The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Mission Creek: A Translation of Grief, Joy, and Love from L’Rain

The L’Rain project revolves around its creator Taja Cheek, an energetic, shy, and beautiful artist, curator, and creator. Cheek named her project in honor of her late mother Lorraine. The memory of her and those feelings of joy and grief seep into every sound of her music. L’Rain is Taja Cheek, but L’Rain is also the people who surround her that have shaped the music: the band, the artists, and her mother. It translates memory into music, bringing them into the present where we may confront and converse with our own pasts in tandem.

On Day 1 of the Mission Creek Festival, L’Rain stepped out barefoot on The Hancher stage cast in violet light, along with emerging sounds of barking and baying dogs. Cheek declared to the audience that tonight “You have to howl with the dogs.” Bells chimed, and cell phone ringers danced around the howls, growing and circulating into a wake up call as Cheek introduced the first song by saying, “I love dogs, I miss mine. See you on the other side,” leading into the beginning of the track “I Killed Your Dog”.

“I Killed Your Dog” Video

Music flowed from a soft melancholy to the thundering overflow of pure noise, interjected by jazz solos, drum breaks, and simply bizarre synth noises. L’Rain is made up of outright talented musicians all in communication with each other, playing off what one another other brings through their instruments. Roles of guitar, bass, and synth were picked up and traded off during sax-drum duets. In a set structured like a jazz performance where improvisation is key, everyone listened as much as they played. Grounded by each song’s melody and motifs, the instability never broke apart the threads holding each song together. Rather, it brought a gradual and unpredictable experimentation, transforming repetition into a gallery of noise. We think of a gallery as a static place of art displayed on a wall. However, L’Rain curates her own sonic gallery from music into the dimensions of time and sound, placing the frames around her motifs and found sounds to add them to her collection. This collected galley is not static, it can only last as long as the music and its memory allow it to.

Image via John Glab

Her final song began with laughter. Though Taja Cheek’s life working with field recordings and experimentation would lead her to discover a new dimension of sounds, her laugh must be among the most beautiful sounds in the world. Laughter, screams, and howls distorted into electric echoes that bent into each other. Looping into shrieks tinged with a sad, dark edge was the closing track of the set “New Year’s UnResolution“, having the performance come to its end.

These are artists who perform an experience rather than perform a recording, feeding their feeling into music. L’Rain stands out from the “experimental” label as among the few whose experimentations are a genuine expression of emotion, rather than simply playing into dizzy eccentricities that the catch-all label accommodates. This music revolves, rotates, ebbs and flows with all the disruptions and subtleties of grief, loss, joy, and love. Translating contradictions into sound as human rationalities, emotions and memories collide. L’Rain is so overwhelmingly human.