Intervju s Lucreciom Dalt uoči nastupa na ZEZ Festivalu 2019.
U ožujku 2019. godine, Dijana Grubor intervjuirala je kolumbijsku avangardnu glazbenicu Lucreciu Dalt uoči njenog nastupa u KSET-u na ZEZ Festivalu. Tekst je trebao biti objavljen u webzineu Lake Note koji na kraju ipak nije izašao. Zbog toga vam sada na našim stranicama donosimo intervju u cijelosti.
Avant-garde artist Lucrecia Dalt was one of the most anticipated acts of the 2019 edition of ZEZ festival. Since her early days making music akin to dark kaleidoscopic pop, Dalt has been floating between raw sensual improvisation and meticulously studied conceptual frames that infuse each sonic thread of her releases. Back in 2019, she was touring with Anticlines, an immersive, at times unfathomable record inspired by notions of time, physicality, and extreme love that marked a profound yet logical turn towards more abstract modes of expression. Her subtle, almost aloof performance at ZEZ reinvented Anticlines as a living matter, a work of art continuously baring its layers until each overlooked element becomes a new means of exploring concrete, fleeting spaces beyond words. This visceral and intricate displacement of the self is what draws Dijana to Dalt's work to this day, so a few months before her performance, Dijana took the opportunity to ask her some questions.
Besides being a great artist and performer, Lucrecia Dalt is an intriguing speaker, generous with her words, poetic in her descriptions. We talked about the themes and processes behind Anticlines, the complex role of voice and language in her work, multifaceted live performances, and film soundtracks, all laced with vivid anecdotes that defined her crucial artistic shifts. Sometime later, the interview may serve as a reminder of a better time and provide insight into her dynamic views on life and art, which morphed once again through her otherworldly 2020 record No era sólida.
You were on an American tour for the most part of February and will continue to perform until May. What was it like so far?
It's been very nice, actually. I was touring the US for the very first time, going from East to West. I also performed in Canada, and I had a chance to go to Mexico. It was just amazing. I was very fortunate to share very different contexts and situations with so many musicians on the road and I got really charged.
What was your favorite show from the tour?
I had so many, they were so different. I really liked the show in New York because of the space where I was performing, and the audience was so attentive. In general, that was the main surprise for me, to see that even from the smaller pub in a small town to a bigger venue, the audience was listening and being super quiet, which is something that I really appreciated because then I can play a little bit more with what the space has to offer, the dynamics, the silence, I can be a bit more spontaneous with the improvisation. I really liked the show in Toronto, where I was playing with Aaron Dillovay, it was one of my favorites. In LA, I was very lucky to play in a church with William Basinski. That was also very nice, the sound in that church and how visuals were laid out. It was a wide open space, and there wasn't so much reverb as you would usually get. For music that I'm making, which is spoken word, it's difficult when there is a lot of reverb because it becomes more like a sermon instead of intimate poetry. It was a beautiful concert to close the tour.
You've mentioned in interviews that you're constantly experimenting with ways of being a more active performer – postures, looks, even voices. What does your live performance look like right now? Do you focus more on improvisation in the moment or you have a specific purpose you're testing with the audience?
There is a big element of improvisation in it, it has to do with the space and how I react to the acoustics of the space, what kind of sounds I feel, and hence the experience of the space. When I do soundcheck, I try to play for a while to get used to it. I don't ever play exactly the same show – there is a structure and you more or less recognize the themes or songs, but it's always quite elastic. There could be sections that are more improvised, and then suddenly from that something more recognizable comes to the surface. I like to keep it that way, the songs are never the same length. It depends on how I feel and react to the situation.
You’ve also mentioned that you're playing with this idea of your shows as lectures.
Reading interviews from the very first shows that I did, I was trying to understand a format of how I wanted to perform. It's kind of a metaphor just to create an image for people to understand or bring more possibility to the live show. My main focus is to try to find a way of performing in which the body is more active and present. There is the music and the awareness of the space, the interaction with an audience and how they respond to it, but for me, it's really important to add performativity to it – that I'm not just changing knobs – to try to find a way for the body to convey something as well. The lecture was kind of a joke with a friend, who hasn't seen me perform for a long time, and he thought I was some kind of professor, explaining something that he couldn't understand.
