PC Music day ones will no doubt already be familiar with Hayden Dunham as the energy drink creator/ conceptual pop avatar, QT, alongside A. G. Cook and SOPHIE. Or even from her multi-pronged visual and performance work that's been exhibited in gallery and institutions such as MoMA PS1, Fondation Louis Vuitton, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and more. Now, the interdisciplinary artist is gearing up to introduce the world to her first solo musical project, Hyd.
Written on an island formed from underground volcanic eruptions 15 million years ago, Hyd is set to make her PC Music debut this November with her new self-titled EP. Featuring production from A. G. Cook, Caroline Polachek and umru, the EP sees Dunham fleshing out her own sonic identity through the vehicle of pop with glossy manicured soundscapes and lyrics exploring movement, transformation and creating queer ecosystems of care.
The first off the forthcoming effort, "No Shadow," was written in the wake of a period in Dunham's life when she temporarily lost her vision and had both of her eyes sealed shut. Featuring expansive synths and some of A. G. Cook's trademark extreme vocal treatment, "No Shadow" meditates on the recalibration of senses that losing her sight brought, and reevaluating her relationship to light and how it impacts the way she interacts with the world.
"When I lost my vision in 2017, I started being able to see differently," Hyd says. "In total darkness you realize you are beyond your body." Less so mourning the loss of one sense but rather appreciating the way it heightened others, Hyd wrestles with being disoriented ("Am I finally home?") and unexpected shifts in perception ("I'm holding on through the blur/ Till sunrise, turns blue"). In a sense, "No Shadow" is a reflection on how this time shifted Hyd's worldview, boiling down her revelation in the chorus that "the light defines us" and "the night unites us."
Ahead of the release of "No Shadow," PAPER caught up with Hyd to talk about the new single, its inspiration and how temporarily losing her eyesight changed the way she viewed (or perhaps more accurately didn't view) the world.
What is the backstory behind "No Shadow"?
"No Shadow" first arrived when AG and I were working at his studio in London. I started writing it as a way of getting back into my body. At the time I had been feeling deeply between forms. Half here, half not here. Not embodied. Not clear. My vision was coming in and out at the time. The mood was soft, Caroline [Polachek] was working in the other room and would come visit me and AG. I was wearing red sunglasses with dark red lenses, over an eye patch that I taped to my face. My eyes were very swollen after five surgeries and just really slowly repairing. No one knew if my vision would come back or not. And sometimes it would come back for 15 minutes or six hours and then leave for two weeks again. It still leaves. The waiting is different for me now. "No shadow" became this moment of trying. That feeling of trying to get back to yourself, but you can't find the way in so you rest in the in-between.
How did that experience shape your relationship to light?
Before I lost my vision I wanted to be like a lighthouse. I would bring flashlights with me in the dark. I thought that through light you could see more. Makes sense, right? But actually what I experienced is that in total darkness there is all of this other information present. That, for me, was so much more interesting than what light was showing me than what I could "see." Vision is really limiting. I am so excited about what is underneath light.
This song in many ways is anti-light. Light as a beacon that says you are the way you appear. Light as a solid force that pushes shadows into the background, prioritizing this physical world and how it is structured now. I recently visited an active volcano and got sunburned from the lava because it emits UV rays, in the same way the sun does. But one is from inside the earth, one is from the sky. It reminded me that light comes from within the earth, too. It's not only an exterior source. It's inside. Now I work with the sun in an everyday way if I need help burning stuff up in me. Like if there are shadows in me that need attention, I will think about the sun coming in and turning any stagnant water into vapor and sending it upward.
How did that impact how you sensorially related to the world around you?
Everything expanded. My whole world grew so much when I couldn't see. My life was completely sensory based. Holding a friend's shoulder blade to guide me as I was walking. Opening a refrigerator reaching in and knowing where the water is. Feeling walls. Feeling faces. Listening. Listening for energetic changes in someone's body language. Learning how to feel in a new way.
I found that when I was inside total darkness there was no horizon line. No top or bottom it was just endless and coming into this new reality for me. It was really hard at first. Before that I was working in containers. My body as a container, my suitcase as a container, a song as a container. Inside of darkness there was not a container, but space so vast and open that I had to let go of boundaries and limits. Darkness became about not just being held, but actually becoming the night.
How did you go about translating that into the song we hear today?
I wanted to make a song about total darkness as a space for expansive vision. It doesn't end with light. It doesn't begin with light. For me it begins with darkness. There is so much we can't see. Light and vision distracts us from that. This song is about what happens if you release your form. Let go of control and rest inside what is being shown to you. It's about holding on through the blur till the sunrise turns blue. Being in a space of total darkness and knowing that in a matter of hours light will return. It's about faith in a beginning. Trusting in the dark. Trying and failing and trying again. After an idea of yourself leaves, listening for the next. "Post me, post you." It's about the feeling of being underground, germinating, knowing that at some point you'll reach up to greet the surface of the ground. It's about becoming the next. Waiting in total darkness for someone to hold your hand. It's about being in between. Between bodies, between having sight and not seeing. It's accepting that there is no arrival point in healing. It's about a willingness to see beyond vision. Finding a way back to yourself. Back to softness. Back to your interior you. Am I finally home.
How do you define darkness, today?
Total darkness is a space outside of time. Time doesn't live there. Three weeks feels like three hours feels like three years. For me now, it is a space that holds me. Where I feel expansive and cared for. Moving towards a space of unknown, where lines can't trace you, where your body can be beyond itself, where you and the rock beneath you feel the same. Darkness is a different support system. It supports expansive growth towards invisible domain. And brings attention to what is felt vs what is seen. For me this is a space of connectivity I found deeply supportive when I lost my ability to see. Total darkness is a space so deep, so expansive, so open, so endless that it actively holds a new future. A new way of being. That is the power of total darkness to me now.
For those that may know you through QT, how would you explain Hyd and what sets it apart from other work?
Hyd is the seed for the next garden.
Photography: Torbjørn Rødland
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