Nao Bustamante: Soldadera

I just completed the sound design for two videos, Soldadera and Chacmool, showing as part of Nao Bustamante's solo show at the Vincent Price Museum, on view through August 16, 2015. Soldadera, the Spanish term for female soldier, is the title of this exhibition in which Bustamante creates a variety of projects that re-imagine and re-enact The Mexican Revolution (1910-20) in order to offer rarely considered perspectives of women soldiers.

The sound design for Nao's video Soldadera involved the process of researching sound effects applicable to the time period and region such as pistol shots, steam engines, train whistles and battlefield ambiences, with the additional layering of horse neighs and galloping, cooking foley, chicken clucks, wind and countryside atmospheres. Complementing these diegetic sounds are the abstract sounds based on Nao's conceptual direction - sad bugle calls, raging fire ambs, snare drums, screams, steam release effects, and dizzying tones. The compelling rhythmic section at the end is intensified by added shakers, conch shell trumpeting and additional drum samples and brought to a close with escalating effects applied to the clapping sound. My aim with sound was to represent the grief of the wounded, war torn strife, invigorated glory and collective triumph, all with the goal of bringing to life the video's impressive archival collection of stills and staged moving images. Digging into this history via the sound design was an informative and inspiring undertaking.

Installation view, Nao Bustamante, "Soldadera" at the Vincent Price Art Museum (photos by demonicaphoto.com; Monica Orozco):

One personal piece of trivia is - the cry used for the baby in this scene pictured below is none other than my son Haven's cry as an infant. It's his first official voice debut in film history!

Working on Nao's video Chacmool was an exceptionally engaging and satisfying process, one of those creative endeavors that is filled with lovely surprises. Chacmool features Leandra Becerra Lumbreras – known to be the oldest survivor of the mexican Revolution, who died this past March at the age of 127 – lying in bed hand drumming and occasionally conversing with offscreen onlookers. An OMF was sent to me with Leandra's production sound soaked in a heavy reverb along with a dreamy sine tone ambient track, slightly arpeggiated. I was a little thrown off by the reverb until I learned that Nao was presenting the video in a custom built viewing device in which the viewer looks through two eye holes, simulating a stereoscopic effect, complete with headphones and a stool with an internal speaker for bass response. I immediately landed in the "world" of this mesmerizing and historic woman and set out to fulfill Nao's direction of composing instrumental accompaniment to the hand drumming patterns, which translated to me as Leandra conducting a band in her imagination. The instruments added are marching bass, shakers, deep tympani samples, cymbal, an electronic bass hit for intermittent accents and emotional grounding, processed guitar ambience, a vocal-simulated ambient pad, two layers of Leandra's original drumming with delay and EQ, two printed layers of just the reverb through the send tracks from this drumming production sound, and a processed electronic rain stick sample occasionally embedded within. The BPM of Leandra's drumming naturally didn't have the quantized accuracy of the accompanying midi-programmed recordings, so much of the editing time was spent splicing individual percussion hits to line up with her beautifully drifting rhythms. For mastering, I used Sound Toys' Pan Mistress plugin to sonically spread some of these samples and emphasize the installation's constructed listening environment, and then applied reverb to the entire mix to unify the spatial signature.

Here is a short audio sample...

Installation stills from Nao's opening night (photos by demonicaphoto.com; Monica Orozco)

It was truly an honor to work with Nao Bustamante, a longtime friend and artist whose work I have admired since first moving to San Francisco in the 90s. I recall randomly coming across one of her public performance pieces in Duboce Park in which she tied water-filled balloons around her head and moved about in an abandoned, trance-like state. I was instantly in love with the fierceness, boldness and emotionally raw and nuanced depth of her work, which has never ceased to impress me until this day. I can't wait to visit LA and experience firsthand her Soldadera exhibition this Summer.

Article featuring Chacmool - How Women were the unsung heroes of the Mexican Revolution

Press about the Soldadera Exhibition - Searching for Soldaderas: The Women of the Mexican Revolution in Photographs

Press about exhibition in LA Times - Femininity in Kevlar: Nao Bustamante's women of the Mexican Revolution