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iamamiwhoami is the electronic music and multimedia project of Swedish artist Jonna Lee in collaboration with her long-time music producer Claes Björklund and visual collaborators of director Robin Kempe-Bergman, set designer Agustín Moreaux, cinematographer John Strandh, and fashion designer Mathieu Mirano. The project's music and visuals contain elements of electronic music sub-genres such as ambient, synthpop, dream pop and trip hop. Their videos in particular have spread virally, and the project is notable not only for its artistic multimedia output, but also the creators' leveraging of YouTube and viral videos to disseminate their music and music videos. As of 2012, iamamiwhoami has its own label "To whom it may concern." which is founded and run by Jonna Lee and is licensed by Cooperative Music.
Since December 2009, iamamiwhoami's music videos have been released in three different series from the project's YouTube channel whilst their music being available through online retail digital download. Running from an initial set of prelude videos to a series of full length songs, the videos and songs maintain a continuous story around Lee protagonist lead role. iamamiwhoami released their first physical album, the "audiovisual album" kin in 2012, while the initial full-length series bounty (2010) was released in physical edition in June 2013. By May 2013 a total of 24 videos have been released from iamamiwhoami's Youtubechannel. To date, the project has also remixed songs for Moby and the Irrepressibles, and performed live concert tours revolving around the releases of kin and bounty and an online performance art "concert" in support of the bounty series taking place in their forest.
Musically, iamamiwhoami is a collaboration between Swedish musician and singer-songwriter Jonna Lee and her long-time music producer Claes Björklund. Lee, giving an interview to Playgroundmag.net, stated that iamamiwhoami was born from "experiencing convention in its purest form," a reference to her previous releases as a solo artist. Indeed, iamamiwhoami's musical and visual style is a departure from the guitar-led alternative pop that Lee had previously created, although she acknowledges that "the change is probably more apparent from an external point of view." Jonna Lee began developing iamamiwhoami in 2009 and started creating its music together with Claes Björklund in real time with ther releases in 2009–2010. Lee has explained they wanted it to "grow freely and [tear] the formerly [sic] by its roots and start over," envisioning the ability to "physically visualize" their songs. Lee began collaborating with visual directors Robin Kempe-Bergman, Agustín Moreaux, still photographer John Strandh, and most recently fashion and costume designer Mathieu Mirano, who are credited as part of the visual team of iamamiwhoami, and Lee has defined the collective as being herself in a "collaboration with amazing people" that she loves, also stating "iamamiwhoami is not something [she] can shake off." The process of forming iamamiwhoami began with "a need of change" and the fact that there were songs already in development. Lee has acknowledged they are working with limited means independently through her label To whom it may concern. to maintain their creative freedom.
Since the upload of their first video to YouTube, the project's videos and music have been continuous and operate in "real time," and each song is completed just before being made available for viewing. The first upload, "Prelude 699130082.451322" surfaced on YouTube in December 2009 and was the beginning of a since abstract storyline. Lee has said of this process "every time a production starts, it's being released very soon after to keep the conversation with the audience in the present. It's a chronological storyline of an evolution, from the very beginning up to now. I think the Internet is the place where you can do that." Lee states that essentially, "the core of iamamiwhoami is our music, where the lyrics are the script for the story happening and being shared in real time. Then from that, it is expanded with imagery that reflects our development and current state as part of our chronological storyline." Lee has expressed desire to break "the wall" between viewers and listeners.
iamamiwhoami is widely known for its secrecy. As such, Lee's participation was not confirmed until August 2011, where she began giving her first interviews regarding the project. Lee has stated the project's name was inspired by the fact that she stated that she "didn't really know what she wanted iamamiwhoami to be." Lee finds that her "identity was not hidden but neither articulated by me because what is relevant is the work we have done and the audience reflection of my identity. " Although Lee acknowledges that secrecy is essential, she feels there is "a lot of communication from me [to the audience] all the time even though it's not literal." Although "people realised pretty quickly that [she] was involved," she "chose not to comment on it, because [she] just wanted people to focus on what [they] were doing," and to speak about who she is "as an individual, doesn't feel relevant".
