Elysia Crampton – ORCORARA 2010 Review

Elysia Crampton has always been an artist whose work eludes any remote possibility of simple summarization or linear explanation. ORCORARA 2010 [PAN records] is no exception.

The album both re-engages with themes woven through her previous undertakings and expands them to a scope of even greater proportions. She interconnects themes such as non-linear conceptions of time, erased and elusive histories, her Andean and Aymara culture and knowledge-systems, the ongoing violence of colonization, and multi-faceted realities. ORCORARA 2010 reads as a magnum opus; or perhaps more appropriately as an important new string and knot in a multi-dimensional grand mythology.

ORCORARA 2010’s opening tracks ground us in the present with a soundscape like that of a block-buster IMAX movie about an epic intergalactic journey. The deep powerful voice of Jeremy Rojas takes on the role of an omnipresent Movie Narrator as a steady synth drones in the background. The atmosphere is reminiscent of any contemporary high-budget sci-fi. However rather than narrative drama Rojas instead reads lines of poetry: “to the city in burning embers/that the sunset slowly unravels/in its high abyss”. Meanwhile soft rolling percussion references a long history of Andean music and adds a new dimension to our mental timeline. The pace remains unhurried and without progression. The percussion is punctuated by what sounds to be Chajchas: Indigenous shaker-instruments made of nuts or goat’s hooves. The manipulated recording of the shaker hushes like a breath of wind or a river’s flow, trailing off into nothingness as surely as it came into being.

 Originally shown as part of Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement 2018, this work was presented as a sonic installation piece. BIM18’s website describes it as “a dark room to be experienced through sound…the installation emerges as a confrontation with negativity and zero, following 17th century Aymara chronicler Joan de Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamaygua’s Relación.” 

The work this is referring to is “Relacion de las Antigüedades dete Reyno del Perú,” a work from est. 1620 written by a descendant of Aymara nobility living during the Incan Empire. Each chapter is written as a song or poem and details the daily life of an Andean. It is short in length and inconsistent in style but highly valuable in content – perhaps similar to Crampton’s own work. Salcamaygua’s writing details what might otherwise have been erased histories such as a map of the Andean world-view including a drawing of a formation of stars known as Orcorara. [Wikipedia]

Crampton keeps these histories rooted in a contemporary context with one of her album’s dedications: “Dedicated to the life of Paul Sousa, who while incarcerated, worked years as an inmate firefighter across the Sierra Nevada of California.” Sousa is a singular example of over a thousand inmates in California, USA who “are paid $2 a day as firefighters, and $1 an hour when fighting an active fire.”[CNBC] The history of violence and erasure which Crampton is dealing with is not just a history, but a present and future.

An expansive sound is present throughout ORCORARA 2010. The album travels the genres of electro-acoustic, Huayno, noise, throat singing, ambient, sound collage, spoken poetry, and more. It breaths a renewed statement of importance into, as Crampton writes, “…the sea that theorists call Nowhere.”

 Despite the heavy subject-matter that she is responding to, Crampton’s album is also one of resounding hope. Rising strings and utopic synths permeate the work; her collaborator’s voices speak strongly and softly in tones that look toward possibility; “Spring of Wound” brings energetic drums and twinkling magic. As Crampton speaks of herself in an interview with SPIN in 2015, “I try to pull from these shadowy places, from these shadowy legacies that have made me,” she says. “[I’m] pointing back to these names, to these people of influence, to bring them to light and to recalibrate them with myself into a history that kind of shatters right out of this history that we’re in, that kind of ignores those bodies, rejects those stories.” 

ORCORARA 2010 empowers the listener to envision and create a reality where these stories of violence and destruction are not pushed into obscurity. Instead these stories, and the people they represent, are treated with the high status of any greek Epic or modern big-budget Superhero film–as they should be.

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