I understood that shows as lectures metaphor also in terms of recontextualization, that movement, pronunciation, words, and the specific way in which they are conveyed in that particular moment add another layer of meaning, a new context to the whole piece.
It could be that, but it has also become kind of inevitable for me. Even when I watch back performances that I did, I'm quite surprised by how much I'm moving the legs, how much I'm doing with the body. I totally lose myself to the performance now. It's a gesture to be generous with the audience as well. It's difficult to find a balance, because for some people perhaps what's important is the music and they don't need any performativity at all, but it's an important part of what I do, I feel comfortable doing it and I think it relates to the record.
How do you see the audience reacting to this new way in which you perform your music?
It depends if I can see them as separate beings or just as a mass, it depends on the light and stuff like that. If I have the chance to even look at people in the eyes, I love doing it, and this is something I've never done in the past. I would just be looking at the table and my machines and that's it, but now, also because of the lyrics, when I'm saying them, I impersonate something that comes more from that state. I consider myself someone quite shy. When I'm in a context with 3-4 people I become really shy, but when I'm in a context of the performance, it's completely the opposite. I could do things I would never do in a social context – look at everybody in the eyes to the point that it's a little bit intense sometimes. I become more confrontational and I feel like I can make impersonations a little bit better. But this is something that I've learned, it comes from doing it, the need and wanting to develop strategies, so I've been taking lessons with a friend of mine who is a performer, in which she has given me techniques to do this.
Your 2018 album Anticlines is very much informed by your previous career as a civil engineer. What was that initially drew you to geotechnical engineering as a career?
In school I loved physics and mathematics, so I had some kind of ability to do that, even though it was not something I was most passionate about. I decided with my parents and with the guidance from school to study civil engineering, because the spectrum of what you can do afterward is so big.
How did this idea of using geological motifs and concepts as metaphors in your work develop over time – was it more of an intuitive thing, like juggling different influences and let them grow over time, or a kind of technique similar to the way you used inspiration from cinema on your previous albums?
I think it's both. For me, it has become a need to have something extra that is not a pure musical epiphany – that you sit with your machines and then suddenly something happens. I really love creating a kind of atmosphere, an environment for myself to start working. It comes from things that I've read that relate to either philosophy or critical theory that I started to see a link between the things I was interested in simulation theory, to the themes of geology. Specifically, just talking about time and scale is something that always interested me, even as a kid, and I started to find links between some of the memories that I have as an engineer, especially by working in teams with geologists, and the things I was thinking about. For example, geology for me represents exactly what I think about time – it is not something linear that you can put the events exactly in the past, present and future. For me, everything is kind of intertwined as geology is. Sometimes something that is buried in the past could come back to you, a situation that could be physical or chemical. I really started to make sense from that, and the fact that Medellín, where I was living, is constructed atop this thing that is called batholith, which is like a giant mushroom, a formation of magma that comes between two clags and for millions of years forms this thing where the city where I was living was on top. And you could see parts of those things in different parts of the city or near a lake that surrounds the city. That is the first time I started to think metaphorically, at least about this formation, to think about reality itself. Then I made a song called „Batholith“, in which I talk about love as something from this very ground, that could appear from the earth and completely change your landscape, and what can you do about it.
I think it connects to the metaphor of love as a relentless force of nature or a natural disaster that exists in linguistics.
Yeah, I guess. On this record it's not specifically about that, it has a lot of themes. Sometimes when you try to communicate an album with words, you end up using language or ways of explaining it that detaches it from what it really was. Sometimes it's just a thought, for example, „I want to talk about bubbles“, and just by the thought of bubbles a lot of themes start to appear. When I was writing the lyrics with my friend Henry Andersen, we were just brainstorming, and I mentioned bubbles and it triggered something in him. He showed me this architect who was working with balloons, which reminded me of this song I was obsessed with. So I decided to make an answer to that song, in which this person is claiming love from the other by saying that the only way she could show him love is by literally pulling the skin out and kind of loving the muscle of this person. I started to think that was very interesting, I would love to possess the other from the inside. Then I found this myth of El Boraro in Colombia, and I thought it was a really nice way to explore a very extreme form of love. Then Henry and I wrote the lyrics together, and once I have the lyrics, this is really setting up a mood for me to work the music out. Coming back to what we were talking about before, I need all this to create an atmosphere, and with that information, I feel like I have more to work with, because I'm not working in the void, just with my synth and whatever comes is valid. In this case, it's more like asking what makes sense without being too literal.
