Eco part 3: Cecilia López

This is the third part of Echo, a series of interviews of Latin American female artists.

This time I interviewed Cecilia López, an artist from Argentina, who I had the privilege to meet and see performing in Phill Niblock´s Experimental Intermedia space on NYC on 2015, and whose work have intrigued me ever since.

Here the interview.

Q. How and when you found in sound a field to develop your artistic concerns?

A. Since I can recall I have a very close relationship to sound. I usually relate it to the fact that I have very poor vision. For me, sound and also memory were fundamental factors in order to construct a perception of space. The lyrics for the first song I created as a kid were “no veo nada” (I can’t see anything). Whether playing instruments, singing or recording I always felt that sound was a field to play and experiment within. It´s hard for me to draw a line, but I guess that the first “piece” I wrote and performed was Copas, in 2002. After studying composition with Carmen Baliero for a few years I wrote this piece for 12 wine glasses. After that experience I have worked with sound as the main material of my practice.

Q. From your experience do you feel that sound art is a line with greater presence in number of a particular genre? If so, have you seen this as an advantage, disadvantage or do you think it has no influence at all?

A. This question depicts one of my favorite Spanish-English translation conundrums. Género is the Spanish word for both gender and genre. I believe that in sound art there is a greater presence of a certain genre, some kind of uniformity defined by a pretension of univocal “scientific universality” in the treatment of sound. I see this tendency, as a response to the expectations of what sound art should be. The question is who defines this. I think that just as in in other fields, places of visibility are often given to people that confirm that narrative. The problem is what “universal” has stood for historically. Gender is not the sole factor in those definitions. In my work I try to disrupt senses of neutrality and universality because they shape what is normal and I am interested in difference.

Q. Sometimes the relationship between what an artist reads, investigates, eats, watches and listens, and the work that she or he produces simultaneously, is deliberate while at other times this relationship occurs in a more subtle and even unconscious level. How do you feel about this relationship in your work?

A. For me, many times, processing influences is a part of my practice. I work a lot filtering sound through objects and playback systems. I am interested in how one perceives things that are coming from an unconventional sound source or space. I have a project that consists of filtering audio through a kinetic sound sculpture and I have used it in the past with material that spans from some music that I love and was really influential to me, to things that I prefer not to listen to. In a way, I made those things accessible to myself by adding another layer of mediation. I have also used similar processes with poetry, video, etc. This said, I always try to make those relations very factual, without clarifying too much about them.

Q. How do you articulate and experience in your work the following aspects of the sound practice:
A) The immediacy and the presential aspect of the performative in the concerts. B) The isolation and that can be lead into during the process of composition. C) The objectual and spatial facet of the exhibited installation or sonic sculpture.

A. I usually work in a way that combines those three aspects. In my work there is an attempt to set up a sound system, a sound flow process as an organism, and to activate it or make it function. This could be a sound that is pre-recorded or produced live that goes through a filtering process, or an electronic device that feeds back, or a process of producing and presenting material that responds to a certain generative idea. In a way that is the core of my pieces; the formal structure that enables the material to be produced. Often these structures have an object component. I could say that I play with sound objects as manifestations of presence and listening. There is a resonant space that is highlighted and brings attention to our own presence as listeners. Those objects, usually combined with electronics are like the piece’s hardware; they shape the materiality of the work. Once the system is conceived there is the question of how to make it function. That’s where the process of composition usually takes place. If there is a group of performers I will write a graphic score, or if I am working on a solo project I will improvise, or find a method that enables me to imagine that system functioning through time. Finally, the activation of these devices happens in a live setting, or if it is fixed material (for example video) the piece is only complete when experienced live. The live component is essential for me because I often work with acoustic feedback. This means that the sound matter of the piece is produced on the spot and it’s affected by the space and contextual circumstances. So, in a way, the structure of the systems allows those live elements to have room to manifest in an organic way.

Q. Being a female artist from Latin America, do you think that this combination of elements influences in some way your creation? If so how this influence occurs?

A. I think that my identity and origins influence my vision and perception, so the answer is yes. There are many layers in the way these influences occur. Also, there is not only one way of being Latin-American (so many cultural influences mix in that geographical definition) or female, or female identified, or artist. It’s interesting how these categorizations operate. When thinking about this Latin-American identity issue I always remember Uruguayan musicologist and composer Coriún Aharonián. In an essay, “Identidad, Colonialismo y Educación Musical” he discusses how Latin-American identity is often conceived as a reaction to colonialist power and there is often not enough distinction between all the different musical identities that coexist in Latin America. It’s interesting to consider that this “unified” identity is actually built more around the political history of a territory than around similar or different cultural characteristics. I observe a similar problem with gender categorizations. For me, it’s important to observe and give space to identity and cultural traces in my work but without responding to the expectations of what those should be. With that said, as an example about how this categorizations influence my thinking, I see them reflected in my work through things such as the use of materials, the search for an organic quality, flexibility, the relationship with formal structures, and in the way I envision collective collaboration, among other things.

Q. In sound art, collaborations between artists are very common. Have you worked with other artists? If so, how do you feel that these collaborations have enriched your work?

A. Yes, definitely. Collaboration, in all levels has been extremely important for me. I usually work with the same material for a long period of time. I have a very slow process. Some of my pieces have been evolving for years. That’s why I always appreciate an invitation to do something outside of my own plan. I find it very refreshing and sometime it makes me relate to materials in ways that I wouldn’t have found on my own.

Q. Is there any particular work or project you would like to talk about? If so, tell us about it in maximum 350 words?

A. I would like to talk about a new installation that I will be showing at Mixology Festival at Roulette (NY) in February. The piece consists of a live mix of a multichannel piece that is presented using steel pans as resonators, acoustic feedback and also includes live performers. The recorded sound for the piece was created by combination and processing of two different materials. One source is comprised of tones related to the resonant frequencies of the steel drums. The other source is recordings of my ear tones captured during the summer of 2015 with Bob Bielecki. This material consists of 16 tracks, one for each independent tone. I worked with all this material putting it through some acoustic and synthesized filtering processes. Ultimately it’s reproduced through transducers and speakers inside the steel drums. This piece is produced thinking about the coexistence of two listenings. First, the listening of the ear tones produced by the ear and that interferes with anything else been listened to (even more when it’s their own sound!) and then the listening of the resonant tones of the steel drums through themselves. Oil drums have been a recurring material in my work. In the past I utilized them to produce sculptures and videos in Buenos Aires. Last year I had access to a steel drum ensemble and was struck with the resonant response of the instruments. I was immediately interested in working with them, for their acoustic properties, cultural characteristics and for the familiarity with the materials that I’ve work with in the past.

To learn more about the work of Cecilia visit her website.

Photos courtesy of Ian Kornfeld (portrait) and Phoebe D’heurle (installation).