The Georgia Straight is a proud media sponsor of L’Rain’s upcoming show at The Pearl.
If you repeat the same sound over and over, something strange happens: your brain will start interpreting it as music.
“I remember in college, someone was performing a piece by Alvin Lucier,” L’Rain reminisces. “It’s a piece for solo triangle.”
L’Rain—the musical persona of the multi-instrumentalist and multi-talented artist Taja Cheek—is speaking from her home in Brooklyn. She’s on a brief break between two legs of her fall tour: long enough to return and rest, not quite long enough to feel settled before having to leave again. There’s always somewhere else to be, another show to play.
At the time we’re talking, her current West Coast tour is still upcoming. It marks the first time she’s been to some of the cities on the list. It’s going to be her Vancouver debut, too—L’Rain in Rain City.
But back to the triangle.
“The triangle is hit many, many, many times in a row, and it becomes like a psycho-acoustic phenomenon where you start hearing all these different tones,” Cheek explains. “I think there is just a transformation that comes from doing the same thing over and over again, and you start noticing all the different little nuances of each repetition.”
Much of L’Rain’s sweeping musical output is built on loops. They’re less circular than elliptical, or spirographic: möbius strips of sonic power that take repetition and twist it, whether in the recorded text or in the listener’s ear, making the same assortment of sounds morph with different resonances. It’s the obsession of replaying the same parts of a song over and over, made solid through recording.
“I like leaning into pleasure,” Cheek says by way of explanation. “If I see a little piece of something, and I really like it, and I really want to listen to it, I listen to it forever.”
Her non-linear, multi-layered music plays with texture and colour. On her latest record, October’s I Killed Your Dog, the too-generic label of “experimental” encompasses everything from distorted vocals and dripping jazzy instrumentals to mournful minimalism butting up against cinematic soundscapes.
The unexpected lies everywhere: heaving stutters that might be laughter or sobs; the silly interlude of an answerphone message in “Oh Wow, a Bird!”; sounds gathered and scrapbooked together in a collage of field audio.
Cheek’s individual music style came through following her intuition. She grew up playing classical music on cello, piano, and recorder (which she took “very seriously as a kid”), picking up bass in high school and learning guitar after a college friend moved across the country and left her his six-stringer. Those classical interests mixed with jazz harmonies—the semi-discordant result of mistakes revealing interesting sounds—along with the burgeoning experimental scene in New York.
“I didn’t have a fake ID, so the shows I was going to were DIY shows and freak shows, because those are the only ones I could get into,” she explains. “Those are usually much freakier and punkier and weirder and noisier.”
All that mixed with her “weird recording techniques”—snippets as she went about her day, material picked up on old computers or computer headphone mics—to blend into something that feels like a mosaic or melting pot of different genres.
Despite the gravity and inscrutability that Cheek’s music can have, there’s a strong sense of humour to it, too. “What’s That Song?” sees a friend humming a jazz tune, and L’Rain’s band conjuring a full orchestration out of it—if only for a few brief seconds.
“The project is sometimes positioned as being this very capital-s Serious, and I don’t think we’re making it like that,” Cheek reflects. “Even like the title [I Killed Your Dog], which is very serious—it's also not, in a lot of ways. It's not real, it's imaginative.”
Even the art-making process isn’t necessarily that rigid. Cheek might take her work seriously, but that doesn’t mean the work itself is buttoned-down or straight-laced—as her unconventional workflow reflects.
“I have a studio setup, and I don’t like using it all the time. I much prefer being on a couch and kind of reclined,” Cheek explains. “When I feel relaxed and happy or comfortable, that’s when I feel like I can really be most creative.”
Emotionally: going through it. Physically: relaxed. It’s just one of a never-ending number of dichotomies that are present in L’Rain’s output.
Even the name has deep significance: the project is inspired by Cheek’s mother, Lorraine, who died before the release of Cheek’s self-titled debut album.
Her grief informed much of her early work, but her mother also provided a core part of her creative ethos that she’s continually returning to.
“My mom was a track coach and a PE teacher, and she would constantly… say everything should have a sense of play and wonder,” she adds. “I feel like I’m coming back to that more and more now.”
L’Rain with Lucy Liyou and WAASH
When: December 7, 7pm
Where: The Pearl, 881 Granville Street, Vancouver
Admission: $23.60, available here