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Lara Sarkissian - Born of the Sea


Talking to the artist about her new EP, which is inspired by the Armenian goddess of water, sea, and rain.

By JB Johnson


Within the Armenian epic tradition, the goddess Tsonivar is associated with water, rain, and the sea. Some scholars believe her to have been an “angry storm goddess” with “fiery eyes” who was able to conjure thunderstorms simply by dancing on clouds. Los Angeles-based artist Lara Sarkissian’s new EP, Born of the Sea, is inspired by Tsovinar; it is five tracks of dense, rhythmic electroacoustic music whose heaviness is almost elemental. This is music that moves beyond genre—close your eyes and let the movie play in your head. We had a conversation with Sarkissian about Tsonivar and a whole lot more. Listen to the new EP and read our interview below. 

Born of the Sea (EP)
Born of the Sea (EP)Lara Sarkissian

  • 101. Spirit as Fire - Lara Sarkissian.wav
  • 202. Ages Pass, No Tidings Come - Lara Sarkissian.wav
  • 303. DBM ft. Locust - Lara Sarkissian.wav
  • 404. Like an Ocean Is This World - Lara Sarkissian.wav
  • 505. Flow Serene - Lara Sarkissian.wav

This music is quite cinematic—are you writing a movie in your head as you make it?

I often reference a geographic location, so I write with environment, architecture, texture, and ambience in mind, as if inviting listeners into a three dimensional space, whether it is real or fantasy … Almost like documenting landscapes and memory sonically. 

I’m curious to know how you build a track. Is there a set process? Does it vary from song to song?

Generally I start with a sample or sound I know I really want to use, and build the ambience around that. I like to think of each multitrack on Ableton as different physical zones or orbits, like, what is surrounding each object or character [sound] in these zones, what floats around them and decorates them, what is the distance between each other? it's super visual for me, and taps back into my video editing days.

How did the larger Armenian epic tradition inform this EP? How about Armenian folk music?

Looking back at my 2018 EP, DISRUPTION, it references Armenian mythology, and with these references, I was really curious to explore both natural elements, and the adventure, conflict/resolution one comes across in myths. 

With Born of the Sea, I was reading Manuk Abeghyan's Armenian Folk Beliefs, which multidisciplinary artist/weaver Levon Kafafian shared with me when discussing my new sounds. I was working with glitchy, watery, textural sounds, so I specifically referenced the chapter on Tsovinar, the Armenian goddess of water, sea and rain. I’ve lived by the coast for most of my life and I was spending more time with water, so it felt close to the heart. With epic tradition, I was able to explore the drama, and supernatural forces of characters. I had also just wrapped up scoring a piece for Mashinka Hakopian, a writer and artist who was performing readings of her book The Institute of Other Intelligences at Centre Pompidou (via Kadist), which with the machine intelligence themes of the book, encouraged me to explore more glitchy and textural sounds along with Armenian folk music samples.

From the Tsovinar chapter:

Tsovyan means "born of the sea," or "child of the sea," "created by the sea." The meteorological phenomenon of phosphorescence during a storm is called "fiery eyes" (hrach'k') by the Armenians (K'amalyants', S., Tsovinar Tiflis, 1888, p. 26). However, this meteorological phenomenon is not personified as an animal spirit but as a human-like storm spirit with blazing eyes. [84] Sometimes it appears with its fiery eyes, meaning lightning, burns everything it touches, and then disappears....She rides or, as they say, plays, dancing among the clouds, riding on a fiery horse. Fire shoots out of her horse's eyes and even more so from her own eyes.  She also appears in the form of a smiling man. On dark, stormy nights she suddenly sticks her head out from the clouds and looks downward. This causes lightning or, as they say, Tsovyan is playing (TT', p. 275)...

Tsovinar (lightning) danced as if she wanted to burn up the whole world.

Born of the Sea has a nice balance between traditional instrumentation and contemporary production techniques. Is it hard to negotiate that balance?


I find the balance between electronic production techniques and acoustic and traditional instruments so freeing. It allows me to blur the lines between spaces, and recontextualize/reimagine environments that we associate specific sounds with. With this EP (and upcoming material later in the year), I learned to write the qanun instrument digitally, contributing a more sensual side to the range of melodies and harmony I can reach. Some were inspired by the style and emotion in Armenian liturgical music and hymns.  

Your music fits in a variety of containers—you’ve worked in institutional situations, but you’ve also collaborated with Tresor and Hyperdub. What are the pluses and minuses of moving through these various contexts?

Starting from CLUB CHAI days, we made it a point that sound and music can transcend as a medium and tool across different spaces—being educational, art institutions, galleries or museums, performance spaces and beyond. That music is as serious of an art form, and should be taken as seriously, as the visual medium. It's a plus, (now more than ever), to show range across different spaces, but the most challenging part in this is not necessarily for the practice itself, but more so that the audience has a harder time boxing your work and essence as an artist. 

You played in a sort of punk-type band in high school, right? What did that experience teach you about making music? Do you still apply any of those lessons to your music today?

I played drums, we attempted many genres but were mainly OK at Born Ruffians' cover of Grizzly Bear's "Knife," Radiohead "Knives Out," and the worst at Muse "Time is Running Out," however, the most fun! 

I actually look back at the experience of being in a band with others quite often now, even having been a short period of time. I believe music making should not be an isolated practice, as much as producers may think it can be in contemporary times because of being provided with endless accessible tools to create on your own. The nature of music itself isn't isolated, and is molded by community and shifts of culture. The communal exchange, influence and human relationships within music can never be taken away, as it is the soul and romance of music making. I've recorded and performed with musicians, and will be building that into my upcoming live sets soon. As I grow as a producer, I find myself looking for that spontaneity and intimate energetic exchange with other musicians that bands or collaborations can provide.

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