Sui Zhen confronts loss and mortality with new album Losing, Linda

In 2016, Becky Sui Zhen Freeman was beginning work on her third album, the follow-up to 2015’s well-received Secretly Susan. Hoping to further the themes she’d been exploring, such as identity, avatars, digital life, the virtual; the Melbourne-based electronic songwriter/conceptualist organised two artist residencies in Japan.

Sui Zhen’s new album Losing, Linda, is out now.Credit:

In a grand residence originally built to house delegates at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics, she’d spend two weeks writing songs. Her then-bandmates, multi-instrumentalists Ashley Bundang and Alec Marshall, would join her in a disused love-hotel on the outskirts of Tokyo, to flesh the songs out.

Just days before she was set to leave for Tokyo, Freeman’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. “[Finding] out this devastating news of my mum’s diagnosis,” the 34-year-old says, with hindsight, “really threw everything off.”

I like that it feels more direct, but also more unsettling, more uncomfortable.

Freeman still went to Japan. She’d first gone there aged 14, as an exchange student, and had returned over the years; even releasing a pair of Japan-only EPs in 2014, Body Reset and Female Basic. Reeling from her mother’s malady, she found herself processing emotions through songs.

Over the years, the album — Losing, Linda — responded to Freeman’s life. As she dealt with the impending loss of her mother, who died in February, 2018, she found her separate thematic ideas bleeding into each other.

“I was responding to all these emotions to do with loss, and confronting mortality,” she sayss, “but also thinking about how we experience death through all of these digital technologies, and how, in this moment, the explosion in AI is effecting our psychology. It’s an album about how, everywhere we look, we’re confronted with all these reflections.”

Interrogating the intersection of death and digital technologies, the “cloud” became a sure symbol. Freeman found herself wondering about how much people can, and will, “live on” through their digital remnants. “What happens to all of our stuff in the future? What’s possible for all this data? Can you really understand a person by going through all the things they leave behind, on the cloud? Does that amount to our identity, now?”

This material played into Sui Zhen’s conceptual bent. An AI-aided website, Living Memory, has users interacting with images, video, and sounds of the album. And Losing, Linda’s cover art shows Freeman wearing a silicone mask that she had made of her face; and which she, or perhaps someone else can wear on stage, in an absurdist, theatrical evocation of the uncanny.

The most striking compositional element on the album is Freeman’s use of spoken word to convey memory and experience. “I like that it feels more direct, but also more unsettling, more uncomfortable,” she says. “Maybe it comes back to identifying more as a storyteller. And then using music, or live performance, or this website as a way of communicating stories. It’s a huge honour being able to address an audience, and I want to live up to that.”

Sui Zhen launches Losing, Linda in Melbourne at Howler on Sunday, October 13; and in Sydney at Freda’s on Saturday, October 19.

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