I first encountered Sarah Viviana Valdez’s i_like_dog_face project at this year’s Savage Weekend (here in North Carolina). In my festival review for Resident Advisor, I described the multi-media artist’s potent set as madness-techno with lysergic lighting. Over an undulating rhythm shot through with distorted crud and squeals, Valdez mesmerized heads with incantatory whispers and cries shrouded in cavernous reverb. She sounded like a 7-year-old girl who spends her days hidden in the family attic, exploring strange dances and concocting near-gibberish nursery rhymes from the myriad nuances of her thin, highly pitched voice.
This description also applies to her Cephia’s Treat-released cassette Twisting Signals of Light (a title apparently referencing an experimental mode of data transmission). At the same time, the C40 is significantly less frenetic and extroverted than was her live performance. Rather, it’s more rooted in isolation, space and distance.
Consisting of three pieces that more or less bleed together, Side A opens with what sounds like decayed radio waves (“To Activate the Broadcast”) before Valdez’s voice, cloaked in echo, blossoms into a mangled chorus of chirps and whines (“Over the Screen”). She sounds innocent enough, yet there also lurks a twinge of menace, as if she’s playing the role of sweet, little ragamuffin who just so happens to entertain daydreams of drowning her baby sister in a scalding bubble bath. The side closes-out with “Transmit Light.” Over some kind of repetitive squelching weirdness, Valdez chants “Transmit light, out of sight” until her voice turns shrill — then silent.
Side B, a single piece titled “Hearing the Void,” is significantly more groove-driven than anything found on the flip. It’s a phased-out, electro-tribal lurch pierced by toy-synth wheeze and rudimentary melody. Over this, Valdez chants “move your head,” as well as several unintelligible abstractions. The track’s balance of hypno-surrealism and child-like primitivism falls somewhere between the noise-exotica of early Gang Gang Dance (Revival of the Shittest era) and ’70s Yoko Ono. In fact, towards song’s end, Valdez lets rips a reptilian ululation that would sound right at home on Ono’s masterpiece Fly.
Despite the fact that Twisting Signals of Light sounds as though it could have been been made using twee contraptions like Mr. Microphone, Speak & Spell and Yorx’s tiniest boom box, Valdez wisely gives the music a big, crusty sound that most of us generally associate with far more blown-out and/or cacophonous fare. This approach further enhances the tension between innocence and menace, the magical and macabre, that underpins Valdez’s work. It also means the tape is most excellent at high volume.
One more thing: extra points for the glow-in-the-dark cover art.
Sarah Viviana Valdez: website – Tumblr — SoundCloud — Twitter.
Cephia’s Treat Recordings: website.