In Conversation with Kimyan Law

Nico Mpunga aka Kimyan Law tends to choose restaurants and bars according to the vegan selection. At Café Eiles, in the middle of Vienna’s eighth district, cups and dishes clatter. The Viennese producer with Congolese roots orders tonic water. Over the next hour and a half, we talk about enduring silence, nuances of grief and inventing languages.

Kimyan Law has not only released a new album, the producer also made his short film debut. For the first time, he provides an insight into a universe that has existed in his head for years. Why you find more than drum & bass — one of the many disciplines of the Austro-Congolese — in it, we find out in the conversation that begins with a discussion about vegan cheese.

Kimyan Law: I make art that deals with nature and our relationship to it. The gustatory aspect is just as much a part of it. If I have the time capacities, I deal with it — to discover new things.

What has led to this openness?

People often use the word empathy in this context, but some things transcend the empathic, even if there is no term for it except the word love. I can trace these realms back to my childhood. Since then I have had an intimate relationship with nature because I grew up in the forest.

You mean, in the outskirts of the city in the 22nd district?

On the edge of town, in the so-called Lobau — that was my playground. When I listen to my past albums, which have a lot of nature sounds on them, I recognise the influence that this environment has had on me. It is part of my identity, in which I retrospectively recognise patterns that have led me to where I am today.

Are you a thoughtful person?

By that, do you mean someone who thinks a lot, or someone who thinks too much?

We’ve been talking for five minutes. I can tell you’re thinking a lot about yourself and your surroundings…

Well, then! I can’t turn that off. When I’m faced with a conflict or dilemma, I ask myself: Can this be resolved? If so, what does that solution look like?

It seems to me you’re very much at peace with yourself. That requires reflection…

I was self-reflective early on, yes. It has to do with everyday racism and discrimination that I experienced from a young age. There was also a strong dissonance in my life. When you’re a child, you don’t see the pigeonholing that’s projected onto you from the outside. In my parents’ house — I’m Congolese and Austrian — I experienced love. At school, it was racism. That triggers a coping mechanism. Either you fall into depression or you find an outlet with which you can treat this dissonance.

For you, that outlet was art…

Drawing, painting, making music, yes. Interests and skills that feed off of coming to terms with my past, and at the same time lead to me being able to live with it. With „Coeur Calme”, my first album from 2014, I was processing my childhood. That’s when I was 13 or 14.

You produced the first album when you were 14?

I started with electronic music when I was f14. Before that, I was learning percussion. My parents actually told me that I’ve been tapping rhythms since I was a baby. It’s part of my being and a language I use to express myself. My mother tongue may be French, but I speak music just as fluently. There are accents, different dialects and speech patterns that can be acquired and that other people understand.

Those who speak the language belong. Whoever doesn’t speak it remains excluded…

That’s why I don’t think in genres, but from an origin of music. What has happened in the last 40 years doesn’t interest me while making music. That doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to records from the past, but I don’t think about them when I make music. I just make it.

The thoughtfulness that makes you human becomes impulsive in music.

If nothing changes over eight bars, I get bored!

One can feel this in your music. Something has to change permanently. Are you a nervous person?

You know, I don’t like a lot of music at all. That helps a lot because it’s more important to know what you don’t like before you can pick off what you think is cool. Today, music often sounds like a failed tongue twister. The rhythms rarely make sense.

Do you have any examples?

The relationship between kick and snare, timbre, and clashing different instruments.

Noise, so to speak .

I even like Noise, although it clashes there especially! Nevertheless: The evaluation remains subjective. It’s like looking at a painting, but it won’t give you anything. Maybe you understand the context because you read through the accompanying text. But it doesn’t speak to you. I often have that.

Art only speaks to you when it creates a dialogue. If it is overloaded with meaning, no conversation can arise. It crushes you.

Art becomes a product …

That can be consumed only…

Like television! I try to exempt myself from this logic. With Kimyan Law, I focus on creating a soundscape that is ideal for me. I haven’t achieved that yet, so I keep going.

You are a seeker, „ein Suchender” as we say in German.

If my music was perfect, I would stop producing it. My drive comes partly from the fact that I’m not satisfied yet. That’s why I keep trying – ich bin ein Versuchender.

In trying (Versuchen) there lies also temptation (Versuchung) in order to become better, for example.

