|Eine Band als Rätsel|
|publishing date||August 24, 2012|
|photography||iamamiwhoami: John Strandh|
Eine Band als Rätsel
“A Band as Mystery” (German: „Eine Band als Rästel“), iamamiwhoami's interview for German magazine Intro.
Intro was also the promoter for screening films at Melt! Festival, including kin.
For over two years now, the internet world has been speculating about the iamamiwhoami multimedia project—a project that has piqued everyone’s curiosity with its electronic soundscapes and mysterious video clips. Some even speculated that Lady Gaga or Christina Aguilera might be behind it. With “kin” now debuting as an audiovisual CD/DVD set, the project’s creator has been outed as artist Jonna Lee. Verena Reygers takes a look and a listen behind the riddle of iamamiwhoami.
When she picks up the phone, the artist at the other end of the line nonchalantly answers as Jonna Lee. I hadn’t expected that. After all, the Swedish musician has been spending the past two years using her creation iamamiwhoami to play a confusing game of hide-and-seek. After her first video clip—the eccentrically numbered one-minute piece entitled “Prelude 699130082.451322-184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.14.1.12”—surfaced in 2009, viral speculation as to who might be behind the project spread well beyond YouTube. Similar videos featuring blinking trees and a figure in pitch-black face paint then appeared, prompting theories that musicians on the order of Lady Gaga, The Knife or Björk could be behind the black paint. For some, that level of playful experimentation even suggested the hand of Christina Aguilera.
Still, converting the numerical codes of the videos into letters produced a message of sorts, one that corresponded to “I am” or “It’s me” or “Welcome home”. No other answers than that were available at first—not even when the woman in the subsequent videos began revealing more and more of herself and fans finally identified her as Jonna Lee, a musician who had not made much of a splash up to that point as a singer/songwriter. The only statement that iamamiwhoami made was in an interview published in the winter edition of BULLETT magazine, in which she answered questions about her work and background by reciting cryptic verses—verses that revealed nothing other than the fact that this artist was deliberately cultivating an air of mystery.
- Her real name
And now this enigma simply identifies herself as Jonna Lee, sitting and having an ordinary phone call in Stockholm? “When people started talking about this project”, said the voice coming through the receiver, “everything was still in its formative stages. I had to shut the door and keep the public away from the creative process so that it could develop undisturbed. The situation is different now that the album is finished. Now, of course, I use my real name when I talk about iamamiwhoami.”
The title of the album she’s talking about is “kin”, an audiovisual project that unites sound and images. Each song has its own video, and, taken together, these episodes form a film accompanied by music. In this film, a person (iamamiwhoami—herself an object of art) moves through a landscape of images that is hard to beat in terms of its complexity and imagination.
The music is a blend of minimalist, ambient and industrial influences. Electronic beats come and go in waves, riding percussive rhythms into the foreground like storms of sound and then, a minute later, floating gently in the background. Lee’s breathy voice has such a haunting way of adding to these dark, complex beats that you can practically see her bony, outstretched arms reaching right out to you from a forest of horrors. If it weren’t for warmth and nearness added by the stylistic influences of Kate Bush and Lykke Li, you wouldn’t want to listen to this music alone.
“I use my voice like an instrument”, is how the musician explains the versatility of her singing, which conveys fear and rage as well as lust and sex. For the most part, she says, she grounds her creative process in intuition, keeping it free of outside influences. “It’s like I see and hear what I need to do next. I know that sounds weird, but it’s very real for me and for the other people I work with.”
At Lee’s side is producer and songwriter Claes Björklund, who also produced the artist’s earlier solo albums. Lee writes her own lyrics, however. Rounding out iamamiwhoami is the visual team led by director Robin Kempe-Bergman, who converts the songs of the Lee/Björklund duo into motion pictures.
Over the course of the “kin” film episodes, iamamiwhoami has metamorphosed from the mystical being of nature we see in her early videos to a woman in white underwear being haunted by a flokati-rug creature in a prefabricated high-rise. The creature first drags iamamiwhoami into the forest and then into the attic of a log cabin where an absentminded dance scene begins. It sounds comical, but it plumbs the full depth of human emotion—the images arouse fear, fascination, empathy and revulsion.
The range of feeling that iamamiwhoami blends into her music is not the only astonishing aspect of her work—her visual performance art can also make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Between the trees and flokati people, iamamiwhoami shows us a search for identity, asking questions about home and belonging, and playing with the possibilities of uncertainty, of what will happen next—just like in real life, except that she always sends the optimistic signal that the point is to put down emotional roots.
That’s at least what I suspect, but she resists confirming my suspicions. “I’d rather let everyone interpret it for themselves”, she says. “Of course, the elements in my videos all have meaning for me, but the point is for people to interpret them as individuals.” Internet forum users have responded by trying to outdo each other with their interpretations. The most prolific of these forums is forsakenorder.com, where theories run wild as iamamiwhoami lyrics and videos are dissected in page-length blog posts. Maybe silence would actually be better. After all, you have to have a little mystery—that’s what keeps the charming guessing game going. The musician and her crew will be going on tour in the fall. And what kind of acoustic and visual storms will be raining down live on fans there? For now she’s keeping that—of course—to herself.