This is a different approach than the process you had with your previous records.
You've talked in interviews how your relationship to voice and singing changed over time, from conventional singing you were trying to fit in with the music to interest in different ways of speaking and using voice in your work. You have also mentioned in an interview for Air that collaboration with visual artist Regina de Miguel affected this new relationship with words. Can you describe in what way did it affect your personal relation to storytelling?
She invited me to make some music for an exhibition that she was presenting in Madrid. She had already written four poems and told me I would have to make the music for each poem and look for a way to use a voice for the poems. Specifically for the exhibition, I used voiceovers because the general theme was about life in extreme conditions, and it was also related to artificial intelligence somehow, so I thought it would make a lot of sense to just use voiceovers. One day I was asked to do a special performance in Freiburg, and I decided to do something with these texts of Regina, do it live and see what happens. One of the lyrics is about bacteria extremophile, but it's from the point of view of the bacteria, describing how her life is. Another one is talking about necropolitics, another about the state of resilience, so when I was performing those, for each piece I felt like something suddenly arose in that performance and that totally makes sense to me. I became empowered by the content of the lyrics, by words, and then I could give a very specific texture to the voice or an intention to the performance. I loved that, and I thought this is really something I could explore. After that, I realized I really need to work with poetry. At that time I have done something with Henry and we really enjoyed the experience so I proposed to him that he write something with me.
In what way is working as a sound artist different than making music?
I honestly don't place myself as one or the other. It's a tricky classification, maybe for some people the difference is really clear, but for me it isn't. This is also tricky for me when I introduce myself, especially to a stranger who has nothing to do with what I do. Sometimes I surprise myself by saying I am a composer and then I think to myself am I a composer?, or „I'm a musician“, but it feels weird as well, because I don't fit in the straightforward convention of that. Saying I'm a sound artist sounds also kind of pretentious. So it's really difficult to know what you are when I feel that what I do is mixing everything that makes sense to me.
I wanted to ask you more about your relationship with language, it's very interesting to me. In an interview you did with Julia Holter for Electronic Beats in 2015, she talked about her relationship to words and how they don't have a communicational purpose in her work. What is your relationship to language and words in that sense? I feel like you're interested in the meaning of words as much as their rhythm, but where does communication fit into that, if it does at all?
It's something that I'm still puzzled about, and it changes through time as I work and perform more, like what is the need even for words when you're working in a sonic realm, to the point that, for example, I'm starting to work on my new album and there is already a few pieces that have voice but have no words, like with the piece „Eclipsed Subject“. I was already trying to be super fluid with something that feels like a language but it's not a language at all. And it was so nice to make it because it was very spontaneous, and I was very sincere, whereas when you have words then you have meaning and then you have questions. A lot of people ask me why do I sing in English and not in Spanish or German. In this case, it was specifically in English because I was working with Henry and I was already very attached to the way lyrics were written. I even tried to translate them, but then they lost something, there is always a loss or a variation when you translate something.
Every language has its specific reality.
Yes, exactly. This week I'm in Paris, I'm doing a residency at GRM, and I've been working a lot on music. I thought maybe for a change I should just try to improvise something that feels like Spanish, but then I got puzzled again. I feel a strange relationship with my own language right now because I've been living in Europe for twelve years and my accent is totally hybrid. I can recognize that I don't speak so much as a Colombian anymore. I use words and expressions from all over Latin America, especially from Spain. So I was trying to say something and asked myself „how would I say this, would I say this in a more Colombian way, or Spanish would use another form“. I started to get really puzzled with language again...it's an ongoing problem for me.
Can you tell me more about the role of voice on the „Eclipsed Subject“? I feel like you are focusing more on the expression itself.
It's like glossolalia and it feels even like country music in a way. Someone told me it's like Dolly Parton meets I don't know who, and it's true, but I don't know why this came to me, I have no obsession with country music whatsoever. I was trying to be honest with whatever comes out of your mouth.
When you were talking earlier about language with all the meanings and questions, I also remembered manipulation, so I can understand how using voice without the conceptual weight of language can be more sincere, perhaps even more intimate.
