Between 2012 and 2015, Crampton moved to Virginia, to the 2,500-inhabitant town of Weyers Cave. It was here, in 2015, that she had the chance to craft her EP masterpiece American Drift for Blueberry Recordings. The album, is an exploration of what she has defined as her experience of brownness “beyond culture, as geology,” as an Andean two-spirit woman in the context of Virginia’s own colonial history. Identifying as a body “dwelling between colonized and colonizer” (Rodriguez, 2016) has helped Crampton navigate land/soil on a geological level. The resulting four tracks are warm-hearted soundscapes built on layers of cumbia and caporal percussions, looped with atmospheric recordings. As Nishnaabeg academic Leanne Betasamosake Simpson says in her book As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (2014), indigenous people don’t relate to the land by possession or control over it, but through connection; “a generative, affirmative, complex, overlapping, and nonlinear relationship” with the land (Simpson, 2019) is exactly what Crampton has been investigating in American Drift. As she remarked in an interview in 032c last year, “The notion of stone is something that is prevalent in our daily lives because of geography and praxis, becoming part of the languages we signal — chemical, tactile, textual, textilic, iconographic, oral, etc. That affiliation with stone, with all of its becoming, all of its generativity — all of these things come into play and that’s a long history that also created me. The stones are my family and my ancestors, a shared becoming, a shared story.”
Do you think that music might be part of that call to activism and worldchange? You sent me a copy of a piece of yours called “Lake” which you said is “made with field recordings from a hidden lake on the edge of West Virginia.” I love it and have played the song repeatedly while writing this response: something happens when the sounds you make meet the sounds you’ve recorded. You make me want to seek that hidden lake. But you also make me realize the deep layers of rhythm that bind human sound and frog sound, cricket chirp and drum. The track is ethereal (a thing of air) and yet has so many layers that, like American Drift, it seems geologically layered. And maybe you had that in mind when you entitled the album American Drift? Tectonic plates drift, swallowing the ocean on one side and creating new sea chasms on the other. Tectonic, by the way, comes from the Greek word for carpenter: someone who makes things, someone who repairs or composes. Sometimes American Drift seems to be about the Shenandoah, and at others about the human body, the propensity for bodies to change (and yet to carry history forward through change: a geology of the flesh). Have I gotten anything right?
What about tikkun olam, repairing the world? Not managing the earth or nature, not treating the nonhuman as resource or symbol or something inert, but healing some of the harm we have inflicted? What about not giving up? So yes let’s think about the agency of horses and forests and planets. Let’s think about the agency of the elements: earth, air, fire, water. Let’s stop surrendering to an apocalypse we secretly desire. That’s the easy way out. Repair and composition are harder – especially because we are broken ourselves. We’ve created a system that keeps breaking people, that thrives on breaking humans and worlds, that wounds in mind and body those who live with us now and those yet to come. Fixing what we keep breaking is surely the antidote to melancholia, the best way to live with rather than be consumed by fire and ice. And maybe we would feel more compelled to repair rather than consign if we saw better the agency and power of the nonhuman.
My friend Eileen Joy, a refugee from the Academy, has been an inspiration in thinking through the knot of urgent issues that cluster around the contemporary, crisisplagued university. At a time when I was ready to stop publishing she also revived my faith in intellectual vagabondery, in the power of emergent communities, in the centrality of affect to cognition and creation, in openness and vulnerability as a mode of cognitive thriving. I like the idea of a para-academy that dwells both inside the university (often as a kind of parasite, since if the neoliberal university knew more of its challenging aims it would choose to exterminate it) and alongside the university, as a space of freedom and alternative belonging. In the short term I think we are looking at a constriction in education as universities merrily continue to become corporations that churn out assessable products in predictable forms, with employability a code word for conformity. In the long term young people are much smarter than their would-be overlords realize, and are already beginning to point out that a system that ensures they graduate with such debt that they must undertake 10 years of indentured servitude (at the loss of intellectual, physical and imaginative mobility) to pay it off – typically working a job in which nothing is challenged and little is fulfilled, is an utterly broken system that profits from their reduction. Education is a basic human right. So is protest. And freedom from intellectual constraint and the ability to form new modes of disrupting, learning, and belonging. All these things are being systematically stripped from the young in the hope of forming more obedient consumersubjects.
Vulnerability and love: we need more of both. I’m not sure I knew that when I was young, and in some ways the world hurts a lot more when we seek both, but … say fuck it and start. It seems to me, Elysia, that you too are looking for worldly entries that foreground the personal (all experience is mediated through some subjectivity, even if that subjectivity is manifold) and yet open to vaster panoramas – ambits of vast geographical stretch, historical as well as personal depth. What you’ve written about brown as skin and stone seems right to me, the geology of contemporary American racism as active sediment and abiding foundation, but I do wonder what the stakes of an embrace of vulnerability might be here: the brown or black body’s woundability has always been the way it has been disciplined and even destroyed. Vulnerability as the engine of slavery. It’s not just a willed opening to the world. Primeval gash. Wounding bodies – and wounding mountains – leave a lasting impress (in landscape, in souls). Your aural environments capture that process of accretion well – and rightly refuse to allow a stilling thereafter. In some of your tracks I can smell or taste rain, and in others blood. I like how you stage their confluence (it is hard to tell the difference between human and natural history in your work). You seem to find your way into these histories through the personal (you’ve spoken so eloquently in interviews about your family history and its force) and yet craft pieces that are never only personal: shared feeling, shared history, shared inheritances run through American Drift.
