Káryyn’s Genre-Bending Practice Speaks Truth to Power
Inspired by the Kavanaugh hearings, the electro artist’s web installation fosters anonymous confession.
Káryyn began making music at around age 10—that at which she also “became the observer of [her] own experience,” following her family’s move from small-town Indiana to the Armenian enclaves of L.A. “I was having the most spectacular childhood, climbing trees and playing in the cornfield,” she says. “And then moving to Los Angeles, and going to an Armenian school, was a complete shock; it was very, girls in [bedazzled] Bebe shirts, and you’re still wearing Flintstones tees. It drove me into a deep sense of reflection at a young age.”
The budding pianist had already developed a sense of benign double-consciousness as a child of the deep South and Midwest, where her doctor father had been the go-to surgeon for various rural counties, and her “r”-rolling mononym (the first half of her given name) had been a badge of her many-layered provenance. “It was ‘Karr-een’ at home and ‘Carine’ outside,” she says. “We were clearly not an ‘American’ family—we were ‘from the Middle East.’ But everyone treated us with love and respect, and this sort of wonder.”
Doubles recur in both her biography and her sonically driven practice, which she rebooted in the early 2010s after a time in the L.A. music biz proper. “I left music, and left L.A. [for Berlin] in 2010, [to go] and become a whole and happy person,” she says. “I had no deep desire to ‘make it.’ I had a deep desire to uncover something bigger than myself.”
The next year she recorded the track “Today, I Read Your Life Story 11:11,” her first as a producer and the entree to her ongoing project revolving around the number 11. “It was really strange, because I started to see ’11’ everywhere,” she says. “As I found out later, 11s represent truth in spiritual and numerological [schools of thought]. And at the core of what I’m doing, is I’m trying to uncover the core of truth in my experience.”
Earlier this year, Káryyn released a debut compendium, The Quanta Series, featuring “Today” along with 10 more tracks she’d cut over the ensuing seven years. And while her Syrian-Armenian identity and Buddhist philosophies figure into the album (her video for “ALEPPO” is composed of home videos captured in the embattled Syrian city) she says this cultural tapestry simply illuminates a universal experience. “As much as we discuss identity, [the idea of] identity is almost like a grasping to hold onto something. And what I’m trying to do is let go,” she says. “I’m just a person, a conscious being, who feels things. Who feels fear and feels love.”
Even so, Káryyn’s latest project, a video installation also called “Today, I Read Your Life Story,” has topical underpinnings. “Last fall, as the Kavanaugh hearings were happening, I felt this deep activation of needing to respond to it,” she says. Collaborating with web artist Stranger Stranger, she created a beta-mode interface inviting users to anonymously log their trauma. “I [responded] by starting [something] that could only be completed through the participation of people, [through] this web 2.0, interactive digital art piece,” she says.
Long the observer of her own experience, Káryyn hopes the site will spur others to bear witness. “We are so much more similar and connected than we are made to believe, in this day and age,” she says. “And I think part of healing is releasing something by saying it. And to know that part of healing is being witnessed.”