2020 has been short on breakout success stories (at least in the electronic music realm), but KMRU has undeniably stepped up to claim a spot as one of ambient music’s most promising talents. Only a few months have passed since his album Peel dropped on Editions Mego, and since then, the Kenyan producer and sound artist has unveiled several more releases, including last week’s Drawing Water EP. Bringing together soft melodies and subtle field recordings (“Drawing Water” features the sound of playing children), the music is minimal, but it’s also graceful and inviting, its twinkling melodies and gentle tape hiss coming together to form a sort of lullaby. And while I realize it’s generally not a compliment to say that something puts me to sleep, these KMRU tunes are exactly the sort of thing I’d like to hear when I’m about to drift off into dreamland.
KMRU – KST – 25th October 2020
Joseph Kamaru’s recent Editions Mego album Peel achieves maximum emotion with minimal effort. Very little seems to happen in the Kenyan musician’s swirling ambient tracks, which frequently stretch to 13, 15, or even 23 minutes long, yet they draw you in regardless. Taking in their minutely varied drones can be akin to staring one of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascape photographs, where perspective dissolves in a silvery blur. A similar subtlety marks his mixing in this set for the Japan-based DJ KST’s show on Internet Public Radio. Over the course of an hour, Kamaru cycles through 10 tracks so gradually that it’s difficult to say where one begins and another ends. The liquid droplets of experimental harpist Mary Lattimore’s “Til a Mermaid Drags You Under” seem to freeze into the crystalline drones of the Key’s “Of Air (Bethan Kellough),” which in turn give way to the glacial tones of Paperbark’s “Lampshade Dust.” Each successive blend feels like a transformation of matter and energy: a single entity morphing before our eyes and ears.
Field recordings were the very first form of ambient music, before synthesisers even existed, and these days the natural music that they capture is truly global movement. Nairobi artist KMRU will host a workshop on how he builds tracks from sounds from his surroundings in Kenya. Come and take a virtual trip through the rich and redolent sounds of East Africa.
Last month KMRU worked for the latest ‘Adidas x Arsenal’: ‘This is Arsenal’ spot directed by Karim Huu Do and produced by Object & Animal.
When you’re stuck in the house for months on end, little noises—the whirr of an exhaust fan, the hum of a refrigerator—reveal themselves. Nairobi, Kenya electronic producer Joseph Kamaru’s debut for respected experimental label Editions Mego (Fennesz, Jim O’Rourke) sounds like what would happen if every suddenly conspicuous drone and burble in your apartment conspired to compose a symphony. Throughout the album, the 23-year-old, who has released a string of gorgeous records as KMRU during quarantine, smears treated field recordings and ambient tones to create engulfing sound worlds that are at turns calming, distressing, mysterious. Peel’s title track painstakingly builds up across nearly 23 minutes, accruing power with every repetition. At one point, what could be the trill of an ancient landline seeps into mix. Kamaru lets it ring. – Ryan Dombal
Nairobi sound artist KMRU crafts sounds that seem infinite; his Peel LP from this past summer layered electronic synthesizers until they reached near-cacophony, but his natural knack for rhythm reign in his compositions just as they threaten to overflow into chaos. Like his grandfather, the politically-inclined musician Joseph Kamaru, KMRU weaves observations about his surrounding world into his work. But whereas his previous releases teemed with towering digital layers, Jar finds KMRU adapting a more human approach to sound design. His swirling synth symphonies still set a peaceful tone, but the low murmur of human voices chattering on “behind there” and the quiet interpolations of children’s playground shouts on “life at ouri” conjure the warm comforts of listening to music in a park or at a backyard gathering. It’s almost as if KMRU, not content with simply designing for vinyl and headphones, set out to sound design the quotidian interactions of life itself.
10% of proceeds from the album's sale will go to non-profit organisation Afrorack
KMRU has released a new album via Frankfurt cassette label Seil Records.
Titled 'Jar', the eight-track release follows on from the sound artist's recent album 'Peel', which came out on Editions Mego in July. As with all of Seil's releases, 10% of the proceeds from sales of 'Jar' will go to its non-profit organization of choice for this quarter, Afrorack.
"'Jar' is a journey through the dust of time," says the Bandcamp description for the album, adding that it merges "found sounds, analog warmth and granular dreams along the way". You can check out the album below and purchase it here.
'Peel', KMRU's album for Editions Mego, featured amongst DJ Mag's round-up of essentials for August's Bandcamp fee-waive day.
A three-track self-released EP from the producer called 'odra' also featured in our round-up of Bandcamp essentials for July.
The eight-track full-length is out via the Frankfurt cassette label now.
KMRU's next album is out now on Frankfurt cassette label Seil Records.
"Jar is a journey through the dust of time," the Bandcamp description for the eight-track full-length reads. As with all releases on the label, 10 percent of proceeds will go to its non-profit organization of choice this quarter, Afrorack.
This is the latest in a rush of new music from Joseph Kamaru. He's recently released the RA-recommended album Peel on Editions Mego, another LP inspired by it called Saal, plus full-length opaquer on Dagoretti Records and a collaborative project with Slikback, Karun, FlexFab, Tite, Pier Alfeo and Jinku under the name Extra Muros.
This six hour long experience, repeated four times across twenty-four hours, begins with Quarantine Dreams by the Irish artist and filmmaker David OReilly.
