We Haven’t Been Listening to Enough Vibraphonists: An Interview with Patricia Brennan | Hype | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

We Haven’t Been Listening to Enough Vibraphonists: An Interview with Patricia Brennan

Interviewed by:
Nick Hilden
Interview date:
February 2021

So there came a point this year when I was listening to pretty much nothing but Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and not even in its entirety. After many, many spins, I was listening through solely to hear a single guitar pluck. A specific organ barumpfing. The breath she lets out at the beginning of “For Her.” Things were getting quiet, if you see what I’m saying. It was becoming more about hearing the spaces between the sounds.

And that was when I stumbled across Patricia Brennan. As far as I can tell, there is no music more appropriate for this contemplative, quiet mood than her debut album Maquishti.

As it turns out, the thing we haven’t been listening to enough is vibraphonists. It might not have been your first guess—perhaps you thought we should be giving more bassists a shot; or why not the zurnists?—but when you consider it, the realization that you don’t have enough vibraphonist music in your collection should come as no surprise. Has life not lacked vibrance lately?

“I’ve been exposed to mallet percussion since I was very young growing up in Mexico,” explains Patricia. “The marimba is one of the folkloric instruments in my hometown of Veracruz. I always loved the percussive aspect to it but also the warmth of its tone. Also, since piano was my first instrument, I was always attracted to the melodic qualities of mallet percussion instruments.

“Eventually, during my percussion studies, I decided to focus mostly on both the vibraphone and the marimba. They embodied the perfect combination of a rhythmic and melodic approach. The vibraphone particularly is appealing to me because of its unique tone quality, the ability to sustain the sound and alter the sound and texture. I also started to expand those possibilities by the addition of guitar pedals to my vibraphone set up. This new approach allowed me to expand my sonic and textural palette in a compositional and improvisational manner.”

We Haven’t Been Listening to Enough Vibraphonists: An Interview with Patricia Brennan | Hype | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Currently based out of Brooklyn, Patricia has performed with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Paquito D’Rivera, and a slew of standout jazz musicians and orchestras. Maquishti represented her first venture as a solo artist.

Maquishti is a reflection of my musical voice and my ongoing search for musical freedom. I wanted to highlight the nuances and all the possibilities of both the vibraphone and marimba. Also, I wanted to get rid of limitations that sometimes determine what we play and how we play on those instruments. Each composition was written with those ideas in mind.

“Some compositions and improvisations in the record feature extended techniques. Also, it incorporates the use of extended electronic effects via guitar pedals. I wanted to incorporate these techniques and effects as part of my improvisatory and compositional language.

“Another vision for this project was to incorporate the marimba in an improvisatory environment. As far as the recording process, every aspect was influenced by the vision of the record, from the studio that was chosen to the recording/mixing/mastering engineers. On the first session, I recorded all the compositions and on the second session, I recorded a series of free improvisations on both instruments. It was great to have the time to explore the space and the instruments without any restrictions. It was a very intimate process, just the instruments, the space, and myself.”

You can feel that intimacy and space for experimentation in the final composition. It has a dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness quality that would feel right at home in Alice in Wonderland or Ulysses. And that feeling is one of the major themes behind the album.

“’Maquishti’ is a word inspired by the náhuatl word ‘maquixtia,’ Patricia explains. “It means to liberate or to free oneself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The meaning of this word reflected the essence of this record and the journey that led to it. Náhuatl is one of the oldest native Mexican languages that is still spoken in some regions of my home state of Veracruz.”

Náhuatl was the language of the Aztecs, and is today spoken by nearly two million Nahua people scattered throughout Central Mexico, where the indigenous peoples of the country still struggle to retain the culture that was pressed to the brink of extinction by Spanish colonizers.

Having spent a good deal of time in Mexico myself—specifically in Oaxaca, where the tension between traditional indigenous cultures and Spanish-influenced, modern Mexican culture is very real—one definitely feels a push-and-pull between the past and future; the struggle to define whose land it really is. On Maquishti, there is a sense of uncertain time and place that strikingly evident.

“My hometown of Veracruz has a rich blend of people and cultures,” says Patricia. “My earliest musical memory is of the weekly rumbas growing up in Mexico. Usually, I would play small percussion while learning the singing and dancing. The tradition of rumba is the result of the Afro-Cuban influence in the city’s culture. I also grew up listening and playing percussion to other rhythmically rich traditions like son jarocho, salsa, and danzón. These influences ignited my appreciation and love for rhythmic feel, texture, and color.

“In addition to those influences, my grandmother who was a concert pianist, inspired me to pick up the piano from a very young age (about 4 years old). In Mexico, at that time, we were taught music lessons at conservatories. Luckily, we had one of these conservatories only a few blocks away from my home. Every day I would go from my normal schooling to after-school music classes at the conservatory. The older I got the more in number, and more difficult, the music classes became. The music that was studied at the conservatory was mostly classical. However, due to the rich cultural environment that was around me, it was easier to see the common denominators between different musical styles and approaches. This experience continues to influence my current approach to composition, improvisation, and musical experimentation.”

We Haven’t Been Listening to Enough Vibraphonists: An Interview with Patricia Brennan | Hype | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

In fact, Patricia credits a wide range of influences even beyond music, all of whom were famed experimenters within their respective fields.

“Regardless of the art form, I’ve always been inspired by innovators. Firstly, my parents who have inspired me to follow my dreams despite the obstacles I might encounter along the way. In music and painting, composers like Morton Feldman and John Cage, to painters like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Also figures in the culinary arts like Massimo Bottura and Heston Blumenthal.”

Moving forward, Patricia will continue to pursue experimentation and draw from náhuatl-inspired themes.

“Currently, I’m working on a project called ‘Moch.’ The word ‘moch’ is náhuatl for ‘all,’ ‘everything.’ This project is a collaborative electroacoustic duo that I’ve had for several years with percussionist, drummer, and turntablist Noel Brennan (DJ Arktureye), plus the addition of special guests on every performance. I would like to do a recording with this project in the near future. Previous guests have included bassist Michael Formanek, [and] percussionist Mauricio Herrera, among others. Our most recent performance with this project was part of the John Zorn’s commissioning series at the Brooklyn venue National Sawdust.”

Maquishti is available now on Bandcamp and Spotify. If you’re in the mood for something laid back, eclectic, and dreamy, give it a listen.

Follow Patricia Brennan
Instagram: @patriciabrennan84
Twitter: @pfvibes
Facebook: facebook.com/patriciabrennanvibes
Spotify: open.spotify.com/artist/4Q7mKhsHlU8ku3jEL0oVee
Bandcamp: patriciabrennan.bandcamp.com/

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