“I believe that feeling vulnerable and being strong at the same time is possible.”
Malan Elise is as multifaceted as her music and her recent album ‘Kokoro and Her Experiment’ is proof of just that. The album is layered, mesmerizing and ranges over similarities to Björk’s mysticism, Massive Attacks fierce intensity and holds a red thread of a unique subtlety in her personal lyrics.
Malan Elise is a composer, music producer, sound designer and singer, from Copenhagen. Growing up with music as a child, music has for Malan always been a way of breathing. Her love for jazz and improvising and her later encounter with electronic music, the vast opportunities in working with sound and letting the lap-top become her instrument have opened a new and unique path for her. Her new Album “Kokoro and Her Experiment” is her first electronic music album, written and recorded in her living-room over three years.
The emotional range of the album is a strong reminder that albums still are very much necessary – that one in the framework of an album can tell a unique, in-depth and personal story that is difficult to bring to life had it been in a different shape.
Her ethereally light vocals are almost orchestral and carry a huge strength even in their tremble. The energy is dense but uplifting, the mix of genres is thrilling and the same can all be said of Malan. We grabbed her for a little chat about her work and the creation of ‘Kokoro and Her Experiment’.
So. How did you first conceive the idea for the album? From where did you get your inspiration?
“Kokoro and Her Experiment” is the title of my new album of 15 songs. “Kokoro” is Japanese and means both heart, soul and mind. In the western world, we are very used to the dualistic way of thinking and categorizing everything, but I love the thought that our heart, mind and soul are actually one thing altogether. I think my choice of digging deeper into electronic music as a songwriter was very much linked to a period where I was searching for my own voice as a composer and singer. Starting to let my laptop becoming my instrument opened a whole new world for me. I knew I had so much on my heart that I wanted to express and my encounter with technology and its options gave me the room and space for both being introvert and express myself to the fullest. By becoming more independent in the sense of starting to record everything myself gave me a room where I could experiment. Deciding to write an album was similar to when a painter starts creating a picture. I could truly feel that it was not enough for me to only express myself through one colour, as in one song, I wanted to express how complex and boundless the human heart can be so, therefore, I needed to write a lot of songs until I finally felt the picture was done and filled with enough colours.
Were there any barriers when you first started? If so, how did you overcome those?
I think the barrier would always be myself. Deciding to write an album and do everything completely on my own was a big decision which I was not aware of in the beginning, but it learned me so much about winning over myself and also not winning over myself haha. But I believe the victory always lies in not giving up on your goal and I never gave up.
What are your thoughts on the experimental music scene right now? Are there any artists we should be listening to at the moment??
The experimental music scene is growing. Artists becoming more independent and the development of technology creates multiple possibilities, also more and more women are a part of the electronic music scene, but we still have a lot of work to do. It’s important because we can open the path for each other by opening the path for ourselves. A couple of months ago, I was at a concert where three artists performed, all with Iranian background. At this concert, I discovered the electronic musician Rojin Sharafi. What encouraged me about her performance was the mixture of vulnerability, her standing alone at the stage, but actually expressing enormous strength and power through her music. Another singer and composer I have been listening a lot to is British Laura Mvula, she is amazing.
You did everything for this album yourself, from writing to recording to the very end, I think – right? What went into this decision for you?
Yes, it’s definitely a solo album in the sense that it is very very solo haha. The process of writing, producing and recording have been a very dynamic process where I did a bit of everything at the same time. The final mix and master of the songs was done by producer Rune René Hansen. Of course, this way of working was my own choice, but somehow I didn’t feel I had other choices. What I wanted to express through the music, sounds and lyrics was very personal and maybe something I had to go through alone. I often felt that the process of writing this album has been like a physics experiment that has taken a lot of concentration and discipline to keep on insisting on getting the result that I wanted.
Regarding the process, what was it like, recording the album from home – like, logistically I guess but also as an experience?
Recording everything at home, mainly in my living-room have been a wonderful experience. Especially being forced to be very intimate with my own vocal have let myself get to know my voice much better now. Creating the intimate place of writing the album and experimenting alone have been a process of also learning about my own strength and shortcomings.
In the western world, we are very used to the dualistic way of thinking and categorizing everything, but I love the thought that our heart, mind and soul are actually one thing altogether.
The first track you wrote on the album is actually track seven and is called “Vulnerable”. Can you talk us through what that song is about?
Yes, I wrote the song a night before going out, dressed up to see some old friends. I didn’t plan to write at all. I remember feeling extremely fragile inside, sitting with my midi-piano and it was the sound of the organ that gave birth to the lyrics, it all came out very naturally. I feel in today’s society we tend to always want to have a very precise reason to why we suffer and we tend to analyze everything, but sometimes we suffer and we have to go through it and let it nurture us instead of running away. I believe that feeling vulnerable and being strong at the same time is possible.
You mention the fact that you see heart, mind and soul as one in human existence. What does this look like, in application?
I have practised Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism for many years and what I learned most especially from my daily practice of studying and chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, a very active form for meditation, is that we are all micro-cosmos of the universe. The universe is everything; therefore everything is also inside ourselves. So in that sense, we possess everything we need in order to take the right actions for ourselves and others. Because our tendencies are strong, both negative and positive, I personally experienced that it’s not about following either your heart or your head, this is a very limited way of thinking, but when I chant my head and heart becomes one and I am able to realize that I possess the wisdom to see the true aspect of maybe a dilemma or problem or instead of blaming my environment I recognize that my environment is a reflection of myself, therefore it all starts with me.
If you could give people, say, some kind of guidance, a sort of manual on how to listen to and understand this album, what would it say?
I would like my listeners to listen as if their ears were their eyes. Letting their imagination be wide open. Also I would like them to see all songs encapsulated in the title Kokoro. What part of the heart they want to explore is up to the listener.
What’s next for you!
Next for me is presenting the work live and solo. In the future I hope to collaborate more because I feel the time is different now and the introvert ‘doing everything by myself’ needs to be shaken a bit after being very much on her own for a long time.