Ilya S. Savenok, Getty Images The sad news came across late Wednesday afternoon…
- Posted on Oct 2nd 2008 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
A recent evening on the Santa Monica Pier in California was, in fact, that one day. As the innovative Argentine electro-folk singer-composer previewed some material from that album, she indeed mostly sang just sounds and not words at all. For that matter, when she did sing actual words, they were in Spanish and therefore not understood by many in the audience. And the words to the song quoted above are also in Spanish, as were the words on her four previous albums. But that's not enough for her these days.
"I want it somehow to possibly be understood only the communication," she explains in good but imperfect English after the show. The nature of words themselves, she says, have made that increasingly frustrating and limiting. Even when people don't understand the words, they seem to try to relate to them in very specific ways. And the more she struggled to find new ways to say things from album and album, the more frustrating it became, even as on her last album, 'Son,' she had developed a very distinct approach in which it didn't really matter whether the words were understood or not. But it mattered to her as a writer.
The solution was right in front of her, but it took some time to realize it. All along, she explains, her writing method has involved creating melodies without words, fitting the tunes with the hypnotic, seductive guitar and keyboard patterns she electronically loops and layers. Then she writes lyrics and replaces the vocalese tracks.
"Lyrics always came last," she says. "With this record, I found the vocals already created its own language without any words. When I put it in words I came into reality I didn't want. It lost its own language. So I decided to get rid of the lyrics and stick with what I had. These songs all have lyrics, but they are only in a notebook and will stay there forever."
The process liberated her. "I thought 'Son' was the best one I'd done, but now, communicating without words, I'm very happy," she says. "It releases me from everything, from having to give a message that I already gave. It puts me away from what a singer-songwriter is."
And given the evolution of her music, it seems not just a natural but a necessary step. In the pier performance (preceding Italian singer-songwriter Carmen Consoli, as detailed in a recent Around the World column), some of her older material reworked the tones and emotions of the Brazilian breakthroughs of the tropicalista crowd headed by Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa in the past four decades. Molina has mutated the psychedelic touches of those innovators into a personalized electro-acoustic blend. Her solo approach, creating airy ambiences on a keyboard and her beat-up classical-style guitar, brought freshness to the material and sounds. Songs from 'Son' took that to the next level with their experimental atmospheres, away from anything specifically South American in tone. And the 'Un Día' material goes even further, and yet indeed seemed most direct and entrancing with the wordless expressiveness.
Ongoing debates in the international music community about whether translations of songs are essential to the growth of the audience, whether language barrier is an enjoyment barrier. Some make a strong case that it's not all about the exact meaning of the words, that translations rarely if ever really convey the artistry and poetry of the lyric, that maybe just simply identifying something as, for example, a love song or sorrowful song (or sorrowful love song) is enough. Molina's approach seems to go beyond that. She doesn't want translation to even be an issue at all; instead, she wants the listener to be as free in interpretation as she has become in presentation.
Ironically, she apologized when she sang in Spanish -- "It can't be helped" -- but was confident enough in the wordless pieces to let that speak for itself. She accepts, though, that both may be perplexing to some.
"I know that's a barrier for many people," she says afterward. "But maybe I need to start with people who just love the music."