Lucrecia Dalt: The Sound of Interstellar Love and Latin American Rhythms Comes To The ICA

by | May 2, 2023 | ART, EDM, RAVE & EXPERIMENTAL, FUNK & JAZZ, MUSEUM & GALLERY NEWS, MUSIC, PERFORMING ARTS

Lucrecia Dalt is a Colombian-born vocalist, musician, and composer who across multiple albums has experimented with genres as varied as electronica, spoken word, field recordings, and film scores. Her acclaimed 2022 album ¡Ay!, which revisits the Latin American musical forms of her childhood through a sci-fi lens, featured on year-end best music lists from NPR, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and The Washington Post. On Sunday May 7, she will kick off her U.S. tour with a live performance at the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, accompanied by percussionist Alex Lázaro. Here she speaks with ICA performance curator David Riley about her creative process, concepts of time and consciousness, and the invention of “bolero sci-fi.”

David Riley: You’re speaking to me from Glasgow, Scotland, right now, and in the past month you have toured Portugal, Slovenia, and Belgium. How has the European tour for your new album ¡Ay! been so far?

Lucrecia Dalt: It’s been going very well, and the new album is a totally different format from the way I used to play in the past, which was solo machines, a lot of processing, a bit less theatrical I would say. So this show is more demanding in all aspects. It’s been a journey to discovering how that evolves, how I bring the album to a different place, but keeping the resemblance to the album. It’s been super positive. And the most important thing to me is to see how the audiences are reacting totally different to what I do now, in contrast to what it was.

DR: And the journey continues next week. You’ll be in Richmond on May7, the first stop on your U.S. tour. I’m interested to know about the title, ¡Ay!, a word which contains many different emotions –– excitement or pain or surprise. How did you come up with the title?

LD: What do you use in the U.S.? I never asked anyone, actually, if you express yourself like “ay!”

DR: I don’t know, maybe “oh!”, but it’s not quite as musical.

LD: I would say we use “¡ay!” for everything. It’s like an expression of happiness, surprise, boredom, frustration, extreme happiness, extreme joy. So it depends on the intonation that you give to the word, and also the context, and also the fact that you find it so much in Latin American music specifically, like mambos and boleros, you would find a lot of lyrics that would have “¡ay!”. So I thought it was a nice way to first of all graphically break the spell of what I was doing before, that I was even considering a little bit too serious. I think I’ve always embedded humor somehow in my stuff, and then in this record I really wanted to bring it upfront.

Lucrecia Dalt ¡Ay! by Aina Climent, ICA 2023
Lucrecia Dalt, photo by Aina Climent

DR: It seems like, if you were an alien coming to earth, this would be a good first word to learn. ¡Ay! has been described as a sci-fi concept album, where you’re revisiting musical influences from your childhood, but in the character of an outsider, an extraterrestrial being named Preta. Can you tell me about those influences, and if you have any specific childhood memories that you drew upon for this album?

LD: I think it’s like two parallel stories. The first one was that with the pandemic I started to get very nostalgic for the music that I used to listen to with my parents and grandparents, that atmosphere of the family that was always so warm, so full of music. We were singing, playing guitar, playing instruments along to all kinds of music: boleros, salsa merengue, tropical music from all over Latin American music, folk music from Colombia. And so I started to feel a very heavy nostalgia, because I could go to Colombia and that would be the only music that I could be listening to, apart from dub and jazz. I put a big block on anything that was experimental or abstract, which I was listening to with pleasure before. Out of that necessity I started to try to bring the frozen atmosphere of those memories into what I do somehow. So I started to think about for a long time what that meant exactly––if it was around the percussion, or the melodic progressions. I started to slowly build some demos that kind of followed that, but not precisely, just more intuitively trying to see how could I bring that.

And then parallel to that, these are songs that are usually about love, but I wanted to create the contrast of having something totally, completely different than the usual lyrics about love. It almost became a leitmotif, like why not create something like bolero sci-fi? I was working with my friend Miguel Prado, who’s a philosopher, in trying to write a story for another project. And from that very first story, we found more graphic ideas around Preta. For example, the first idea that I had is that she grabs a body from the hydrosphere from particles of dead skin. And so from that idea we started to think about consciousness. And we started to develop this story and then I thought, okay, this is a nice point of departure to try to write lyrics for that character in the process of going through the earth and all her interactions. And then slowly I started to find a way that musically would correspond to that and also that at some point in the lyrics there was something related to love in a way that I would consider those songs are meant to be done.

