Various Artists – Invenciones. La otra vanguardia musical en Latinoamérica 1976-1988 (2017)
Within the culture of recorded music, conversations largely revolve around sound. It’s elemental, but there is more to music than those perfect, resonant combinations of beat and tone – to the ecstatic responses which they often bring. Music is were history and culture distill and unfold. It is who we are, and a window into the souls of who we are not. Despite all of the challenges they have faced – attempts at censorship and the shackles of corporate greed, its recorded forms are among the most democratic of any art. It is where the voice of many, reach even more. It stretches into our lives, giving with every note.
For most people, engagement with music rests within the realms of emotion, phenomena, experience, and ideas. It moves us, makes us dance, and helps us see the world differently, or through an other’s eyes. While each is of fundamental importance, some of us see its potential as far greater – our pursuits orbiting around territories which exist beyond the ear.
Despite it’s relative youth, the international catalog of recorded music which has been produced over the last century is astoundingly vast. You could spend an entire lifetime trying, and never hear it all. Collectively, these recording amount to a sprawling library of human voice and experience. Because of the fast pace, accessibility, and ease with which were produced, driven by the recording industry’s greed and naïveté, most were created without external oversight and control. When they were, artists almost always managed to adapt, delivering a beautiful Trojan horse into the world. Consequently, when seen for their full potential, this body of recordings is our greatest accumulation of unmediated history and truth.
These are the humble origins of reissue culture and the vinyl revival. This movement isn’t a byproduct of hoarding, or the capitalist drive. It began with people like us – those who fell in love with sound. Pushed toward the virtues of discovery and leaning, we fell upon the silent potentialities hidden within. Reissue culture and the vinyl revival are resurrections – the breath of life. They are celebrations, grown from a belief in the potential of culture and singular gestures of creativity – those things which lay within shadows of recorded music, pushed forward by a need to share and preserve what is found. It is an unwillingness to let a tree fall unheard, knowing that tree is who we are. While both cultures have their detractors and doubters, we should never lose sight of the fact that they are bound within broad and important gestures of historical reappraisal, most often offering important artists the attention that they have been unjustly denied. An emblem of one such case is the Madrid based Munster Records’ latest compilation dedicated to Latin American underground music from the 1970’s and 80’s, Invenciones. La otra vanguardia musical en Latinoamérica 1976-1988 – a stunning assembly of sound, from a series of intertwined histories which remain almost complete unknown.
Decidedly singular, cultural specific, and crippled and silenced by political unrest, Latin American underground, avant-garde, and experimental musics are among the most remarkable movements within the broad scope of 20th century music. To the rest of the world, their sounds and histories have been almost completely lost. Not without its paradoxes, that we do not know them, is part of the history itself.
For much of the last half a century, the body of countries which make up Latin America has lingered behind a strange cloud, viewed by its North American neighbors and Europe as a conflict ridden, poverty stricken world beyond reach. While much of this vision has been sculpted by external propaganda and agenda, within it are elements of truth. Great swaths of Latin American people suffer and are oppressed. Importantly, the isolation which surrounds Latin America – a crucial factor in sustaining these sins, wasn’t always the case. Until the decades following the Second World War, the majority of Latin America was in direct intellectual, cultural, economic, and technological conversation with peers across the globe. The subsequent change, with the realities which still linger today, are a direct consequence of the legacies of colonialism, coupled with political and economic intervention by the United States and European countries, fearing the march of the democratic, and radical left.
Beginning in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, throughout Latin America, democracy began to fail – ushering an era of severe right-wing political oppression and dictatorship – a process which shuttered much of its creative life from the world. The people of Chile, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Panama, Ecuador, Columbia, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemalan, Venezuela, and Mexico, all fell under some form of extreme right-wing political force during this era – again, many gestures of which were backed or initiated by the United States and countries in Europe. As is most often the case, creative and artistic culture was among the first to be suppressed.
A crucial attribute to the arts in Latin America, is cultural specificity. There is an almost complete absence of the homogeneity – a thing largely bred by the omnipresence of the United States, found in most other parts of the world. These countries are melting pots, the product of cultural hybridity, springing from the conjoining of indigenous cultures, those of European colonizers, Africans who were brought in chains, and those who have emigrated since. A reckoning with this diversity and complex history, combined with politically enforced social, cultural, and economic isolation, created some of the most singular creative gesture the world has ever seen. The fact that we have encountered so little of it, should raise suspicion. Such a silence only suits the gatekeepers and champions of Western cultural hegemony – the loop of its entitlement and self-satisfied importance.