Earlier this year, OReilly set up a voice mailbox to record people's dreams during the pandemic, and used them to create Quarantine Dreams - layering narrated dreams with formless music, and stunning geometric imagery. The result is a mesmerizing, unsettling journey that intertwines individual thoughts and subconscious fears, with each voice exploded through cascades of choreographed objects.
Following Quarantine Dreams is almost 6 hours of music called ∞ o'clock, made by artists from around the world including Los Angeles musician Emily A. Sprague, Berlin-based Columbian musician Lucrecia Dalt, French artist Félicia Atkinson, Poland’s Bartosz Kruczyński, Chicago-based Forest Management and Kenyan artist KMRU. The music is designed to allow one to sleep, listen, or enter a meditative state. Throughout, OReilly will perform abstract animation designed to relax your attention and give your imagination space to explore.
∞ o'clock will run six hours in length, and will be repeated four times across a 24-hour period before disappearing forever.
Jar is a journey through the dust of time. Merging found sounds, analog warmth and granular dreams along the way.
Bringing together delicate, celestial ambient with found sounds.
Sound artist and producer KMRU, aka Joseph Kamaru, has released a new album called Jar, via Seil Records.
Read more: Sound Fields: Adventures in Contemporary Field Recordings
Described as a “ journey through the dust of time,” across Jar KMRU merges “found sounds, analogue warmth and granular dreams.”
As with all Seil Records releases, 10% of proceeds will be donated to charity, with profits from Jar going to Afrorack.
Jar follows KMRU’s contribution to Extra Muros / FLEE’s Extra Muros – Kenya compilation – one of our favourite albums in September
Joseph Kamaru has released so much music in varying styles over the last year that, given his youth and evident ambition, it’s almost tempting to wonder which of his strategies won’t work, and what he’ll learn from that. But that’s a game for a more optimistic time. These past few months, I’ve wanted generous expressions of clarity, and Peel is as redolent of that as any dappled kosmiche LP, any Japanese department store scene-setting, any pre-millennial anonymous collective drone. Its long loops, on headphones, are aural ring-lights. On a bedroom stereo, they are white noise machines without the vaguely sinister psyop echoes or self-care woo-woo—they are weighted blankets of sound. I’m currently masked and rubber gloved and hurtling on a train past the extended sigh of the Hudson River in autumn, the air and water a dozen kinds of gray accessorized with foliage, and the ebb and flow of Peel sounds of all that, too. The gradated crescendo of the title track manages to convey today’s prickles of anxiety, formless (or, actually, discretely formed and easily clocked) dread, the endless whoa of how things just seem to worsen. Its roar, though, starts to glitter, as if suddenly covered in dozens of glints of recognition—you hear this too—or like confetti for a party celebrating the ability to feel at all right now. Peel is just confident, which is rare for work so vague, and it brings comfort, which I at least don’t deserve but will cling onto for dear life this fall. —Jesse Dorris
Purchase Peel at Bandcamp.
Amidst all the chaos of 2020, KMRU appears to be having an excellent year. Less than two months after the release of his Peel album for Editions Mego, the Kenyan ambient specialist has returned with a new cassette, Jar, which has been billed as “a journey through the dust of time.” The whole thing is gorgeous, but the slow burn of “Note 43” is uniquely potent, especially as the song’s bubbling synth melodies gradually swell, briefly burn bright and then recede over the course of eight and a half minutes. All the while, KMRU weaves in subtle field recordings—which sound like kids playing in the street—evoking sunny days and happier times, or at least our nostalgia-warmed memories of them. It’s a beautiful trip, and a fantastic salve for the creeping gloom of the real world.
Meditative ambience from Kenya8.5
Listening to Nairobi-based artist KMRU’s debut album on Editions Mego, you find yourself in a cocoon of delicate soundscapes that evolve so glacially that time seems to melt away. Tidal wisps of melodies, field recordings and textures ebb and flow; these layers unfurl in new and different ways each time we sit with ‘Peel’. Also ever-changing are the different moods and moments across its six tracks: the ethereal calm of ‘Solace’, the melancholic dissonance of ‘Klang’, and the woozy yearning of the almost 23 minute-long title track. KMRU’S talent lies in how much he’s able to convey emotionally through such minimalist compositions — these intricate collages don’t feel cluttered or fussy. With his star on the rise, and another stunning album due on Dagoretti Records this month, KMRU’s meditative, enveloping tranquility feels like sweet relief in these uneasy times.
ZARA WLADAWSKY Zara Wladawsky
In just 48 hours, KMRU made something more than worthy of Editions Mego's stellar catalogue.
Peel, Joseph Kamaru's first release for Editions Mego, was conceived as a time-restricted experiment in texture, influenced by "experiences travelling in Montreal, as well as being back in Nairobi just before lockdown." It comes as the Kenyan artist is deservedly earning widespread recognition for his delicate, ambient works. His Bandcamp page is a goldmine of introverted electronic music, and Peel is one of two albums he released in the last month.
Often the most interesting person in a room is the one who demands the least attention. Void of any dramatic gestures, Peel's tracks are unimposing and create a pillowy, womb-like space to relax in. Some are founded on such pure ideas that they recall the concept of Grand River's aptly-titled label, One Instrument. Peel doesn't sound like KMRU playing any specific instrument though—it's more like a stream of formless and organic sounds that grow and erode as the tracks progress.
