The subject matter of Nina Keith's debut album, MARANASATI 19111, is a heavy one.
Maranasati is the Buddhist concept of death contemplation and its practice involves confronting death to erode the anxiety, fear, and pain associated with it. Death contemplation was sometimes practiced in traditional monasteries by prominently displaying a human skeleton. To bring an immediate awareness of death’s commonality Buddhist meditation would quite literally occur in the presence of a corpse.
A similar uncomfortable presence can be heard in Nina Keith’s work. It lingers between the lines of her piano and creates a hallucinatory experience akin to the mindfulness of Maranasati. Strange synthetic components coalesce and dissolve. Modular synthesizers and ephemeral vocals create sonic hallucinations. Found sounds and nature recordings produce textures that are uncanny and alive. The piano, an alluring siren, beckons the listener deeper into contemplation.
How does Maranasati influence your creativity? Also, what is the significance of 19111?
In classical music, Death, as a subject matter, isn’t uncommon.
Classical music’s most iconic evocation of death is Frederic Chopin’s Funeral March, Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat. It was played at the funerals of John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher. It was also performed at the composer’s own burial in Paris. Whereas Chopin’s work was dark, dense and serious, Nina Keith’s work is light and less melancholic, emphasizing life lived as opposed to life lost.
When you listen to MARANASATI 19111, you can feel a storytelling presence. However, the content of the album’s narrative evades easy telling. With track titles like “The Woods Of America’s Unknown Child” and “In the Woods, We Both Saw It, Weren’t Dreaming” there are opaque narratives beneath the surface. Typically, one could turn to an artist’s promotional materials to understand their meaning or at least shed some light on the mystery but each bit of information acquired contains an equal mystery. For instance, describing her debut single “Hereditary Trauma Dream Sprinting” she said it’s about “my experience with recurring nightmares which resembled stories that my parents later told me that I had no prior knowledge of.”
When art, of any form, is closely aligned with the personal experience of the author, meaning can become opaque. What expectations do you have, if any, for the clarity of your message?
George Wylesol's wonderfully unconventional album art creates a strong first impression.
MARANASATI 19111’s artwork depicts a headless figure in ghostly white, standing atop a constructivist machine for grinding. Behind the figure is a window, or is it a painting, or perhaps a splattering of flesh? The double meaning compounds the unease. It’s both beautiful and grotesque, the meaning of which is certainly a personal one for the artist and also one to be imagined by Nina Keith’s listeners. It fits the ethos of her music wonderfully by giving territory to the listener’s imagination. Breadcrumbs of narrative stimulate the mind and enhance the experience of the world she’s constructed.
MARANASATI 19111 by Nina Keith is infused with memory.
Her music posits that dreams, hallucinations, and self-reflection are all ways of replaying the past. They are an echo that reaches into the present with new depth and complexity. Inevitably, they also bring along forgotten phantoms and buried memories that shape our future self. Nina Keith produces this effect through a technique called tape delay. It’s made by a physical reel-to-reel tape machine that has three functions – erase, record and playback. Timing these three functions gives her the ability to delay sound, control the repeat rate and produce an echo.
The way Nina Keith uses tape delay is similar to postmodern film and literature techniques that reassemble time and narrative to build intriguing storytelling experiences. It brings to mind the HBO series WestWorld and its theme of working through the past, present and future to discern the story arc. Like Nina Keith’s tape loop, forgotten memories creep into the minds of the show’s characters through hallucinations aiding them on their path toward self-autonomy.
I’ve read that MARANASATI 19111 was inspired by your attempts to untangle childhood memories. Have you found music helpful in terms of processing past experiences? How so?
MARANASATI 19111 sounds both analog and digital.
Nina Keith’s Instagram feed is filled with images and recorded snippets of her synthesizer. She uses the machine as a tool for physically sculpting audio pitch, resonance, decay, and the timing of audio loops. The visual complexity of the set up is striking. A multitude of audio cables connects from one location to another forming a dense tangle of wires and blinking LEDs. Although electronic, the analog quality of twisting knobs and connecting one audio jack to another gives a physicality to her performance. It adds a feeling of technical prowess to the already superb piano melodies that echo in your mind long after the album is over.
I love the complexity of your synthesizer set up. I’ve watched a ton of videos on your feed. I love the physicality of turning nobs and the overall aesthetic of the blinking LEDs of your Eurorack. What draws you to this form of music production?
Nina Keith catalyzes the imagination of her listeners through personal storytelling and technical craftsmanship.
Yet, like all powerful art, her music cannot be concisely described. The best experiences of it will be personal. Her music and her personality evade an easy explanation but there is one thing that is abundantly clear. Nina Keith is giving the world a little piece of herself. MARANASATI 19111 is a gift or paying forward of personal experience, trauma, love, and inspiration. It is a constellation of memories and experiences that have made Nina Keith the woman she is.
All songs written and recorded by Nina Keith
Piano, vocals, flute, idiophones, modular synthesizer and tape recorder by Nina Keith
Additional vocals by Becki Freiberg on tracks 2, 3, 8 and 11
Mastered by Taylor Deupree
Album Cover by George Wylesol
Photography by Madeleine Bishop
Published by Grind Select