Musically, the fifteen years from 1976 to 1990 were a time of aesthetic and technological change with far-reaching ramifications. In art music, tonality and simplified forms were beginning to assert themselves against the complexities and chromaticism of twelve-tone music; similarly, jazz saw neotraditionalism come to dominate the music’s public face. In pop the elaborate structures and virtuoso performances of progressive rock were coming under attack from the more elementary directness of punk. At the same time, advances in electronics made synthesizers and sound recording and reproduction technologies unprecedentedly affordable and accessible. This led, among other things, to an upsurge in home recording activity and the formation of underground cassette distribution networks that helped facilitate a revival and democratization of music experimentation, much of it undertaken by dedicated non-professionals. Far from being limited to the United States, this was an international phenomenon.
Invenciones, a 2 CD set surveying musical experimentation in Latin America from 1976-1988, shows how some of these changes played out in the lower Western Hemisphere. What is most immediately striking about much of this music—besides its generally high quality—is the way it is regionally rooted and yet transcends limitations of region; many of these artists are notable for their engagement with indigenous or local musical forms as filtered through the refigurative influences of cosmopolitan avant-garde musical culture.
For example, the Chilean group Amauta’s 1980 Variaciones de Amauta takes folk song form and a standard instrumentation of nylon guitars and flute and gradually disassembles them into a free-associative sound mass before putting them back together again. Similarly, Miguel Flores, a Peruvian guitarist with a background in hard rock and free jazz as well as folk, is represented by 1983’s Pachacuti, a piece that reworks guitar arpeggios and melodies into what Luis Alvarado’s liner note aptly describes as “avant-garde neofolk.”
Music rooted in international styles, such as progressive rock, jazz fusion, and electronic impressionism, are here as well. Quilleihue by Chile’s Malalche is an instrumental, rock-based piece built around a regular beat and chord progression; Grupo Um’s Mobile/Stabile of 1976 is a high-energy fusion of free jazz and electronics that remains subtly but unmistakably Brazilian in the flavorings of its timbres. A robust Latin counterpart to Berlin school electronic music—call it música cósmica—comes out on a number of tracks. The Venezuelan trio Musikautomatika was known for experimenting with the unconventional sounds of amplified and processed objects, but here their Lluvias is a magisterial soundscape enhanced with a synthetic choir echoing in an abyss. Miguel Noyes, also from Venezuela, contributes Gran Sabana, a sequencer-driven work from 1984. Vía Láctea (Mexican synthesis Carlos Alvarado) pushes this kind of music into the harsher end of the spectrum, while the Costa Rican duo Autoperro go further by summoning noise from in between radio stations. Jorge Reyes of Mexico delves deeper into noise with the field recordings and musique concrete of Michoacán: Un Paisaje Sonoro.
The above is just a sampling of the music contained on Invenciones—a fine collection of work by artists deserving of greater renown.