Sonic Realism / Wave #3 PLANETARY CONVERSATION January 2021

Transductions and Surlógicas Volume II

Nicole L'Huillier & Claudio Mercado

The following conversation proposes the concept of transduction [1] as an axis to confront Western notions of music and sound, exploring Southernlogics [2] as modes of sonic socialization through an improvisational ritual of a system of call and response. The objective is to think about listening and sonic relationships from transduction proposing a fluid scene, where sound as a form of energy is transformed to exist in distinct planes and dimensions to construct its own meaning in dynamism. This idea opposes the notion of translation, which implicates a colonial process that fragments the signal’s essence, losing part of the content and weakening the message as new meaning is imposed. [3]

Claudio Mercado and I talk about wind, reeds, breathing, American sounds, his experiences in the Bailes Chinos [4] [5], his intimate relationship with the flute, sound as cultural resistance, Southernlogic possibilities, altered states, vibration and transduction in a conversation that originally took place over Zoom before being transcribed and edited for brevity.

Nicole L’Huillier

The winds are from the Americas, wind instruments prevail throughout the continent. Why do you think that is? Why has the flute spread through this territory? Are there correlations between the instruments and their choreographies with the bodies of wind that inhabit and travel here?

Claudio Mercado

You know, it’s in the plants, it’s so simple...and the observation. Nature whistles with the reeds. It’s full of plants that are there, they’re cracked and you breathe through them and they sound.

There’s an acoustic matter that develops amid nature, with nature. The flute is a cut reed, remember that documentary about those old men over in Bolivia that cut the reeds and go to the wind atop the mountain, it isn’t them who breathe, it’s the wind, so there’s a clear relationship. Breath...breathe in and breathe out and if you don’t, you die. This nature is that simple. And that this instrument relies on the breath one gives to live is an interesting metaphor. You deliver your vitality through breath, that question vibrates and produces that sound. The most beautiful of that type of flute is the complete relationship that it requires with someone else. Piii paaa piii paaa (imitating the flute’s sound). And that has to do with breath, if the most wonderful thing about that is breathing, because you need a partner that breathes together with you, who alternates and continues breathing. You play in perpetuity, the sound never cuts because two people are playing, each with their breath, rather, each one giving their life. Deep down, the flute gives back to you something incredible that cleans your mind and heart with hyperventilation, oxygenation, with movement, with sound, with vibration, with everything that it produces. General vibrations journey through body and space. When you properly play a flute, or sing properly and afterwards remains quiet, you hear differently. That’s what Chino flutes do also, they open your sound swarm jjjjjjjjjhhhhhhhhhhhhh (imitating the flute’s sound) they completely open your sound and mental spectrum.


One sort of calibrates itself in those vibrations with the others, like it resonates between bodies, like a type of vibrational tuning.


Exactly, and that happens when the Baile Chino begins, suddenly it warms up and suddenly a moment arrives in which the thing jjjjjjjhhhh (imitation the flute’s sound) sets and goes wild.
The sound of the flute ultimately has a knowledge, it’s a learning of the vibration that was born from the human’s encounter with this piece of stick over many years. Before that relationship, there was no learning and once you stop doing it, it’s extinguished. That sound that leaves in that moment has been preceded by thousands of sounds that have been played in central Chile, that’s its brilliance. In Pachacamita they have been playing for at least 500, 600 years, 700 years perhaps. That sound has memory because it’s alive, independent jjjjjhhhh (imitating the flute’s sound) and it can be extinguished, supposedly? I don’t know if it extinguishes, better said, it remains in some plane of the universe.


Like the energy that is transduced doesn’t turn off.


Of course, something like that! It’s an apprenticeship that is from the same flute and those same gestures. Those gestures have also been repeated for 700 years and have a force, they have a power. We know that in the shamanic knowledge of America, the importance of positioning is essential, of the gestures, of the repetitive dances of the Chinos are knowledge that is directly transmitted through gestures and sound, rather, through the doing of the ritual. Furthermore, the festivals have happened in the same places for hundreds of years, and those places are accustomed to receiving that force, that energy, that retribution, and that petition once a year.


There is a theme there, a sound that you teach and that you communicate in that collective sonic cloud, in that polyphony… I love something that I’ve heard you say several times, that the ritual of the Bailes Chinos is a cultural resistance, so the Torn [6] Sound in one way is a sound that has carried that cultural resistance for centuries.


Yes, well, because we are in central Chile, which was the part where the Westernization was felt most rapidly, the natives that were there were killed, uprooted or sent far away, and those who stayed were mixed with the recent arrivals, which were the Chilean peasants. The Bailes Chinos either got mixed up in the Catholic question or they disappeared. Who knows what those festivals were like before. That’s one of my dreams; that when I rise, I can chineando [7] on the ridge of Pachacamita, I’ll see from above the entire valley and the Aconcagua river, laters, I’ll transduce and go back in time 600 years, climbing the same ridge chineando with those ancestors 600 years before.


Through that sound and that trance, you travel through dimensions of reality, which have to do with the altered states of consciousness that have been an important part of your interest in this. I understand that from there you began chineando, trying to understand and break down the trance.


