The phantasmagoric poetics of Lucrecia Dalt
Photography: Camille Blake
The second month of this peculiar summer found me alone in a near abandoned South Texas senior citizen RV resort. The air was as ominous as it was humid, a premonition of Hurricane Hanna ravaging Hidalgo County, filling up the empty lake, and knocking out my power for two days. I took a walk through a gloom dominated by palm trees and a pre-storm sky with my headphones on. This is where Lucrecia Dalt’s No era sólida (Spanish for ‘I Was Not Solid’) unravelled itself.
The Colombian avant-garde sound artist, based in Berlin by way of Pereira, has crafted a work that conjures a macabre suspense through the morphology of the voice. Dalt’s multi-disciplinary and disjointed musicianship can be traced to her background as a geotechnical engineer, a professional grounding in the physical world that lies in stark opposition with her musical approach.
Past releases, such as 2018’s eerily minimalistic Anticlines, have always tended towards the nebulous and ephemeral – even when their concepts have been rooted in earthly concerns (in the case of the poetic reflections of Anticlines, tectonic plates). No era sólida, by contrast, relinquishes itself entirely to the void. The record plays out like a dark, anachronistic opera sung almost entirely in glossolalia with Dalt’s vocals chopped-up and heavily distorted amid a soundscape of toned-down percussion and hypnotic clink-clanking. It’s an unsettling and aptly-named record, one that showcases Dalt’s understanding of timespace and humanity’s isolated place in it. In other words, the perfect soundtrack for a walk through the largely empty streets of a post-pandemic world.“I finished making the album before Covid-19, and the general state of the world was very different,” Dalt confesses. “My relationship to it is now very distant – and it’s a brutal distance, because we’ve all changed so radically during this time.” Distant is certainly one way to describe No era sólida, detached as it is from the corporeal world while simultaneously capturing the possibility of interaction with another reality. The first single, Disuelta, opens with a monotonous droning chime reminiscent of a singing bowl as played through a synth, setting the unnerving tone for an album as unapologetically cerebral as the artist herself.
© Camille Blake
As a storm intensifies outside my window, Dalt testifies over Zoom how informed by literature and sculpture this album is. Inspired by the famous short story Venus Smiles by British novelist J.G. Ballard as well as the posthumously published novel A Breath of Life by Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, Dalt finished forming the record’s core idea during a site-specific performance at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona [for SónarMies Fest]. “I wanted to try to find a vantage point to connect to the space and write a text from the perspective of a statue in the building that’s making a gesture of covering its face from the sun.”
The irony of an album inspired by words which is told largely through vocal distortions rather than lyrics is not lost on either one of us. “I wrote a fictional history about the statue to think about the subjective materiality of the sculpture as something that has seen much more than us humans,” she tells me. “The statue tells the human, ‘I have seen all, your history, your anxiety… I’ve been dried and compacted and confined.’ It’s a material history that makes a subject which could have a more potent history than any human being. If a part of her breaks off, all this material continues to contain this history, this hysteria.”
© Camille Blake
“As an artist, I feel there’s no difference between the music and the process. It’s a process between two vessels: the music and myself”
Ballard’s short story, Lispector’s tale from beyond the grave and Dalt’s invented mythology of the Catalonian statue are all centred in a very powerful idea: an artwork gaining a conscience and turning against its creator. For Ballard, it was a statue that emanated disturbing music and whose scrap metal eventually became recycled into the structure of every building in a small desert town. For Lispector, a female creation made in the vision of a male artist is fighting against his commands after being given the breath of life, yelling in fragmented language to be understood. For Dalt, it’s a conjuring-turned-possession; rather than fight her creation and assert dominance, she gives herself to it.
This idea of a lifeless being achieving sentience – something not-quite-human communicating through Dalt via the astral plane – lies at the centre of No era sólida in the form of Lia. This character, communicating and expressing themself through Dalt via the hypnotic loops and jolts of the album, goes through phases of grief, joy and birth, emoted almost entirely through sound.Dalt is a rare artist that exists outside of cultural context, or even the realm of mortals. With work that ranges from immersive audiovisual mystic operas (in the case of V.I.T.R.I.O.L., in collaboration with interdisciplinary artist Regina de Miguel) to spatial sound installations at Berlin’s Botanischer Garten, Dalt proves herself a master of imbuing a space with pensive discomfort. With No era sólida, she makes her body the stage for this unease by telling the tale of a high-art séance. As she loses herself in the reverberations, she asks not to be found and yet calls for understanding. To listen to this album, one must be ready to be uncomfortable, leave their consciousness at the door, and enter a suspended reality that ends when Dalt/Lia caws her first reflections as a being. On the chilling title track, the finale of this garish sonic affair, Dalt’s voice – barely a glimmer echoing in the universe of the record – at last manifests as a near-croak, the voice of Lia coming into existence to beckon the listener in Dalt’s native Spanish.
It strikes me as remarkable how Dalt refuses to get lost in the surrealist labyrinth she has built. “I wanted to make something very direct, with an improvisational attitude. An album ends up being a kind of capturing of an instant, of everything that I have lived up to that moment,” she points. “As an artist, I feel there’s no difference between the music and the process. It’s a process between two vessels: the music and myself.”
This interview has been condensed and translated from Spanish.
No era sólida is out via RVNG Intl on 11 September.
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