The whole record is a remarkably smooth ride where minute field recordings and infinite pad sounds gently undulate as if they are breathing. As you track a certain frequency, the others envelop you while drifting in and out of focus. "Klang" peaks the intensity with resonant synth notes and the wash of distant waves. Just shy of 23 minutes, the title track is an epic, snowballing wall of sound. Both triumphant and saddening, it's a poignant end to the album.
Though the stripped-back ideas and freewheeling arrangements feel very instinctive, it's still astonishing that this record was made in just 48 hours. Kamaru said he is "always happy to have limitations while making music, and Peel is a good example of this." He gives the impression that more time wouldn't have yielded better results.
The second KMRU album, Opaquer, landed three weeks after Peel. If you want to hear the breadth of Kamaru's talents, I'd go for Opaquer. If you want to hear his ability to laser in on a very focused idea and extract from it 75 minutes of special music, choose Peel.
A dream sequence of ambient and drone from the Nairobi DJ and producer.
KMRU Unveils Peel Lp on Editions Mego
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Essential Releases: Jangle Pop, Nairobi Experimental, Hardcore Punk and More By Bandcamp Daily Staff · August 14, 2020
Peel, the excellent new album from Nairobi sound artist KMRU, comprises slow-rising field compositions meant to simmer in the background. It sets a meditative mood, and through looping electronics and a relaxed pace, Peel slows your pulse and drops anchor in your spirit. It’s not about standout songs; between its sprawling bookends, “Why Are You Here” and “Insubstantial,” the music works as a continuous listen when you allow the ambient drone to fully occupy your listening space. Peel is somewhat darker than odra, a sun-kissed EP with chirping birds and bright, darting synths. This one’s set in the dead of night, when nothing’s moving but the sun inching closer to dawn. Play Peel on repeat, and don’t move when you do.
Peel es su debut en Editions Mego, un trabajo de seis piezas en las que mezcla de forma exquisita "grabaciones de campo y electrónica que se desenreda a un ritmo repetitivo y pausado para exponer un rico tapiz de sonido que ha sido venerado por su capacidad de cruzar las fronteras con una profunda corriente de contenido emocional".
Mixing field recordings with electronic ambient.
Sound artist and producer KMRU, aka Joseph Kamaru, has releasing a new album – Peel – via Editions Mego.
Peel’s 6-tracks see him “improvising with field recordings, drones and textures,” shares KMRU. It follows his contribution to FLEE’s Extra Muros-Kenya project and compilation, the latter of which will be released this September.
Mixing meditative drone and ambient through field recordings, Kenyan sound artist KMRU steps to Editions Mego with album, Peel. Inspired by his last trip by his last trip in March before lockdown as well as his return journey home, its 6-tracks teleport you to a serene land. Ideal for gazing up at a cerulean sky dotted by cumulous, or pretending to. – GH
The six-track LP, titled Peel, is out at the end of July.
Joseph Kamaru, AKA KMRU, is releasing an ambient album titled Peel via Editions Mego on July 31st.
The album, made up of six longform pieces, is named after a metro station in Montreal. The music captures "my experiences traveling in Montreal, as well as being back in Nairobi just before lockdown," says Kamaru, who was highlighted as an East African producer to watch by Kampire Bahana in a 2018 article on RA.
"I've been studying repetition and time in sounds, and Peel is one of the experiments from this," says Kamaru. "I tend to work freely and effortlessly on my textural sounds or ambient, not using any metronomes and just hitting record and improvising all the way. I'm always happy to have limitations while making music, and Peel is a good example of this. I recorded the entire project in 48 hours."
Kamaru said working on Peel inspired another ambient project, called Saal, which you can listen to below.
Nick Roseblade · On July 24, 2020
KMRU might not be a name that you are familiar with. This will change by the time you read this review. If you read the review that is. You might decide to cut your losses and either scroll to the bottom and listen to the link or go back to listening to that thing you always listen to. Both are valid responses, but as you are still reading this, I hope you are here for the duration.
KMRU, or Joseph Kamaru to his friends, is a producer and sound artist based in Nairobi who has been steadily releasing singular music since 2017. He is part of a scene consisting of like-minded musicians making exceptional experimental music, of which he is one of the leading lights. The music KMRU makes lies somewhere between ethereal soundscapes, drone, and avant-garde electronica. His latest album Peel is a gloriously diaphanous affair where at times you aren’t sure if you are listening to music or witnessing steam gently escaping from our speakers. The songs are made up of field recordings and delicate electronic melodies that slowly repeat, and revolve around you, creating a feeling of flux.
The title is apt, as with each one KMRU removes another layer to expose even more, or is that, less, of the album. ‘Klang’ is the track that epitomises this. Opening with sounds that are reminiscent of a film projector, a delicate melody slowly swells and builds underneath until it is almost all consuming. But then KMRU does a clever thing. Instead of letting this melody be the sole focus of the song, he then starts to rebuild ‘Klang’ from within. There are minimal synth lines that appear only to vanish immediately. There are piercing motifs that appear to get brighter and brighter as the song progresses. Subtle basslines act independently to create one hulking mass that lies just below the surface. As ‘Klang’ enters its final third the music has gradually shifted. Instead of the swelling melody being the sole focus, it has started to disappear back into the fuggy ether of the song, and those beautiful shrouded motifs. The standout track is the self-titled album closer. For 23 minutes ‘Peel’ gracefully undulates along. It doesn’t rush to get its point across. Synths are brought in with glacial slowness that are exquisite to experience.
