Nik Kamvissis exists to me as some kind of reactive spirit guide to the surreal.
He is submerged in a world that exists along a frequency only few understand. His creative works, both in the realm of music and visual arts elude both radiance and destruction.
The magic in his performance lies in the fact it is all natural, no farce. The spectrum of sound he creates, primarily through voice, is unlike any other - He channels a supreme instinct that is highly his own.
In our current world, amongst the industry of culture, most creative works are made to be disposable, to serve a wider financial or social purpose. Listening to his primary musical project; Menstruation Sisters, illuminates this fact, as it rather leaves an imprint, a watermark that cannot be rid of, feeling as though the work has been made for you, no one else.
I see Kamvissis’s output a bodily function, exerting itself with no control or warning, something essential to his life.
The initial interview I had planned was in person, at his home. We sat down to watch a film first, Dennis Hopper’s ‘Out of the Blue’. We watched the first 15 minutes, until the girl, our hero, is singing to herself in a greenhouse. It was a nice image to end on. This in turn, moved into a discussion of our mutual interest in film, particularly of Cassavettes and Fassbinder.
Speaking of David Cronenberg, I realised that although a fan, for me his films are almost too putrid, too abject. Although the images and themes portrayed deal mostly with contrasting realities and the flesh meeting mechanical, it seems like it could be a situation that could be played out in some future everyday life. When I say this, I am referring to the aesthetic of Existenz in particular – the fleshy bodies, limbs out of control - At one with human elements and the limits of reality and the rules of morality, pragmatism. An intense yet imaginable proposition.
This discussion is what leads me to MS and Nik’s greater artistic vision - exploring expanding these barriers of what one can imagine, sonically, melodically. At the limits of performance.
Along with collaborators Oren Armbarchi and Brendan Walls, who at current form an unstoppable dynamic of three, the power of Menstruation Sisters lies for me that the project is solely intuitive. It is physical and expressive – rather than ‘composed’. This condition is why the project is so powerful. Through this form, they are pushing music to what it should be more and never seems to be, especially in these times - dangerous, unsteady and heading towards an uncertain end.
I accidently taped over our one hour interview. The lost hour was talking mostly of the recording processes MS go through in order to create their full length releases MA and Samantha. I was curious to learn that they improvise in the studio, meticulously pulling out the best components of each session, creating tracks and then finally songs and a live set learnt from the recording sessions. This to me, almost seems like a more expressive, pure, intuitive form of making a record – rather than trying to emulate a live experience in the finest detail. We corresponded over email which proved to be more of a success.
As you’ve been playing music for so many years, has your relationship with it changed as you’ve got older? Do you feel that is has been a progressive, constant experience, or something that fluctuates?
One interrupted rollercoaster ride, a broken down love/hate relationship. This has provided me with many thrills along the way but only now can I fully appreciate the value of all the mayhem, age has helped fade the hate away. I treasure the band.
I wanted to ask you about your relationship between your visual art and your music. Do they influence and inform one another, or do you find they are separate entities, unrelated?
Both are deeply improvisational practises, no songs or drawings are composed beforehand. It’s more a searching, for an idea or a vibe, once contact with a sound or visual has been made that triggers a desire to create with it, it becomes a give and take practise until the desire has been fulfilled. A guitar solo can so easily inspire a rhythm, an energy which is used to draw with, and vice versa.
I love the psychedelic and punk visuals from the rock music record covers as well as being influenced by fine art. I am consistently with the both and I’m sure they are working together on in ways I’m not even that aware of.
I see your music and art as extremely personal. Is this true? How does expressing yourself to the public, particularly through menstruation sisters live shows and recordings effect you and your output?
Not too sure what you mean by personal. It’s just music/visuals which are very much influenced by many things, some I’m aware of and some not, ideas, practices, feelings and forces which have been around and developing for thousands of years. These musical/visual ideas/creations have a life of their own, the relationship with them I find far more problematic than simply participating in a process of creating them.
Playing live is a treacherous experience. Ultimately this is a rock band, so it has to get it together live, it’s that trip down the lonely road…
As the recorded MS albums are based around improvisations, do you feel they represent a ‘period’ of your life or are they more representative of fleeting moments, experiences?
I would see them as experiences. I like to see them on a superficial level, the sound, the colour, the lines, the composition. And do these experiences help produce new experiences? Do they make you want to experience something new?
You mentioned that each recording is an experience. How would you describe the contrasts between the experiences played out in MA + Samantha ? They’re both amazing records.
MA is our first record, recorded probably between 1994 – 1997, it was done all over the place from inside bedrooms, rehearsal studios, different people’s houses, overseas in someone’s toilet and with other people at times controlling the recording process, using different equipment and instruments, making spur of the moment decisions in the final mix - therefore leading to an album that is sprawling. Samantha is just one 2 hour session at a rehearsal space when I had a bad case of sinus so it was just quite mellow, feeling sick played a part, so it’s important not too worry how we are feeling but go with that feeling and see if it bears fruit worth biting into. Do any of these experiences make you want to experience more, to explore further? Samantha is a great case of this as the songs are played live are radically different and have kept evolving, there is the value for us.
Playing live as treacherous, I like this idea - standing on an unsteady fence - Its a very powerful image. How often does things go off the deep end in terms of control ?
Hahaha, control! There is some sort of control there, but what or who is controlling what and when? I’m not too sure…but when it’s a great ride, it’s a great ride! That’s what we are aiming for, to take a song somewhere it hasn’t been before, somewhere we haven’t been before…”the lonely road.”
Sometimes it’s best when on a whim a song is derailed, it’s breaking down and being reborn all around you with no idea of where you are going and no care, you are in the eye of the storm. It’s a fine line where this takes you so the band has to be in a similar wave length and even then you just don’t know but on a good night the band will thrive on this.
What are your thoughts on being a an artist working in Australia at this point in time? From a cultural point of view, do you feel facilitated and welcome here? Do you feel attached to any kind of artistic community?
Attached and lost consistently. It’s important for me to keep working on what it is and why it is that i desire. Australia is fine for now, I don’t have too much of a problem with working here at the moment. There are many people around me who are a consistent inspiration, generous, supportive and helpful in many ways. There is so much more that can be done here while working with people and spaces overseas.
Do you know where you are headed in terms of personal creativity? Do you have an idea of what you want to do and where you want to go with it?
No idea where I am headed…..the road to hell or the road to heaven? …all I know is I need to, “go go go!”