Subtempo Guest Mix 042
Menhir is a music and art collective formed by artist and singer Coco Moya and musician Iván Cebrián, based in Spain. In between experimental contemporary electronics, ambient music, and minimalism. Their music is created for immersive site-specific performances, and interactive installations. They explore the combination of analog synthesis with innovative digital instruments, using the voice, sampling and object processing.
Hi Coco and Ivan, it’s nice to finally get to do this, feels like we’ve been talking about it forever.
Yes, your invitation had been on the table for quite some time, and we wanted to get to it.
I’d like to start by asking what tools did you use to create this mix.
Just Ableton and our imagination.
Is there a theme to this mix?
We hadn’t really thought about it, but as we were putting together the list of songs we wanted to include and seeing how we could interweave them, we started realizing there were echoes between songs, as if the compositions were reflecting one another. We’ve put together a journey through some pieces that we really like, although we’ve had to leave others out. We don’t usually do these sort of mixes, but it’s been a fun experience that at times felt like another form of composition.As Menhir, Coco and Ivan create site-specific musical compositions.
Congratulations on your latest release, Geomantic Works.
Honestly, we really needed to publish it. We’ve been with it for over 3 years and until you release it to the world, you can’t fully move forward. With all that focused energy you put into a record, putting it out is very liberating.
What is the record about?
It collects some of the compositions that we’ve created throughout these 3 years, made for a site-specific location. Many of the pieces are of a sound installation (The Water Meditation) that we did in the salt valley of Añana, in Vitoria, Spain. It’s a very special place where salt has been harvested for thousands of years, using wooden structures to evaporate the water spanning across the valley. It’s a beautiful landscape full of meaning.
It also includes some other works we’ve composed during this time, and as a whole it’s a sort of study on how to compose music based on the landscape, a geopucture that we’ve compiled under the name of geomantic works. This geomancy stuff can sound very exotic but it’s just the continuation of years of studying alchemy, I-ching, or tarot. It’s also carrying on from how Menhir started, making music for mountains and other landscapes. All of this permeates the record.
Musically speaking, do you feel it’s a continuation from your previous work or is it a complete departure?
From our first release until now, we’ve changed a lot of our musical approach. At first we created pop and electronic music, and working more in the conceptual realm has taken us in a more ambient and minimalistic turn. We’ve also changed the instruments we use, from digital to analog, with a lot more effects processing, like in the voice for example. So we kind of see it as a refinement of style and focus.Coco on voice and Ivan on synths, they create an imaginary, subtle and dreamy landscape.
What themes were you exploring when you created the album?
Most of the compositions have the intention to flow like the crystalized water from the salt valley of Añana. There’s also some music that we composed for the lapis specularis stone, highly used in the Roman empire, that we showcased live at the National Archeology Museum. And like we said, all forms of ancient wisdom such as I-ching, tarot, alchemy, geomancy and intuition permeate the record. Guess this places us in the uncomfortable bucket of pseudoscience, but we don’t have a huge problem with it.
The title is very evocative, visual almost. I know you are a visual artist Coco. How does the visual art aspect weave into the musical project?
Right from the start, we worked with the idea of sonic geomancy: how music can affect and transform a territory in the same way a menhir can affect the Earth as geopuncture. Since the record has site-specific music from different locations we wanted to title it something more generic, that could embrace all these experiences. We’re more focused on the expanded idea of music than the visual aspect. We try to find echoes in the materials we use, the spaces we use to create, in our music but also in our bodies and our imagination. That’s what the artistic expression is all about, understanding the aesthetic experience as something transformative, that requires our capacity to experiment and perceive the world in order to relate to it.
You found a good home for it in our beloved Piano and Coffee Records, run by pianist Sergio Diaz de Rojas, who’s also contributed to this mix series in the past. How did you meet Sergio?
It was funny… Ivan had heard some of his music and when we were sending the record out to various labels, we saw an interview he did with Audiotalaia run by Edu Comelles. That night Ivan dreamt with Segio, so he decided to talk to him.
That’s very interesting. Dreams come true they say! How long have you been working together as Menhir?
Since 2013.Menhir create music with and for the spaces where they create it, they call this Geomancy.
