sound.” I started circuit bending as a short-lived hobby, and yeah, it all kind of melds together from there.
What is the Miamisphere EP all about?
The last EP “Sidereal” meaning “of the stars” had more of a psychedelic or cosmic vibe, which I love, but I wanted to move some of those qualities to a higher BPM driven, darker, emotive environment. Sidereal was out there in space and Miamisphere is somewhere between. Maybe a parallel imaginary universe of some kind… in Florida. Miamisphere’s imagery focuses on the binary of darkness, sickness, internal torture and elation & bliss. Plasmodium is a parasitic protozoa responsible for Malaria. Agnes Day (Latin spelling: Agnes Dei “lamb of god”) is personified in a woman who is plagued with anxiety and an obsession with perfection and self-mutilates to escape herself. The moments that break away from this darkness and catapult into exhilarating frenzy are the ones I live for. Production-wise this EP is more of a departure for me. I am relying less on live performance with analog synths and have moved to a production-based, clean, imaginative sound inspired by some of the aural spaces of producers like Stephan Bodzin. I was so happy to get my friend Terekke (L.I.E.S.) involved to put his signature stamp on the Miamisphere remix.
What do you think about contemporary or ‘new music’? Is it relevant? Misunderstood?
To be honest, I don’t really fully understand what ‘new music’ is myself. A lot of people have a clear distinction between pop art and high art in their minds and this term might be an antiquated way of sticking to the “high road.” I feel like these terms are no longer relevant as we have moved away from this sort of thinking. But then again, it is very hard to have perspective on larger cultural shifts.
What I can tell you that whatever it is, yes, contemporary, experimental or new music is extremely relevant and important to our society and we would not nearly have as interesting of a culture without it. For me personally, “new music” means using innovations to create a point of departure for an experience of some design. The experience is the end goal.
Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass.
Is it difficult to get some people interested in new music?
No. All they really need to do is get high and watch Philip Glass’s “Koyaanisqatsi” and then listen to Reich’s “Music for Eighteen Musicians” while falling asleep with a loved one. People go to galleries all the time with the intention of appreciating and finding meaning in contemporary work. Music is the same. You need to find what speaks to you. You won’t like everything, but I can guarantee you that you will find a piece that inspires you.
Steve Reich’s “Music for Eighteen Musicians,” which Lorna Dune recommends.
How different, in your laser eyes, is the style of a classical and an electronic musician?
A classical musician is stuck in a practice room. An electronic musician splits time between their bedroom studio and working things out on the dance floor.
When have you brought toy pianos and analog synths onstage?
When I am not playing as Lorna Dune, I perform on anything and everything that has black and white keys… except accordion, but I really want to learn! I’ve played composer and visual artist Tristan Perich’s piece for three toy pianos and 1-bit electronics, as well as playing harmonium, melodica, and the slew of analog synths that rotate in cast depending on the project.
What was it like working with Steve Reich? That is big time.
The first time I worked with Steve Reich was at the Bang on a Can Summer Institute residency at MASS MoCA in 2008, which was the most important experience of my young musical life. I was absolutely terrified to meet Reich as I heard he had a bit of a temper. The piece I was performing was extremely physically challenging. When I introduced Reich to *my mom* he blurted “please, please don’t send me the hospital bills.” We all laughed. I guess I wasn’t the first pianist to have issues.
How did you meet Philip Glass?
I got stuck in an elevator with Philip Glass the first time I met him. We were both leaving a rehearsal for a Shakespeare in the Park production, which he was composing music for. It was just the two of us in the elevator when it suddenly jolted to halt between the 2nd and 3rd floor for about five minutes. I tried desperately not to get gooey and blabber about how “Einstein on the Beach” changed my life. He was super chill as is everyone in PGE. Real role models.
What is the difference between Lorna Dune (your stage name) and Lorna Krier (your real name) in terms of persona?
Lorna Dune is slowly taking over my artistic life. She started with defining herself as the creator while Lorna Krier was the performer. But now Lorna Dune is challenging the way I think about what it means to be a creator/performer. The lines are blurred and there might not be a need for separation anymore.
Dying to know: Where did the laser eyes come from?
The blue-within-blue eyes is an aftereffect of the Spice, melange, which causes a state of heightened consciousness, extends life, and can unlock prescience- key to interstellar travel.
“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.” – Frank Herbert
Photos by PerfectAndOrbicular.