Maria Chavez is a Peruvian sound artist, DJ, pioneer of abstract turntablism, and author of the first book on live improvisation, “Of Technique: Chance Procedures on Turntable.” Her projects are in constant evolution as she builds on her practice as a DJ, while also working large-scale sound installations for arts institutions globally and putting in work for her first full-length album in 10 years, set to be released next year on Oneohtrix Point Never’s New York-based label, Software. We chatted with her about water-logged ears, converting empty Solo cups into sound pieces, and about the folders of music she converted into an exclusive cumbia mixtape recorded for Remezcla, just in time for Peruvian Independence Day. Don’t miss her live DJ set at MoMA PS1 this Saturday, August 2nd at 3PM.

You usually don’t record your work. Is there a reason behind this new release?

Yes. As a sound artist, I feel that I don’t have to fulfill this old, economic model of music that corporations created to commodify sound. As a sound artist, I’m not making music, so I don’t have to participate in making music objects. But when Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) got in touch with me, he said “I know you don’t make albums, I love that you don’t, but I have this label and I really wanna do something different.” I said, well I have an idea, so I gave him the proposal, and the label agreed to it.

I’m making a track that is the recording of everyone leaving PS1, stepping on cups.

I don’t want to say too much but I have a few collaborators on it with artists like Helado Negro, who’s working with me to do a remake of a Violeta Parra song. It’s a song that really speaks to me…and when the option to make this album with songs on it came about, I thought “ok, this is the only time I’ll ever do a recorded album, so I might as well include a music idea in there, and this one song that I’ve wanted to recreate for a long time. Therefore, I want to try and give this beautiful and heartbreaking song a new platform and give it a new life. I may play a rough edit of the track during Warm Up next week! For the album itself, I’m making sound pieces that I feel are reflections of music, not necessarily music itself.

How is your work related to your experiences growing up?

Well, I wrote about this in my book: I was born in Peru, and for the first two years of my life I was had water in my ears so I couldn’t hear anything. Despite what the doctors in Peru believed, my father didn’t think I was a mute or anything like that. When he would say my name, I would respond, I think because he had a very deep low voice, so I could recognize the vibrations of his voice, so he says. When I moved to Austin, Texas when I was two and a half, my mother had access to medical facilities provided by her graduate program at UT. The doctors told me that I had water in my ears and that all I needed to do was this certain procedure that fixed it. So my first memory was when I was 3, in America, hearing my first sound.

Maria Chavez

How is this related to what you do now?

I don’t like to think that there’s an abstract relationship between this experience and being a sound artist today, but I see how people can put those two things together. Its up to them if they want to put those two stories together. I feel like I have unique relationship with sound as a medium. I’ve been creating things that are really conceptual since I was a kid. I use sound as a primary source, and any other medium like visuals are secondary, as opposed to other installation artists who use visuals as a primary source.Going back a bit about your book on abstract turntablism, how would you explain it for someone who is unfamiliar with this field? It’s a how-to manual about abstract turntablism. And it’s a really simple layout; it’s an essay description of a turntablism technique with an illustration accompanying it. I call it an interactive sculpture in the form of a book. The interactive action happens because the reader is invited to rip out the pages of the illustrations, which act as flash cards, and to put them together in a way to make up your own turntable compositions for yourself. Some people will buy it just to have it and read it, other will buy it because they’re interested in turntablism and want to learn my techniques that I’ve developed through chance and performance. By giving the readers a choice of either ripping out the images, or just purchasing the book to read, they are participating in the sculpture.”

Going back a bit about your book on abstract turntablism, how would you explain it for someone who is unfamiliar with this field?

It’s a how-to manual about abstract turntablism. And it’s a really simple layout; it’s an essay description of a turntablism technique with an illustration accompanying it.

Maria Chavez book

I call it an interactive sculpture in the form of a book. The interactive action happens because the reader is invited to rip out the pages of the illustrations, which act as flash cards, and to put them together in a way to make up your own turntable compositions for yourself. Some people will buy it just to have it and read it, other will buy it because they’re interested in turntablism and want to learn my techniques that I’ve developed through chance and performance. By giving the readers a choice of either ripping out the images, or just purchasing the book to read, they are participating in the sculpture.”

Tell us about the exclusive mixtape you made for us.

I have some really great friends in Peru who sent me some folders of amazing Peruvian cumbia. As a DJ, I like to play a lot of funky house music; I think that might come from my Peruvian roots. Peruvian cumbia is has a really halting rhythm that really resonates with house music, which I like. It’s a 30-minute mix of cumbia tracks that I grew up with, and one song in particular that’s from a movie called Gregorio. It’s about a boy who escapes his tiny town in Peru to get to Lima with his mother so he can live a better life, but he becomes a street kid who lives an incredible difficult life. It’s a rough and heartbreaking movie, and it moved me in a very significant way. In the folders of music that my friend gave me, I found the theme song to that movie. I wanted to give the song another life because the message from the song is so moving.

So, what can we expect from you for your performance at MoMA PS1 this weekend? As you are aware, the lineup this year is very heavy with club music.

First of all, I need to tell people that I’m opening. So everyone has to get there by 3PM. Bring Peruvian flags. Come early, because the brown girl is on first. I’ve been going to the past few warm ups and everyone gets there, gets drunk and drops their cups. And them when they leave, these hundreds of people are stepping on these cups they dropped. I’ve been recording this sound that people make when they drop and step on these cups, it’s a beautiful sound. What? (Laughs) I told the curators I was recording this sound at the end of each Warm Up event. I’m making a track that is the recording of everyone leaving PS1, stepping on these cups, and I’ll mix in some children’s welcoming songs from Kenya that I have remixed, and that will start the day. From there I’ll be playing a house set. I really just want to throw down a summer house party set. Aside from being a sound artist, I can throw a good party as well.

Maria Chavez Peruvian Cumbia Mix by Remezcla on Mixcloud