There is a chapter in Italo Calvino’s classic book ‘Mr. Palomar’ where the title character, in fact the only real character in the book, watches waves. He sits on a bench and stares out to sea. He picks one out on the horizon and tries to follow it all the way to the shore. It’s harder than it sounds, but if you manage to do it, incredibly exhilarating. The real joy in ‘Peel’ comes from doing the same, when KMRU starts to bring in a new tone. At first it is barely perceptible. You just know something is slightly different. Then with all the precision of a long-distance runner, or a tour riding cyclist, it starts to make its intentions known. Gradually the sound starts to make presence more prominent until it is your sole focus. It is at this point that he starts to introduce another tone. Then the process begins again.
The more you focus and try to listen to ‘Peel’ the less you hear, as you are too wrapped up on sound, rather than the piece as a whole. And this is KMRU’s charm. He creates dense soundscapes that are meditative and sonorous but also feature brutal melodies. The kind of melodies that latch themselves onto you and never let go. The overall vibe of ‘Peel’ is one of tranquillity. Everything might be going a million miles around you, but once you press play you are in a slow-moving bubble. This is the kind of album that we all need. It removes you from the world around you and makes you concentrate on minute details for a short period of time. This album isn’t ambient, or drone, or noise for that matter. But it is sublime and one of the most transfixing releases in recent memory.
The following is a rundown of my favorite tunes that came out during the past week or so. Click on the track titles to hear each song individually, or you can also just head over to this convenient Buy Music Club list to find them all in one place.
Another one for the more patient listeners out there. “Why Are You Here” is the 15-minute opener from KMRU’s new album Peel, which he incredibly recorded in only 48 hours. Although the Kenyan ambient artist makes his home in Nairobi and says the LP was partially inspired by a recent trip to Montreal, “Why Are You Here” feels untethered to any specific geography, its slow oscillations conjuring images of water quietly lapping against the shore or a batch of freshly hung laundry gently swaying in the breeze. From a production standpoint, the music is rather minimal, consisting of little more than a cloud of mushy reverb, a softly repeating melody and what sounds like a tiny echo of a human voice, yet that’s more than enough to create a palpable sense of serenity.
Posted on July 30, 2020 by Kevin Press
Nairobi-based sound artist Joseph Kamaru combines field recordings and synth drones to produce deeply peaceful, contemplative work – this new LP is a stand-out success.
Nairobi, Kenya’s KMRU debuts on Mego with a suite of serene ambient scenes after emerging with Four Tet-like electronica releases in 2019 and recently starring on ‘Alternate African Reality - Electronic, Electroacoustic And Experimental Music From Africa And The Diaspora’
Known as Joseph Kamaru to his pals, KMRU was hailed by RA as one of ’15 East African Artists You Need To Hear’ in 2018 and is a regular performer at Nyege Nyege Festival in Uganda, beside performing at CTM and Gamma Festival. For his Mego release ‘Peel’ it appears he’s been listening to label hero Fennesz, the Austrian experimental guitarist, or Will Long aka Celer, with whom his tracks share a certain, longing melancholy in their long, sighing arrangements of glistening and creaking ambient pads and mournful post-rock/cienmatic elegance.
“The subtle calming atmosphere within Peel belies the compositional prowess as layers of delicate sounds wrap around each other creating a hybrid new form ambient musics both captivating through it’s textural depth and kaleidoscopic patterns. The track titles lend themselves to the themes and mood set within: Why are you here, Well, Solace, Klang, Insubstantial and the title track. This is a deep heartfelt journey with a new strong voice being expressed through the means of organically presented electronic ambient sounds, one which reveals further layers on repeat listens.”
Premiere: Rone - Room With A view (KMRU Remix)
When Patricia Wolf shared a playlist of pain-relieving pieces earlier this month, one song immediately stood out: KMRU’s “Continual” single, a slow-moving stunner capable of stopping time itself.
Turns out there’s a lot more where that come from. Over the past three years, the Nairobi-based producer has unleashed a wealth of widescreen ambient works through his Bandcamp page, peaking with today’s Peel LP. KMRU’s first Editions Mego release is his most fully realized effort yet, six tracks that drift right on past the 60-minute mark and refuse to pass Go in the process.
Which makes sense; KMRU is actually the grandson of Joseph Kamaru, a highly influential musician and politically charged figure Bandcamp recently declared “Kenya’s King of Kikuyu Benga.” KMRU started reissuing his sprawling work through the site last year with the hopes of giving it proper vinyl pressings in the wake of his passing nearly two years ago.
“In his last days, he used to come to my mum’s house and talk to me a lot about music, about life,” KMRU said in a Bandcamp story. “He told me to stay authentic with the music I do, to stay honest with myself. And that’s what helped me, in certain moments, to choose my own path.”
The following mix shines a light on where that path has been and where it might lead in the months and years to come….
