Upon entering Aoraquï’s recording and rehearsal space in the heart of Santiago, it’s clear that the duo’s self-described “organic electronica” is not only manifest in their musical style, but in their environment as well. There’s a MacBook pro adorned with a spiral of bubbly neon stickers, an array of patch cables hanging on an acrylic floral bird, a long table of synthesizers and sequencers opposite a wall of floor plants, all growing freely amidst jars of spices and stacks of past issues of National Geographic Magazine. A lived-in warmth complements the insistent functionality of their musical machines.
The fusion perhaps begins in the pair’s unique duality: Renata Anaya comes from a background in composition, experimental music, and improvisational vocal performance (she did research on traditional singing at the Conservatoire Nationale de Pantin just outside of Paris) and Daniel Jeffs has had his hands in Chile’s electronic music scene for years, both as a producer and as co-founder of the Pueblo Nuevo netlabel.
Aoraquï combines the Spanish ahora and aquí, forming a new combinative word meaning both “here” and “now,” indicative of their spontaneous yet focused workflow. Aoraquï’s process often consists of long hours of improvisation in which Anaya interweaves her voice into the gaps and spaces of Jeffs’ minimal grooves and melodic sequences. They then settle on the standout moments in the recording, editing and arranging the pieces to form a complete song.
“When I was studying orchestration and composition, I found a way of constructing music in which each sound has its own place. So, what I do vocally is to search through the voice for what’s missing in the electronics, for something distinct and complementary,” says Anaya.
The result is neither techno, nor pop–though elements of each find their way into these unique improvisational performances. In a way, Aoraquï’s arrangements play off of a jazz concept, creating a structural form within which the musicians have the liberty to move freely.
Sonically, Aoraquï has dance music at its core, with punchy kick drums and sharply programmed percussion forming the backbone of persistent, extended tracks. Anaya’s vocal experimentation is on full display on a tune like “Pistadeski,” while she blends lightly into and over the bubbling bass line and whimsical glitches of “Mariocachaña.”
Both Anaya and Jeffs afford themselves improvisational freedom with regards to their respective instruments. While Jeffs brings randomization and variation through LFOs and other dynamics, Anaya sings based on her own phonemic system of vowels and consonants. To be clear, there are no lyrics in an Aoraquï song, at least no language in the conventional sense, though the vocals are surprisingly catchy.
“When I was doing lyrical studies, I became a bit more experimental and it birthed new techniques.” says Anaya, whose phonemes are inspired by the sounds of indigenous languages from around the world.
“There is a precision and a structure, but it doesn’t have semantics, there isn’t a meaning in the sounds–it’s like an instrument. We don’t want to send a message directly through the language. It’s more like sound poetry, it’s beyond the words. The origin of the sound comes before the words.”
Jeffs adds, “[With lyrics], it becomes conditional. The meaning or the word can take away an element of the music. What happens many times in the case of songs is that music becomes a secondary element.”
Both musicians laugh at the thought of how obsessive and strange the process of writing lyrics could actually be.
When playing live, Aoraquï reconstruct their recordings into a continuous performance. “It’s not the format of a playing a typical song that lasts three-and-a-half minutes, wait for everyone to applause, and then play the next one. We have continuous set when we play live, so there aren’t any interruptions, it’s like a full piece,” says Jeffs. “It’s like jazz too,” adds Renata, “in that we keep going until there aren’t any more ideas, and that’s when we finish.”
Anaya and Jeffs share a few of their frustrations within Santiago’s electronic music scene, none of which are unique to the duo–a lack of performance spaces, segmentation of genres by corporate sponsors, and an inflated enthusiasm for imported music festivals seem to be endemic to Chile’s growing, but often stifled independent community of artists and musicians.
Jeffs speaks about the influx of electronic music after the end of the Chile’s military regime in the early 1990s. “In the 90s, when the raves began, it brought the original spirit of techno; there was something novel here in public spaces, and people came. Something amazing happened in those years. You could come, you could dance as long as you wanted and enjoy it without the discrimination of social class or anything.”
However, Jeffs and Anaya express their confidence in what’s ahead. It seems that Aoraquï and the rest of the independent electronic music community in Santiago maintain strength in their artistic identity and values, despite the pressures to work within the industry’s constraints.
“I think it’s changing, I think it’s returning to the original feeling,” says Jeffs. “Because the idea of techno is that it’s something more universal and inclusive. The idea is that there isn’t discrimination…I think we’re recovering this. It’s a fight because on the other side you have the companies that are putting a lot of money into segmenting, and marketing, and charging a lot for entry, so it’s a complicated theme.”