A Chat with Brooklyn's Finest Tinkerer
Fans of ethereal vocals, tight indie beats and a fine art sensibility will love — if they don’t already — Helado Negro. Based in Brooklyn and inspired by his Ecuadorian background, Helado Negro — aka Roberto Lange — has become something of a washed-out (in the sound sense) electronic project addict. Between his solo endeavor, his collaboration with Julianna Barwick (OMBRE), his quirky visual sculptures, and several music monikers, it’s hard to keep up with him. But we managed to hold him still for an interview afterhe properly earned MTV Iggy’s Artist of the Week status.
See what he had to say about his wifey, his gear, and his upcoming projects.
You won! In the last minute! What was this week of voting like for you?
How does it feel to know you’ve got some fans who won’t give up?
My mom loves me, she spread the word.
How did you meet Julianna?
Julianna and I meet in 2009 when I asked her to open up for Helado Negro. The label commissioned us to go on tour and develop a collaborative project. Her and I didn’t know each other that well and we just got to know each other and over the past two years we created OMBRE. It’s a record about our friendship.
How is OMBRE different from your work as Helado Negro?
OMBRE is a collaborative musical body, Julianna and I would sit in my studio and just go over a million ideas. We would trade off recording piano’s guitars synths vibraphones and vocals. It was this very Jell-o type process where we were always waiting for the mold to get congealed.
Helado Negro is just me. I’m usually taking sounds and manipulating them in the computer or on other machines and building small fragments of idea’s. Ill create these pattern’s and sonic sequence’s that will just repeat over and over until lyrics come into my head. Ill do four or five takes of whatever sounds come to my mind. Even if they aren’t real words I just let them shape the sound and texture out of my mouth. Ill find the best ones and start to find words that can be stitched together in whatever sense.. abstract literal .. Then I bounce it out and listen to it for about 4 months to a year and it end’s up mutating into something completely different. Since I was never trained to feel restricted to normal music intervals for tuning a lot of the sounds I create through field recordings, synthesizers and records are in their own tuning and allows me to free up my voice from staying in whatever world. Recently though I have made an effort to regiment certain things to these intervals because playing live creates a tricky situation to do a performance of a song that you are hoping to recreate in its own unique live version.
Where does the Helado Negro name come from?
It means Black Ice Cream, it’s a food from a country that doesn’t exist.
Are you still sculpting?
I’m making work doing sound art/ installations/ interventions. They aren’t sculpting in the traditional sense. I’m working on a piece for the Indianapolis Museum of Art for September. Also for the Art Live Fair that is a benefit for the Lotus House Women Shelter in Miami at the end of October.
What’s the latest?
The most recent piece I completed was this one. It was commissioned by Flux Projects in Atlanta GA.
What are some of your first memories of making music?
I never have had any kind of formal training. I began making music by using a machine called the MPC 2000xl. Its a Midi sequencer and a audio sampler. This machine allowed me to collect sounds from field recordings, records and synthesizers which I would then methodically assemble like a quilt into some kind of pattern or sequence that would keep growing. I’ve always composed in this way. No real visual guide just playing back sounds and listening over and over again until the next idea gets worked in. The other biggest influence on my music was the Arp Odyssey. I got that in 2000 when I traded a bike for it, close to that time I was taking a synthesis class in college, we were learning the basic ideas of synthesis on a Doepfer modular so I would go home and translate these basic rules with my Arp and just record ideas.
There’s a guilty part of me that wants to hear you just explode into giant beats, if for nothing else than to hear you fuck with us. Ever had that desire yourself?
For the longest time I released under different monikers that were more beat based projects. (EPSTEIN , BOOM & BIRDS, ROM ) ‘Ive released more than 10 records with a lot of beat driven ideas. I’m not limiting Helado Negro to not be so beat heavy, I’m just letting it all take a natural progression. I’m in no rush.
Here’s a record that was all about beats being the vocal chord of the music.
I made that between 2006 – 2008 while working on the first Helado Negro record in peripheral. 4 of the pieces entitled Love are from 2002 when I was still in college.
What makes you go for the more intimate sounds?
There’s an effortlessness aspect to it that makes me enjoy being close to your ear.
Who are you listening to these days ?
My air conditioner. His name is Chilly Willy.
These are my friends who I’ve listened to or contributed to their projects somehow. My friends are my biggest influence musically.
Bear in Heaven
What are you balancing, time-wise?
Its a lot of mixing and working with other groups right now. In my peripheral I’m always working on music. I’ve created a process for myself that I began with my early days on my MPC and Arp where I just build patterns and save them for another day. I still have pieces that I’m developing since 2000. I’m also constantly making visual work. Here’s an example of some recent work.
Are you doing music full time?
I break up my time by prioritizing different ideas. I’m setting myself up to finish a new Helado Negro record in August and tour harder than ever starting this fall going into next year. I think I do music full time but it’s a huge sacrifice in the economic sense. I don’t go out much because I can’t really afford to, so I’m not really in the social arenas a lot of musicians in Brooklyn are. I’m guessing it would benefit me more to do that but this just feeds my hermit tendencies to just work on music and anything else that oozes out of my brain.
How does Roberto divide up his day?
25% Morning/ my wife / tea / smoothie / youtube / emails / work on musics. 25% afternoon/ my wife / work on musics / raisins / bananas / bathroom/ phone / youtube 45% dinner / my wife / the gym / work on musics 5% sleep / my dreams
How do you feel your background informs and inspires your art?
I think just like everyone that’s your first seed for most things. My family introduced me to the world and more importantly their world, music, food and traditions. My parents were always more than encouraging with me. Never a hesitation in anything we wanted to do and never a limitation beyond doing obviously bad shit. There’s so much to talk about that I could write forever but that was the beginning and there have been milestones that have been built on top of that to create this collection of energy that’s in me today.
What’s next for Helado Negro, OMBRE, and whatever else you have going on?
I’m currently working on a third album to be finished at the end of August. I’m preparing a tour for September and I’m opening up for Bobby Womack for this show in Chicago.
Photo by Angel Ceballos