WITH THE RECENT RELEASE OF HIS ALBUM 'PEEL' ON EDITIONS MEGO, KENYAN SOUND ARTIST KMRU CONSTRUCTS a COMPELLING work OF EMOTIONAL SPACE AND DEPTH. NEIL HOUSEGO CAUGHT UP WITH KMRU AKA JOSEPH KAMARU TO DISCUSS THE LP, HIS GRANDFATHER AND THE ART OF LISTENING.
Silence is never silent...as you sit in the stillness, and your ears adjust, slowly but surely more information presents itself. The sharp staccato siren in the distance, the fluttering wave of leaves in the wind, the blurred drone of a muffled voice seeping through walls. Details come into focus, while others fade, ambience and atmosphere shift, the feeling comes trickling in. Kamaru’s's latest album 'Peel' taps into this sensation. An audio work of textural depth that weaves field and acoustic recordings together with subtle electronics to create an emotionally engaging tapestry. Sit still and listen carefully.
'I just try to express myself in the best way through my music. I'm more of a sound artist, as my work revolves around the audio conversation in a broad sense'. Kamaru's voice in the extended audio discourse is original and compelling. His work has steadily been gathering momentum these last couple of years. But it's the recent release of 'Peel', his first album on Peter Rehberg's Editions Mego label that feels like a watershed moment for the artist. The Austrian imprint, home of Fennesz, Florian Hecker and Rehberg's own PITA project is the perfect place for the project to reside and broaden his exposure. 'My music can fall under genres such as ambient, drone, experimental, but I'm always trying to be genre-fluid with these categories. Back in Nairobi, I'm known for making weird and wonderful music'. In his home city, KMRU is already established as a leading light in the region's vibrant underground music scene. An assured, sensitive voice, his expansive auditory worlds offer a contrast to the pumping dynamics of benga music, local hip-hop and EDM.
Kamaru was born into a household rooted in music. The late, Kenyan musician and namesake Joseph Kamaru, is his grandfather. Over a career spanning six-decades, Kamaru Senior defined himself as the voice of the people with a unique brand of politically conscious guitar music. The struggles of Postcolonial Kenya exposed, explored and illustrated at will. He was active and committed, even when the political risk was high. 'My grandfather was a close friend, and I learnt a lot about the environment, life and music from him'.
The importance of music and it's inherent potential resonated with the young Kamaru, who after experimenting with many instruments eventually picked the guitar as his primary mode of learning and expression. 'We jammed together on the guitar, and this influenced my approach of writing chords and melodies from an instrument'. Now working primarily in Ableton Live it is clear that the convergence of old and new techniques is central to Kamaru's method. A personal evolution facilitated in part by his education at Kenyatta University, where he graduated with a degree in Music Technology. However, the core principles garnered from precious time with his grandfather still run deep. '(My grandfather) was an improviser, and spontaneous in his works. He also released a lot of music'. With a committed work ethic as a foundation, Kamaru learnt how to improvise with an instrument.
Through many sessions, it soon became apparent that to be a good improviser, you have to be an exceptional listener. The art of conversation begins with listening, and 'Peel' is entirely centred around this approach. 'While in Montreal, I started a track that was all based on improvisation and 'one-take' recording. I wanted to write more tracks with this concept based on my experiences and field recordings from the location. This later turned out into 'Peel' when I came back to Nairobi just after the borders closed'.
As 'Peel' unfolds, the earthy, drone-like chord structures move, and the edges of auditory distance come into focus. Bell-like sounds slowly twist in place, and the entire environment is gently exposed. The apparent simplicity of the chord structures and static melodic phrases hide a compositional depth that reveals more and more with each listen. The results are emotionally sincere, grounded and connected. 'It was all spontaneous, I started working on the first track 'Well' and decided this is the direction this project will take. ‘Peel’ is one of my first projects that has a theme with all the tracks relating to one another. I spent hours recording different takes, all improvised and layered with some field recordings and sounds recorded during my trip'.
Kamaru's method with field recordings is perhaps a testament to his ability to listen. The fascination with subtle changes in timbre, the attack of a struck object, the resonant overtones of a sound decaying are all sensations with infinite variety. Kamaru hunts these out, with unending enthusiasm. He explains, 'Most of the time it's investigative field recording, where I begin with an idea of a sound or place and explore single subjects in detail. Sometimes I have no predetermined objective before going to the field'. Armed with his Zoom H6, iPhone and binaural Soundman microphone he examines the land and subject matter like an aural cartographer. Exploration and discovery always at the fore. 'Sometimes I just drive and decide to pin a location on the map and record this place, the next time I'll map a different location past my previous points'.
Although new technology makes the logistics of this process more accessible than ever, the selection and editing process is crucial. Anyone with a smartphone can snap pictures, but it takes a considerate eye to find the perfect shot, the parallels are easy to draw. Once the subject matter has been recorded, the work begins in earnest. 'At first, after making a field trip, I come and listen through the recordings and identify them. I listen for sounds that trigger my memory and begin naming them. Something like "Magadi Road, Child singing by the barrel, etc.'. The listening is critical, and finding the triggers that emotionally resonate are of prime importance. Taking photos of the location also helps to recall the memories and allows Kamaru to explore this interplay to reveal new emotional spaces and environments. 'I approach this in 3 different ways. Using field recordings as own compositions (performing sounds). Using field recordings as samples, instrument (resampling and editing sounds). Using field recordings as textures for sound synthesis'. The process is never linear or repetitive. It's a delicate dance between listening and improvisation. 'Once I open Ableton Live, I will go through different banks of the field recordings, I look for sounds/ patterns that can be building blocks for a full piece and build off with that. Other instances, I will drop a long piece of recording and improvise and layer on top of another. When I have a track, improvisation of 4-10 minutes, then I proceed adding more sounds onto this, and using repetitive sounds. I enjoy this a lot. And my recent releases have this repetitive layered sounds'.
