Someone asked me once, in a tone of complete ordinariness, what the difference is between noise and sound. We were in the Museo Soumaya, in Mexico City, on that top floor cluttered with Rodin sculptures (purchased and hauled there by the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim). The question incited a muteness in me, one that suited the room full of motionless figures and their bronze, certain light. I was beginning to love her, the asker of this futile question. I told her I didn’t know, but I’d go searching for a worthwhile response. But of course this never came to pass. Of course, by the time I’d finally discovered the words to bring to her, she was gone.
If there is a border between noise and sound, it is crossed over many times by the Mexico City–based experimental collective Amor Muere. The group is made of four musicians: Camille Mandoki, Concepción Huerta, Gibrana Cervantes, and Mabe Fratti—two classically trained instrumentalists and two electronic-music artists. Their songs are the composite of many tones: violin and cello, vocals, synthesizers, tape manipulation, and other sonic fabrications, all housed within a single soundscape. Times collide—the classic and the contemporary—producing a momentary glimpse of music’s tall history. We are met, as listeners, with a stockpiling of sound: utterly beautiful, love-ridden, unafraid to trespass into discordance.
Amor Muere’s first album, A Time to Love, a Time to Die, is composed of just five songs, which feel almost like five movements of a single piece. Each track, like the movements of a requiem, repeats one or more melodic motifs. But this album is not a requiem, though it has death in its title, and though I imagined calling it a requiem before I heard it. It is too precarious, too wandering—it is too restless to be a song for granting rest. These are love songs and grief songs; songs that travel from the chaos of noise to the solidity of sound, but songs that never abandon the meaningless passion and delirium of noise.
Amor Muere made the majority of their album while gathered at one member’s home in Zoncuantla, Veracruz. Often their songs began in improvisational sessions, and a good portion of the project was recorded live. As a consequence, one experiences them being made as you listen to them. A Time to Love, a Time to Die presents music in flux, music in desperate search of its own shape.
There is technical expertise on great display in this project. The string playing, in particular, is magnificent. The production is clear as daylight, of the highest order. But technique alone will never make a love song, let alone a grief song. I feel, in a distinct way, that real love and heartbreak were placed into the machine of these five eerie and nomadic songs. Paul Robeson once said, “A singer must also be an expert at living.” Things were lived for this music to be born; lovers standing in silence, questions and answers never meeting.
I wrote to the members of Amor Muere and asked them the question I was asked years ago near the statues: What is the difference between noise and sound? “We think noise is a type of sound,” they replied, “[but] it’s hard to talk about the difference. Could you rephrase the question?” Of course, I couldn’t.
“Music started out from noise. After a long journey, it’s going back home,” wrote Hernan Diaz at the end of his most recent novel, Trust. Maybe it is through listening to this album that I finally understand his line, though I’ve loved it—without understanding it at all—for many months now. Noise is a type of sound, and formlessness a kind of form. I love the amorous, ethereal songs Amor Muere has made for us. They are documents of music losing and finding its figure. They are records of music going back home.
Record label: Scrawl Similar artists: Organ Tapes, Eartheater, Elysia Crampton Representative lyric: “I went out and bought some air.” Best track: “Can we provoke reciprocal reaction” Ideal listening conditions: Cooking on low heat