Eartheater’s Future Folklore

Nina Mashurova

photo by Cheryl Georgette Arent

“The Internet Is Hand Made”. It’s the title of an Eartheater song as well as a reality that can be hard to process in its scale. It is easier to see mind and body and body and machine as separate than to think of them as part of the same process—a computer is made of metal that comes from the ground; a drum machine is a drum is a heartbeat; each element of a fractal resembles the fractal itself.

Eartheater’s Metalepsis is a good example of this complexity—it is simultaneously acoustic and electric, human and cyborg and alien, intricate and tranquil. In this, the year of our Bjork, it feels relevant to compare it to Vespertine—an “electronic” album that might feel hospitable to people who still feel alienated by electronica’s perceived lack of humanness. Sounds are cocooned together to form an amniotic drone womb, pulsing faintly with, as Eartheater’s IRL avatar Alexandra Drewchin puts it, “watery warm mother heart beat rhythm.” Only two songs are explicitly vocal-driven—the mesmerizing “Homonyms” and the album closer “Infinity”—but human voices pop up throughout: hushed whispers about the nature of the motherboard, Russian teenagers rapping about Blackstar, deconstructed sing-song lullabys which are also riddles which are also spells.

It’s a perfect album for a moment when people carry both crystals and smartphones and tether their consciousness to both without contradiction, when the ever-onrushing information stream flows through you like a current or over you like an avalanche depending on how you angle yourself, when the difference between music and noise and also language and noise feels less like a fine line and more like a trick of the light. The earth mother and the motherboard are one and the same.

We spoke to Drewchin over email about the album, the internet, language, the difference between Eartheater and her other projects, and kindred spirits in Bushwick and beyond.

There are a lot of references to linguistics and language, at least in the titles on your album. (“Homonyms”, “Metalepsis”, the wordplay in “Youniverse”). What draws you to these? What role does language and the ways it can be broken down and built back up play in your work?

First off, I feel that words have reactive power outside of communication. I entertain the idea that the first step to manifestation is saying out loud or writing down what you want. Words are sigils and visa versa. The magic with poetry and ‘the breaking down and building up’ is where I can bubble up a much more specific spell. Playing with meaning through phonetic manipulation and cross breeding of association is a search for accuracy in a usually inexplicable emotion. I find that undressing a word of its associations and then bringing it back to its usual usage makes it more potent. Stripping a word of its meaning and repurposing it is an amusing powerful feeling. It’s where all the fun in slang comes from.

That’s “Metalepsis”—a fictional yet more accurate representation of what is actually going on in my experience. I live for the future folklore of figures of speech and the tributaries of new association that continually present themselves through metalepsis.

There have been many manifestations of Eartheater that were more folky (acoustic, banjo, etc), while this particular album seems very invested in cyborg themes. Can you talk a little about that shift, and how the Eartheater project draws on both? What is a cyborg, in your interpretation?

I started playing acoustic because it’s portable and doesn’t need to be switched on—it’s always on. The guitar is a sword—a pen—a tool to create blueprints with. Being able to just pick up whatever guitar was always lying around made my difficult teenage years bearable. It’s never been about the guitar music or guitar itself—the instrument is just a vehicle—an elevator for my imagination. When I play and begin to feel tingles it’s because I’m playing the orchestra in my head or I’m plucking furiously in the same rhythm of a System of a Down drum beat. It could be anything, but not the acoustic guitar.

Since my ability to express on the guitar is pretty fluid, it’s just been the logical step to continue to use it to generate sound to then manipulate into a sonic palate that is less identifiable and more mysterious. I still respect the acoustic realm deeply though. In a time of total collapse I’ll have my acoustic and play Aphex Twin and MF Doom covers around the fire.

I didn’t actively pursue making cyborgs, the internet, and technology themes in this record. I just am singing about current mythologies, the world around me, and, most of all, nature. Psychics and psychonauts are the most advanced cyborgs because they are not dependent on any clumsy hardware or invasive implants. I believe the internet and technology are just training wheels towards a much more elegant tapped in existence. Nature is the head of the ouroboros and technology is the tail. We are still in the primitive workings of this particular stage in evolution.

Michio Kaku calls our stage type 0. He predicts it’ll probably take us 100 years to evolve (with technology) to type 1. Then we’ll be dignified enough to hang with aliens. Nano is definitely the sexiest technology we have right now because it’s imitating the highly intelligent molecular make up of organic nature.

In a time of total collapse I’ll have my acoustic and play Aphex Twin and MF Doom covers around the fire.

What does “The Internet is Handmade” mean?