The recordings are an infinite inspirational resource, and nothing is wasted. There's always another project on the horizon. 'If it doesn't work, it'll work for something else. I have a sketch folder in Ableton where I put all unused recordings and improvised synths which didn't fit a project. Most times they will end up being used in other projects, if not I'll share them with my friends too'. Kamaru gets involved in collaboration at every opportunity. His recent work with Contours on the track 'Portals' is a shining example. Although his work is sometimes solitary, he understands the importance of this activity and relationships. 'Collaboration is vital in the music industry, and it aids creativity. For me, every collaboration I take is a learning process, and encourages me to stay open-minded'. Performing live is an extension of this too. 'Always staying open-minded has helped me through this a lot, mostly when performing live and this reflects naturally while making music'.
And so our conversation returns to the positive influence of his grandfather, someone whom he collaborated with as a loving grandson and fellow musician. Although he was a man that existed in a different time, with different trends and technology, the underlying principles remain. This is a lesson in listening and action. 'Recently I have been attached to my grandfather's music, I think it is because for the past year I have been working on the archival/ reissue project and have been more in contact with his work'.
Whether listening to the struggle of your people and translating that into a Kikuyu song or listening for that unique sound to communicate heartfelt emotion, the similarities are clearly visible. Kamaru is forging his own path and identity on the foundations of listening and sensitivity. As life ebbs and flows around us, it's glorious to sit still every now and then and listen…really listen. 'This has been a learning process for the past 2 or 3 years. Being honest and striving to stay authentic, which is hard. But the more and more I create, the more I find my own space'.
‘Peel’ by KMRU is Out Now. Listen to his ‘Altered States and Imaginary Worlds’ Mix for Mezzanine here:
Who knew that there was a burgeoning experimental music scene in Nairobi? I’ll confess, not me. It transpires that KMRU, known to friends and others as Joseph Kamaru was listed by Resident Advisor as one of “15 East African Artists You Need To Hear” in 2018, and is a regular performer at the Nyegenyege Festival, having also presented live performances at CTM festival and Gamma Festival.
As a low, slow-oscillating, cloud-shifting, minimalist ambient work, Peel is well-executed and seems like a reasonable entry point into KMRU’s work. The field recordings that are integral to its material form are so subtly integrated as to be practically indiscernible, absorbed in the soft swell of sound. This is testament to KMRU’s attention to detail, and in a time that’s an overwhelming blast of soundbites and headlines and music that’s compressed and geared towards MP3 / radio / streaming, Peel explores the full dynamic range.
While the album features six pieces in total, four run past the ten-minute mark, with opener ‘Why Are You Here’ drifting elongatedly past the fifteen minute mark, and the title track rounding off with a monumental twenty-two-minutes or minimalism.
‘Why Are You Here’ begins quietly, a lurching bass slowly rising against clattering metallics, and it’s a hushed, stealthy and vaguely challenging introduction, a combination of melody and disharmony. ‘Solace’ offers none, despite its soft misty formlessness and ‘Well’ is simply fair enough.
‘Klang’ picks up, pulsating subtly, its rhythm reduced to an electronic throb like a sore finger. It pulses and thrums like a rising tide against a sandy shore. It has a tangible density, a physical resonance, which contrasts with the vagueness of the appropriately-titled ‘Insubstantial’ and the 22-minute closer in the form of the title track. It’s not about form but feel, and Peel feels soft, reaching out across territories and emotional landscapes with no agenda and no set motive. This freedom is refreshing, not to mention rare.
KMRU (aka Joseph Kamaru) is an ambient musician from Nairobi, Kenya. He recently released two albums, Peel on Editions Mego and Opaquer on Dagoretti, and has performed at CTM Festival, GAMMA Festival, and Nyege Nyege Festival throughout the past few years. Joshua Minsoo Kim and KMRU talked on the phone via WhatsApp on August 13th, 2020 to discuss his music, field recording, the electronic music scene in Kenya, and his grandfather—a famous musician whom KMRU was named after.
KMRU – Peel
Dwoje ludzi siedzi na brzegu morza, a być może innego zbiornika wodnego. Kobieta i mężczyzna, a za nimi stoi plastikowe krzesło. Zdjęcie wykonane zostało w nocy, ale szczegóły umykają cyfrowej dokładności, gdyż fotografia jest niewyraźna, ziarnista. W prawym górnym rogu majaczą światła horyzontu (chyba). Wiemy, że autorką zdjęcia jest Claudia Mock. Wiemy również, że bije z niego spokój. Wiemy również, że zdobi okładkę albumu „Peel” nagranego przez KMRU.
