“In the year 5781 humanity is ever closer to becoming a singular consciousness…” Sci-fi Jewish mysticism, anime-style – David Abravanel is here in conversation with Meemo Comma.
When’s the last time you saw an intergalactic house of worship? The spiritual and the technological are often placed at odds with one another when it comes to science fiction and visions of the future. Yet there’s no reason to think that a utopian future cannot include the same spiritual questions (and quests) that many of us encounter today.
Then again, the connections between music technology and spiritual questions aren’t all that much of a stretch. Aleksi Perälä and Grant Wilson-Claridge’s Colundi Sequence and its quasi-pantheistic ideology come to mind, or futuristic techno pioneer Robert Hood and his dedication to Christianity.
On her new album, Neon Genesis: Soul Into Matter2, Lara Rix-Martin aka Meemo Comma explores kind of deeply personal vision of the future that is equal parts Ghost in the Shell and Jewish mysticism, The Fifth Element and the Tree of Life. I’ll admit upfront here that as a Jew with love for electronic music and sci-fi, there are few albums out there that could be more targeted to my personal interests.
It doesn’t hurt that Meemo Comma’s been forging a gorgeous aesthetic path for years; in 2019 I had this to say about her last album, Sleepmoss:
“While it’s easy for us to sit back and enjoy some of the art, the realities – from climate crisis to rising fascism to the dehumanizing of refugees – are impossible (and selfish) to ignore. Music is a healer, but it’s also a galvanizing force. Listening to Meemo Comma’s Sleepmoss and Lamin Fofana’s Black Metamorphosis – two of the year’s most deeply affecting and tough to pin down releases – I’m struck by the ability of music to be both a salve and a reminder of our complex reality.”
Following the natural-focused mystery of Sleepmoss, I was curious to learn exactly how Meemo Comma came to the inspiring and enveloping worlds of Neon Genesis. Between making music, running the female- and non-binary-artist-focused label Objects Ltd., working 9-5 as an estate agent, and her family with husband Mike Paradinas aka µ-Ziq (not to mention a frequently insightful and entertaining Twitter feed), Lara inhabits a number of roles. I’ve pared down the conversation, but suffice it to say this is the first time I’ve had the God particle, MIDI Polyphonic Expression, and fire angels come up in a single conversation.
You really went into some deep concepts spiritual concepts on this album. I’m curious how you got introduced to that, how those concepts first. Is this something that you grew up with? Is this something you discovered recently?
My dad’s Jewish, and I think he has quite a difficult relationship with it, which is [common] to a lot of people from all sort of faith backgrounds. His family were technically Orthodox. His dad’s family is Sephardic [“Sephardic” Jews are mainly from the Middle East and North Africa, as opposed to “Ashkenazic” Jews who are mainly from Europe -ed.]. My dad does still consider himself Jewish, though he is nonpracticing. And we were never invited to partake in any family meals, like Passover and stuff like that, because my mom’s not Jewish. As you can imagine, I think it was quite difficult for my dad.
When I had my own children – when you’re faced with all these sorts of things, well, who am I? What am I? — Mike [Paradinas, Lara’s husband]’s family tree is well-known, and he is related to some very interesting and wonderful people. He gave a gift to me of finding my family tree, which was really sweet. He’s also very good at things like that and absolutely adores researching. We knew that we were partly Sephardic, because of the name “Martin” – it actually would have been “Martines”, with an “s” rather than a “z”. We found out where [my family] came from – a couple different areas, like Leon in Spain.
Kabbalah, or however you want to call it, it’s one of those things that I always thought was a bit cool because I like stuff like that, but never really thought about it as being a part of my own history. So I looked into it and read about it, but it’s just so vast and there’s so many different iterations of it and teachings – it’s not just one thing. Kabbalah is lots of different people over centuries and different areas.
I love the idea of some of the teachings – like that Adam was something not totally human, but a humanoid of sorts. It sounds so sci-fi! And then it just broke into all these different parts of souls and went into humans, us. And now our job is to do good deeds and create these sparks. And it’s just such a lovely idea. It’s not like it’s damaging towards anything. It’s just this idea that we can become this unity again.
