It can be said that Temponaut’s Stay–actually the rather elusive studio artist Tena–was known for three things. First and foremost must be the impossible virtuosity of her music, which was something entirely new to the ears of any first-time listener. Second must be the unprecedented response to her work, whether it was confusion, mass hysteria, or the most impassioned offers of devotion. But the third, and most recent reason that people came to know her is because of her disappearance just over one year ago.
The words she spun seemed elusive from the start, with “Strange Phenomena” the whispered a cappella that began her first album, entitled Back. The sleeve notes say it all:
My sigh lends / once two wend
Eve enough lame / cane knots so stain
wend deep rive dove / sum vie tail ere
Sew wits sty I’m / foe rice took lows
eyes egg hood aye / air neck sheen oh zzzzzzz
And then something disarming happens: the second track begins. Electronic washes begin as a hint, like staccato noise but with the purpose of furious percussion. The crescendos, too, resonate in quite unexpected ways, the highs and lows splitting and seeming to form separate patterns that mingle and interlock and play. It’s been described elsewhere as the marriage of throat singing and didgeridoo, but sped up infinitely, past the warbles and clicks of the digital handshake, but with a palpable lucidity and richness. Alien cicadas, say fans and critics alike. But those descriptions don’t do the music justice either.
Then it’s her voice. Not angelic or even classically pretty, but simple, honest, and devastating in such a subtle way that you may not realize it until the disc has stopped spinning. It’s technical trickery, say some. Subliminal manipulation geared to elicit emotions… but who can tell? And who, finally, really minds it?
If any of this sounds like cliche now it’s only because by now it’s already been said of Tena’s work before. So what more can scamper.org contribute? Well we can say that we were the last publication of any kind to be granted an interview. The news reports started to come later that same day, when the accounts of a few of her team reported her missing, and unreachable thereafter.
The rest you’ll remember, but we submit for inclusion to the archives our interview with Temponaut’s Stay.
scamper.org – One of the things you’re most known for, apart from your music, is your playfulness during your performances. You divert from the script often, and insouciantly rework the music to fit your mood.
Tena – Ah hm.
s – Specifically, last night I noted several instances when you substituted words. “Tempest” for “sandman” in “Jejune Moon.” And I heard “lunch” for “god” when you sang, “that we become the daydream of the god.”
T – It did seem more appropriate at the time.
s – No, I liked it–I appreciate it. What I’d like to know though–what I think people want to know–is why? Is it a way of distancing yourself from your work?
T – Well… no. I don’t know what that means. I am my work, and so if I change something then I’m just reflecting myself. So… it’s never about myself versus my work; how we relate. On the other hand, if the audience hears something new and they say, “we don’t know what that is. What is this new thing?” then good. Who’s to say which version of the song is the true version–perhaps the album version was riddled with the substitutions, as you call it. Either way, are people getting to know me through my music? Or any music? I think they interpret a reflection of me, but the reflection isn’t static, and neither is their interpretation. It’s a dance.
s – So it’s more a statement about how you relate to your audience, the substitution, and the other changes you’ve made.
T – Well yeah, but it’s more too. It’s more about a conversation. What it is may be definite, but what it’s about is purely subjective.
s – Are you trying to duck the question?
T – No! [laughs] Not at all. Let me make it clear: So often freedom is given to someone – an artist, a partner in any relationship–only as a kind of reward. “First show me your limitations–show me how you’re vulnerable–and then I’ll give you your freedom.” It’s an illusion though. It’s just a long leash.
s – But isn’t that kind of the deal? Isn’t your popularity contingent upon approval at some level?
T – Well popularity, sure. Popularity is a byproduct though, or it can be. I didn’t know we were talking about popularity.
s – It’s sure to come up when talking with someone whose work has made such an impact.
T – Maybe, but no one is beholden to that approval, lest it strangle them.
s – You generally take a dim view of popularity.
T – Hey, I’m as guilty as anyone for riding that horse. But it’s really inconsequential to my work. It has to be, otherwise it becomes… glorified P.R.
s – There has to be real freedom for the work to be relevant.
T – Yes. I spend my time singing – in an ideal world. Or lately, touring. You spend your time listening to my music. There is no hierarchy though, and no contract. I’m a bird on your windowsill, singing my song as you wake up. Whether you listen is up to you, and how long I stay is up to me.
s – This independence figures heavily in your work, and people identify with that.
T – Sure.
s – So I have to ask you–this is something I’ve noticed, and heard again last night. There’s been talk on the Net about secret messages.
T – [laughs] Has there?
s – You don’t know anything about those.
T – I haven’t really had time to surf lately.
s – Okay. But I took the liberty of writing down your substitution words, and I noticed something interesting almost immediately.
T – Insouciance?
s – Possibly! It’s the first letter of each word: “T H E T R A V E L E R D E P A R T S.” The Traveler Departs.
T – Wicked!
s – Now, on your first album, last year’s release, you had the track, “No Tense You Know,” where you refer to the Traveler’s play. Her game, so to speak. And the point of view is the first person. You are the Traveler.
T – A traveler. You are too.
s – Okay, but in that instance it’s you. Subjectively it’s you, and so if “the traveler departs” then what does that say about you?
T – Um. Well, that the interview is over? [laughs]
Excerpt from the eponymously titled track “Whispers”:
The pulses of buzzes
from hints to white whispers
they spin even faster, they come to the fore
percussive sharp clicks pick
like bristles on black spines
or grains of sand falling on panes of cold glass