"To wake the nations underground," M. Lamar on new work DESTRUCTION
M. Lamar is a composer who works across opera, metal, performance, noise, video, sculpture and installation to craft sprawling narratives of radical racial and sexual becomings. We asked them a few questions in preparation for their and Hunter Hunt-Hendrix performance this Thursday, April 14.
The Lab: M. Lamar, we're excited to have you at The Lab this week. Tell us a bit about the show and your collaborator.
M. Lamar: I’m super excited to have a show at The Lab. I’m also super excited about Hunter Hunt-Hendrix my co-composer and sound designer. He’s performing live with me; he’s a brilliant musician and philosopher. He’s really famous for being the author of Transcendental Black Metal and has this whole thing about the Transcendental Black Metal, as an American thing, as opposed to Europen Black Metal. He has a very sophisticated way of thinking about what he is doing in music which I would like to think we have in common
He’s a metal musician that is classically trained and also into western philosophy which I think is really exciting. It was clear that we are like-minded. He has a solo project Kel Valhaal that people should check out as well as Liturgy, an amazing band.
The Lab: For those folks that caught your performance Surveillance at San Francisco Arts Institute (SFAI), how does DESTRUCTION differ from that experience?
M. Lamar: Well DESTRUCTION is a new piece and a very specific story. What’s different about DESTRUCTION is that it takes place 100 years from now, and and represents a shift in my work from a focus on the past –to better understand our current moment to a focus on the future where when we can finally destroy white supremacy.
About two years ago, I started performing what I called Doom Spirituals. I was exploring spirituals, specifically My Lord In The Morning. I’d been listening to it since I was a little kid; I hadn’t realized there’s all this stuff about the end of the world, the dead coming back to life, and Jesus coming back. It was really interesting that slaves would be writing these words longing for an end of the world. They’re predicting the end of this particular world that was oppressing them. I liked that idea, and I liked the idea of setting it 100 years from now and that the music for this spiritual would have a very destructive and doom like setting.
Surveillance was a historical piece that happened in 1947, then it goes back to 1847, then back to 1947 and is meant to reflect back on today. Spirituals were not so much a focus of Surveillance. I think that is really distinctly different.
DESTRUCTION is my response to all these deaths we’ve witness from Trayvon Martin to Kalief Browder, to Mike Brown and Sandra Bland. It’s really a protest piece about police violence. Narratively we start at a funeral and this place of mourning, a loss of the most beloved. Though the century–from now to 2116– there is this carrying of the coffin of the most beloved. Ultimately we are waiting for them to return. All these themes, mourning, remembrance, resurrection, and return are really different from Surveillance. It’s a really romantic piece and in a way a more hopeful piece.
The Lab: Would you dare say optimistic?
M. Lamar: Ah, well I don’t like that word but I like the idea of hope. I like the idea that we can, in a very romantic way, carry the fallen on our backs. There’s imagery in the show of a coffin carrying, its like saying “We will never, ever, ever, ever forget you.” We’re devastated by it in such an unjust way but your death is it’s not in vain. I was so moved when Tamir Rice’s mother; when it was decided that the police would not be indicted, It’s just the most illogical thing I can think of. It’s angering and upsetting. I remember seeing her on the now defunct Melissa Harris Perry show saying that she needed the death of her child to mean something. That she would forever fight for justice for victims of gun violence and justice in terms of his particular death so no other child could die in this way. Really DESTRUCTION is about all that. Another example is Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. She decided to have an open casket and said effectively “I will fight for justice for the rest of my life.” It’s that kind of moment, you know; it’s horrifying but also hopeful. I want to give a voice to the dead, so that there is a resurrection and a rising. They need to have a moment.
The Lab: What sounds are shaping DESTRUCTION and what are some of your musical influences that go under recognized?
M. Lamar: Free jazz composer Cecil Taylor is great. I was in a class, where they screened a lecture of him speaking and it completely changed me. Right now Cecil Taylor is really on my mind because the Whitney Museum of American Art is doing a series of events with him! Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson–all those black opera singers were a huge, huge deal to me.
I love a lot of funeral doom bands like Winter or Envoken, or Skepticism. I think my metal influences don’t get as much attention. One of the things Hunter and I have been talking a lot about, we’re really interested in opera and we’re really interested in metal. We want to blend a kind of black metal sensibility musically with an operatic sensibility. Or like Dartkthrone or Sunn o))) in terms of bands that I love.
I also love like campy stuff like Marilyn Manson. I completely love.
The Lab: OOOooooo
M. Lamar: I think his influence on me more in terms of style, like walking around bringing irreverent goth into the everyday. That’s probably surprising or maybe not surprising.
The Lab: Did you go to The Lab when you were here as a student at SFAI?
M. Lamar: I did. I remember seeing a lot of great things at The Lab. It’s always been a San Francisco institution. So yes absolutely.
The Lab: What your perspective on San Francisco, creative spaces?
M. Lamar: I left San Francisco almost 10-years ago. It’s a different place now than it was when I was going to school because of the tech thing that happened. The tech boom, Google, Twitter, Uber. It’s become a lot less of a place for weirdos and freaks to thrive. I think that was what San Francisco had historically been about and those people have been priced out of San Francisco. Strangely I think a lot of people have moved to Los Angeles. Of San Francisco, William S. Burroughs said (now they say it about Portland), “San Francisco is the city where the young go to retire.” It has famously been a city, not of ambition. Unfortunately San Francisco kind of depresses me now. The culture has completely changed. All the culture that I knew is almost completely gone. I think that’s why it’s great that The Lab is still standing. I think Dena is doing a great job. I’ve heard amazing things about what Dena is doing, in terms of programming, Charlemagne Palestine was there doing a show recently as well Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe aka Lichens. I'm excited The Lab still exists and that I am playing there!!!!
M. Lamar and Hunter Hunt-Hendrix perform DESTRUCTION, this Thursday April 14. Not in San Francisco, M. Lamar: Funeral Doom Spiritual opens at ONE Archive in Los Angeles, April 15 to July 30, 2016.
Changes were made to this interview on April 12, 2016 to more accurately represent the artist. The title of the blog is based on lyrics and concepts associated with the spiritual My Lord, What A Morning.