Yes, I strive for a warm, organic sound that has a fingerprint. In my music you find a lot of textures from everyday and natural sounds. You notice that it’s not perfectly carved out, but created by hand.

In some tracks it crackles, pops and hisses. That’s how you situate the music, I think.

Absolutely, I treat the crackling like instrumentation. I don’t just place a texture so that it’s there. I give it its own rhythm.

Even though only a few will notice. It gets lost in the whole .

But it make the music last! People keep writing to me that they still discover new elements in my music after listening to them many times. That makes me very happy.

Some tracks can be listened to thousands of times without wearing out — perhaps because you can always continue to enter into a dialogue with them?

There are songs that I know longer and better than some people. It’s precisely because you change over the years, you hear the song differently. Nevertheless, it triggered something back then. It triggers something now. The feeling may not be the same, but you still feel addressed. It’s not just the projection of oneself into the music — music is too alive for that, it triggers too much in us for that. You can’t reduce music to an argument.

One circles the meaning of the music, but will never grasp it linguistically.

I’m very happy with that because …

It would be fathomed the very moment you understand it?

You could no longer see it in the same light as before, yes.

That’s why we talk about music without talking about the music.

That makes sense. Otherwise you often get lost in empty phrases like the question: How are you?

It’s a phrase to get around the awkward silence, isn’t it?

I like awkward silences a lot.

Because one has to endure it?

Silence is humbling for everyone. You can tell that a situation feels awkward — a lot of people don’t like that at all. The thing is: I don’t always have to talk. I rather appreciate the company of people as beings. In this sense, awkward silences show that it’s not always necessary to utter any words just to fill them. What if you don’t need to say anything in that particular moment?

I like people with whom you can share silence and feel connected through it.

Conversations echo in the background, cups clatter. We pause for a moment, silence reigns between us for a few seconds.

Right now, that silence … It wasn’t awkward!

Because we are both invested in our thinking, right?

Isn’t that super important? To think when you’re having a conversation. Imagine just gushing out words so it’s never quiet.

Doesn’t that happen all the time? You keep scrolling through your timeline, the stream never stops, everything bombards you, but no one asks you if you’re OK with it.

We’ve been conditioned to never let our smartphones out of our hands. At the same time, we are the only ones who could revise that.

Isn’t that unfair?

Of course it’s unfair! But how many things in this world are not unfair?

I mean, we have to take responsibility for something that we didn’t initiate in the first place?

I am not saying that you are the one to blame. You are the one who can change it because nobody else cares about you! This abundance brings nothing but revenue — for other people but you. We are the bottom end, the consumers. Therefore, it is not interesting who is to blame. What is important is who has the agency.

Do you know Mark Fisher? He was a British theorist and wrote a lot about the subject, but also about artists like Burial …

Burial, the producer? I have a strong relationship to his music, as do many other people I know. I find feelings in it that are so multi-layered that they remind me of my childhood. That inspires me to convey emotions with my music that go beyond a few basic emotions like being grumpy, happy or sad. After all, there are infinite nuances of sadness. You know, I am often sad, but just as often happy. I am also happy that I can be sad. Therefore, I want to express this in-between.

I know that I don’t hide my emotions. That’s why in conversations with other people I always try to open up a space where they don’t have to hide theirs either. Simply because it hurts me when I notice that people swallow their emotions.

You said earlier that you were happy to be so sad. That sounds like melancholic euphoria to me. Both poles are allowed to go together.

Who taught us that both poles are not allowed to be together? I don’t think that’s right.

Think of playlists, they suggest one mood. Never more than one.

It’s about feel-good vibes or the opposite. But there is so much in between. You just have to look for it. For example, on Bandcamp. That’s the real world of music with real people making music. Spotify is what everyone knows, but think about it: you pay ten euros for every song ever produced on this planet and offered there? Are you mad? What should be left of that for music creators? That’s a system that can’t work. At least not for musicians. Nevertheless, people use it because it’s convenient. You press some buttons and create a playlist. It gives you the feeling that you have done something.

Which is not true, of course. It’s the most blatant devaluation of music ever.

We don’t see the whole extent, yes. That’s why I appreciate people who are involved with music and buy records. They have a part in and support the art. A lot of people don’t understand that. Some even forget that people who create art shed sweat and tears to make what they believe in. Art is not only their existence, but their essence. If you have to do any other activity instead, your soul withers away.

