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Vica Pacheco: Symplegmata

A fascinating and fabulously abrasive set of intricate sonic sculptures and manipulated field recordings, Symplegmata is the debut release from Vica Pacheco, a sound artist and musician from Oaxaca, Mexico currently resident in Brussels. A hint at the album’s concerns lies with the title which Pacheco explains refers to, “a certain type of organism which lives in the ocean firmly attached to rocks and builds colonies, which are beautiful.” Equally, the word can also mean “a character, human or animal representation, whose totality is composed by different elements embraced or stuck to each other.” This notion of hybridity or accretion as a way of providing alternate possibilities for composition led Pacheco to the processes that gave rise to the album’s 12 tracks, and which leads, often unexpectedly, to moments of delicate emotion amongst the careful and ornate constructions.

Gloriously askew rhythms coalesce and shimmer in something approaching a metallic funk, as on “Symplegma y Micromégas,” where the stuttering bassline, seemingly urged forward by the gentle clank and scrape of the percussion, gathers enough momentum to become something one can move in time to before the entire structure collapses into gentle steel drum-like plucks and whispers. “Jacaranda” has a similar play with a shuffling and percussive rhythm, the metronomic bass drum pulses and thuds providing a platform for the manipulated snatches of sound that weave throughout. A departure, “Nocturno” summons a whisper of Kraftwerk with the massively compressed electronic drums that phase into and out of focus as a more mournful synthesised melody emerges and assumes the focus of the track.

Elsewhere, the rhythm and tone structures suggest a more folk music-oriented set of influences, with “Batalla” mixing the kinds of organic percussion Renaldo and the Loaf would explore with what sounds like flutes or ocarinas floating to dominance. Along the same lines, “La Loma” offers a bubbling and multi-layered rhythm track, punctuated with snatches of speech, distorted lead lines and plucked notes, all of which fades into a sombre silence. Perhaps the album’s harshest moments occur in “The Haunting Melody of Gayatri” where carefully recorded and unpleasantly liquid sounds crinkle in an insectile fashion in the foreground, diverting attention from the hollow clanks and scrapes that, in their way, map out a darker and more cavernous space that remains an unexplored suggestion by the track’s end.

Album closer “Trenzas Negras” utilises gentle sound modulations and vocal samples in a way that both suggests the earliest days of synthesiser music, as well as the more recent Ghost Box-inspired return to those sounds, and the futures that they once suggested might be possible. At just over two minutes, it’s a short and melancholic note to end on, and a perfect summary of the album’s overarching concerns with specific sounds and the ways they can be combined to suggest interior states in relation with the wider concerns of time, history and identity.

The soundscapes of Symplegmata are carefully crafted and affecting, but since Pacheco’s practice also incorporates sculpture, installation and graphic works alongside performance pieces, it’s fascinating to consider the music as something designed to complement and supplement her other artwork. However, given the current impossibility of experiencing those other works directly, its often gentle sadness stands as a perfect record to enjoy and return to in the interim.

Summary
Pacheco’s practice also incorporates sculpture, installation and graphic works alongside performance pieces, it’s fascinating to consider the music as something designed to complement and supplement her other artwork.
75 %
fabulously abrasive

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