Name: Maria Chavez
Occupation: Sound Artist, Turntablist, DJ
Current Release: Maria Chavez plays Stefan Goldmann's Ghost Hemiola on macro
Recommendations: Lawrence Weschler: Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin (more information here)
Sit in a room and listen to sound fall into each other for 2 minutes. Experience the pace as it is the energy of the area around you. Try to embody that pace as you leave for the day.
If you enjoyed this interview with Maria Chavez, visit her instagram page for current news and more information. She also has a Facebook fan page.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Been manipulating playback technology since I could hold a cassette player … so, like, 4 or 5? Not sure what drew me into sound, probs because I wasn’t used to it for a while, being that I heard my first sound when I was 3. So, I guess, once I could hear like a normal person, I soaked it all up.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
The first 2 years of my career I made the choice to not listen to other turntablists. Because I knew it was all just hip hop techniques deconstructed. That wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted it to be it’s own language. So chance developed it with my booking shows nonstop for a few years. Then when I felt comfortable in my language, I heard other stuff and it was fine.
You could say I imagine mirroring other artists for the purpose of pushing my real life actions to be the opposite of the mirror. The reflection is the way not to go. I use that as my guide.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The experimental approach always begins with adding more before subtracting. Once I realized more was useless, the work began to develop on its own, no longer making it experimental within the definition of performance approach. The boys wanted more, so I had to filter through more in the beginning to get to need less. I think we all do that in one way or another.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
Cubase? Some turntables? I don’t remember my first studio. It was so long ago. My studio now is in flux due to my medical condition, dealing with my recovery. 1 technics, 2 numark TTX series, Numark DJ mixer, records, art supplies. My anechoic foam wedges. It’s a studio …
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Machines allow possibility. With my latest release for MACRO, instead of focusing on real time sonic chisels in front of an audience, I took a 1 second chisel (glitch) and stretched it 20 minutes. I imagined as if we are spelunking into each subtractive chiselled audio wave (glitch). It’s like you’re walking through the Grand Canyon of audio waves. It’s long and the same, but slightly different. Can’t get lost in a glitch without technology. I’m glad I could do a sonically microscopic take of my painting series, Topography of Sound, 2018. It’s a part of a whole thing.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
The tools come later. The moment shapes the idea first. Then it tells you what tools you need to make it happen.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaborations come and go, each with their unique qualities that enhance different areas of your practice. As far as playing a role, I see it as more of an addition to my practice than a leading part within it. If there is an interesting artist that wants to work with, I’ll consider it based on criteria that are happening during that time period. It’s all very malleable.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Well, as of now I’m on a medical sabbatical from performing until 2021 so my days are very different than before the brain surgery. There’s a lot of writing, thinking about the future of my work and my life. I’m finishing a new album for Erstwhile Records and have a solo exhibition at Indiana University in April/ May 2020. A few works will be in exhibitions here and there.
I’m excited to not have to be in public the way I used to be. I want to learn more about other industries now. I think I mastered the arts for a while. I can always come back but I do miss performing. I’m just not in a headspace for that and won’t be comfortable in that role until I have the all clear that I’m cured from my disorder. It’s a long road. I appreciate everyone’s compassion and patience with me.
Also, I drink grapefruit, cucumber, chlorophyll, collagen smoothies everyday. Super yum. And 3 liters of water. I love water. And cookies.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
Some things sit in my mind for a while and suddenly an opportunity, magic, arises where the piece can exist! Or, sometimes someone challenges me with an idea, like Stefan Goldmann did for this remix collaboration. I tried to play it the “right” way but it felt too tedious to manipulate. That tediousness always shows me that the DIRECTION I’m looking at the project is wrong. Then one day I decided to expand a glitch to see how far we could go. And then it made itself. You just have to wait and watch. The work will develop on it’s own if you just act as an instigator and observer. It’s a fun way to make art.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I live within my creativity. Allowing my creativity to guide me through life was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ll go wherever she wants to take me.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I’m aware of traditional composition practices but I’m a sound artist, not a musician, so I’m not trying to make cohesive sonic ideas. Improvisation with my turntablism is an action, creating real time vibration sculptures. These pieces aren’t supposed to survive even though they’re subtractive works, physically and sonically. Improvisation is a tool for that.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Sound as a whole is more than audio emission into a space. Composition within music theory is a language of sound. I’m not interested in working with that language. I’m interested in working with sound to act as a leading line for different conceptual approaches. But I’m not interested in making a song. I prefer to call them sonic ideas, because they will never be finished. Even if it’s recorded and distributed as a final idea.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I love using the McGurk effect in my multi-media installations. The vinyl record is the perfect playback object for that. The inner ear/ inner dialogue that every human experiences is also something I manipulate. That’s what my book, Of Technique: Chance Procedures on Turntable, is all about. Inviting you to use your inner dialogue and inner ear/ imagination to illustrate the sounds that are being described in the book. Then you perform the techniques, performing the album. So you take your imagined sonic idea and put it into practice, physically making the album come alive from your mind to the world. There’re so many others, cleaning your ears out with sound bleed, audio masking the sound of applause to turn into the sound of a rainstorm. That is all dealing with the mind. Sound is more that sonic emission.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Everyday I’m Deep Listening. Thank you, Pauline.
It is remarkable, in a way that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
As long as you consider the birds eye view of the music industry then it won’t consume you if you want to work within it. As a consumer, I also view it in birds eye view. I don’t seek out music, I see how the media is forcing it onto me via differing outlets. Then I know who has the most money backing them. It’s always fun when the next group of ‘stars’ come into play. They only get a 2 year window, so you just hope they can last 5 years so they can have a career for the long haul. But you rarely see it happen. The filtration system of life is real and the music industry is a fascinating way to witness it.