Paper Noise/Bruit de papier/Ruido de papel

Benjamin Patterson’s «Paper Piece» (1960) is a text-based score that offers instructions for a group of five performers to explore the acoustic possibilities intrinsic in a multitude of paper textures. «Paper Piece» marks the first radical deviation that Patterson made from his classical and contemporary music sensibilities which spurred a period of intense creative activity. Though the score provides precise instructions, the piece began to take on a life of its own at Fluxus concerts, with spontaneous audience participation turning the piece into a chaotic happening. Our realization of the piece will take a step in the opposite direction, exploring more sparse and subtle possibilities with a version for three performers. As part of the «Paper Noise» exhibition, the live performance aims to explore the materiality of the paper, as a vehicle of collaboration and open interpretation. The piece will reuse the paper materials in the preparation of street collages and paper cut-out animations produced in previous weeks at Gallerie SBC (Montreal, Canada). For artist-in-residence Amanda Gutiérrez, it was important to include the work of the only Black composer in the Fluxus movement, Ben Patterson, who composed collaborative cutting-edge and political happenings in avant-garde music throughout his career as an artist and composer for more than four decades.

Live camera and video editing: Amanda Gutiérrez.

Performers: Stuart Jackson, Aurelio Meza, and Alejandra Jiménez.

Zárate: Right to Survival on the Streets

Zárate 6 Nicho semipúblico

Nicho semipúblico o residuos de rituales sincréticos, 2016

Whenever a piece of art is framed as being related to the drug underworld, scandal and morbidity usually lurk behind the merchandising mechanisms to sell it. That is exactly the way both English and Spanish-speaking media portrayed the work of Alfonso Zárate (no relation to the political analyst of the same name), initially sparked by a Vice article. This stereotypical depiction obscures part of his work’s vision and reach, while serving as an excellent example of how the media are still unable to discuss drugs without breaking into a fit of giggles and nerves. That is why it deserves close analysis before we delve into Homo Sacer, the exhibition that started it all.

The article’s title, written in Vice’s typical click-bait style, contributed to portray Zárate’s youth not as an art student, but as a drug dealer who “made ends meet selling brand name knock-offs,” (or fayuca in the local slang) in one of the oldest and most dangerous neighborhoods in downtown Mexico City: Tepito. Which other background could have better explained his work? Elliot depicts Zárate as a quasi-clandestine figure who found refuge in art and kept a delicate balance between documentation and anonymity. A few weeks later, local sensationalist tabloid ¡Pásala! picked up on Vice’s line, yet distorted the story and offered a slightly less scandalous title: “From Fayuquero [bootlegger] To Artist.” A small add on the front cover stated, “Tepito Neighbor Makes Art Out of Drugs and Hookers’ Clothes.”

Zárate 3 - Escarcha in vitro

Escarcha in vitro, 2016

What is problematic is not Zárates’s work per se—he has every right to create art out of his own experiences. It is rather the way it was discussed by various mediasometimes abusively, at other times plainly discriminatorily due to his presumable consuming, selling, or artistic habits. In an almost morbid tone, Elliot describes Zárate’s constant use of in situ drug-related materials, “The result is art that feels ghostly and pieces that seem to reveal the spirit of people and places that are usually subterranean, invisible to anyone outside of Tepito’s underworld.” From this perspective, art—or rather the aesthetic experience involving art exhibitions (as Yves Michaud points out in L’Art à l’état gazeux)—operates as a “window into chaos” (Castoriadis), allowing the gallery goer to experience a glimpse of disgrace from a safe vantage point. This depiction brings to mind Maynard James Keenan calling the average media user a cannibalistic voyeur:

’Cause I need to watch things die from a distance.

[…] Vicariously I live while the whole world dies.

Much better you than I.

The worst thing about Vice’s article is that, for all its implicit defamatory tones, it was meant to be a positive, legitimizing piece of journalism.

Zárate 4 - Loco On-Off

El Loco, de la serie On/Off, 2016

What is most interesting about Zárate, though, is that his work, as he said to Elliot, “is a conversation with the people at the end of a complicated social chain: outcasts, indigents, bandits, sicarios [hitmen], narcomenudistas [drug traffickers], addicts, alcoholics, and sex workers. They tell me the history of the streets and the neighborhood.” Here addicts are the most vulnerable link in Zárate’s chain—constantly harassed by policemen and other law enforcers, exploited by their suppliers, and rejected from society at large (sometimes because of the physical marks left on their bodies by drug use and street life).

