An Interview with Roberto Carlos Lange (Helado Negro)

Roberto Carlos Lange, better known as Helado Negro, will join the Liquid Music Series on Saturday, March 21 for the world premiere performance of his work Island Universe Story in the new Ordway Concert Hall. The Liquid Music Series’ Sam Tygiel recently interviewed Lange about this upcoming performance. Tickets + Info

How did a project of this scale come about?

[Liquid Music curator] Kate Nordstrum approached me to see if I was interested in presenting a performance through the Liquid Music Series. I want to say we’ve been talking about this for almost two years now. It’s been an ever-evolving project centered  around the idea of creating an expanded version of an Helado Negro performance utilizing aspects of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s resources. I’ve never had these kinds of resources available to me, so the scope and the scale became larger and I began to invite the people I’ve worked with in the past to participate. The music I create involves lots of small parts, just like an orchestra. Small bits of ideas that stack vertically. My performances have always been true to the recordings but this performance is giving me the ability to have people play all of this manually and make all of these compositions completely new.

Has the project changed since its inception?

Initially the performance was going to be a more traditional Helado Negro live set, which is just me and electronics, alongside  a string ensemble from the SPCO. The opportunity to be a part of the inauguration festivities of the new Ordway Concert Hall gave us more flexibility in expanding that idea. The new idea was to involve a group of collaborators to re-imagine and reinterpret the Helado Negro music manually. All of the collaborators involved have been a part of Helado Negro recordings since 2009. So conceptually it was great to have all of these people involved.

How has your artistic vision been shaped and augmented by the collaborators and organizations that make a project of this scale possible?

It’s a rare opportunity to work with so many people that you respect and admire. I’ve had the chance to create an idea and fully flesh it out. We were able to do a residency at MASS MoCA to get the wheels spinning on the beginnings. We received an amazing grant from the Joyce Foundation and the complete attention of the SPCO crew involved. It feels special and the encouragement means so much.

In much of your work as Helado Negro, you capitalize on a sense of simplicity and intimacy to create music that is warm and inviting. How did you approach creating a larger scale project while staying true to your own artistic identity?

The idea of how someone interprets the music is one idea, and how I envision it being performed is another. Each musician working with me has their own sensibility and trying to harness that to work in a collaborative form is a big challenge. The overarching theme for all the players is to make all of these songs new, for us to take ownership of it and treat the recordings as a completely separate universe. We are making something new. I’m still the filter but I’m putting a large amount of trust in the players.

How does your Ecuadorian background and your experiences growing up in Miami influence the art, musical and otherwise, that you create?

I was born in South Florida and the culture there is tropical. Not just in a cocktail in your hand on the beach kind of way. Working class immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean come to this sunny peninsula to make their first entrance into the U.S. The culture there has almost nothing to do with the rest of the U.S. Growing up I was surrounded by Caribbean, Latin and U.S. culture. It was happening all at the same time. It was more about what you tried to mute in your mind and then try to dial in.

Could you talk a little bit about the non-musical aspects of Island Universe Story (movement, lighting, flow, staging, texture)?

The concept for the flow is based on the idea of cycling through combinations of internal meditative music and more external body music. My hope is that the audience hears and sees me having a conversation with them and my collaborators but also talking in my head.

A lot of special things have come together for you in the past year with your new album, the MASS MoCA residency, Perez Art Museum commission, and most recently your selection as a recipient of a Joyce Award to help fund Island Universe Story. What does this kind of productivity and recognition mean to you and how has this period of increased activity impacted you personally and as an artist?

I’m grateful mostly! I have huge respect for the people who are looking to me to create new work and perform. I’m happy to get recognition for the work that I’ve done but I’m not good with attention. The idealistic side of me pursues irresponsible possibilities and the realistic side knows that everything comes in waves and that this wave is great. I hope to keep as much of what I do within the idealistic, realistic and sometimes the surrealistic.