Part 1

Name: Briana Marela Lizárraga
Occupation: Sound artist, vocalist, composer, improviser
Nationality: American-Peruvian
Recent release: Briana Marela & Sally Decker's Small Tremble In Slow Motion is out via Surface World.
Recommendation: Listen to the album Run Like Water, by Asenath, it is a dreamy and hazy pop album (made by my sibling) about a relationship falling apart and finding yourself again.
Listen to the album Into The Wish, by Mitch Stahlmann, especially if you love flute and playful electronic improvisation.

[Read our Sally Decker interview]

If you enjoyed this interview with  Briana Marela and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official homepage. She is also on InstagramSoundcloud and twitter.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started writing songs acapella and with piano when I was 11, but I started singing when I was 3.

My mother observed me from a young age loving to sing and dance and thoughtfully decided to put me in a local children’s singing group. We performed at different community events, a lot of songs from famous musicals and bands like The Beatles, Beach Boys, Elton John, etc. Aside from that, at home my Peruvian father played a lot of Andean traditional folk music. I remember specifically this one cassette I loved, El Arte De La Quena by Uña Ramos. My dad always wanted my siblings and I to be in touch with our Indigenous heritage as mixed race kids. The melodies, instruments, and sounds of Peruvian and Andean folk music are forever a part of me.

I recorded an EP in high school with the guidance of my voice teacher Johanna Kunin and her friends. I was captivated by the process of recording music and shaping sound. I wanted to learn how to record myself. In my undergrad college years I spent my time studying audio production, which was a gateway into music technology. I started listening to early experimental electronic music. I remember the piece Dripsody (by Hugh Le Caine) blowing my mind. I have also always been a big fan and admirer of the sounds coming out of the different music communities I have been a part of. Like the music coming out of the Olympia/Seattle music scene by friends and peers, and now my life in Oakland and the scene there.

Another early musical influence I can’t neglect to mention is Björk, whose music has had a huge impact on me, her commanding use of her voice. I love the voice as an instrument, there is so much potential and uniqueness in every person’s voice. The way the voice is tied to melody and to direct emotional communication has been pretty central to my work.

Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?

I have always been highly sound sensitive since I was a kid, which has been both a blessing and a curse. I have a condition called Misophonia, which I sometimes describe as the worst kind of synaesthesia. It makes me have involuntary emotional reactions to certain sounds, which are most often classified as “negative” emotions such as anger, disgust, and fear. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed and hurt by sounds I have to wear earplugs or remove myself from a situation.

Despite the pain I have felt from sound, I think having highly sensitive ears has been a part of my intense passion and emotional connection to music and sound and why I also ended up getting into audio production. Creating music has been a powerful way for me to process my deepest emotions, and being able to listen from a creative and technical viewpoint lets me have a more intimate connection with the music I make.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

I have been fortunate to know my own inner creative spirit and voice as an artist pretty well and early on and I have felt confident in pursuing the different visions and ideas I have had, even as I grow and develop into new versions of myself. Not without internal challenges though, like my introverted shyness, self-doubt, anxiety, and my own high expectations for myself. I have found ways of confronting and facing these challenges, but they are still all a part of me somehow. I am just able to manage them all a little better and channel them into something more meaningful instead of letting those things hold me back.

Lately my interest has been in realizing and enjoying the importance of being fully present and confident in a live performance. Performing terrified me for so long, although I kept wanting to put myself through it, I was so afraid of failing. My fear kept me from being a better performer, I’m also not very proficient at any instrument but voice.

A recent breakthrough realization moment in my artistic development only happened a few years ago during my time in my MFA at Mills College. I decided I needed to create performance tools in Maxmsp to be able to gesturally play and embody the sounds I created. It gave me more confidence to sing out and use my voice in a more playful and improvisational way. Also shifting my sound interest further into experimental music and improvisation has given me a freedom I didn’t anticipate.

I’m not afraid of failing anymore, if I fail now I see it as taking the risk I had to take to be more myself. I trust in myself more, I feel like I am more myself now than I have ever been and that there is a lot of room left to grow.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

I am a dreamer, I live in my own fantasy world maybe out of self protection, sometimes I distort reality. I can have a hard time being present, I get lost in the past / future, my projects, dreams or emotional states.

Being mixed race I have always felt like I don’t fully belong to either culture, like I’m not enough and that has affected my life in a big way. I’m not Peruvian enough, I’m not American enough. At times musically I have struggled to find where I fit in as well, my music is too melodic and sentimental for the experimental world, and too strange yet not bombastic enough for the pop world. I have a lot of friends who I love dearly, but I am also a bit of a hermit and loner. I like to be alone, but then again most of my work is about interpersonal relationships, ha! I think I have always been drawn to work that feels created in isolation, or birthed from dreams or mirror work.

I have mostly worked on creative projects alone, with few collaborations. Though my most recent collaboration has been very exciting to me, with friend and artist Sally Decker. Making our debut album together, Small Tremble In Slow Motion, was a really enriching experience for me to find trust with a friend through navigating difficult emotional states. Especially during the worst of the pandemic (so far), where even someone like me who likes to be alone has had a hard time with isolation. The process of working with Sally has sparked a lot of creative energy and joy.

Maybe the best collaborations are where you can still find that feeling of being alone but with someone else.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

My approach to music and art is based in healing and helping myself through difficulty and emotional pain. I think by letting others be witness to my own healing process is a way for other people to find and create their own kinds of healing.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I think at this moment in time I am more interested in a “music of the future” but of course the future can’t exist without an acknowledgement of the traditions we have come from. I think innovation can be timeless, and that by striving to find an original voice in your music is what makes you timeless.

There was a time when I was so obsessed with perfection and wanted myself and my music to live up to some unrealistic expectation, and now that is really boring to me. I would rather make something that feels original and true to myself, in the moment I make it and not be bothered by my own or other people’s expectations.

The music of the future exists when we are not stuck re-examining the past but when we are building on it.

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