Wherein I wander the chronically unfamiliar .
Estranjero: Not Unlike This Recording
The invitation sounded exotic: bring some gear to a beautiful house in the foothills of the central valley of Oaxaca, Mexico, for a few weeks, work on the new NOGM record, get some back-end tour business done, maybe get some writing time in. I assembled a substantial recording rig meticulously packed in foam for flying and arranged to rent what I couldn’t bring. The kit bag contained instruments I’ve not really used before but was eager to explore…synths and the like. We got down to work quickly, establishing an unnatural rhythm of 12-14 hours a day in a self-imposed quasi-monastic setting with one daily meal.
Along with the promise of focussed work time were sun and warmth, birdsong, the absence of crunching snow underfoot, a view of greenery outside the window and mountains in the distance, and a taste of cultural life away from the tourist centre. All of that appeared, all of it good, all of it exotic. And all of it alienating.
I am a stranger here in Mexico as much as I am a stranger in the landscape of this new record. Mexico seems to me like a wild place, a fever dream version of what I know. There are features that are recognizable but those bits are embedded in the chronically unfamiliar. Not unlike this new recording.
The unfamiliarities shred my ego. Not unlike this recording.
There is green, true, and the occasional explosion of colour from some adventurous blossoms, but much of the landscape is dormant brown, waiting for the rains. Not unlike this recording.
I crossed the border willingly, paid the dues, became the estranjero, and have felt exposed ever since. Not unlike this recording.
We didn’t need to come here to do this, and maybe home would have had its advantages. I hate to admit that I’m a bit undone by how out of phase I have felt down here. But there is an up-side: when you are a stranger in a strange place, you are offered the chance to employ a part of you that gets dulled by comfort and familiarity. Humility becomes a valuable communication tool, as does the ability to be kind, and your ears tune into clues and cadences in noises that sound foreign and this helps discern the way forward. You adapt. Not unlike this recording.
And maybe you discover you don’t need a lot of what you thought you needed, and you clarify what is necessary. And you make something good out of all that apprehension and unease.
Not unlike this recording.
Photo: gh, Oxaca, March 1, 2020