One of 2020’s most satisfying and complete proofs-of-concept, Lyra Pramuk’s “Fountain” was made using the American composer’s voice, and nothing else – adding authenticity and gravitas to every stretched, sampled, pitch-shifted, multi-tracked and enveloping utterance.
The Pennsylvania-born, Berlin-residing and one-time chorist Pramuk recorded her debut album at the tail-end of her 20s, but the path to arrive at that point stretches much farther back. “Fountain” is the result of successive moments of solitude, questioning who she is – or was (during her artistic growth, Pramuk came out publicly as trans, fastidiously documenting the process on Instagram). Whether in the thrum of a techno rave or at an artist residency she would go into her inner shell, pulling apart at sinew and bone and self, and from there interrogating the very nature of her voice.
“Fountain” is made exclusively using that same voice, though you’d be forgiven for being deceived at first. Across the album, the atmosphere that Pramuk evokes is so thick that it feels impossible to have come from one person’s voicebox. It feels like a full orchestra, or an army of technicians. But repeat listens begin to open up how this works.
On some songs, such as ‘Gossip’, Pramuk flashes the tell for only a split-second or so at a time. The chattering, scratching-at-drywall introduction begins with a human inflection. Later on, you can make out the counter-melody coming from a yawning maw. Conversely, the maudlin lament of ‘Cradle’ betrays no such origin. What we’re given by Pramuk is what we go off. The album feels just as mighty, and occasionally terrifying, no matter which way you cut it.
“Fountain”’s cover features Pramuk’s face sheathed, obscured and plausibly distressed, as if being waterboarded. This was intentional, she explained to Pitchfork: “I was thinking about water, looking up every possible kind of body of water and the way that it travels. If you’re in an ocean nearly drowning, that’s really different from if you’re walking up to a bubbling brook in a forest; the feeling of rain is really different from the feeling of being taken down a waterfall.”
It’s little wonder that Lyra Pramuk cites Holly Herndon and Colin Self as inspirations as much as collaborators. She is curious about similar topics of transhumanism and what the future holds, and uses “Fountain” to conjure great swells of juddering noise in a manner that’s reminiscent of both Herndon and Self. The difference is that “Fountain” extends from one person, alone, zoning in on the larynx and building out from there. That such a complex, heavy and enrapturing album could stem from a vibrating 2-inch tube is close to miraculous.