You know, if you’ve seen Neon Genesis: Evangelion, the basis for that story is about a kind of father and son relationship that has gone a bit awry. I just thought, wow, I knew I wanted to make a new album that was personal again, but I really liked the image of the weird not human but human, sort of almost like a contracted light of God or this entire being that created universes. I dunno, it just sounds fun and like something you would read in sci-fi, so I love that.
I noticed that one of the tracks is called “Ein Sof”, based on the mystical Jewish question about, well, did God have to create God? If God is everything, then how did the universe happen?
I do spend a lot of time staying up late at night watching YouTube videos of weird things, and some of these ideas that they have so, so long ago, you could kind of put it into what’s happening at the moment and the idea of different realities. The idea of reality – but what is reality and how can it be expanded into these really crazy ways? The idea of God particles, that they give things mass. How does someone come up with that without using all the technology that we have now? They were just sitting in a cave hiding from the Romans [laughs].
I found the futuristic element of the album compelling for a couple of reasons. I feel like a lot of the futures that we see now – and maybe this is just because apocalyptic YA [Young Adult fiction] has taken over – are very dystopian, and very much about this idea that the future is going to be messier and far less connected. There’s also not usually a spiritual element in most of popular futurism. This album seems to propose a future that is much more optimistic and connected.
Yeah, I don’t see why we can’t do things like that! I know things are hard at the moment, but I do believe in the ultimate goodness of humanity. I get so fed up with this idea of this dystopian future where we’re all totally disconnected. It’s just not as simple as that – nothing ever is. I think the idea of connecting is in some ways also a little bit scary.
Kenji Kawai – “Access” from the Ghost in the Shell soundtrack.
You mentioned Neon Genesis: Evangelion – what other science fiction influence the album?
Ghost in the Shell – that’s pretty brilliant, really visually stunning, and the music’s amazing. Incredible! You know, it’s funny, I actually played a song from Ghost in the Shell to Mike, and he thought it was Kuedo [laughs]. The music’s just so striking and even the series was really striking as well.
Moving over to sound, I did notice there’s a digital shine to some of the new tracks. It’s a really stark contrast to Sleepmoss, which was quite earthy in its nature influence.
Yeah, exactly, they are total opposites. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as ambient. It’s fine, but once you make some sort of track or anything, some people would like to pigeonhole you. So I thought, right, well, I’m not great at rhythms, but I’m going to have a go. And I ended up really enjoying it and actually doing quite OK, I think!
I tried to make it more of a digital showing, certainly with this album.
Some of the staccato blips that appear on a number of tracks – it reminds me a bit of Zora Jones and Sinjin Hawke, recontextualizing the human voice.
Yeah, I feel like Zora’s kind of influenced by that soundtrack thing as well. I mean, it kind of shows in visualization as well – [Zora Jones and Sinjin Hawke] have got quite cool sci-fi-ish things going on.
Have you thought about how you might perform some of this live and how that might work as an audiovisual experience as well?
I was thinking about doing something like a live set at home, and all I could think of was really just me dressing up, playing the character. But honestly, yeah, it would be really nice. And funnily enough, the “crowd” was going to be like animated characters. Originally, we were going to do an animated character from the picture [on the cover of the album]. But then we realized, the real-life picture works better.
I would have loved to have done videos for this. For Sleepmoss, it was really easy because I just put together videos that I found, quite homey, which suited that. For this, we would have needed someone who could actually draw. I don’t want to be doom and gloom, but the music industry…it’s just not really worth that for us to do videos. It just sadly doesn’t have that much impact.
What was your technical setup while creating this album?
I use Logic and especially Alchemy. Alchemy is amazing because you can really make something totally independent. The only thing is with alchemy, it absolutely trashes your CPU. It’s quite data-heavy, but it’s well worth it.