If it weren’t for reissue culture and the vinyl revival, riding the back of the unmediated distribution of information enabled by the internet, it is likely that the sounds and history of Latin American underground music would never have reached our ears. For many, the rumbling began roughly a decade ago when Creel Pone began quietly releasing CDRs – reissues of radical gestures in experimental electronic music, made in these countries between the 1960’s and 80’s. Sometime shortly after, diggers began to pick up on a handful of Mexican artists, working in the shadows during the late 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s – Jorge Reyes, Antonio Zepeda, Carlos Alvarado, Luis Perez, and a number of others. More recently came the Sounds Essentials Collection, a series of incredible, revelatory archival recordings of avant-garde and experimental music from Peru, assembled by Luis Alvarado for his Lima based imprint Buh Records. This year alone has seen Brazilian composer Jocy de Oliveira’s 1981 masterpiece, Estórias Para Voz, Instrumentos Acústicos e Eletrônicos, as well as the Venezuelan collective Musikautomatika’s 1983 debut, reissued, while Vinyl on Demand’s six LP box Mexican Cassette Culture Recordings 1976-82, focused on the output of Carlos Alvarado, was impossible to miss. It has a fantastic moment for reckoning and rectifying former sins. Invenciones. La otra vanguardia musical en Latinoamérica 1976-1988 is the cherry on top.
While the compilation couldn’t have come at a better time, it also couldn’t have been formed by a better hand – Buh Records’ Luis Alvarado, one of the great champions of Latin American avant-garde and experimental music. Over the decades there have been a few surveys of the Latin American avant-garde. The most ambitious was arguably the Uruguayan imprint Tacuabé’s Música Nueva Latinoamericana series- issued during the mid 1970’s, with a small number following suit across the CD era. These releases have almost entirely focused on the contexts of avant-garde and experimental Classical music. Invenciones, as a broad sweeping X2 LP survey, takes an almost entirely uncharted path – the remarkable forms which grew from the counterculture – hybrids, bridging popular music and the avant-garde.
Beyond the remarkable sounds they have captured, there are important considerations when approaching Alvarado and Munster’s effort. They have pulled from a diverse range of countries – Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, and Uruguay, presenting a cohesive bond between the distinct social, cultural, political, and creative contexts within which they have were made. Such a thing deserves a great deal of recognition in its own right, but, within their given circumstances, this achievement is even more notable. Most of these recordings were made within, or as a result of, extreme and oppressive circumstance. Many of these countries saw their recording industries dismantled, or heavily monitored and censured, by far right-wing governments. This music is incredibly rare, often self-produced and issued in the shadows out of view. Each of these songs is the result of art made at great risk – social and political interventions, adapted so the voices of these countries might continue to be heard (if not from without, at least from within). They are a window into a history which still lingers today, one which the global powers that be don’t want us to see.
Of course the sound and the art it carries – the music, is the most important thing. In every case across Invenciones, it takes us to remarkable heights, but the importance of this compilation’s gesture operates on a number of fronts. Much of this music resembles little else. Its radicalism and cultural specificity is impossible to miss. These artists spring from a long line of Latin American avant-garde and experimental practice which seeks to join and recline the complex characters and cultures of their respective countries, particularly the dynamics of European and ingenious sonic creativity. They are a melding of the present, future, and past – the wildest ends of the avant-garde and the countercultures of the day. The results are among of the most innovative realizations of popular music that you’re likely to have heard. Ranging from the droning, poly-rhythmic electroacoustic gestures of Monongo Mujica, Miguel Flores, Quum, Autoperro, Banda Dispersa de la Madre Selva, and Musikautomatika, to the pre-Columbian Punk ambiences of Jorge Reyes and Via Lactea (Carlos Alvarado), to the bent folk efforts of Amauta and the equally singular Prog. of Malalche and Decibel, to the free-jazz tinged Grupo Um, the minimalist electronics of Carlos Da Silveira and the pop, futuristic visions of Miguel Noya, it is an incredible journey through history, culture, and organized sound.
Whether view from a social, historical, political, or musical point of view, Invenciones. La otra vanguardia musical en Latinoamérica 1976-1988 is unquestionably one of the most important assemblies of music to emerge this year. It is phenomenal on every count. A true joy in listening, and, because of the incredible obscurity of these recording, a likely revelation for every ear. Joined by brilliant explanatory liner notes by Luis Alvarado, this is a release that I can’t recommend enough. Ten out of ten. My hat goes off to the artists, Munster, Alvarado, and all those involved. This is as good as reissue culture and the vinyl revival get. You can pick it up directly from Munster, SoundOhm, or a record store near you. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many samples floating around, but I’ve done my best to gather a few below.
Miguel Flores – Pachacuti (1983)
Amauta – Variaciones De Amauta (1980)
Grupo Um – Mobile / Stabile (1981)
Carlos Da Silveira – Así nomás (1977)
Quum – Incidente en la Ciudad de los Hombres Mecánicos (1982)
Vía Láctea – Necronomicón
Miguel Noya – Gran Sabana (1984)