Właściwie przez Josepha Kamaru wywodzącego się Kenii, który debiutuje niniejszą płytą w Editions Mego. Zawartość albumu stanowi minimalistyczny ambient, który został pozbawiony jakiejkolwiek zrywności, krzykliwości czy zaskakujących zwrotów akcji. Ambient, którego motywem przewodnim powinna być cisza. Są również wplecione w niego nagrania terenowe jak w powolnym „Well”. Nawet nie chodzi o jakieś fizyczne pulsowanie muzyki, choć też występuje na płycie, raczej bliższy bym był posłużeniu się określeniem o namacalnej gęstości faktur.
Kamaru doskonale opanował swoje rzemiosło i z niespiesznością postępującej erozji maluje swoje krajobrazu w sposób delikatny, ale konsekwentny („Solace”). Jedna miara tempa przypada na każdy utwór, ale to wcale nie pozbawia utworów głębi. Na pewno „Klang” nie zostanie przeoczony, gdyż w nim odciska się najbardziej eksperymentalny charakter, ale już „Insubstantial” rozpływa się w bezkształcie. Nie chodzi nawet o konkretną formę, czy styl muzyczny, a o odczucia, które ta muzyka wywołuje. Raz subtelne, na granicy szeptu, a chwilę potem rozwibrowane, z niemal orkiestrowym rozpostarciem („Peel”). Triumf miesza się ze smutkiem.
Siedemdziesiąt pięć minut muzyki, która nie przytłacza, ani nie oszołamia. A jednak wciąga. Nie daje zepchnąć się na boczny tor, a nawet może być źródłem obsesji. Jak na przykład otwierający utwór „Why Are You Here”. Zresztą już tytuł każe skonfrontować się z własnymi myślami. Muzycznie natomiast jest to piętnastominutowe dryfowanie w zapętlonych, introwertycznych zakamarkach muzyki elektronicznej. Coś jakbyśmy trafili na koniec płyty analogowej, a igła gramofonu zamiast kończyć swój bieg poszła dalej, otwierając płynne pokłady nieskończonej melodii. Wymaga skupienia, a w zamian oferuje spokój.
KMRU – PEEL
KMRU is the artist name of (Joseph) Kamaru, “one of the leading exponents of the experimental music scene of Nairobi”.
Peel is certainly nót his first release: you may want to check out his website for an extensive list of works. But it is his debut release for the Editions Mego label, that recognized the quality of his work – “an exquisite mix of field recordings and electronics unraveling at a repetitive and leisurely pace to expose a rich tapestry of sound with the sheer undertow of emotional content”.
With its 75 minutes (four long tracks and two 6-minute) it is a currently unusual long album. KMRU takes his time to set the mood with his captivating layers. And so it is even more surprising to learn that this album was created in just 48 hours: “a time-restricted experiment in texture, influenced by experiences traveling in Montreal, as well as being back in Nairobi just before lockdown”. Kamaru prefers to have limitations while making music, as he feels that “more time wouldn’t have yielded better results.”
The proof of that is in this album. It doesn’t feel ‘lo-fi’, as you might expect with such a short time-frame, but has a full, organic, and natural sound, which would probably have less impact with too much post-production.
For this stunning result, credits are not only due to Joseph Kamaru, but also to Stephan Mathieu who mastered this album with his fundamental respect for the nature of sound.
Artiste en vue de la scène électronique émergente d’Afrique de l’Est, Joseph Kamaru aka KMRU dessine des paysages ambient au minimalisme hypnotique, dévoilant sur la longueur les modulations et l’incandescence de sa musique.
En six titres, le jeune kenyan affirme son style, déplaçant les mélodies sur des vagues aux mouvements tranquilles. Les forces nocturnes enrobent l’ensemble, recouvrant de vibrations lunaires les effluves de machines happées vers un ailleurs semi-figé, cherchant à passer les frontières entrouvertes entre des cieux aux couleurs passées.
Peel est chargé de mélancolie et de tristesse, sentiments profonds surgis des entrailles d’un homme en recherche de soi, combat entre une nature omniprésente véhiculée par les outils de la modernité. Les field recordings utilisés en filigrane nous rappelle notre nature charnelle issue des combinaisons extraordinaires de la vie.
KMRU explore les versants de l’onirisme, à coups de plages semi-statiques et de drones aux similarités subtiles, de voltiges funambules et de maniérisme émotionnel. Superbe.
KMRU – Peel (Editions Mego) / opaquer (Dagoretti Records)
Joseph Kamaru, the Nairobi-based sound artist and producer behind the KMRU moniker, is also the grandson of the influential and political musician of the same name and considered a “king” of Kikuyu benga. In 2018, KMRU started reissuing his grandfather’s records shortly after he passed away, and in a feature on Kamaru’s reissued catalog, KMRU spoke to his conversations with his grandfather about music. In terms of sound and with two generations between the two, it is hard to imagine they would have crossed paths naturally. In their talks just before Kamaru’s passing, KMRU’s grandfather consistently encouraged him to “stay honest” in his music, no matter what, a simple idea that carries more weight, and is easier to rehash in practice when it comes from a blood relative from the same field.
KMRU, along with Uganda’s Nyege Nyege collective, is part of an expanding electronic scene in East Africa. The region has seen an exponential growth in software and internet access, especially Kenya which has one of the world’s fastest data connection speeds, exceeding the United States and South Korea. In turn, artists have adopted and incorporated music software into their music and developed their own ways of using them, infusing their productions with traditional rhythms and instrumentations of the area. In contrast to the energetic Nyege Nyege Tapes output and many artists sprouting from this scene, KMRU creates ambient music with slow beats and dub inflections in the vein of Detroit’s echospace label or early Andy Stott EPs, gleaning from his home country’s environmental sounds as much as it’s musical traditions.
