Graded on a Curve: Invenciones: La otra vanguardia musical
en Latinoamérica
1976–1988

The avant-garde is often submerged under a torrent of fleetingly popular detritus, and with the passage of time investigating its essence frequently gets harder. This is the circumstance from inside one’s own culture; becoming acquainted with the history of artistic experimentation in other parts of the world can be even more difficult. With this said, Invenciones: La otra vanguardia musical en Latinoamérica 1976-1988 is a highly enlightening treat for thirsty ears. Digging into the Latin American avant-garde, the 14 tracks derive from ten countries and span a variety of approaches, yet it all makes for a cohesive listen. It’s out September 8 on 2LP and 2CD through Munster Records.

When thoughts turn to Spain’s Munster label, the predominant genres springing to mind are punk, garage, and assorted strains of unkempt roots junk, with a focus on reissues. The emergence of this compilation was therefore something of a surprise, but an insightful observation in Munster’s promo text lent clarity by reinforcing the reality of these Latin American musicians amid social and political upheaval, regularly under dictatorial rule.

While nothing here fits a trad punk description, these artists do share a similar impulse for creativity in environments that were generally non-encouraging and even downright hostile. And so; a subculture, or better put, a post-hippie-era counterculture formed with attention to self-sufficiency that anticipated and overlapped punk’s DIY wing.

What brings these geographically wide-ranging selections together is a common spirit of adventurousness, though there are of course other commonalities. For instance, Peruvians Manongo Mujica and Miguel Flores struck out from rock bands, the former in the London-based Los Mad’s, the latter in The Loops, Thee Image, and PAX.

Their contributions here are quite different, however; Mujica’s “Caña Brava,” which opens the set, can be assessed as electroacoustic free improv blended with substantial drone tendencies. Flores’ “Pachacuti” is immediately more composed (perhaps designed is a stronger term), its multipart soundscape brandishing loose psych appendages and utilizing multiple overdubbed guitars.

Sequenced in between is Columbia’s Banda Dispersa De La Madre Selva. Compiler Luis Alvarado identifies ethnic traditions, Fluxus, rock, jazz, and pop in the project of Angel Beccasino, with sound collage an integral component in “Aquel País Del Horizonte Sin Límites.” Water splashes and burbles, dogs bark, chimes chime, and there’s also a grounding melodiousness courtesy of a rather Parisian accordion.

But it’s Ecuador’s Amauta that brings Invenciones its first significant excursion into recognizable song-form, with “Variaciones De Amauta” offering progressive folk with lilting flute and a lengthy passage of smoothly rendered experimentation. The track highlights another unifying factor amongst the program, specifically the use of folk instruments and themes. With this said, Costa Rican duo Autoperro is a bit of an exception, their “Concierto De La Puerta” a short and tasty hunk of diced-up noise-improv.

Chile’s Malalche, led by Simón Aliste, employ more refined tactics for “Quilleihue,” but the result is described by Alvarado as in line with the Rock in Opposition movement. After listening, that sounds exactly right. Following is Decibel’s “Orgón Patafísico,” the first of three Mexican entries and a return to abstraction, in this case a mildly trippy collage-like drift with liberal doses of electronics.

Jorge Reyes extends the approach in “Michoacán: Un Paisaje Sonoro,” and in so doing eschews traditional instrumentation entirely for an interweaving of pre-recorded sound. There is a certifiable ton of this stuff lingering in the nooks of u-ground history, so when it’s done imaginatively it really sticks out; such is the case with Reyes’ selection here. The last Mexican contribution, Vía Láctea’s multifaceted “Necronomicón,” appears late on the final side, its industrial-flavored opening as disruptive as it is rhythmic, and like much of Invenciones, there is a fondness for electronics throughout.

Brazil’s Grupo Um lend the set one of its most delightful left turns with the free jazz scorch of “Mobile/Stabile,” but the entire seven minutes are additionally elevated by reverberating synths and sharp, clanging electric keyboards. It contrasts quite sharply with the electronic pulse of Uruguayan Carlos da Silveira’s “Así Nomás.”

Both minimalist and at times sonically sparse, Da Silveira’s cut requires deep listening, but the concentration is repaid in full. Along with Vía Láctea, Argentina’s Quum is the nearest this compilation gets to a merger of experimentation and post-punk. Their “Incidente En La Ciudad De Los Hombres Mecánicos” oozes the ominousness of darkwave but without any hint of commercial intent. It just unflaggingly throbs until it goes away.

Musikautomatika’s “Lluvias” is the first of two from Venezuela, though member Luis Levin is Argentinian and Alvise Sachi and Stefano Grammito are of Italian descent. Their objective was to expand on the ground broken by the Italian outfit Musica Elettronica Viva, and that’s certainly discernable during their piece, but with a moodiness that could easily appeal to open-minded rockers, in part due to a subtle prog undercurrent.

This is magnified in fellow Venezuelan Miguel Noya’s “Gran Sabana,” though elements of techno and spacey, borderline New Ageist atmospheres dominate. In closing the record, it doesn’t hit the highest of notes, but it’s far from a dud as it underscores the broadness of the Latin American avant-garde spectrum. Altogether, this historical survey still resonates.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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