“All that is solid melts into air”. So said Marshall Barman in 1982 to describe the mercurial experience of modernity. He was inspired by Marx’s nightmarish “melting vision” of a free market, fuelled by the frantic rhythms of urban capitalism. Suddenly, “the solid social formations around us have melted away” and we are part of “something unrecognizable… that shifts and changes shape under the players’ feet”. Sound familiar?
Perhaps this is the slippery ground upon which Lucrecia Dalt‘s latest footing slides. But, in response, she herself assumes a liquid form. No era sólida, the title of the Columbian sound artist’s new album, and her second for RVNG Intl., translates to “She wasn’t solid”. This melting or sublimatory gesture is significant given that Dalt’s last work dealt with the earthen, hard and grounded: 2018’s Anticlines (also for RVNG) explores geology, the area in which Dalt is formally trained and worked for several years as a geotechnical engineer. Where solidity may have once represented strength and stability, could it now be stagnation? In 2020, Dalt is exchanging the phenomenal for the noumenal, moving from the physical to the metaphysical.
Catching up with Dalt, she explained more about the impulsive creative process of this new album, including the interfacing of a fictional self called ‘Lía’.
On this album, you discover an imagined second self. It reminds me of what Holly Herndon did recently in creating an AI version of herself called Spawn. What were you trying to discover or process through this project?
I was trying to discover two things I think. First, if I could shift the delivery of my voice by forcing myself into “being in character”, the conclusion being that I actually could as I wouldn’t have achieved the vocal intentions that I intuitively thought I could accomplish. The second one is trusting the present moment of creation as the only moment, in contrast with previous productions in which a piece is the result of many, many, many gathered moments.
Your previous album was geology-inspired; as far as I can tell, this new album is the first music you have made that is about yourself – or at least a version of yourself. Is that true? Is this an attempt at musical self-portraiture? And where did this ‘mimetic impulse’ come from?
Mmm, I feel it’s a personal album, that’s true, but there wasn’t any intention in portraiture. I don’t think that it has been the motto of any of my past, say 5 albums? In the sense that I accommodate the creative processes into fictions. By mimetic impulse, I am referring to the idea of being affected by something external to such an extent that you start to iterate from that mindset or informative space. And I guess in this way, I see the similarities of what you mentioned before, of working with AI’s. I guess in this case the procedure is applied to my own self by forcing very specific states in order to achieve something affected by that. For example, I would listen to hours and hours of a specific singer and then from ‘pure impulse’ create from that state.
In some sense the theme of this album is not so far from Anticlines: you have simply exchanged shifting bodies of rock to a shifting human body, represented as ‘dissolved’, ‘dry’ etc. Are you a supporter of the idea of “vibrant matter” in which all things (living or not) are equally considered in the same ecology?
Mmmh, I could resonate with certain ideas, and many that are contradictory, just cause I feel they create a unique way to shift viewpoints, for example, by granting voices to non-living entities, like the text of the last piece. But I just see it as an emotional sci-fi play, rather than being a supporter… of something…
You recently released a record of field recordings from Colombia – did these recordings inform the writing or production of No era solida?
Not at all, No era sólida was made before that trip took place.
The title of your album is No era sólida or “she wasn’t solid”. I wonder if you are referring to Lía or another being, idea or state. What wasn’t solid?
In this case it means “she wasn’t solid”, it’s taken from a poem by Gloria Anzaldúa called Interface in which she is having a love affair and sexual encounter with a noumenal entity. This text, as well as Clarice Lispector’s “A Breath of Life” were surrounding my album production and contributed to the creation of Lía.
Have you read Liquid Modernity by Zygmunt Baumann? He suggests that the current era is defined by heavy solids (industry, hardware, architecture, stasis) melting into liquids (the digital, software, virtuality, movement). He also uses the term to say that “change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty… with no ‘final state’ in sight and none desired”. I wonder if this idea resonates with you at all, particular with regards to the album being a meditation on identity formation?
