Nacional Electrónica or the trip to the synaesthetic summit

by
AM

Within the electronic music scene in Cuba, Nacional Electrónica (NE) emerged fifteen years ago, fruit of the ingenuity of Alexis de la O Joya and Edwin Casanova González, a group that stood out for taking on the challenge of subverting and mixing experimental and exclusive with the popular and inclusive, without neglecting an artistic quality of high carats in their productions. From the plastic arts (Alexis de la O) and architecture (Edwin Casanova), they established in their work as a group a special synergy between the artistic manifestations, as it has been reflected in the produced albums, the audiovisual collaborations and their own video clips.

Members of the short list of electronic music players with a high degree of creative risk in our country, from their own gestation made clear a way of creating that uses various aesthetics such as error, noise, repetition, cut and paste, the loop and the sample.

Since the recording of Llegamos al futuro, their record debut in the early stages of the 21st century, they gradually built a solid work within the Cuban electronic scene. At that time, the troubadour Michel Portela was a member of NE, a combination that got Portela's vocal interests to converge with those of Alexis and Edwin in a production that managed to open rhythmic paths for a genre as rooted as trova. In the lyrics of songs, social and personal concerns are noticeable, while the sound investigation of a futuristic record hinted at the talent of these young people.

With this CD they planted a seed that would later take deep root and turn them into artists of great creative versatility - just to cite one example, they combined songs from troubadours from Santa Clara like Roly Berrío and the aforementioned Portela with electronic dynamics.

His second album, Plazas y Precipicios, deserves to be included in any compilation of electronic albums with a high aesthetic and artistic conception. The outstanding critic Joaquín Borges-Triana already affirmed it 12 years ago in his section Los que soñamos por la oreja, from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde: "Another of the main findings that I notice in this NE album is the organic way in which they manage to transmit Cubanness. This is given both in the names given to the cuts of the album (very appropriate for a paratextual study), but, above all, by the way in which with "new" sounds manage to transmit the emotions that occur in the primal rhythms of our music."

With Mouse Music, their third musical release, the group assumes as one of its essential resources the aesthetics of repetition, with a peculiar mutation of rhythms that dislocate those music lovers who do not understand -or, better said, do not want to understand- that electronic music opens a unique sound spectrum. If anything has served the work of NE is to arouse curiosity in a public not very skilled at hosting unusual and little-publicized proposals in the official media.

This heterogeneous and seductive journey has earned Nacional Electrónica to stand at one of the highest peaks of the Cuban electronic music movement. Due to the solidity achieved, the National Laboratory of Electroacoustic Music welcomed them into its bosom, in a kind of cohesive chair of the then nascent movement. From that moment on, they managed to insert themselves in the concert program of the institution and performed at venues such as the Primavera Festival in Havana (2006); the Espacio Sonoro, in the Manuel Galich room of Casa de las Américas; the Sala Teatro of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes; and the first and third edition of the Proelectrónica Festival.

It is worth highlighting the work carried out to Audio, their fourth production. In eleven pieces, Alexis and Edwin billed an album full of intertexts with the mythical and legendary German band Kraftwerk, both for the names of the songs and for the sustained melodies that on more than one occasion propose us to reach a new industrial age. In this way they recall one of the objectives of the group conceived in the 70s by Ralf Hütter: to become a transmitter of the technological progress of his time. This message is more visible in their next work: 3er Milenio, where several songs stand out La repetición, Polímeros polirrítmicos policromáticos, Música mecánica, Komputer band y su música absoluta and Armas y alarmas, coherent with their prophetic aesthetics of electronic music.

In Ambientes, their next compilation, they embark on a simulation of the identity of the months of the year through the use of sounds of different textures. They did not resort to the facility of directing their proposal in the strictly emotional, but also in the sensory. Ambientes was a demonstration of the discursive maturity of the group and was used as soundtrack in different audiovisual platforms.

On the other hand, Ranas, an hour-long piece, constituted a sound installation for 5.1 at the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, which was thought to complement a biological investigation of this amphibian -not developed by the artists, although it could be said that this scientific inquiry has such an exploratory value as the sound montage made by NE-. In this case, the intention was to reinforce the national identity through recordings previously made and assembled for an immersive listening.

After these efforts, the choreographer George Céspedes proposed them to perform the original music for two interpretations of the Danza Contemporánea de Cuba company. In Mambo 3XXI highlights the sound (re)construction that composed Nacional Electrónica; this commissioned work was a pretext to resize the horizon of one of the nation's cultural heritages (mambo). The result was a perfect synthesis of three themes that marked another pattern in the group's musical journey. How much I would give for Pérez Prado to be during the parallel performance of the mambo with electronic music in this choreography! The other dance show, Premiere, is not far behind and, once again, NE reinforced the communicating vessels that electronic music has with classical music. The choreographies are evidence of this Finding himself and Ghost of the memory, originally designed to be performed by renowned Carlos Acosta and Zenaida Yanoski.

In Habanastation, his fiction feature debut, Ian Padrón needed primary electronic sounds, with the intention of perhaps doing a tribute to the Nintendo generation. With this idea in mind he requested the services of NE, and they ended up making a good part of the soundtrack of the film. Subsequently, they remixed the themes and an album that recreates the music originally composed for the film emerged. In this way were born the songs Mario en el laberinto, ¡Mario y Carlos ganan!, Mariostations, ¡Mario huye! and El paradero, which recall in a masterly manner, but with a much more aggressive discourse at times, the trend of electronic music known as chiptune, the nostalgic subgenre whose timbres inevitably refer to the years when video games occupied a central axis in the lives of children born between the 80s and 90s.

Perhaps the disenchantment of not producing a CD in a professional studio, the slow advance of electronic culture within Cuban institutions, as well as the scarce economic retribution of productions that are linked to the margin of the industry made the creation of NE will turn, almost completely, to music on request. This stage bequeathed us Happy Ending, Identidad ̄ ¹, NDA, Transire and Matria Etnocentra; all for homonymous choreographies by Norge Cedeño and George Céspedes indistinctly.

While I was writing this article about NE and talking by video call with one of its members, I could not avoid the excitement to discover that there is a new production of the duo of the year 2015. When I had the CD in my hands I began to slowly know how was born I Sing to the Sea. One of the details that surprised me the most was the recording time: approximately 10 days for twelve songs. It is an album in collaboration with the producer TKU who, when discovering NE, decided to come together to record a phonogram that works as a ritual and a trip and that makes us see how small we are as human beings before the enormity of nature.

Currently, NE collaborations are slow because Edwin Casanova does not live in Cuba, although they do not rule out a reinsertion in the record scene as well as live performances. Meanwhile, there is for the enjoyment of all his work of undeniable value. Those who listen to their productions will be part of an authentic synesthetic journey, in which music and senses intermingle with each other to become protagonists of a new musical era of which NE is the foremost avant-garde.

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