I have come to the conclusion that maybe we composers don’t even compose music, but we reveal things that we intuitively perceive from our surroundings.Alba Triana
Alba Triana is a sound installation artist and composer whose work accesses the intuitions of the natural world. Born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia and based in Miami, her work is interactive, atmospheric and intimate. microcosmos, for example, is a sound and light sculpture capturing the “intrinsic resonance modes” of a cymbal. The vibrations work up through the viewer’s body slowly, giving a feeling of luminosity. This September Triana will participate in a Pop-Up-Lab event, where she gives us an inside look into her process and workspace. From her home in Miami, she spoke with the UCLA PEER Lab about her youth, what defines her artistic practice, and the sounds around her studio in Miami.
How would you describe the life of an artist?
For me, being an artist is a practice that encompasses all aspects of life. It requires a cultivation of sensitivity and especially an awareness, a deep sense of connection. And that is something that requires a practice, like if one was a meditator or an athlete.
One of your grandfathers was the one of the founders of the Symphonic Orchestra, and the other was a poet. How did this intersection of these two disciplines influence your early life as an artist?
These two disciplines really influenced my early life as an artist and my whole life as an artist. I became a musician because I was part of a family of musicians. Since my grandfather was one of the founders of the Symphonic Orchestra, I went to the conservatory since I was very little. And my other grandfather, he was a poet and we were extremely bonded by our artistic passion. He helped me understand that poetry is at the core of any artistic form. Music and poetry are the pillars of my practice.
My dad wasn’t a professional musician. But he loved music and he took it very seriously. And we relate to each other mostly from music. We hardly spoke sometimes. But our relationship was mediated by music. And that’s something that was very important for me, he was always listening to music – especially classical music, Mozart, Beethoven. I could dance the whole afternoon.
Did you dream about being something other than a musician?
I always felt I was an artist and a musician since I was very, very little. But I also wanted to become a mathematician. I loved math. And I always felt that mathematics was like another sense. But I didn’t have the time to study both. And I felt that even though I never studied math or physics professionally, in a very organic way these interests came out. And now they are part of my practice, there is a lot of exploration related to physics in my work.
Can you guide us through how you listen as a part of your creative process?
I feel that my creative practice has really shaped the way I listen. I am very aware of the sonic ecosystem that surrounds me. Here in Miami, close to my studio, there is a pool motor. And everyday I really pay attention to that motor, I really get into that sound. And I get to hear so many things. For me, it’s like music because I have become so trained to listen to sound at a very microscopic level that I could see or hear many things that usually emerge in music. I have come to the conclusion that maybe we composers don’t even compose music, but we reveal things that we intuitively perceive from our surroundings.
How does the space or place in which you work affect your work itself?
It affects my work very, very much. For years, I had wanted to create bigger scale installations. And it was very difficult because I didn’t have the space to work. And last year I was able to work in a big space. My work requires a great deal of experimentation. And this experimentation really depends on the resources and elements I have available to develop the pieces. Space is absolutely crucial for me.
I see my studio as a lab. And I work with people from other disciplines that collaborate in the creation of the pieces and in the production of the pieces. We have a big space where we can do many things, you know, run many experiments and tests. We don’t know exactly what we’re gonna do when we work. We don’t really know where the creative process is gonna take us. So we need a space that can be easily adjusted to the work that is being created at that moment.
You have said that your work integrates universal laws of chance. Can you talk more about that?
In general, my work is very much about exploring nature. One of the things that I’m very interested in is how nature organizes itself. What are the natural creative processes? For years I’ve been exploring these natural creative methods. Some of my pieces are generative, ever-evolving.
There is a piece that is called sounding score that I created a while ago, in which there is a book and the public interacts with this book. They articulate the foremost structure of a musical piece while interacting with this book. Every time they open a page, a new musical behavior emerges. So the piece keeps self-generating but is not just completely random. I like to exercise a degree of control. And sometimes I compare this to a genetic code.
You said that you’ve had a holistic approach to reality. Can you talk more about that?
There is a spiritual aspect in which I understand my practice. I see art as something that is very related to the natural world. Life is one thing. The whole universe is one thing and within these systems, things are interdependent and interconnected. So I like to work from that perspective in which I’m not seeing things in a super highly specialized way.
I, for example, never think of myself as a musician and music is specifically this, or I am a sound artist and sound art is specifically this. I allow myself to cross boundaries because I feel that life and the natural world are something fluid, in which things are not completely separated. Sometimes we need to reduce things, to separate things, to understand them and to study them. But our experience of life is not that we have a kidney that is completely independent of our bodies. Our kidney depends on many other things that happen in our body. We are at the same time affected by society, our surrounding environment. So I like to see things in context and consider the individual aspects, but also the bigger picture.
How has your work, which incorporates a lot of technology, changed as technology changes?
Even though my work involves a lot of technological things, I feel that I’m usually solving an artistic problem and not a technological problem. I just see technology as tools. I’m not doing this or that because I found this device, for example. Right now I’m using very old technologies. There is a series of works that I’m working on right now in which I’m using coils and circuits. That’s something that has been used for a long time but hasn’t been used in the way we’re trying to use it right now.
It is never a technological problem. It is an artistic quest, an artistic search.
Can you tell me more about what you’re working on now?
And I’m working on some pieces for this series, the delirious fields in which I work with electromagnetic fields. I am interested in exploring this dialogue between an element that we can see, that manifests in our physical world, that is in dialogue with something that is intangible but that is there and that is extremely powerful. And, you know, electromagnetism is something that is everywhere, and in the devices we use, in the physical world, everything. Even sound can be reduced to electromagnetic interactions among particles. So I’ve been very intrigued by things that escape our senses.
Also, I’m creating another big installation work which is a continuation of microcosmos. I’m working with the resonant modes of a cymbal, but in this case, we not only hear the resonant modes, but we see the vibrations floating in this space and it is not a digital simulation. It is the actual wave patterns that are being reflected in the space. And this piece was very interesting for me as a composer, because I was not only composing the sound that I could hear, but also the sound that I could see – something that I’m both seeing, and hearing that I know is the same thing. I’m just perceiving it from different senses.
Is there a sound that you’ve heard this week that has stuck with you?
I have this daily routine. Every day I end my workday right before sunset and I like going for a walk. When it’s right before sunset, all the birds and many other animals are preparing to go to sleep. And before that happens they become very loud, and they are very active. Here in Miami, there are a lot of parrots because of the climate and they are really, really loud. So I like going out every day and walking and listening to all that activity. So this week, I paid a lot of attention to the dialogue between birds.
But are there any artistic inspirations whether that’s other musicians, artists, movies that have been inspiring to you lately?
I try to expose myself as much as possible [to art]. I go to a lot of art shows. I like the quiet but my husband is also a composer, so we listen to a lot of music. I feel, as part of the artist’s practice, that I constantly need to be feeding myself, as if I was a sort of antenna. I need to train myself to be sensitive, to be open to have as many ideas, good ideas from other artists, feeding constantly my creative practice.