I have been working with the twin sister artists Hannah and Amy Buckley (Negotation of Space), scoring their videos for a couple years now. One of the pieces was called “The Internet is Hand Made.” I felt very inspired by that title while making those sounds. The way I see it is the internet still depends on hardware to exist. Hardware depends on the physical resources. Physical resources depends on the human hand to dig it up and shape into something that can conduct and transmit intangible waves. Most of us haven’t figured out how to just think of something and have it spring into existence outside of the imagination. I’m all about seeing the nature in the motherboard—honoring the metals that make out computers run. We stare into this ‘whole new world’ through magic carpet screens, meanwhile Jafar could suddenly have a fit and unravel it down to a pile of cord, four tassels and a broken keyboard.

Your music incorporates a lot of loops and drones. Sometimes it feels like an incantation, very ritualistic. Is there a new age more spiritual element to this? Or, if that’s way off base, what is your relationship with drone and repetition?

I like the way drones ‘clear’ silence. I feel like I can think more clearly with drone music on. It’s almost like the mood of the sound will boost the volume of my thinking voice so that she can speak more majestically. I was going to re-title “Orbit” as “Music to read poetry to”. Much of this music was written to comfort myself so that’s probably why I often bubble a very watery warm mother heart beat rhythm.

As far as ritual is concerned, I feel that rituals are already written into nature—having sex, giving birth, menstruating, orgasming, creating, eating, sleeping—the power of the ritual is determined by ones ability to recognize it in the first place and treat it with respect.

I love the approach of hip-hop production so much. I like the way it can wear any kind of music. It’s in the repetition of the sample that one finds the pulse to flow. In drone I like the way it allows the mind to relax and become more sensitive to the slightest textural flutter.

“Eartheater” even as a name feels very cosmic and all-encompassing. What does it mean to you?

There are many things that I associate with Eartheater. Its ouroboric meaning is mostly why I adopted the pseudonym. When I realized that I wanted a moniker I used my mantra at the time, “survive on saliva,” to arrive upon Eartheater. At the same time, I was reading 100 Years of Solitude by Marquez, where one of the characters eats earth when she feels melancholy. Women in Haiti eat earth when they’re pregnant. There’s a really scary monster in Final Fantasy called Earth Eater. There’s a really cute breed of fish called the earth eater redhump—I’m a Pisces.

I like how “Eartheater” could evoke the image of a little worm squirming in the dirt while at the same time it one could envision a great mysterious extra dimensional unknown force popping our planet into the mouth of their huge lover like a bonbon. Eartheater is also an anagram of heart, heat, ear, hearth, theater, art, tear, and rat. There’s the word play obsession happening again.

“Eartheater” could evoke the image of a little worm squirming in the dirt while at the same time it one could envision a great mysterious extra dimensional unknown force popping our planet into the mouth of their huge lover like a bonbon.

You’re involved with a number of projects—Eartheater but also Guardian Alien and King Conqubine. Do you inhabit distinct personas in each? Does the work you do in each one influence the others?

In spite of always writing songs, I struggled for many years with my multifaceted impulses musically and in performance. For a while I would be arrested by an influencing experience and I’d drop whatever I was doing a second before. In learning, I loved to emulate. I remember seeing An Albatross in the local little club when I was 16. I knew I wanted to rage like that. I saw Dan Higgs when I first moved to the city at Zebulon. I wanted to sing songs that rattled the bones of our ancestors and spoke directly to the soul. The poetry, rawness, and phonetic gymnastics of rap music have always excited me into a dizzy tizzy. At some point I managed to compartmentalize some of my sprawling elements into different projects and more elegantly employ the crossover of influence.

Each project brings out a different part of me for sure. In Guardian Alien I’ve gone through many different ways of performing and playing. In the beginning I took the opportunity to explore the full experience of opening up to my most fierce expression over the heaviness of the drums which informs very much of who I am as a musician even if I’m not contorting my voice and body in every way possible. I’m glad I know how that feels and I use the knowing. King Conqubine is definitely influenced by that place that I found in early Guardian years as far as the energy of the performance. Lyrically KC is taking a leaf out of the Eartheater book and speeding it up 10 times.

I’m realizing now how much Eartheater is actually me. The other projects are just Eartheater taking a ride. I’m excited to continue to expand and change and draw from influences while holding a steady full goblet of Eartheater without spilling. No matter how much I may change and be influenced The essence of Eartheater has been a part of me for as long as I can remember and will be a big part of my life until I die.

In some ways, “Eartheater” and “Guardian Alien” and “King Conqubine” are all names that imply something grand, strong, powerful. I think I remember you being involved with some sort of project that was called “Amazons” also—was that a thing? If so, what was/is that project? What does it mean to be an Amazon?