I don’t know anything about this, thanks for pointing it out! I think I do resonate with this idea of ‘uncertainty being the only certainty’ for this album, I don’t feel there’s a specific goal, it’s a compulsion of moments put together and glued through the Lía fiction, a character waiting for purpose.
Most of the album features lyric-less vocal incantations, eventually finishing with Lía’s voice in Spanish on the final track. Was it fun to explore your voice without the constraints of language? It almost reminds of babies babbling before they can speak.
It was very very fun, it was also very important for me to leave in the album the force of those first takes. The usual exercise would have been to accommodate lyrics to the first performances, but there’s always a frustration because in that compulsion of impossible syllables I feel Spanish is scanty to adjust to them, and English just feels strange at this point.
How important is that you work in your native tongue? It seems that Spanish does not have the same intellectual/philosophical gravitas as French or German. I’m interested in what you think of this?
I don’t think I have the capacity to comment on this fully. I see the limitations of any language more when you try to ‘sing’ in that language, writing is another story, it could come natural to write both in Spanish or in English (even with my limited vocabulary in this language). So I guess in terms of performance the main difference is whether or not I have a text in front of me as a point of departure, which is the case of the last piece, I wrote the text way before I made the music for it, so the words were already kind of internalised, and it was easier to perform within the language constriction.
Track 8, ‘Revuelta’, is an extremely creepy and loopy sketch. I wonder if revuelta translates to “riot”, “messed up” or “bent” – all of which are valid interpretations by Word Reference…?
For this specific track I thought more of meanings in the line of revolted, convoluted, as another state that Lía and I were experiencing.
Rhythmic loops seem to be the common theme throughout the album. Was this a conscious compositional gesture?
It was not planned, but it’s how it came to be.
The album’s penultimate track is about “entiendo”, understanding. Since so much art reinforces ambiguity, could you explain what sort of understanding you reached here?
Oh I named the track ‘entiendo’ (which means “I understand”) as something that Lía would announce before she could shift her output into a comprehensible language (referring to the last track).
Apparently you were inspired by griot singer Fanta Damba. Can you tell us more about this?
Yeah, Fanta Damba has the power to take you to this very specific emotional place, I wanted to see if I could create something like that in my music, as well as how I could reflect on the ‘freedom’ that she seems to have with her vocals.
The accompanying text says that the sound is a product of “new experiments with harmonic distortion in tape delay”. Could you give us insight to your studio when making the album?
I was using my usual live set up which consists of two clavias, a MIDI murf, a comb delay module, a reverb module designed by Tom Erbe that became the key element in the production of the album but by making it less of a reverb effect and more like a textural rhythm box. Some copycat here and there, and then all recorded and mixed in a DAW.
This is your second album with RVNG Intl. What is your relationship like with the label? Can we expect more collaborations between you?
I hope so! I really love working with them, they are just phenomenal and so dedicated to each release and to accompany artist development.
You recently put together a show for BBC Radio 6 Music’s Freak Zone, which has been a big feature of my life for many years! How did you enjoy doing this? How important has radio been in your life?
I enjoyed this very much! cause I made a few dates with myself to discover new music and that felt excellent. I love doing mixes like this, finding coherence in what comes after what. And they always become such a mirror to my current state of mind, while making this mix I was heavily brokenhearted, and that mix was a reflection of that state. As for how important radio is, I guess I cannot compare with someone that grew up in Europe with access to BBC or Radio France or Deutschlandfunk, my relation to music at early age was more linked to buying records, copying cassettes, and occasionally some radio, like the marvellous‚ Radio Gladys Palmera that is still alive!
And finally, you said that the “chief enemy of creativity” was “isolation”, and that you “couldn’t live without humans” in a 2018 interview. How did you find being thrust into isolation because of coronavirus?
Oh wow, hah! I wonder what was the context I said this? I have been lucky to be in isolation with really great company, and I have developed ways of communicating with my dear friends abroad in a more intense way. Now that I will start traveling to present the album I have to see how that feels as I may have to constantly be locked down after each performance.
No era sólida is out now on RVNG Intl. | Buy it here
Photos by Camille Blake.