Combining konnakol, the vocal performance of percussive syllables, with syllables of her own devising, Marina Herlop debuts on PAN with an otherworldly concoction of birthing rites and alien melodies.
“Since I started making music, my intention has never been to explain a personal story or express my emotions – at least not in a conscious way,” explains Marina Herlop. “There is no extra-musical reference sheltering my music so far, the only principle that has led my creative process has been an aesthetic one.” The first we hear of the experimental pianist, vocalist and producer on ‘miu’, her debut release for PAN and the first glimpse of an album forthcoming in 2022, is a gently distorted layered harmony. The first we see of her in the stunning video from director Anxo Casal is Herlop wrapped in a headscarf, crossing a pink and blue sky plucked straight out of science-fiction. It’s clear that, wherever we are in ‘miu’, this a world of Herlop’s making, an alien earworm that sounds at once hymnal and foreboding. “My will is to create music that is self-contained and thus does not intend to describe emotions, ideas, landscapes, characters or scenes of my life or lives of others,” she asserts.
Taken from her first album produced entirely with a computer, a process that is partially at odds with Herlop’s five-piece live touring band, ‘miu’ is a snapshot of a time of technological experimentation for Herlop. “Since I was a teenager, I had always felt reluctant and lazy about computers and new technologies, and I still do, but in the process of recording my second album (Babasha) I worked together with a producer and that led me to learn the basics of Ableton.” She continues, “I had never used drums in an album so I was very eager to experiment with percussion metric and its textures. The bass line was added by Òscar Garrobé, who usually helps me with bass lines, and it makes the song sweeter. The process of making this song, and my usual workflow, was an intricate process in which pure chaos was confronted with high standards and perfectionism. I tend to add so many layers and sections and I keep so little of all the material – I discard almost everything I come up with. I made this song with a computer but I still have the feeling that it’s ‘hand-made’ because the process was very rudimentary and I dedicated so much to every bit of it.”
This attention to detail is clear in every second of ‘miu’. Describing the track as “a bit ‘horror vacui’”, referring to the practice in visual art of filling the entire surface of a space or artwork with detail, Herlop’s sonic palette is at once intricate and skeletal, stretching precisely delivered syllables over sparse percussion, lysergic bass and snatches of guitar and piano. “This particular song is influenced by Carnatic rhythms – which I briefly studied three years ago. It uses the konnakol syllables in the backup vocal riff and the more rhythmic part, and the other lyrics are just nonsignificant syllables that sounded beautiful to my ear.” Carnatic music is a musical system associated with South India with a primary emphasis on vocalisation and vocal-style instrumentation. Konnakol is art of performing vocally percussive symbols associated with carnatic musical forms, which appear here combined with additional syllables of Herlop’s own devising. Centering the rhythm of the song around the artist’s ethereal vocalisations lend the track a call-and-response, ritualistic quality. Combined with Anxo Casal’s nocturnal portraits of cows, captured between two farms during a gruelling 60-hour shoot, ‘miu’ is transformed into a strange birth rite, an extraterrestrial ceremony for an innately terrestrial process.
“The shooting process was as tough as it was beautiful,” recalls Herlop. “We were waiting for more than 60 hours in two different farms for a cow to give birth, under bad weather conditions and almost no sleep, without any certainty about when, or if, they were going to do so. We didn’t know how much time the labor would take or how the cow would lay down and this uncertainty was not always easy to manage during the waiting. It made me think that my musical career itself has also consisted on learning how to wait, especially during 2020 and 2021. As a kid I used to get things very easily so I was not used to having to wait, but this process has felt like a sort of training to be patient and not desisting when not getting things quickly, and there’s a beauty in it. The video shooting was the same in a way. The process was supervised by the farmer and a veterinarian, and we bothered the animals the least we could. After so much waiting it worked so well: two cows gave birth at the same time and thankfully we were able to record everything. It was very shocking for all of us, because it was very ordinary, and painful for the cows, but very poetic at the same time.”
‘miu’ is out now, on PAN. You can find Marina Herlop on Instagram and check out her music on Bandcamp.
Song composed, produced and recorded by Marina Herlop.
Electric bass – Òscar Garrobé
Mix – James Ginzburg & Marina Herlop
Master – Rashad Becker Artwork: Robert Clark
Director of the video – Anxo Casal
First Assistant Director – Lluc Giménez
Cinematography – Martin Murua
Color – Manu G. Romero
Gaffer – Alex Zuaz
Production – Guillem Planagumà
Jewellery – Kiala Kanzi
Graphic Design – Lara Coromina
Special Thanks – Quim Boix, Aitor Bigas
Watch next: Carl Gari & Abdullah Miniawy perform live at Haus der Kunst, Munich