Two weeks apart, KMRU releases the double-LP Peel and single-LP opaquer. Both albums, like the majority of KMRU’s catalog, contain deep and repetitive and captivating drone and sub bass sounds with subtle, microscopic inflections that rewards engaged listens. Although release within a month, the two have their differences. The pieces on Peel follow waves of repetitive, near-drones, surrounded by smaller outgrowths and separate, subtle manipulations. It could be analogous to a large whale swimming through a deep ocean with trailing schools of feeder fish living off the plankton its body creates. Opaquer also limits the bandwidth of its sound, focusing primarily on one reverberating sound source, usually a field recording, with smaller, electronic supporting tones. But opaquer alters its focus and doesn’t necessarily encourage the sensation of drone; the sounds, more decipherable however ambiguous they may be, live in the reverberations they leave behind, amplifying their contours and giving the impression of a whole, contiguous, solid sound mass.
Something that can define an effective ambient record is an ability to disintegrate the perimeter of the record itself and the outside world. Listening to either Peel or opaquer, say, outside at night, the albums are not met with too much interference, maybe the occasional passing car, laboring window air conditioner, or floating conversation from a neighbors’ windows. But these outside sounds incidentally bleed into the pieces and embed into what KMRU creates, becoming an unintended part of the composition. The wide-open nature of the pieces KMRU creates meet these outside sounds halfway, allowing a lively, tangible commingling, giving you an impression that the pieces on opaquer and Peel have an inherent generative property.
NIGHTSHIFT w/ Diamondstein & KMRU [NTS]
"Anyone that's ever worked a "night shift" (bars, hospitals, taxis, etc.) knows that there's a strange time of night, usually around 4:30-5:30 am, when the most subtle sounds of the world seem extra dramatic. The example I like to use is the sound of a lighter dropping at a gas station. Or the sound of wind through palm trees. The kind of sound that you don't get the chance to hear when the rest of the world is aroused, but in the context of more ambient, experimental, cinematic, and dark music, is inspiring and suggestive. It's the music of film noir, Miles Davis, and Edward Hopper paintings, but also Boards of Canada, Sunn 0))), Molly Drake, Charles Manson, These Hidden Hands, whatever. Night shift always takes on the flavor of the guest's preference but is built around that time of night, and the music that makes you think of it."
Waves of timelessness, electromagnetic chandelier recordings, Minilogue improvisations. The Nairobi-based sound artist discusses three (well, four) important albums.
The warmly emotive minimal chord loops on this album have tonal echoes of Biosphere, William Basinski, Gas (Wolfgang Voigt) and Brian Eno, possessed similarly of thoughtful optimism, meditative patience and sunshine-infused sound design. These sounds emanate their zen optimism from a place of domestic comfort and clarity, and will quickly draw you back there. A genuinely serene recording.
The Fifteen minute opener "Why Are You Here" is quite simplistic, and yet it is easy to be lost in its reverie, pondering the emotional subtleties of the space it creates. Like Basinski or Voigt's work, the texture is heavily eroded, smeared and blurred; it is only the nectarous undercurrent that remains. The soft, steady shifting of the reverberant sphere around the notes is as natural as patterns of weather.
Though the tonalities of each piece are immediately obvious, closer scrutiny reveals a world of quiet layers beneath the filtered synths that form the core of each track. "Well" is appropriately lined with field recordings of water, the soft babbling of streams. "Solace" does justice to its title, a haunting windsong of wavering resonances, cementing the tone of the album as that of nature worship.
It is the delicate precision of the luminous production which allows such a recording to succeed. In perfect tonal balance, it is hypotic like a dim light fixture that flickers rhythmically, but never so brightly that one wishes to look away. Tunneling to ever deeper introspective depth, the album culminates with two lengthy tracks, "Insubstantial" and titular piece "Peel", which give a sensation of streamlining one's consciousness into a contented idling.
This is one of my favorite ambient recordings in recent memory, suitable both for active listening or for sleeping. The emotions within its tonalities are complex and worthy of many repeated listenings. KMRU is a rising star in the ambient world and I look forward to hearing his other recordings.
Album of the Day
We first stumbled upon Joseph Kamaru’s womb-like world while reading a rundown of the records that helped Patricia Wolf deal with her mother-in-law’s death.
“This song is a recent discovery for me,” she wrote of the revelatory KMRU single. “It resonates with the current place I am in with grief. It says to me, ‘Life is full of loss but you must shake yourself out of this suffering and live.'”
We feel the same way after hearing Peel: torn between the cold, hard realities of our current situation (indecisive politicians, resurgent crime rates, Trumped-up tribalism) and the distinctly human need to dig ourselves out of a self-imposed hole and get on with it already.
Much like William Basinski’s seminal Disintegration Loops series or a Buddha Machine with a mind of its own, Kamaru’s Editions Mego debut is deceptively simple and profoundly deep. Call it a ritual, with traces of everything from Tim Hecker to Rafael Anton Irisarri, and quite a few signs that the Nairobi-based composer is just getting started.
“A slowed form of listening”, from a Nairobi producer with a proclivity for drones and field recording.”