Into the Lush Divide With Bahía Mansa

Connecting with Iván Aguayo was serendipitous. Someone I follow on Bandcamp bought his album, La Orilla en la Que Habito, and I was immediately taken by the cover. I picked up a copy on a Bandcamp day and loved it. A day or two later, Aguayo sent me an email with information about his newest record, botánica del olvido, a beautiful sonic landscape full of aqueous sounds and gentle, expansive drones. In a series of emails, we talked about his work, the experimental music scene in Chile, early memories, and more.

What are some of your earliest memories of sound and music? Like when you were a kid, what were some sounds you really remember or any pieces of music that first caught your attention?

Whenever I get asked about where my interest in music came from, I just know I must mention my dad. He’s a huge fan of music. When I was a little kid, he would show me classical music, and tell me stories about classical composers. Like, the funny anecdotes, or the actual stories behind the work. He also took me a couple of times to the Opera, then I’d return him the favor when I started to work. He has a terrific classical music collection to this day. I’m especially fond of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Chopin’s Nocturnes, I used to play them a lot. I grew up listening to a lot of music, but whenever I listen to one of those works, I usually lose myself in the memories. I guess that’s why I have a soft spot for peaceful ambient music.

I love the story about your dad as it’s something I really relate to (for me it was my dad playing me Beach Boys and Bob Dylan records). Has your dad listened to any of your work or seen any performances? What was that experience like for you?

Sometimes I would start playing while my father read. He said it was “good furniture music” ha. He never attended any presentations, my old man is old enough, but I used to bring him the recordings and we would watch them on DVD at home. He enjoys my atmospheric projects better, the same with my mom. She is definitely more of a fan than my dad though. She’d actually ask me to play in the living room because she’d relax and the music would calm her down. For me, this experience has been so pleasant, I think I could not describe it, the amount of joy is immeasurable, you know?

At what point did you start to think about creating your own works? What instrument did you first play?

My first instrument was a Casio VL-1 when I was 7 years old, I started by learning the song that came with it. I really enjoyed playing it, but it always kind of bothered me that it was monophonic. Of course, I didn’t know such a concept, but one of my friends had a bigger polyphonic Casio and I really wanted to play harmonies. Anyway, later, at the age of 14, I began to play bass and later switch to guitar. When I learned enough, I started to use a DAW for composing, and at 16 I began writing my own songs. I remember the first proper song I made! It was called “Aloe”. It was an ambient song with strings, trumpet, and ethnic elements, somewhat similar to what Dead Can Dance did around that time. I showed it to my friends, and everyone was amazed! So, I started to feel more confident and started to play in numerous bands and solo projects, as a guitarist/keyboardist.

What is your process like – how do you typically conceive of a piece of music or sound and then go about trying to create it?

Well, my approaches to composition have been mutating over the years. Sometimes I’d focus on the structure, other I’d focus on texture and sound design. Sometimes I’d think of a concept, an image, or an idea to compose something that has some kind of relation to it, even if it is a vague reference. Kind of a draft, you know?

Then I come back to it after a while. Most of the time there’s something that I don’t like, so I play with a few things: new sounds, arrangements, muting other tracks. The ideas that I don’t like stay pretty much in the dark. Still, even if it’s a process, I have always thought that it’s something very natural to me, and that’s why I feel like an intermediary rather than a composer. I feel it’s part of the evolution as a musician, I feel more connected to my unconscious, and I feel I can converse and exchange ideas with it.

What is it like for experimental music and sound in Chile? Is there a scene and supportive community?

There are several scenes and labels that are releasing compelling works you should check out. Templo Sagital, Irán Wym Organización, Halim Records, Medio Oriente, and ETC Records are prolific labels making extremely interesting releases nowadays. Templo Sagital has an extensive catalog very focused on avant-garde and industrial music. Iran releases what I would like to call erotic ambient music, with industrial/modular influences. ETC Records, Medio Oriente, and Halim have a vast catalog that moves between electronics, space rock, and psychedelia. This is a very interesting and lively community that covers a lot of ground if you ask me, and some of them have collaborated with international acts such as Nadja and Anasisana, to name a few.

That’s incredible – there seems to be so much happening around there and a lot of collaboration and support. On the other side, though, what are some of the biggest challenges and obstacles you deal with?

I feel social media promotion has been a bit exhausting for me, especially since it is very time-consuming. I love interacting with people, that’s why when I promote my work I try not only to advertise it but to engage in a conversation as well. But that limits the scope I can have, so, I don’t know, I really could use a hand on this. The current quarantine and work at home has also made my job sometimes excruciating, especially if you work with clients, and sometimes I can’t quite disconnect from it, so the creative flow stalls a bit in some periods. Playing live isn’t an option either, so it’s become difficult to establish more local networks.

La Orilla en la Que Habito was the first of your work that I heard and it immediately captured my attention with the combination of field recordings and electronic sounds. It’s such an immersive listening experience that sometimes feels alien, but also has a very earthy, textural feel to it. Can you talk a little about the inspiration behind it?

