Peer Learning and Collaborative Networks: On the Use of Loop Pedals by Women Vocal Artists in Mexico

Aurelio Meza (meza.aurelio@gmail.com), Concordia University, Canada

PoéticaSonora is a research group interested in the study of sound, listening, and legibility at the intersection of art and literary studies. The group has worked together for two years, organizing several events and projects that operate under two main axes, activation and preservation. The most important project on the preservation axis is dedicated to the design, creation, and development of a digital audio repository (DAR) for sound art and sound poetry in Latin America. During the first phase of the project to gather audio files for the repository, we have conducted fieldwork and archival research in different public centers and private collections, mostly in Mexico City. The DAR prototype was designed and developed by graduate students at Concordia University, in Montreal, with an initial sample of 317 audio tracks, performed or composed by around 180 artists, most of them from Mexico but also Argentina, Brazil, and the US. These tracks have previously been classified as sound art, sound poetry, radioart, experimental music, spoken word, poetry slam, performance, hip hop, indigenous language poetry, among many other terms.

The interest of PoéticaSonora members has focused on studying audio recordings of poetry readings, as well as organizing and curating sound art and experimental music events. This presentation, however, studies how musical instruments and other sound-generating devices accompany, even modify the human voice, and how the DAR contributes to understand the understanding of these works and the context where they are developed. Texts by scholars who have taught, studied, and/or conducted fieldwork in Montreal, such as Mark J. Butler, Jeremy Wade Morris, Tara Rodgers, and Jonathan Sterne will serve as a theoretical framework to discuss some artistic practices by Mexican women vocal artists who participate in collaborative creative networks (sometimes called “bands,” “collectives,” “jams,” among other labels) and use sound-generating devices as a fundamental element in their performance. As a case study, I will focus on the path of two such artists, Edmée García and Leika Mochán, who combine spoken word and singing with the use of loop pedals. For several years they collaborated on the LP Frágil, along with jazz songwriter Iraida Noriega, and have ever since worked in different creative projects, both solo and with other artists. Some of the pieces where they use loop pedals are also analyzed here, such as García's Chilanga habla, described by herself as a “piece for poet and Line6,” and Mochán's “Kaleidocycle,” consisting of an amplifier and a Line6 DL4 attached to a customized bicycle.

The work of García and Mochán contributes to the discussion about what is intuitive and what is not in the use and adaptation of digital devices to produce sound with artistic or aesthetic purposes. These artists generate their own learning networks, transmitting to each other the empirical knowledge they acquire from free experimentation with a device. García calls Mochán “the loop pedal guru,” and learned from her and Noriega how to use it during the creation of Frágil. This experience completely shaped the way García would perform her next poetry book, Chilanga habla, up to the point of deciding not to publish the text-based version, as it did not portray the project's whole scope and shape. As for the “Kaleidocycle,” it allows Mochán to interact with the audience in a direct way, and posits questions about the false distinction between liveness and recording, particularly at the moment of performance. The different paths followed by García and Mochán after Frágil are a good example of how knowledge is not always prefigurative (from an elder to a youngling), but also configurative (among peers) and sometimes even postfigurative (from a youngling to an elder). This presentation sheds light on how Mexican artists face a device's intended use and how their actual uses diverge and become mainstreamed within certain collaborative networks.

Frágil and some works by García have already been integrated to PoéticaSonora's DAR. The presentation will start with a brief showcase of how their collaborative networks are illustrated in the prototype, as well as the roles and instruments each participant plays in a particular composition. It will then discuss how to integrate new works by García and Mochán, how to possibly solve some of the prototype's limitations, and reflect upon the next steps in the project, considering the implications it may have on the prototype's data schema. As it stands, does the DAR help us visualize these collaborative networks? Is it necessary to have an entity for groups and collectives, or can it be inferred from other categories in the database? It will finally discuss a brief genealogy of loop pedals to understand how such a marginal guitar effects unit (like the Boss RC 20 or 30, Line6 DL4) evolved into a device for singers (Boss RC 500, but more specifically the TC Helicon series), and in so doing re-purposed this device. With these case studies I will explain how the functions delegated to the loop pedal allow these artists to overcome the fact of not being a “musician,” even though both have a strong musical background, and to perform “solo” despite holding a creative relation with the loop pedal.