We’re in it together. I could never write, never think, never live without manifold writers, artists, makers, explorers, revelers (many of whom are not humans: can’t we extend our generosity that far? I think you do that so well in your music, where the sound of a lake and wordpoem of a mountain meet histories of race, religion, and other things that may or may not be familiar in form). When I was giving a presentation early in the genesis of Stone a famous scholar asked me if I was comfortable with how I was using my children in my work. I understood the accusation immediately and appreciated its strong formulation, because it allowed me to say what I believe: we never work alone. We ought to acknowledge the companionship of those who think with us, our collaborators. So yes along with Jane Bennett and Stacy Alaimo and Tim Morton you will find the amazing Alex Cohen and Katherine Cohen in the book (they grew up with it, accompanying me in my research). They challenged me to think about the animacy of the inorganic, the storying of matter, the possibilities that yet inhere in things even after we have been trained to no longer witness them. There are moments in the book that I hope demonstrate the limits of this collaboration as well. I had to include the day at the Arènes de Lutèce when both Alex and Katherine rebelled against being narrativized. That resistance matters. The book is about stone’s agency, but that does not mean that human agency does not [matter].
Say fuck it and start. I am joining you in that impulse, so thanks for this aphorism to keep. The weight of expectation and preparation; the worry of knowing where to begin; the anxiety that arrives from thinking that only if you do all exhaustive preparatory work will you cruise to a destination – that’s all wrong. Security in commencement never arrives, so say fuck it and begin. Yet your music has such layered complexity that it belies such quick movements – not an earthquake but an accretion, a sedimentation of history and sound, mud and other fecund materials into layered density. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to anything so geologic. A certain chemical trace inheres, like the smell of rock after rain, recording or suggesting things now invisible but not gone.
Crampton navigates nonlinear dimensions of time and space. She finds in errors, chaos, and the irrational a place where anti-coloniality and queerness are kept alive. Her art is as irreducible to coloniality as indigeneity itself: the way she unapologetically claims her queer and Aymara becoming uplifts the experiences of those who still were/are caught in-between Western categories of being. Many of us brown/queer folks can never be grateful enough for what she and her music has meant to us.
Crampton has defined her work as “folk music,” foregrounding its primordial meaning: music tied to a constant (re)definition of identity through memory, history, and past/future continuity. From early times to the present, evocations of huayno, cumbia, saya, caporal, and Huancayo styles have helped our Andean community, living in and out of diaspora, thrive. Her music made me feel seen. It made me want to heal the wounds that colonialism had inflicted on me my whole life — wounds I previously lacked the capacity to see.
A press release once defined her style as “an adoption of sonic dialects across the Americas [that] shape the way different communities hear not just sounds but frequencies.” Blending all possible combinations of Andean melodies and rhythms, Mexican cumbia sonidera, Brazilian funk, Angolan kuduro, noisy R&B edits and other oddities, the complexity of her output was unique. Crampton influenced a whole new generation of producers, DJs, and performers, creating a nonlinear space/time in which the people of the Abya Yala — “Latin America” in the native Kuna language — could survive and heal.
… In 2018 she released a self-named LP for Break World Records dedicated to Ofelia – a revolutionary china (“femme” in Aymara) travesti – one of the “mariposas, or butterflies, who forever altered the costume of the china supay in the 1960s and 1970s, the Aymara femme devil performed by queer and trans bodies in the street festivities, which, though now formally Christianised, can be traced back to before the conquest” (E.C. interviewed for TANK Magazine, 2018). The album was also a reflection on pachakuti, the Quechua world-reversal and dissolution of power structures, and taypi, the space/time paradox where dichotomies collide in a “radical asymmetry.1”
… 1 As Crampton explained to TANK Magazine in 2018, taypi is the “juncture where the space-times of the here and now and the unknown or de-known co-mingle – where, for example, the world of outside and the world of inside are woven together, braided so as to appear as one color, one thing, until you look closely to see they cohabit or speckle one another without ever fully dissolving into a whole, single object, such as the desired third object of mestizaje or hybridity as political projects. It seems to be about those contrasts remaining, failing to disappear at such an intense level of intimacy, and generating energy from their contradiction, their resistance to fully merge, with fields of possibility radiating from their being together.” The asymmetry that taypi carries, is the reason “why world reversal emerges out of [it]. Perhaps one component of taypi could be described as superimposition, the paradox or split in physics’s fundamental unit et cetera.”