Homo Sacer: Right to Survival on the Streets (Zárate’s solo exhibition at the Traeger y Pinto Gallery in Mexico City in 2017) refers to these outcasts from its very title (according to Giorgio Agamben, homo sacer is an obscure term from Roman law that describes a disposable individual ostracized from society). The collages most clearly using drug paraphernalia are the most eye-catching and easily recognized, yet other pieces refer more directly to modern society’s pariahs. Fire and the act of lighting objects (pen caps, beer cans, plastic lighters wanted for their inner parts) are pervasive (Frontón clásico…, Por obra del espíritu santo…, the stencil series On/Off) and often mixed with geometrical figures and patterns or materials containing drugs (cocaine dime bags, colorful crack wrappers).

Zárate 5 - Bolsas coca

Bolsas aptas para narices de a gramo, 2016

The most fascinating, though, are the ones related to Jude the Apostle, known in Mexico as San Judas Tadeo (Jude Thaddaeus). As the patron saint of lost causes, Jude has been adopted by young, low-income drug users (known by many derogatory names, such as pokemones or chacas) as their main divine intercessor. As a way of penance, every 28th of the month, those individuals make a jura or “commitment” around the city, carrying

Zárate 2 - Altares Callejeros

Ruta de altares callejeros en el mítico de Alfarería, 2016

along Jude statues. Pieces like Ruta de altares callejeros en el mítico de Alfarería document this popular belief, not recognized by the church, around a legitimate saint (as opposed to an unrecognized popular saint, like Santa Muerte or Malverde, both venerated by sicarios and drug dealers), and they reveal much of the symbolic weight given to the believers’ socioeconomic level. For example, the glass shards covering the sides of the four Jude statues in Santo protector con protección de alta seguridad echo a rudimentary security system implemented in low-income neighborhoods and squats that consists of inserting the same shards into the edges of a wall or building using concrete. Sometimes, during the juras, some Jude statues would fall and break, as portrayed not only in Nicho semipúblico…, but also in a video that went viral in Mexico in which a Jude devotee, carrying a statue on his back and presumably high, crashed his bicycle against a car and shattered the statue, inspiring countless memes that blasphemously mocked the drug users’ faith being mutilated along with the statue.

Zárate’s work is informed by more than just drug dealing, bootlegging, or stealth. Homo Sacer is about the populations most seriously harmed by the Mexican drug war, which U.S. drug policies have fueled in myriad ways. Much changed in 2006 when then president Felipe Calderón officially declared the War on Drugs in Mexico (which he later toned down to a “struggle”). portada El karma de vivir al norteHowever, cities like Torreón, in the northeastern state of Coahuila, had suffered from the effects of militarizing the eradication of drug trafficking since much earlier in the decade, as Carlos Velázquez confirms in his book El karma de vivir al norte (2013). Someone once mentioned on social media that many children born in 2000, legally becoming adults by the minute, have not known any other Mexico than the one immersed in this meaningless fight, while in Canada the state is beginning to legalize, tax, and even (in provinces like Québec) sell recreational marijuana. That is work in a completely opposite direction—a dismantling of years spent in efforts for criminalizing drug use.

Under this contrasting panorama, it is no surprise that artists like Zárate are not only in contact with drugs, but find in them (and the urban cultures associated with them) the materials for creation. Mexican conceptual artist Teresa Margolles has also talked about the residues left by the War on Drugs in her work La promesa (2012), composed from the debris of Ciudad Juárez’s demolished buildings, rematerialized into a wall, and exhibited at MUAC (Museo Universitario de Arte y Cultura) in Mexico City. Places from where such debris was brought have been continually and systematically ravaged, first by looters, then by real estate speculators, and later on by “merchants of emotions,” as Keenan has called artists like himself. As suggested by Elliott, Margolles focuses on the aftermath of violence, while Zárate seems to be reporting live from the ground. In both cases, they are building up their social capital and artistic prestige out of other people’s suffering, even if such work seeks to create visibility for the marginalized. It is always an ironic situation where good causes intended to help a vulnerable social sector end up hurting them even more. There does not seem to be an ethical way for artists, the mass media, or art critics to talk about drugs. We have to come up with new critical tools for dismantling drug use based discrimination.