2009–2011: First uploads and bounty
The first two iamamiwhoami videos were uploaded to YouTube on 4 December 2009, and were forwarded from an anonymous email account to a number of music journalists and blogs. These videos continued and featured an unknown blonde woman whose face had been distorted, and displayed themes such as birthing and growth. Imagery associated with the folklore of the mandragora (the flowering humanoid, berries, dogs used to pull out the mandrake, and semen of a hanged man) recurs throughout iamamiwhoami's videos. Each of the first six clips end with a drawing of a different animal (a goat, owl, whale, bee, llama, and monkey). Having blogged about the videos, MTV journalist James Montgomery received a package by a messenger, which included a lock of blond hair, a piece of bark, and a pictogram of the six animals with the question "Says what?" Furthering the mystery; the sixth video ("188.8.131.52.15.13.5–184.108.40.206.3383") ends with the woman whispering "Why" or "Y." Each video displayed a numerical code as part of its title. When indexed into the alphabet, these spell out words such as "educational", "I am", "its me", "mandragora", "officinarum", and "welcome home". Mandragora officinarum refers to the mandrake root, which when fresh or dry may cause hallucination and grows from a hanged man's sperm . In 2012, Lee revealed their aim is to "let the work be in focus and push the boundaries of convention in different forms." This initial stage of the project received positive, if skeptical reviews and many websites found themselves asking readers to guess the identity of the blonde woman within the clips. iamamiwhoami was speculated to be a project of many artists, including Lady Gaga, Goldfrapp, Björk, The Knife, Trent Reznor and Christina Aguilera. The number series which were highly stylized teaser videos setting the tone of the project, established several mysteries, and served to foreshadow the projects' complete songs. For instance, "220.127.116.11.15.13.5–18.104.22.168.3383" contained vocally distorted lyrics that later appeared in the later song "o".
The second "series" of the iamamiwhoami project began with the upload of a full song and music video titled "b," one month following the final prelude video. Garnering positive reviews for its dramatic change in style and heavy use of a piano as well as vocal distortion techniques, the song was the first to be uploaded to the iTunes Store, being offered as a paid digital download on 15 March 2010. Although a "reveal" of the artist behind the moniker was anticipated, the videos showed a clearer view of Jonna Lee's face. Swedish media recognized Lee. However, Lee's previous North American management team Philadelphonic commented "If Jonna is involved in this, we have no knowledge of such." Despite this, her involvement in the project was eventually thought to be confirmed with the release of the video for "t", in which her face was fully revealed without any makeup or distortion to conceal her identity. According to rraurl.com and MTV Brasil, "o" was directed by Viktor Kumlin, who is also the director of Lee's music video for "Something So Quiet". This proved to be false. As the seven videos with letter titles were slowly released, fans gathered that the videos were likely to spell the word "bounty". Each of the seven videos begins with the corresponding sound of the animal, however, the animal sounds are not present in the released tracks. The conclusion of the live performance art event "In Concert" of 2010 reveals that the onomatopoeia used to represent the animals' calls can be made to approximate the pronunciation of the English word "bounty". On 7 February 2011, several registered songs on ISWC were discovered to be closely related to iamamiwhoami. For example, songs titled, "Up!/Higher", "The Sound of Letting Go/Love", and "Little Hope/Sing a Song of Fire" all pertain to lyrics in iamamiwhoami's songs, "b", "o", and "y", respectively. The works were registered by Lee and Claes Björklund. These songs were registered around the same time as several songs from Lee's This Is Jonna Lee 2009 album.
In October 2010 iamamiwhoami requested a volunteer from the audience to be presented to them with their full name through a message video. No instructions followed. Fans of the project set up voting polls and presented a volunteer from the YouTube community with the YouTube user name of ShootUpTheStation. One month later on 16 November 2010 a live online concert was streamed on towhomitmayconcern.cc where ShootUpTheStation was led through the forests of iamamiwhoami by Jonna Lee and brought to be buried and burned inside a paperbox. "In concert" featured performances of both the preludes, bounty and a new song titled "." and ran at one hour and four minutes.
In August 2011, iamamiwhoami played their first live show at the annual Way Out West Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden. After a long absence, they released the songs "; john" and "clump" which was revealed to be an epilogue to bounty. As a conclusion to bounty, Bullett Media posted an interview article with iamamiwhoami for their Winter 2011 'Secrets' Issue. Questions were answered strictly with sampled lyrics from the current repertoire of songs, with some additional and unknown phrases purported to be lyrics for future musical releases. The article also included promotional images of iamamiwhoami, nude in the forest and posed among similar elements from "; john" and "t". The article is referenced to be written and photographed by iamamiwhoami. Following their performance at Way Out West, iamamiwhoami began recording and preparing their debut studio album.
bounty was critically well received, with Kathy Iandoli of MTV describing bounty as having "portrayed a flaxen, ethereal goddess twisting her way throughout nature, while other [videos] included distorted imagery that housed industrial, synthy soundscapes set on fire. The combination was mysterious, yet alluring, representing a combination of horror film imagery with new age sensibilities. The titles to the songs were equally vague, [...] numbers and clusters of words [...]. The videos never fell short of several hundred thousand views – and even much greater [...] people obviously took notice." At the Swedish Grammis held on January 2011, iamamiwhoami won their first award in the category of "Innovator of the Year" (Swedish: Årets innovatör), which had been newly inaugurated. An anonymous woman received the award on their behalf and handed to the speaker an envelope with the words "To whom it may concern." taped in front. The content is revealed to be an empty piece of white paper. Before leaving, the woman acknowledged by saying, "Thank you. That's all I can say". iamamiwhoami won an MTV O Music award in 2012 in the "Digital Genius" category.
