My art is an art of nuance. I use my body to channel air through space, my intelligence to communicate what someone has composed lyrically and musically, and my spirit to set it free. I like to chuckle, choke, whisper, sigh, growl, breathe and moan. I like to sit, stand, bend, twist, and face the audience with my back.
I’m a painter, a scene-maker. I want my audience to see a scene unfold through me. I use tools I’ve brought from vocal studies and theater, using a singing voice as well as a “Sprechstimme,” (speaking voice) to turn songs into “un drame condense,” a mini-drama. Going first by words and then by melody, and using a broad palette of expressions, I seek to bring color to my songs and thereby to illuminate my subject, the atmosphere, and the age.
I’m a choreographer. I use gesture to accentuate an idea, a line or a word. My sensuality is expressed gesturally. I’m a masquerader. I love to dress the part. I’m also an exhibitionist; the most essential Karen Kohler exists before a receptive and open audience.
I’m a thief. I don’t borrow something; I steal it and put my own signature on it. There will only ever be one Lotte Lenya, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but I leave it to the men, the male impersonators, to transform themselves into these ladies. I’m an evoker, I honor those who have come before by giving myself fully to what I appropriate. The mentors and muses whom I’ve heard and watched, from whom I’ve stolen and whose humanity and style have influenced my own are, most notably: Lenya, Dietrich, Astaire, Yvette Guilbert, Bessie Smith, Anita O’Day, Elis Regina, Ella Fitzgerald and Connee Boswell.
I’m a preservationist. From the moment I came upon the songs of early 20th century Europe – inventive, fresh, daring, lyrical, ironic, dark, sexy – I was hooked. I became committed to the preservation of this music, to the authentic re-interpretation of these lyrics, in my own time. Toward that end, I’m a passionate singer.
Finally and perhaps firstly, I’m a bridge. Born in Germany, raised in the U.S. and now a dual citizen, I know that I’m uniquely suited to this art form. I have made my own journey across time and place, as have my songs.