Zárate 1

Santo protector con protección de alta seguridad, 2015

Tres canciones pa’ romper el pinche muro

Mexican Curios (Humanos Mexicanos)”

Control Machete


Mexican curios no me vas a decir que no sabías
Que también somos humanos y nos llaman hermanos
¡Mexicano! Te llevaste una sorpresa
Calmado, todavía está muy tranquila esta pinche fiesta
La fusca es nuevecita y no pienso usarla
Antes hay que bendecirla por la sangre mexicana
Tirada en la calle de los güeros en el río

Frente a la mirada de mi gente y de mis hijos
Y si crees que es sencillo deshacerte de mí
No soy paciente y no respondo yo por mis reacciones
Si te pones agresivo en la frente un solo tiro, ¡pa!
Si te pones muy al brinco
Si recuerdas yo desciendo y tengo sangre de Pancho Villa
Y a caballo o en la troca tengo mi puntería

(Cuando quieras echarme un fonazo, tú sabes compadre
Que si nos vemos en algún lado es para agarrarnos a chingazos)

¡Ja, ja! Que vas a poner un muro, sabemos taladra
Y por seguro le damos duro
¡Za, za! Golpe, ¡za, za! Golpe,
No pienses que con eso tú me vas a detener
Ni de broma ni en serio tú podrás tener los huevos
Que tenemos pa’ madrearlos y recuerda pinche güero
Que tus leyes no me rigen ni en tu casa ni en la mía
Voy a estar sentado como quiera en tu cocina
Fumándome un cigarro y tomándome el tequila
Viendo tu tele y comiendo tu comida

Ya no mas voy a correr, ya no mas voy a huir, ya no más voy a morir, me voy a reir de ti
(Somos humanos y nos llaman mexicanos)

Llegué de tierras lejanas, pa’ poder trabajar,
ahora del caballo tu me quieres sacar,
no podías plantar ni una pinche semilla,
yo ya lo hice y ahora me mandas a la migra,
pues soy ilegal, soy inmigrante, tengo sangre
mexicana, y sigo adelante, tu me llevas
contra mi jefe, no los van a parar,
los Guerreros Aztecas van a reencarnar,
en el pueblo hambriento de la libertad
y las alas del águila al cielo nos llevarán,
somos una raza que toma el machete,
para defender lo que nos pertenece,
Crece la lucha unida,
Siente por un ideal dar la vida,
golpe tras golpe me voy a levantar,
y mis paisanos nunca se van a rezagar.

¿Qué pasa? ¿Te sientes derrotado?
¿Qué? ¿Que ya no puedes mantenerte de tu lado?
Si observas que no existe diferencia
Y aunque no quieras seguiremos en tu mesa
Y el mariachi sigue el ritmo de mi mente
Que es el mismo de mi raza y de mi gente
Pase lo que pase siempre seguiré de frente
Aunque con las armas nos topemos con la muerte

“J.T.R.B. (Jump The River, Beaner!)”



¡Yo me brinco pa’l otro lado!

Your papers, please


Pa’ comer yo need some money, need some cash

Mira tú, pinche gringo, que me dejes en paz

Eran one big, two big, three big policemen

Que a chingadazos te abaratan te reprimen

Show the way through, Mexica people

Me irrita mucho que tú estés aquí a hacer crimen

No money–Not funny–No digno–No rights

No te metas con la raza, sólo deja pasar

Jump the way through, Mexica people

Me irrita mucho que tú estés aquí a hacer crimen

Tu gente y mi gente no son diferentes

Luchan por comida y un trato decente

Jump the river, beaner!


Walls of pain from a faraway war

American black eyes, American lies

Gato mojado, espera sentado

No te olvides que a tu lado

Siempre está San Juan Soldado

Muerte, muerte, se respira mala suerte

Atrás mis latinos, alerta vecinos

Mojado naciste, mojado serás

Fuck you mexicano, and never come back!

Jump the river, beaner!


Día de Furia


Pussies vato, he’s been fuckstruck

Gave her todo, all for nada

Y los pussy, till we pussy

pan caliente


No pinches suffer my homies

your fucking tics make me frown

Your blame is sick, no doubt!


