SOUND EXECUTIONERS: ADVENTURES IN MEXICO
First published in The Subconscious Restaurant 3
Israel Martinez has been engaged with experimental and underground musics in Mexico since the late 80's. His almost missionary zeal for sharing the histories and contemporary work of the Mexican sonic avant-garde (through his labels and curatorial work) is matched by the diversity of forms through which he expresses his own concepts (video, site specific installations, photography and of course his own aural experiments and recordings). Starting out as a teenager playing in punk bands and producing zines in his native Guadalajara, Israel continued pushing boundaries and engaging with iconoclastic ideas. He has since gone on to recieve the Award of Distinction of Pris Ars Electronica in 2007, and to co-curate the first retrospective of Mexican electroacoustic music with Manuel Rocha Iturbide. Matinez seems ambidextrous in his relationship with academia and the underground, releasing abrasive noise records and punk compilations while producing exhibits for universities and galleries. Recently he collaborated with Japanese noise Icon KK Null, and exhibited multimedia installations during a residency in Berlin and at the Museo Universitario de Ciencia y Arte in Mexico. Another recent project has seen Israel come full circle, producing a series of fanzines on the history of hardcore punk in Guadalajara for the digital label Suplex, operated by his brother and himself.
This project of producing an issue of the Subconscious Restaurant for INDEX at the Guadalajara Book Fair has came up quite suddenly. And so we decided to look into the experimental music / sound art scene in Mexico. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the scene appears to be quite healthy. You're quite familiar with experimental music the world over. How would you describe what is happening in Mexico compared to other places you have been to?
Nowadays there is a great time for the scene of experimental music and a defining moment of openness and exploration beyond the “limits” of aesthetics, formats or fields. During a long time we didn’t have a specialized public attending events, the audience came from several approaches, people from visual arts, dance, film, literature, performance, music followers of course, etc. and it was great because most of us made our best to build a communication with anyone interested. Currently there are a lot of people attending any kind of events, from improvisation sessions to installation projects, electronica concerts or this popular trend of rock-noise. There have appeared micro-scenes focused on specific fields but I think the great feature of our scene is that almost everyone interested goes forth exploring several territories and perceptions related to sound.
In Taiwan the experimental music scene is growing incredibly fast but the history is very young. There are key moments we can point to which really helped get things started, including Wang Fujui starting the publication "noise" in the mid-1990s. How old is the history of this activity in Mexico? Were there some key figures or moments which really got things started?
There is an interesting history of the experimental music in Mexico since almost a century ago, as well as it exists in other countries outside U.S. and the main popular points in Europe, but I think that there was not a connection between a lot of individual figures, groups or movements along the last century until the late nineties. We had a lot of artists, not necessarily only musicians, making things with sound, from experimental poetry to free improvisation and obviously these explorations into academic fields, but there was no connection between them. A key person is Manuel Rocha because he started to write texts about this history and also is a co-founder (along with the international well-known curator Guillermo Santamarina) of the International Festival of Sound Art, which put on the map what was happening not only in various parts of the world but even in Mexico. There are a lot of important people who have supported the growing of experimental music and sound art so I can not list everyone in this space, obviously, but I have to mention Rogelio Sosa as a great promoter with the festivals Radar, Aural and the new one, Germinal, he and his variant team of collaborators have organized amazing celebrations inviting artists around the world and increasing the communication between Mexican artists and key figures from several places. In my case, for example, I participated in Radar 2008 and met Guy Marc Hinant from Sub Rosa, nowadays home of some of my recordings. I would also like to mention Manrico Montero who currently lives outside Mexico but during the last decade was a key activist of experimental music, a lot of things happening now are a result of his effort. Mario de Vega is another important artist making international connections since years ago.
You are doing a range of different projects involving sound which traverse from the underground to the art museum. Can you describe the support structure for experimental music and sound in Mexico?
Well, I think that most of us whom started to work totally focused on experimental music since the last decade have operated both on an independent way and also getting institutional support, and it’s something usually on current days, on the one hand you participate in independent lovely projects as Umbral (low volume sessions in a small place) and on the other take part in a concerts at institutional places like Museo Universitario del Chopo, Ex Teresa Arte Actual, Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo or festivals supported with public resources as those mentioned above. About sound (not necessarily related to music) on museums, this is relatively a new topic, and at the end there are much fewer artists into this approach than musicians, so it’s a growing and positive relation that involves artists, curators, independent spaces, institutions and galleries.
You are from Guadalajara but are now based in Mexico City. I've read that the experimental music scene in Mexico is quite de-centralized. Why do you base yourself in Mexico City?
The topic of centralization is very difficult to analyze. It’s real that we live in a country strongly centralized and sometimes it seems that governments and institutions of the province do not want to change the situation in this regard. What’s left? Do it yourself, and this is the way several activists of sound started to make things in their location, once again, investing their own money and at the same time looking for institutional funding, I think it’s the way art and music work here. I started to promote the experimental and electronic music (and then the sound art or sound in visual arts) in Guadalajara since the early 2000’s along with my brother (Lumen lab) and then with some friends with whom we formed the Abolipop collective and recording label, there was no scene, just a few efforts of radio art and performances (Luz Maria Sánchez and Jalarte A.I. collective for example) and we fought, opening spaces and spreading information with audience, press and any people interested in this stuff. There is a growing scene in Guadalajara nowadays and it’s good because we have had public attending events always but not necessarily people creating things, now it’s changing this situation and it’s similar in regions as Puebla, Tlaxcala, Yucatán, Michoacán among others. I have to mention the efforts of people like Javier Audirac, Yair López and Andrés Aguilar, they have supported the growing of the scene in Guadalajara from several points, mainly with the establishment of Laboratorio Sensorial, a sound-specialized forum with international level. Arturo Ortega is another important activist of sound in the area.
I live in Mexico City because since 2003 I had been traveling often there. I have made a lot of works and projects in Mexico City, it’s a key part of my career so especially in the last years it was very exhausting to be traveling one time per month at least. After a residence of almost a year in Berlin in 2012 I decided the change my “operating base” but I still making projects and obviously promoting lot of things into music, sound and art in Guadalajara. It’s important to me.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m participating in a group exhibition and finishing a one-month residency in MuseumsQuartier, Vienna, also taking advantage of geography to catch street musicians in several places outside Austria, especially in Central-East points, as part of a series of video-sound installations focused on the role of the modern minstrel. During November I will participate in a couple of group exhibitions at MUAC and Museo Del Chopo in Mexico City, and I have an individual project in talcual gallery. Parallel to these activities I’m always working with my brother on Suplex, a project of Abolipop as a digital platform (and sometimes also physical) for experimental and electronic music, field recordings and also intermedia works. I would like to invite you to download a strong project we made about the history of hardcore-punk scene in Guadalajara, or the fanzine Voces. Santa María la Ribera, among numerous releases from a young, vibrant and exciting scene of Mexican artists: www.abolipop.com l www.suplex.mx