The idea behind La Orilla came to me when I was on holidays, in a cottage by the sea, near San Alfonso. It is a beautiful place surrounded by a couple of wetlands, currently being threatened by various housing projects. It’s a shame because the diverse fauna and flora in El Membrillo wetland caught my attention immediately: a place very rich and varied sonically, so the next morning I went there to get some environmental sounds. Every time I travel, I bring a recorder for these occasions. It also happened that a year ago I had talked to Nick at Histamine Tapes, a label that manufactures tapes in a recyclable, very environment-friendly way, so I sent it to him, and he was very impressed. Honestly, I don’t think La Orilla would fit in another label, the concept behind my album and his label are very very alike! He released it at the end of April and it did pretty well. We sent a couple to a store in Japan and all. 

As for the album, I aimed to create a dialogue between the electronics and the flora and fauna of the wetland. I’m looking to coexist with the environment. I was very influenced by the visual artist/architect Friedrich Hundertwasser, whose work I know thanks to my wife, and who has a very interesting vision about humans and nature, in which he sees man as a guest of nature, and therefore, he must learn to behave to live in harmony.

I think it’s such an interesting comparison, too, with some of your other work like “Montaña sin Nombre” and the improvisations on Expo 21 – they are very calm and ambient, seemingly more synth-based as well. How does your process differ with this kind of work compared to La Orilla en la Que Habito?

La Orilla en la Que Habito and other works I have, such as Artefactos Innaturales, are closer to sound art, aiming to present sound objects and found sounds, building a narrative around them, so I begin to work on frequencies and timbre, vicissitudes of sound itself as phenomena. There is some musicality, but it is purely incidental. On the other hand, Expo 21 and similar, are about music, stories to tell… photographs of time, as I’d like to call them. Capturing the ethos of memories, in other words.

In some ways, it seems like the new album, botánica del olvido, brings the two approaches together in a beautiful way. It’s such a transportive album – it really allows my mind to drift and I start to see and imagine all kinds of vivid imagery. When you were composing the songs on the album, how did you approach them and what ideas were you trying to explore?

This one has a very particular story. You see, one of my favorite records is Plantasia by Mort Garson. It is an album I’m always listening to, over and over again. Every time I listen to it, I find something new. A new idea, a new sound, a new emotion. And, in a way, botánica is my tribute to Mort Garson, not only to his work on Plantasia but also to his work as an arranger. So, for my first draft, I got inspiration from plants and flowers that I liked and started to compose from there. It was something quite didactic because I read and learned a lot about plants that I did not know. From there, I began to throw ideas based on what they transmitted to me. And the current titles were emerging based on what was recorded. As for the textures, I was looking for something warm, hopefully analogue, so I bumped into Ian’s work (home normal) and decided to work with him. The result was amazing, it was a very nice experience. He also mastered a lot of my favorite albums, so I was thrilled to work with him!

I can definitely hear the influence of Plantasia and Mort Garson botánica del olvido, now that you mention that. I love hearing about the process and how you learned about different plants as part of the process. When you are working on music and composing, is that common to your approach? In that I mean, do you get inspiration and ideas from the world around you or get images in your head that you then translate to sound – that kind of thing? I know, for me, that’s a big part of my process. Laraaji described it to me as ‘pulling music from the air’ and I always thought that was a beautiful, succinct way to describe it…

I’m a huge Laraaji fan and I absolutely agree with what he says. For me, the essential idea of a song comes from nothing, and based on it I build my story, using my resources. I really like “slow cinema”, so sometimes this influence inevitably leads me to recreate images that I have in my head. Sometimes I choose the ideas, other times they arise on their own. I find this dynamic to be symbiotic. As my inspiration comes from the environment, it also comes from the soundscape that surrounds me. A lot of times a particular sound sparks some intention and finally ends up as a resource to be used, or as a song. Sometimes a whole album, really.

I also think botánica del olvido does a great job of creating its own, distinct world. Listening to it, it’s almost as if I am transported away to connect with my own feelings, but also new ideas, new people, etc. How do you think music can work as a medium to not only build worlds through sound but also connect people across different places?

Absolutely. Music is a very interesting phenomenon insofar as it is an art that requires a much more active role than observing a painting, for example. As a song relies heavily on temporality, it is up to each of the listeners to reconstruct the work while it unfolds. In the paintings, we can sit back and look at every detail calmly. In music, we see the work appear and disappear in front of our ears and we must be agile enough to capture the details that spark our attention or curiosity, and this fluidity is interactive for both sides. It is in this understanding that people connect with the artist and with other listeners, creating their own imaginary world, independent of the place where they live.

How do you use music for yourself to gain a deeper understanding of your own world?

I see music as a very powerful self-knowledge tool. As I mentioned above, an internal dialogue takes place, between me and my unconscious who reveals itself in these moments. It brings out my more spiritual, if you will, aspirations, that exist with the more mundane, earthly needs. 

How do you hope listeners approach your music?

I enjoy simplicity in life and my music nurtures this vision. It’s part of a journey where the spiritual path is as relevant as your stance in nature and society. I aim to document this through my albums and sharing my findings with people.

What else are you working on these days?

Today I am working on an album that I will release at the end of the year through the Iran Wym Organization label, which revolves around analog photographs of the sea that I have taken over time, although I am still working on the concept. It will be edited on tape and will come with printed photos. I’m sure to let you know when it’s released! On the other hand, I am thinking of composing a collaborative work with musicians in whom I have an interest, although this seems to be a bit of a more long-term project.

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