Lucrecia Dalt ¡Ay! by Aina Climent, ICA 2023
Lucrecia Dalt & Alex Lazaro, credit Marta Lazaro and Aina Climent

DR: That’s a fascinating approach. Preta says at one point, “I am pure consciousness.” Can aliens feel love from your point of view? Can they dance? Do you have any specific sci-fi influences that came into play?

LD: Well, I guess it was a little bit of the movies. The Man Who Fell To Earth was definitely there. I was thinking about that, especially visually, the idea that he lives and has a very specific body, that he’s behaving oddly and yet humanly. Then ideas about love from Tarkovsky, I guess a little bit more abstract in the way to think about it as a stream or something like that. But really it was just the idea of imagining if consciousness can exist without any attachment to materiality, then what happens? What are the possibilities? How would something that is trapped in a plastic thing move and behave? It was the idea of all the possibilities and the absurdity of things that we see on Earth. Just laughing at our limitations and ways of seeing the world as well.

DR: I would love to hear about your former life as an engineer and how having a scientific background informed your music. Especially thinking about geology and geologic time, which is almost beyond human comprehension, at a scale of millions or billions of years. How did you use that knowledge in approaching this album?

LD: I did work in a geotechnical company, but my job would be more related to designing foundations and analyzing the soil just to know if it was strong enough to support something, and how deep down you had to go and all this stuff. I did have to work with a team of geologists and this was my favorite thing to see because I always had this creative brain. They were making all these beautiful drawings and making all these explanations, you know? Whenever we did a study, it was a lot about explaining and first it was the historical context of the place, and then it was almost like poetry. At some point I started to feel, how could I bring at least something from that experience to my current practice as well? And I saw that through geology, at least metaphorically, I could somehow bring something. Especially in how geology is challenging us constantly in the way that we write history or think about our past. And in the case of Preta, if she’s a timeless consciousness, obviously when she comes to Earth, the first thing that she would identify with is rocks, is the material, you know. So that’s why geology is embedded into that but more because of the idea of time.

Lucrecia Dalt ¡Ay! by Aina Climent, ICA 2023
Lucrecia Dalt, photo by Aina Climent

DR: !Ay! is your eighth solo album, and in your career you have experimented with many different genres: electronic, spoken word, and film scores.

LD: Yes. And then just a little bit more abstract, more noisy at times and more exploring the possibility of the voice as well for a while. Yeah.

DR: On ¡Ay!, I hear all the influences that you mentioned already––the horns, the organs, bongos, percussion––but they have been slowed down, stretched, mutated, or put into shadowy spaces. How did you approach the production of this album?

LD: It was manifold, because I started first with very basic notions of it, like progressions. Well, it’s a little bit of percussion. And then slowly in the process I started to think, okay, if I’m going to have all these instruments that I can relate to, I wanted to have double bass, just because I love jazz and I thought, okay, that would be a nice element to have contrasting that. And then at some point I started to feel, how do I put it in context with the things that I’ve been doing, but also how do I make these sounds somehow related to the story? And so I started to process them, especially the percussion, quite heavily with different envelopes, that for me were as if you were filtering through rocks in outer space. All these noises that are layering the album are so important. Without that, the album would sound completely different and probably more classic in this sense of bolero music. So I thought, okay, having synthesizers, which is not something obviously in any of that tropical music, and this layer of processing, I could have something that was for me unique, or that hasn’t been done at least. So that’s why I decided to go that way.

Lucrecia Dalt ¡Ay! by Aina Climent, ICA 2023
Lucrecia Dalt, photo by Aina Climent

DR: How does this translate into a live experience? What can Richmond audiences expect?

LD: It’s been super exciting trying to translate it and playing with Alex Lázaro, who’s a very exciting percussionist––because of how obsessive he is about building a very particular kit, the placement of everything is just like almost wrong, and he’s such a physical performer that it really adds to the experience of the show. It is staged, I would say, and I’m singing and I’m moving and I’m performing in a way that I never have in my whole life that I guess I was needing, because I used to dance a lot in the past, and suddenly I was confining myself into the one position type of performance. And now I think it encompasses more of all the things that I always loved about seeing a show, in which the music is one element, but the expressiveness of the performance is also important. So we’ve been working on that, you know?

DR: Well, I’m so excited to see it.

LD: Yeah, me too. I’m super excited to play!

Lucrecia Dalt will perform at the ICA at VCU on Sunday May 7 at 7pm. Visit icavcu.org for more information and to reserve tickets.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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