Juana Molina’s music might be best classified as electro-folk-acoustic-world-ambient-avant-garde—which is to say that any attempt to categorize the Argentine singer’s style is nearly impossible. A more effective approach to her performance at the Brattle Theatre yesterday would be to think of entering a parallel universe where randomness provides the only order to bird calls, electronic rhythms, and hauntingly dissonant harmonies. Don’t try to understand—the music resists interpretation and relies on enigma.
Molina, whose lyrics are mostly in Spanish, subscribes to a philosophy of chance. She maintains that sometimes not understanding can be the most rewarding musical experience. “I don’t think lyrics really matter,” Molina says. “Sometimes I really like not understanding the lyrics of musicians, because that makes you able to go for a more abstract ride than if I’m telling you something specific.”
“Music is a universal language...I grew up listening to music in English and not understanding one word,” says the singer. It would be difficult to emphasize lyrics when the musical space Molina creates is so heavily saturated with an array of eclectic sounds. The singer plays guitar and several keyboards, running the sounds through a pedal to loop one instrument over the next and layering synthesized percussive elements and vocal harmonies on top of everything.
Though Molina is traditionally a solo act, this U.S. tour features the singer’s trio, which includes a bassist and drummer to develop the lower registers of Molina’s songs, balancing her breathy, ethereal voice. “My goal was to have more bottom end and a thicker bass,” Molina says.
Molina’s history is as rich as her music; the daughter of the famed tango singer Horacio Molina, she spent several years in Paris after her family fled the Argentine military coup of 1976. Upon her return to South America, she began a career in television, starring in two popular Argentine series and releasing her first album, “Rara” (or “Strange”) before leaving for Los Angeles to exclusively pursue music. “The day I realized I was going to die without doing [music], I started working hard to be able to perform in front of people.”
After a slow start and her subsequent move to L.A., Molina’s music began to garner international attention with her second album, fittingly titled “Segundo,” which was released in the U.S. in 2003. “Segundo” represented the singer’s foray into the world of electronica, and the response was overwhelmingly positive; Entertainment Weekly named it Best World Music Album of 2003.
On Thursday, the artist performed songs mostly from her two latest albums, “Tres Cosas” and “Son,” released in the U.S. on UK-based label Domino records in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
On “Son,” her most recent release, Molina takes inspiration from Argentina’s national bird, the hornero, integrating its playful and melodic calls as a motif in her compositions. But her interest in the acoustics of nature has more to do with the element of chance involved in sound production than with nature itself.
“Actually, what I’m interested in is the behavior in the sounds of nature rather than the sounds themselves,” Molina says. “You can recognize what the sounds mean because they have a mode and way of singing, but you don’t know what they are going to do, because they have a completely random sequence of notes that are just there accompanying the song.”
In many ways, Molina’s music draws on nature’s random order. “I improvise on structures that I already know,” the singer says of her performances. “I sometimes make loose notes on something, and then I play a stiff rhythm—one thing that goes rhythmically and one that is very loose. That way, they will never be at the same place at the end of a measure.”
While we are still at Harvard after Juana Molina’s performance at the Brattle Theatre, listening to her music can, even if only for a short while, transport us to her vast musical playground.