Cornelia Murr on Jenny Hval

MacEagon Voyce
October 21, 2020
Cornelia Murr (credit: Rachael Pony Cassells)

Geography plays a central role in the work of Cornelia Murr. The London-born artist now calls LA home, but her first record was most informed by the spirit of upstate New York. Childhood travels to the region left an indelible mark. Lake Tear of the Clouds, her 2018 debut, reflects that impact, expressly invoking the cyclical nature of water as it moves from the peaks of the Adirondacks down into the Hudson Valley and then eventually out to sea.

Before the record, Cornelia had long been reticent to share her songs, safeguarding them from "roommates and lovers." Lake Tear of the Clouds then stands as an arrival. It's an emblem of the courage required to be intimate with the world — in that special way that music making demands. And taking that leap was likely aided by having the support of My Morning Jacket's Jim James, who produced and accompanied her on the album.

Alongside a cadre of other collaborators, they pieced together her songs into an LP that flows like water. The sound is misty, like the thin sheen of morning fog, and purposeful, like a river heading to sea. Long stored in some aquifer, Lake Tear of the Clouds rises to meet you and then flows in that way that water does — precisely in the direction it was meant to.

For her Algorhythm, Cornelia eloquently recounts how her friend introduced her to the talented Jenny Hval...

I was introduced to the world of Jenny Hval by way of another artist I admire and a friend, Zia Anger. Zia is a filmmaker and performance artist who has collaborated with Jenny frequently over the years. Back in 2015, I was living in New York City having a pretty hellish time. My employer had disappeared without warning, I was scrambling for work, subletting a room occupied by a hoarder’s amount of someone else's stuff. I was desperate to change my life, or to start it really is what it felt like. So when Zia asked me out of the blue to be in a music video she was directing, it was easy to say yes. I had no idea what the song would be or if I would resonate with it, but I trusted Zia completely. It turned out to be for Jenny’s song “That Battle is Over," (the first line of which asks “what is it to take care of yourself?”). Dressed in a harlequin green skirt suit, I acted as something of a guide throughout the video, leading the camera through a house full of women in increasingly frenetic states of madness and catharsis. I could only hear little bits of the song at a time, out of order according to whatever shot we were filming, so the lyrics hit me in this truncated, non-linear way, just little clues to the sonic world we were living in. The more of the song I internalized, the more it began to feel like some new planet we had all found. There was a palpable bond between all of us over the two days of shooting and it was a rather spiritual experience I think for everyone, inhabiting and creating this weird women’s world together. The video ends with me in a sheer flowing dress with a couple of white horses and it's this holy moment, both powerful and tongue-in-cheek, as Jenny sings sweetly "sleep tight forever." It was all kind of a mystical step out of the doldrums I was in at that time.

About a year later, Zia asked me to be in another video for Jenny’s song “Conceptual Romance.” It was in part a reprise of characters from past Jenny/Zia collaborations, and so I found myself back in the green suit. At this point, I was about to move to California and was feeling a new thrust of energy in my life. I was ready to leave New York but it was a bittersweet time, as all endings are. We shot this one in the days leading up to me driving across country and it ended up feeling like this grand farewell and culmination of a chapter of life, a sendoff from my woman cult, if you will. The end of the video shows the group of us, including Jenny, lying together in a pit in the earth (in painted skin suits by the brilliant artist Annie Bielski). The drone camera spirals upwards and our mass of bodies becomes smaller and smaller, eventually looking like a strange little wound in the ground. We are peaceful, and very much alive, but there was a sense in those moments lying there that we were leaving something in the ground, a burial of old ideas and modes that didn’t serve us.

The last few lyrics of the song are these:

I'm high, high on madness
These are my combined failures
I understand infatuation, rejection
They can connect and become everything
Everything that's torn up in your life
But come with me, I want to show you something
The original wound, the origin of the world (I'm working on it, I’m working on it…)

And so the music of Jenny Hval rings with a transformational energy to me. These songs in particular always give me this rushing reminder of the constant possibility for change and radical self-acceptance. It was just another year later that I recorded my first LP, in 2017, and these experiences certainly were part of my gathering the strength to put my own music out there. I look up to Jenny so very much as an artist, and it was a real honor to be introduced to her in such a direct way.

Cornelia is currently looking for safe ways to record her second album, which has been in the works for some time now. Until it arrives, give Lake Tear of the Clouds a spin — and listen to our full Algorhythms playlist here.

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