And you are partners in life as well right? That feels like a beautiful combination if you can make it work.
Yeah, sometimes that works in our favor and others against us! They say heaven and hell are very close to one another [laughs]. We met through music and that’s always been at the core of our relationship.
How did you meet?
We met through an improv group Ivan put together with some friends about 15 years ago. We used to get together and get to know people just through music, without barely talking. They were real melting pots, very noisy, and we’d approach it almost as musical therapy. One day Coco showed up and when she started singing Ivan turned his head to see where that dreamy surreal voice was coming from, and to his amazement it was real. Ivan needed a vocalist for his electronic music project at the time and invited Coco to sing. That was in 2012 and here we are still.
You’ve performed in a multitude of venues, from art gallery installations to concert venues. What would you say is the ideal listening scenario for the music you create?
Every composition requires its own listening space, that’s the basic idea behind creating site-specific music. When we play a song in its place, we can feel with certainty that this piece belongs there. But broadcasting on-site with good sound quality can be very costly, there may be wind or humidity for example. Therefore we like spaces with good sound, where people can move, walk, lay down, make the space theirs and get comfortable.
You are based in Madrid. How’s the music scene there? Are you able to find a like-minded people?
Well, the experimental music scene in Madrid is very small. There are some exceptions but we’ve been very lucky (even tho luck is a funny one) when we met the musician Suso Sáiz who also lives near Madrid. The relationship we’ve developed with him has really helped us in this desert that is experimental music in our country. There are some people who are doing this kind of music, but nobody looks at the creative process from the angle we do.It is not uncommon for Menhir to present their conceptual work in art galleries or museums.
Is there an ambient scene in Spain?
In Madrid, there are some groups like Calma, run by Josephine and Juan Koan, and there’s a place that’s going to open soon near Conde Duque that Noelia Rodriguez from Delicalisten puts together that looks promising.
Barcelona has a robust electronic music scene, but ambient and experimental are hard to find. Malaga and other parts of Andalucia have been pushing the scene, but there’s such little audience for it, that it’s hard to get out of the amateur cycle, which is what’s prevalent in Spain. There aren’t many things we find affinity with - there’s a lack of professionality in the scene, which has a impact in the economic infrastructure.
Your compositions have a great balance of electronic and organic. What are your go-to instruments in the studio – what are your essentials?
We can talk about what gear we use, syths like Prophet 8 or Moog Little Phatty Stage II, or reverb and delay pedals like Hologram Microcosm, but for us, the most important thing is where you use your instruments from. Once you have a minimally decent set-up, what becomes most important is what you want to do with it, and from where. Nowadays you can find people who use incredible tools but don’t create music with them, they make sounds, but from that to making music there’s a huge jump. For us, the process of creation is about ‘going inwards towards oneself’, and the instruments are just a medium, not the objective.
What’s next for Menhir?
We are finishing the next album, 13 moons and a black hole, which will be a compilation of the pieces that we’ve been working on in the past couple os years. It’ll be more ambient, perhaps with some purely vocal pieces.
Well, we wish you the best in your next adventures. Thanks so much for doing this, it’s been a pleasure!
Thanks for your interest and the offer!
- Meredith Monk - Vessel Suite (live)
- Suso Sáiz - Paracanción [Music from Memory 2019]
- Stars of the lid - Requiem for dying mothers, part 2 [Kranky 2001]
- Sílvia Pérez Cruz y Carlos Gárate - Par Coeur + The Womb. [Universal Music 2020]
- Brian Eno and Laraaji - The dance 1 [EG Records 1980]
- Tim Hecker - Virginal II [Kranky 2013]
- Fennesz, Ryuichi Sakamoto - Cendre [Touch 2007]
- Susumu Yokota – Hagoromo [The Leaf Label 2000]
- Joanna Brouk - Playing water [Hummingbird Productions 1990]
- Perila & Ulla - Every Something is an Echo of Nothing [Vaagner 2021]
- Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - Stratus [Western vinyl 2016]
- Lino Capra Vaccina - Antico adagio [Self-released 1978, reissue Die Schachtel 2019]
- Julianna Barwick - Nebula [Dead oceans 2016]
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