In a way, yes. It's just that you carry a different responsibility when you use words. Even if not everybody is going to go check them, the meaning is there anyway. For me, it's also a very difficult task because I'm not a writer, and even though I sometimes have sparkles of writing inspiration, they don't last for very long. Working with language is a part of the process I fear the most in composition, to the point that I chose to work with somebody. And it was great, we wrote those lyrics together in a weekend and I've never been able to achieve that alone. I think in the future, if I'm gonna use a specific language, it will be because it comes in a very fluid process in myself, or because I have collaborations with people that I like. Maybe I'll invite a poet to do something with me, it would make way more sense. Now I would just like to free myself in a pure vocal improvisation that has no meaning, not in a sense of language.
I am very curious to hear how it's going to sound.
I'll be working this year on that, I'm excited.
I wanted to ask you about Pli as well. You were hosting a radio show from Jully 2016 to December 2018. Why did you decide to cancel it?
The contract ended and I would have loved to continue. As I had to stop it, I also realized that I needed a bit of time to focus on other things, and not this monthly commitment because it was a lot of work.
Your interviews were really amazing, the show with Felix Kubin, for example.
Felix is the best and it's really nice to interview people who have clearly been thinking about things for a long time. When I invited Felix to the show, he got completely into it, he was calling me weeks before with thoughts and ideas. I loved doing that because I learned so much from the people I was interviewing. It was also intense work because I was doing everything myself – preparation, the interview, recording, editing, choosing the music, putting the music together, mastering, but it was so worth it.
You've also mentioned before that music is something that accompanies the story on the album and you used the phrase „If I'm talking about rocks, I will not try to make the music sound like rocks“, which reminded me of Felix Kubin's talk about film soundtracks on your show.
What I was trying to say there is that I feel that sometimes it happens a lot in art, and especially music, that people need to be super literal, even in soundtracks and contemporary filmmaking. This is actually something that Felix Kubin talks about in his show, that you have to be forced to feel or have everything super straightforward. The fact that I'm talking about something that feels rocky doesn't mean that I'm going to do a field recording of a volcano. This is too redundant for me. The fact that I originate all these layers of meaning doesn't mean that it has to correspond to musical parts – for me, it's two separate realms that feed one another. I just sit and start to make sounds and then music feels right to a certain lyric, but it's not something that I'm explicitly trying to convey into sound, and I don't think I want to do that because then you lose your freedom working with sound and recording. It's too much of a forced experience to me.
Music is also easier to ignore sometimes, especially in terms of contemporary soundtracks for example, which function as an integral part of the film, but not in any noticeable way.
Yes, exactly. And it's so disastrous, because sometimes when you see movies, you really don't remember the soundtrack at all, not even a leitmotiv and this is so suspicious to me.
Sometimes with older movies, you can remember a scene simply by remembering the music because you couldn't ignore it.
Totally. I was walking by the theatre just now and they had the film „Eyes Wide Shut“. The main melody is so intense, you instantly think about him walking through this giant spaces and it's a wonderful feeling. It's such a pity it's kind of lost nowadays, it's very rare.
How are you treating the music now when you're working on the new album, what is the method like?
I don't know, it depends. For example, for the last record I got a bit obsessed with the sound of this specific synthesizer, Clavia Nord Modular, because I could also program it and tweak it in a way that I could adapt to what I do. It has a lot of vocoders, and then I thought about how can I do something with vocoders which is not a typical vocoder. It was a challenge for me to do something with that and this is how I did it. For this one, I'm still trying to figure it out, especially now that I just had this residency in which I was working with classic synthesizers, like the Serge or the Coupigny, that I've never worked with before. This already gives me ideas, but I don't know what I will be using for the next one.
Do you sometimes take an unfinished piece you're working on and perform it live in order to get new ideas on how to develop it?
I don't have a very defined methodology, it's all very spontaneous in regards to sound and what I do. Sometimes while playing live I develop new methods of working as well, because I'm not so afraid to test stuff and then I start to realize things I could do, or just by meeting other musicians and seeing their own process. Recently I was touring with Aaron Dillovay and he only works with tapes and loops, it was very inspiring to see that. It varies all the time.
Do you plan on performing some of this new stuff in the upcoming live performances?
Right now I'm performing a one-year-old Anticlines, which has been transforming live just by playing it, but it still has the essence of Anticlines and the same instrumentation. Maybe I do variations to the voice, to the rhythm, or maybe I play the version slower, it depends.