Hehe yes it’s a thing. Aurora Halal had the idea that Angelina Dreem and I should team up. Probably because we both like coffee—definitely not because we’re both physically tall powerful women with rippling muscles and claws.

We’ve done four performances so far. Each time it’s something different. For our performance at Two Hustlers Gallery we wore mother board breast plated wedding dresses (that we made), painted the screens of our laptop altar with gesso, and then gave birth to loads of tangled cables. It was right before X-mas so we called the performance ‘Holy virgin mother board of infinity’. Anyway we’re called Angelex now.

from "Holy Virgin Motherboard of Infinity" at Otion Front (image from @eartheater's Instagram)

From “Holy Virgin Motherboard of Infinity” at Otion Front (photo from @eartheater’s Instagram)

The Eartheater album features more intentional compositions as opposed to some of the more improvisational stuff, even in Guardian Alien. How different is that process?

Yes Guardian Alien has been about 95% improvisational over the years. It takes a lot of courage to play improvisational music—especially on tour when every night no one really knows what to expect from the set. I’ve learned that all players must have total trust and respect for all other players style and story. If that’s not there then they shouldn’t play together. To be told off after baring ones soul can be a very disheartening thing and then ones expression and ability can be crippled.

In composed music, I love being able to catch the duende in a bottle and quickly weave the moment into a tapestry that will preserve it forever. That’s so satisfying to me. I also like to work and tinker and taste the specific flavor of a melodic fraise over and over and over again. I don’t have an addictive personality but I do get addicted to songs. I’ll listen to a song on repeat until the cows come home. I have pieces that took years to finish. The wine is almost ready to drink.

I didn’t actively pursue making cyborgs, the internet, and technology themes in this record. I just am singing about current mythologies, the world around me, and, most of all, nature. Psychics and psychonauts are the most advanced cyborgs because they are not dependent on any clumsy hardware or invasive implants. I believe the internet and technology are just training wheels towards a much more elegant tapped in existence.

Did you record/produce this record yourself?

Yeah I recorded all it by myself at home with the exception of “Infinity” which was recorded at a friends house. Doug Kaplan (Hausu Mountain/Goodwill Smith) helped do some additional mixing and played on “Orbit”.

Aside from these projects you’re also involved to some degree with Otion Front and Stream Gallery and Secret Project Robot and maybe at some point Body Actualized (RIP). I think it’s really incredible how spaces like those end up incubating these really unique and really pretty specific scenes/aesthetics/artists. What is your relationship with those spaces? How does being involved with them influence you and how does what you do influence them?

I feel blessed to be coming into this stage of my creative being alongside so many friends who are exploding with their own work and ideas. It’s a renaissance! The physical closeness of the spaces on the map is crazy also! Last summer Eric Copeland and Erik Z (SPR) had the idea to do a tour of Bushwick. DJ Dog Dick and I “jumped in the van” for a week-long tour to play different venues, all within two square miles. I could do cart wheels from SPR to Body to Otion and stop at other places between each one. It’s true that these spaces incubate. I feel like I do musical chairs from one incubation hot tub to the next to the next before I get swallowed up by one in particular while collecting all of what inspired me.

I’ve probably been involved with Secret Project Robot the most. Raul de Nieves and I collaborated on an installation exhibition there (also Erik Z’s idea). He and I spent a month working non stop in an exponential frenzy—I had a music rehearsal space there in one of the shipping containers in the garden and Raul had his studio in the back. Raul and I fell into wild sisterly love and pushed each other to the next level in that space. We used about 700lbs of plaster to drip all over a huge wooden swing-set installed in the gallery. Erik and Rachel of Secret Project Robot are the master incubators.

What are some other artists you feel a kinship with (Brooklyn and elsewhere)?

Obviously Greg Fox.

All the bands who played my release: High Life, Haribo, and Extreme Animals.

These mind-blowing women: Laura Ortman, Monica Mirabile, Sigrid Lauren, Fin Simonetti, Angelina Dreem, Aurora Halal, Pam Finch, Tiffany and Jessi of Dark Sister.

Colin Self, Raul de Nieves, and the whole cast and crew of The Fool.

DJ Dog Dick, Carlos Hernandez (Ava Luna), all the PC Worship babies, Bernard Gann, Cloud Becomes Your Hand, The Dreebs (I know they’re not a band anymore but I still have to say it), Frank Hurricane.

How did you end up working with Hausu Mountain?

I met Doug Kaplan because he works for Thrill Jockey. He and Maxwell Alison (other half of Hausmo) approached me after seeing my “Infinity” video. If any establishment has been an incubator for me it been Hausu Mountain. They’re so patient and encouraging!

What are you working on going forward?

I already have the next record recorded! I’m excited to not skip a beat and just get ready for the next release.

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