It’s Saturday night during Mexico City’s 2016 edition of Mutek, and the 13th iteration of the Montreal-born (and now international) experimental music festival has already been stretching attendees’ minds for days. To introduce her group’s set, Mexico City collective Interspecifics co-founder Leslie García informs the crowd that what they’re about to hear is a new audiovisual arrangement called “Space, Data, and Noise” which she says was created from “NASA data.”
She steps to join fellow founder Paloma López behind a bank of computers and mixers. As they start to do their thing, a stream of minimal points appear on the wall above their heads, leading through a never-ending worm hole that morphs later into orbiting spaceships of globes and planes.
Here, under the high ceilings of the Laboratorio del Arte, originally constructed in 1591 as the Convent of San Diego, a stillness envelops in the space, in contrast to the rest of the dance floor-focused fest. The audience is sprawled on low gray cushions. Some are lying down, already lost in the accelerating projections and odd noises emanating from the machines being operated by the two women in front of them.
López and García (who are also the minds behind sound duo LogarDecay) are taking us into a dimensional warp. Odd noises sometimes hint at the approximation of melody, if you stick to a loose definition of that word.
It’s 7 p.m. and it’s doubtful that anyone’s on club drugs. They don’t need them — Interspecifics came ready to transport listeners to different planes of being with only their incisive grasp of engineering, and an expansive view of what it means to communicate.
Later, the collective explains more about “Space” in an email to Remezcla. The audience was treated to auditory renderings of “the levels of solar radiation in the atmosphere, data of the orbits of different exoplanets, SETI radio signals, and other NASA programs,” they write. SETI stands for The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, the subset of NASA that is dedicated to figuring out whether ours is the most advanced civilization in the universe.
Given the swirling sounds and attendant images that form part of “Space, Data, and Noise” the idea of us being the smartest kids in the room seems unlikely. But in a way, Interspecifics is less concerned with answering the big questions, as much as they are with raising them and providing a could-be model in response. “Our interest is creating a space of immersion around a narrative that is formed from existing elements, but in a certain way end up in the realm of fiction,” they write.
“Sound is a tool we can use to make tangible phenomena that go beyond our human condition.”
Using existing data to forge otherworldly communiqués is a central mission of the Mexico City group, which also counts among its members Emmanuel Anguiano and Thiago Hersan. Interspecifics’ first projects grew out of López and García’s “experimentations around the idea of inter special communication,” says the group. Recent projects incorporate their first chat buddies – tiny bacteria. The collective’s “Energy Bending Lab” focuses on interpreting the electricity generated by microorganisms into tracks that you can now find on the group’s SoundCloud.
Other projects include “Pulsu(m) Plantae,” in which biofeedback devices were carefully designed to be sensitive to the energy flux of plants. Again, the end result was auditory data for human audiences.
Interspecifics is not alone in their yen to crack the code of the flora around us. In the UK, conceptual label Data Garden co-founders Alex Tyson and Joe Patitucci and Sam Cusumano found their forays into the green to be so compelling to audiences that they are now marketing the MIDI Sprout, a device that allows people to join in the fun from the comfort of their home labs.
But García, López, and crew have also worked with the pulses of mushrooms, slime molds, and of the human brain. Through their engineering-intensive projects, is Interspecifics trying to turn audiences’ attention to the messages that nature has for us? One had to ask, are they environmentalists? Is this Captain Planet reincarnated as a team of wonky, conceptual ambient sound DJs?
But Interspecifics defies such cartoonish attempts at facile categorization. “For us, sound is a tool that we can [use to] make tangible [phenomena] that go beyond our human condition,” they write. “We also see it as a tool of sensory expansion with which we are able to get into micro and macro worlds in the search of increasing our sensitivity.”
The use of high-tech to get closer to one’s intuition may seem like a roundabout enterprise. But the effect is not unlike the goals of using biofeedback machines in therapy. Machines can pinpoint phenomena beyond the reach of our daily vision.
Machines can pinpoint phenomena beyond the reach of our daily vision.
And once you’ve seen, you can never quite unsee. Plant energy surges as a result of different variables, including the proximity of human beings. Outer space is constantly sending us messages that we can only guess at. Even bacteria, as Interspecifics reminds us, is pulsing ad infinitum in its miniature, omnipresent way.
“The message has to do with paying attention to all these [phenomena],” the group writes. “With trying to size up that which surrounds us, as a possibility of submersion in another form of reality.” You couldn’t ask for more in a sound performance — and you can only wish yourself capable of digesting all that Interspecifics’ experimentations offer to those ready to embrace the possibilities of interchange.
Update, October 26, 2016, 9:53 a.m.: A previous version of this article referred to Interspecifics’ Mutek 2016 performance as “Space.” The piece is titled “Space, Data, and Noise.”