Of course, well, because I assumed that something happened there with those flutes that are played that way, they have to produce something. So I spent a year asking those old men. I went to those festivals, I went to Cai Cai, there I met the Caicainos and they told me, “Yes, one gets drunk, yes, one feels strange…” The perception as one as a human changes in relation to the world. Sound does that and speaking about that is very difficult because there are no words, it’s ineffable to describe that. So one of those old men, Armando, told me, “Alright, dude, stop asking dumb questions and chinea already!” and he gave me a drink, and I chinié, and from that moment I became a Chino-addict.


It’s the difference of having translated what you observed from transducing through the experience.


Of course, and it’s obvious. If you are an anthropologist, like myself, what you do is ethnography, from there to understand the relationship between music and the states of consciousness is absurd.


Personally, I’m interested in sound as something where humans and other entities dialogue, opening nonlinear sound spaces and exploring the potentiality of sound outside of the musical, extending temporalities and access to other dimensions through trance. What can we learn by paying attention to the noise and other spaces of wisdom and beauty outside of the Western canon? What does it mean for you to think from a logic of the South, what would a Southernlogic be from your life experience?


It would have to be more campestral, a more communitary and solidary logic; that is how Southernlogic must be. As far as sound, well, in sound we learn to distinguish each place’s territorial sound. How many times in history or geography class did the book say, “the mountains are beautiful, the central valley has this and that thing, it has that flora, that geographical feature, those rivers, it has those mountain ranges.” But they have a sound, a specific sound, and that sound has a local meaning. It’s the same as the sound frameworks of the Bailes Chinos. Each Baile Chino belongs to a village. That village has a sound, that dance sounds a certain way and one knows without looking that that dance is from Loncura. There are local frameworks. The sikus are there, the puncullas are there, the tarcas are there, the pifilcas are there, the kultrunes are there, the copla songs are there; there are so many American sounds. [8] All of the Mapuche songs that are precise and full of meaning are there, and there are songs for every moment and situation. I mean, the sound and the voice as vehicles of history, of the presentation of many things that were sung. There is a whole knowledge and density of acoustic information in America.


It’s a relationship with the flute.




The flute is alive.


It’s absolutely alive. And suddenly I don’t what I’m in and it doesn’t sound and it doesn’t sound and it doesn’t sound and it just doesn’t sound...because something is happening in the relationship, or something is happening to it, or it took a lot of sun, or drank a lot of water, or isn’t comfortable, or has a bit of fluff inside, or a splinter, any weaita [9] and it doesn’t sound. And you go desperate and don’t sound, and that is when you extract other sounds.

It’s alive, it’s much more alive than the Western (flute), that energy that you throw into it returns three-fold. I’ve had my flute for twenty-eight years.

The sound swarm it produces is incredible, a swarm in which one flies, and you leave your body, as if seeing it from above. It’s that collective energy that it produces, the ritual of emotion that is produced, the encounter with friends, drinking wine from the early morning, being happy telling jokes, telling stories, we met each other years ago and we see each other there as old people in different towns. It’s a beautiful thing; the affection for others and the madness of the flutes.


[1] “In the received account, sound is a form of energy transmitted through a medium. Often, that energy moves across or between media -from an antenna to a receiver, from an amplifier to an ear, from the lightness of air to the thickness of water. With such crossings, sound is transduced. The word comes from Latin transducere, “to lead across, to transfer,” out of trans, “across, to or on the farther side of, beyond, over” + ducere, “to lead.” A loudspeaker is a transducer. A microphone is a transducer. A telephone is a transducer. During the twentieth century, the human ear came itself to be described as a transducer.” Stefan Helmreich, “Transduction.” In ​Keywords in Sound​, edited by David Novak & Matt Sakakeeny. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015) p. 222-231.

[2] Translator’s note: Southernlogics comes from surlógica, which challenges the global status quo of Northern hegemony.

[3] Translator’s note: Understanding this, the decision to translate this interview into English was made in conjunction with all parties.

[4] Chino is a quechua word that means “server.”

[5] “The Bailes Chinos are brotherhoods of musicians/dancers from central Chile. They express the faith of farmers and fishermen that gather in religious festivals celebrated in small villages and coves where they congregate dances of neighboring towns. The oldest musical antecedents of the Bailes Chinos go back to the “Aconcagua Volcanic Complex,” a culture that inhabited the central area of Chile between 900 and 1400 AD. During the Colony and early Republican Period, chronicalists and travelers left testimony of these celebrations. They have survived by unifying the social, cultural and religious lives of the region’s farming and fishing villages. The Bailes Chinos are inserted within the framework of the American popular ritual, with indigenous contributions like instrumental music, dance, musical instruments and the direct relation with the supernatural through special states of consciousness. They also present Hispanic elements, like prayers, the song of ensign, the Holy Scriptures, images, ritual calendar and other aspects of Christianity.” Further reading: Claudio Mercado y Víctor Rondón, Con Mi Humilde Devoción, Bailes Chinos en Chile Central (Santiago: Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, 2003) p. 6.

[6] The sound of the Chino flutes is called “rajado/torn.” It is a particular, dissonant sound with multiple harmonics.

[7] Translator’s note: This refers to the verb form of practicing the ritual dance of the Bailes Chinos.

[8] Translator’s Note: These are examples of instruments commonly found throughout indigenous communities of the Americas.

[9] Translator’s note: weaita is a Chilean word for a small thing.

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