I also got a ROLI Seaboard. It’s funny, because whenever I looked at videos for it, I thought that maybe this wasn’t the right thing for me to get. If you put me in front of the piano, I couldn’t play any quick little melodies. But I love it – it’s so good! It has so much texture – there’s so much more to it than just the keys that you’re hitting. It’s about the texture and tone and all these different things, so I really enjoy it.
I noticed there’s some singing on the album, which I assume is yours?
No [laughs]. I think I’m a really good opera singer, so if you hear any operatic singing sometime, if could me. But no, the singers are on YouTube, which I used [for sampling] for this album and my first album.
I wanted to do the Shema [an important daily Jewish prayer -ed.] on “Tif’eret”, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with my voice on it. So I also found a recording of that. I just…I hear my voice and I don’t like my voice when it’s recorded. I don’t mind if I don’t like my voice for interviews and stuff like that. But anything slightly singing, I just think, oh my sound is in my nose, and I can’t get it down from my chest and my belly, as hard as I try.
It’s ironic that you picked this album to declare that you’re not just ambient when the floodgates for ambient music kind of opened in 2020 with the pandemic and everyone staying home, no one going out.
I do miss going to clubs. I’m not going to clubs, not just because of the pandemic, but also because I’m a mom with a nine- and five-year-old. When I wrote the album in March of 2020, I was home-schooling two kids. We’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations, and I think I didn’t want to reflect on it, but I wanted to escape out of that. For me, music is an escape route out of myself, so I kind of always want to explore something more than myself, and not sort of do this internal sadness.
Looking at the album, and ideas in the track titles like “Merkabah” [visions] and “Tif’eret” [balance, glory]. I think these things can be reparative, even to think about right?
Merkhaba is one of those weird ones where I genuinely imagined this kind of terrifying UFO thing. I don’t know if you know that particular part of the story where there are these Seraph angels, and they’re like fire angels, and there’s this kind of cube thing that’s being held up by fire, and they’re saying, “don’t be scared!” [laughs]. Vision is kind of hilarious and also awe-inspiring and I can see why. It’s been used in so many different things, you know? For comedy purposes.
I think people just like, they can’t handle that. So you do two things: you go crazy, and you just kind of end up laughing. I always want a bit of comedy, and I just love this idea that there was this weird swirling UFO coming down.
So, you’re working a nine to five, you’ve got your music, and you’ve also got Objects Ltd. How do you juggle all of this?
I think I’m being a bit more selective with who’s on the label now and what I’m putting out. I’m finding the music industry a lot harder to be in at the moment, for various reasons. So many artists are getting managers, which obviously is awesome and brilliant, but it also means artists are less likely to talk to me. They’re going to talk to Mike and stuff like that, because that’s what happens with managers. They want to hear someone who’s been in the industry for millions of years.
I started the label in 2016. I used to go to clubs when I was a teenager. There were a lot of guys there, but I do have older brothers and grew up mostly around. I think I just felt really annoyed in 2016. This was after my son’s birth – I had two young children, a two-year-old and a six-month-old, and at the time I felt pissed about all the “more women in music” talk, it was all talk. So I started the label. It was something that was more than just sitting on my arms complaining, and that’s how I feel about it still.
And you’ve released last couple albums on [Mike Paradinas-founded label] Planet Mu.
Producers, we can look at music from two different sides [as label owners]. But I have to say, I can’t do that with my own music and that’s actually why I didn’t want to release on Objects Ltd. I did my first album on Objects Ltd., and I wouldn’t say that I’m not pleased with it – it’s OK. But I think it could have been better, because having that outside perspective just makes such a big difference.
[Mike] tells his artists exactly how he feels and how an album should feel. Of course it’s not always right, because how can it be? Music isn’t about right or wrong. It’s just one way of doing something. He did well with Sleepmoss and Neon Genesis, a critical sounding board for track sequencing.
One last question I’ve always wanted to know – where does the name “Meemo Comma” come from?
It’s from my daughter, she’s really good at coming up with names. In our last house at the top of the stairs, she said that there was a ghost there. I remember saying to her, so what’s the ghost called? And she said “Meemo Comma”. I just thought, actually that’s quite good – I’m going to steal that!
Image at top: Ken Street