At the same time, people discuss fractions of cents for streams, a discussion that attacks the symptom but never the disease.

Yes, it’s not even a painkiller. The system is broken, yet some still believe it can be saved. My question to these people is: what are you defending in the process? The consumer behaviour that one has been conditioned with? What is this really about?

You started a label a year ago. That says a lot about you as an artist — you stand by it, you want this now, so you do it because everything else doesn’t work.

That’s actually true. When the pandemic started, so many artists lost a big part of their livelihood all at once. Concerts were cancelled, a whole year of planning dissolved, nothing was left. Starting a label at that time was not easy, but it was the right step even though I jumped in at the deep end, because I had no idea how to run a label. I still don’t know, but within a year I was able to try out and learn a lot. In the meantime, I realise that it can work. After all, I was always an interdisciplinary artist and for a long time I painted more than I made music. These disciplines now come together in the label. I just have to hold on to it and show it off.

The first project is Emblem of Peace, four EPs and four tribes that converge into one universe album.

Exactly. The symbolism for this project has been in the making since the third album. Also, I’ve constructed a language that works in this universe. Add to that the artwork that I painted. The colours, the visuals, the iconography along with the language and music all come together. It has always been like that inside me. However, this is the first time I’ve been able to portray it in its entirety to the outside world.

You have already moved in this world that others can only open up…

That’s why it was important for me to make a short film for „Emblem of Peace”. The idea of depicting Kimyan Law’s universe on film had been around for a while. But I promised myself that I would only realise it if two circumstances came together: the money and the right people. A year and a half ago, when I had both, I knew it was time to put the idea into action. Now I’m starting a new chapter in filmmaking.

It is the beginning of a new story for Kimyan Law?

Yes, a new beginning that can continue. The ideas are there, the resources are still missing. There is a lot to plan, so many details … Even the face paintings of the characters of the tribes have different meanings, you know? I draw every accessory, every symbol, translate dialogue into language — because I have to tell this story.

Where does this urge to tell stories come from?

I’ve always had a vivid imagination. It’s my calling. I was born to do this, like other people are born to do other things.

Do you think?

My mother is an educator. In my opinion, one of the most important professions for people. She raises people with her wisdom, love and kindness that cannot be explained. That’s what I mean when I say there are callings.

You feel called to tell stories?

So far without, but soon with words. It only took seven years!

Tolkien spent ages writing his Lord of the Rings universe. You are also building a universe with your own language…

I grew up trilingual, my family and friends speak many languages. When we speak a person’s language, we have direct access to them. That’s why I developed a conlang. There are two possibilities for this: a priori or a posteriori. Klingon, for example, would be a priori, it is created from scratch. A posteriori is based on existing language syllables. Kimyan Law’s language is a posteriori. I experimented with phonetics that I know and that feel good to me. The intention was to create a sound that sounds emotionally considered and spiritually wise because: How people treat each other is often already present in the language. I also wanted the language to work internationally. I didn’t want it to be traceable to a single tribe.

Hence, the language cannot be localised…

For me, it’s about Umoja. In Swahili, it stands for the principle of unity. With this, I want to break down all pigeonholing, not with hatred or tirades, but with unity. This happens through immersion in the film. The main character lives in the forest, a bit like a forester, until he gets the message that he should take the emblem to the tribes — a great honor! So he sets off to see the first-born of the Wetland Tribes.

Let’s stop here, any further explanation would prevent the possibility of fathoming the film itself. But I would like to finish by asking you something that I often ask in conversations when I feel it fits: What do you love about yourself?

I believe in true peace. I’m convinced of that. It’s a state of being though, not so much a quality for me.

It goes hand in hand with a naïve belief, because the world suggests to you …

That it is not peaceful, that the most real reality is not peace, I know. That’s why one associates the belief in it as something childish. But: You can also come to a realisation although you have been disappointed and hurt before. I have seen real love, or rather, I have recognised real bliss and real peace. These feelings of being true were never connected with wealth, materialism, greed or addiction. It was and is a feeling that comes from within. Having recognised this fundamental love, I not only believe in peace, but know that it can exist. You can’t overturn that.

One cannot not recognise it anymore…

It is a realisation that has not made my life easier. But it is in the suffering that I have realised that there can be peace. That’s why I hope to reach people with my art on a soul level. So that they open up at the core.

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