My latest album, a sea without a port, has just been released. It consists of field-recordings I made while in Mexico City in July of 2013, and is a dream-like, psychogeographic narrative of the city and the limits of perception.
cat: gal 0124
date: 21 dec 2015
Joe Sannicandro aptly manipulates the noises of the city, from the high-pitched whistle that the sweet potato vendors’ carts make as they announce their presence, to the storms that make people huddle together at the entrances of subway stations, in order to produce moods that often stand in contrast to each other. “En el futuro todas las rutas de México terminarán por llamarse Insurgentes” (“In the future all the routes in Mexico will end up being called Insurgents”), which alludes to the city’s longest avenue, named “Insurgentes” after the rebels of the 1821 revolution, begins with the bustle of car horns and street conversations, soon shifting to a contemplative tone. It is, perhaps, a historical thought, an exercise in projecting to the future all the little, everyday gestures of dissent in a city that proudly displays its progressiveness to the rest of the country, an arrogance that earns it as much awe as disgust. After all, it is not difficult to make a turn in the right street and see that in the here and now such a vast machine demands as much death as the life it provides, to see that the city’s dream is often indistinguishable from its nightmare.
–A CLOSER LISTEN
Sannicandro is not interested in adopting an observational stance. He happily tampers with field recordings preferring the textural to the documentary. He clearly has fun with whatever is picked up by both his Tascam DR-05 and his iPhone 3GS and is unafraid to compromise the supposed integrity of the untreated material. Presumably, in order not to be overwhelmed by the task at hand, he breaks down any possible linear narrative into disjointed chapters, often opting for jump cuts rather than cross fades. He’s constantly revising, retracing lines, rubbing out and filling in the gaps with new contradictory aural impressions, abruptly stopping the flow of sound almost mid sentence to introduce startling pauses. Chubby Cheker’s Let’s Twist Again filters through the fuzzy sonic ambience of the title track, snippets of lines from popular TV dramas populate “Ivan Illich”, short tape loops of street hawking play over and over like broken records on “Non-aerial cartography”, reverb blasts through “A halo is antiquated”. Everything is fragmented, shaken up and eventually blended to produce an intoxicating auditory mixture extracted from the city’s nooks and crannies.
A sea without a port
Though we know it is big, and can see its size on maps, we don’t really perceive its size. Like an ocean, we only see part of the megacity of Mexico, and so Mexico-Tenochtitlan is spoken of as infinite, boundless, limitless. So vast as to be unknowable, beyond comprehension. In reality though, Mexico City is not infinite. It has a beginning and an end. Patterns repeat themselves throughout the urban fabric. The city’s history is written on its walls and in the rubbish along its storm drains, in the names of subway stations and the little white crosses marking deaths on the street. The way to know something too big to perceive is through its parts.
This is how Feike de Jong, a journalist, researcher, musician and conceptual artist, frames his project to walk around the entire 800km-long perimeter of Mexico City. (The Guardian) De Jong also employs a metaphor of seafaring which resonates with my own approach to the city so much that I’m glad I didn’t come across his story until after I had completed composing a sea without a port. I tend to approach recording in a casual way, capturing interesting sounds I come across with whatever I happen to have on hand. But my practice is also informed by psychogeography, and so there is an overarching (if wandering) narrative to this record.
Mexico occupies a complicated place in the American popular imagination. As a tourist destination, Mexico evokes beautiful seaside resorts and great food, friendly locals and an opportunity to lower one’s inhibitions. Then there is the other Mexico, the post-colonial Mexico, the Mexico rocked by the effects of NAFTA, of sprawling slums and terrible poverty, of colonized peoples and traditional ways of life obliterated by the violence of multinational corporations and agricultural subsidies. But there is also the revolutionary Mexico: Benito Juárez, Pancho Villa, the Mexican Muralists, the Zapatistas, organized indigenous resistance, the many courageous Campesinos, workers, and students with a rich tradition of fighting injustice and on behalf of the oppressed. As our southern neighbor, there is the uncomfortable fact that so much of what is now the USA was once Mexico, the forgotten/repressed/unknown fact that much of the Mexican-American war was fought because Mexico had outlawed slavery. The fact that European settlement was forced on the indigenous peoples. Bigots and TV pundits cultivate fear of “illegal” immigrants, yet ironically Mexico has long been perceived as a place where American ruffians and outlaws could flee to escape justice.
And then there is Mexico City (or el DF), the sprawling capital. One of the world’s great mega-cities, with some population estimates in excess of 20 million inhabitants. Whereas NYC has 5 burroughs, Mexico City has 16, each containing many, many distinct neighborhoods. Whole villages and cities have been swallowed up by the cities constant growth. It is by far the largest city in the Western hemisphere, a cosmopolitan place that runs the gamut from high culture to folk, from Haussmann-style architecture to Modern to the informal dwellings of its slums and back again. Prior to colonization, it was the site of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, the largest city of the Pre-Colombian Americas, rivaling the largest cities of Europe at that time. Upon first laying eyes on the city Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a foot soldier of the conquistador Hernán Cortés, remarked that “Tenochtitlan is a second Venice.” At that time the city was in the middle of a great lake, a series of islands connected by unique boats. A distant echo of this floating empire can still be heard in-between the hedonistic celebrations of students and tourists in Xochimilco. For years before first visiting DF, I had heard rumors of this incredible city, of the vibrancy of the art scene, the active literary public sphere, its cafes, street food, and especially its music. Finally experiencing the city for myself both confirmed these reports while proving that no amount of stories will ever prepare you for the vastness of the city. It’s sprawl, the ubiquitous 7-11s, the vendors hawking goods, bustling markets, wild parties, art galleries, boutiques, modern architecture, political posters, cramped metro, dog parks, endless traffic, and music everywhere, from musicians on the streets to kids selling bootlegs with stereo systems strapped to their backs.
These recordings acknowledge the impossibility of ever truly knowing a place, especially one as rich and complex and contradictory as el DF. As an American tourist, my relationship to Mexico is even more complicated, as much mediated by imagination as by reality. Rather than pretend to be objective or scientific, this work embraces these contractions. This is a work about the space of encounter, in all its forms. Untreated field-recordings are rarely left so for long, refracted and looped and processed, moving back and forth between a dream and reality until the two are indistinguishable. We listen not only to the rich street life, bustling metro trains, and vibrant public spaces, but also, and with great respect, towards the rich literature, music, culture, and history of the city and its peoples. [Joseph Sannicandro]
Most of the recordings were made around Mexico City (especially Roma, Condesa, Zona Rosa, Centro, Tepito, San Miguel Chapultepec, Benito Juárez, Coyoacán, Xochimilco, Tenochtitlan, the Airport, but also many other places)
Made with: TASCAM DR-05, iPhone 3GS, a cheap portable tape player, Tape loops, SP-404, Memory Man looper, Effects pedals (chorus, echo, fuzz, freeze), Technics tape deck, and Mackie 1202 mixer.
Thank you: Ana Lucia Soto, Sergio Su, Marco de la Torre, Daniel Castrejón and Umor Rex, Jorge Amigo, Héctor Ortiz and his whole family, Myrdal SoundLAB, Cam and Alex and their whole crew, Grant Cogswell at Under The Volcano Books, Julian Bonequi, Audition Records, and everyone else who helped us out and showed us around or gave us advice. And to Roberto Bolaño, Juan Villoro, Leon Trotsky, Frida Kahlo, Francis Alÿs, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Octavio Paz, Rufino Tamayo and all the artists and writers who introduced me to DF long before I physically set foot there.
Photo cover by Sara Mericle