On 1 February 2012, the iamamiwhoami YouTube channel once again became active with the posting of the video "kin 20120611," which was sent to music blogs much in the same manner as the original release. This continued with each successive release in the kin series. It was speculated that the title of the video pertained to the date 11 June 2012, using the Gregorian big-endian dating system most common in Sweden. The video was followed by the original music video in the kin series, titled "sever," later the opening track on iamamiwhoami's debut studio album. The series consists of nine songs and videos, which culminates in "goods" and is a continuation of the story arc founded by the original uploads, online concert and "bounty" series. Together, the videos form a collective film also titled kin which was released in CD/DVD and has been screened at several European film festivals. A digital download of each song was released to retailers one day following the YouTube upload. In terms of imagery, much of kin contains large hairy creatures which interact with Lee throughout the narrative, which she explained as "represent[ing] a part of me and most others. Life with it is very much a delight. I have experienced the consequences of living without it.". The release resulted in the first interviews conducted by Lee in promotion of the album, for the first time describing the process of creating the iamamiwhoami visuals and music. She referred to the making of kin in an interview with The Guardian as having been "nine months of hard labour"." Lee has also explained kin "came to life after a close encounter with the audience at the first live concert in 2011" and called herself a "proud mother".
In preparation for the release, iamamiwhoami were signed to Cooperative Music, a British group of independent labels founded by V2 Records. The Italian branch of the label was the first to announce the release of the series as an album, which would be audiovisual and distributed both physically and via digital download on 11 June 2012. and originating from the project's own label, "To whom it may concern.," a recurring phrase within both their videos and single artwork. This coincided with the launch of the label's first official website, which had previously been used to air the original online concert. It was also discovered that iamamiwhoami is managed by the London-based D.E.F. Artist Management, whose roster includes other Swedish artists. kin was released on 11 June 2012 in CD/DVD and LP/DVD format through the label's website, with the official release following on 3 September 2012.
Upon release, the album generated very positive review from critics, who praised the album's ambition as a collective as well as its style, incorporating several styles of electronic music and Lee's vocals. iamamiwhoami was nominated for "The Best Tease of the Past 12 Months" category by BBC Radio's 6 Music Blog Awards, with fellow contenders being Lana Del Rey, Elliphant, Battlekat, Savoir Adore and The Sound of Arrows. On 2 March 2012, iamamiwhoami was declared the winner on BBC Radio by Tom Robinson, and the project received their first large airplay debut with "o" after the announcement. This was followed by the release of iamamiwhoami's first airplay promotional single, "play," on 30 July 2012. iamamiwhoami won the MTV O Music Awards Digital Genius Award, fellow contenders being Amanda Palmer, Gorillaz, OK Go, Radiohead and The Flaming Lips. The project embarked on a European tour for kin in 2012, playing festivals and venues across Europe.
Originally produced and released in a series of singles throughout 2010-2011, bounty was released as an album on 3 June 2013 on iamamiwhoami's label To whom it may concern, distributed by Cooperative Music, a group of independent labels. The first music video from bounty, titled "b", was released on 14 March 2010 on iamamiwhoami's YouTube channel, after which followed "o", "u-1", "u-2", "n", "t" and "y". Digital singles were released shortly after each music video was uploaded to YouTube. The titles collectively formed the word "bounty". While it was assumed that these songs solely consisted of bounty's tracklist, in 2011 two more singles and music videos, "; john" and "clump" were released and were not confirmed as belonging to bounty until June 2012 when iamamiwhoami's YouTube channel grouped them into a playlist named "bounty" along with the previous tracks mentioned.
On 4 December 2012, iamamiwhoami's label website To whom it may concern. was updated with a note on the front page which stated "20130603 – iamamiwhoami; bounty", forecasting a physical release of the bounty series. This was confirmed on the very next day when the Release section of the website displayed bounty's album cover art, along with its tracklist.
iamamiwhoami embarked on a worldwide tour for kin and bounty in 2012-2013, including their first dates in North America.
On January 17, 2014 iamamiwhoami's Facebook, Twitter, and official websites were all updated with an artwork that featured Lee in front of a waterfall beneath the title "Fountain". It was confirmed as a new single and released digitally on January 22, 2014. towhomitmayconcern.cc was also updated with a 'Generate' feature, a donation service in which funds were promised to "be used for creative purpose only". After the user donated, they were redirected to a page containing a gif image, presumably depicting the fish trapped inside of the tank from the "Fountain" music video being released into a pond. On February 21, 2014 iamamiwhoami's Facebook, Twitter, and official websites were all updated again with artwork for the next single "Hunting for Pearls". The artwork features Lee underwater.
These videos are not musical releases and were deleted on 16 November 2010.