He’ll love it when she sucks your cock


Pussies vato, he’s been fuckstruck

Gave her todo, all for nada

Y los pussy, till we pussy

al caliente, se te siente


Just runaway as fast as you can

before your wheelchair turns to hardcore you

For the Rest of the Show: Majical Cloudz’s Final Concert

My first Majical Cloudz show was also their last one ever. Both Matthew Otto and Devon Welsh (the band’s DJ and singer) had mentioned that La Sala Rossa, in Montreal, was also the stage for their first show together, in which only the band’s partners and roomies would come to see them. Although this time, on March 10, 2016 it was full and tickets had sold out several days before, there was still an intimate feeling in the venue. Devon said he wasn’t sure how to conduct a good-bye concert, and he did the best he could, joking as much as possible. Before singing their first song, he reminded the audience this was Majical Cloudz’s final show; someone booed and Devon said something like (I’m paraphrasing), ‘You knew this. Don’t make it more difficult. Let’s do something, don’t boo for the rest of the show. Also, if you are here it’s because you’re into the band, so we have a longer set and we’re gonna sing all of the songs we have. Probably we won’t sing all the songs we have, but if we don’t, it’s okay.’

Matthew and Devon were visible at a glance, one almost behind the other, a red light defining their faces. A similar ambient was set up in an earlier concert this year, in Detroit. This was a very photogenic way of remembering them, an allegory of what the band had seemed to be throughout these years—Devon on the front, giving everything in each performance, and Matthew creating the essential sonic atmosphere.

I had the chance to meet Matthew offstage before even knowing he played in such a cool band. A day before the breakup’s official announcement, some colleagues from Concordia and I interviewed Matthew regarding his customized modular system, which he avoided referring to as an instrument. His remarks on how he’s modified an Electribe, along with other Korg synthesizers and guitar pedals, are very much in tune with current discussions on instruments and instrumentality, their intended use or stabilization versus the interpretive flexibility users can make of them, and the complex relational processes of agency established between humans and machines.

Otto is well aware of the sound limitations into which the Electribe (the very first synthesizer he ever had) was putting him. But Otto’s response, instead of getting rid of it, was to hack it and combine it with other devices in order to create a customized modular system. The search for more interesting and appropriate sounds for his creative endeavors, as well as a strong feeling for the materiality of the object (it fits in a case and is highly portable, ideal for touring) were two motivations behind Otto’s drive for customization. Instruments go through different periods of stabilization and change, and Otto’s modular device is a way of ‘opening up’ a technology that was being closed due to the prominence of keyboards and certain standardized sounds in synthesizers. In the interview, Otto described his customized system as an ‘open hood on something that might be sold as a product that just works in a certain way […]. It’s sort of a negotiation’ between him and the device.

How this negotiation is exercised is clear in the way Matthew treats indeterminacy and ‘failure’ in his creative process, which he definitely doesn’t sees as such. He pits different elements of the system against each other (say, one distortion pedal against a delay pedal, or a synthesizer through a series of pedals) to test all the possibilities they can offer. This, of course, is a gateway for ‘mistakes,’ which Matthew finds great. While he was showing us how two pedals were connected, a sound went out of control and he had to turn down the volume. Later on he confessed his inability to generate the sound he wanted due to the instrument’s constraints. During the Majical Cloudz final concert, something similar happened when the device got out of control at the beginning or ‘Silver Car Crash,’ right when Devon started screaming wildly, which forced them to start the song all over again.

majical cloudz set list

Final show setlist according to Setlist.FM. It doesn’t include «Childhood’s End,» which was played (watch first video).

These examples demonstrate up to which point things can’t be played the same twice with Matthew’s customized modular system, not even the same song. He also mentioned in the interview that every change in its setup implies a change in the way music is interpreted and performed. This is also probably behind the band’s official reason for separating—that they have explored all the sonic possibilities of their collaboration, and that it was time to move on in terms of their own styles. Indeed, some critics have noted how the two albums and two EPs in which Matthew and Devon worked together have all the same particular style. The band’s joke on playing all their songs in one set may not only point to the fact that Majical Cloudz had a very brief life. It also tells us about the aesthetic homogeneity behind it, and about the meditated and very brave decision to end the project at its highest point, after being nominated to the Juno Awards for best alternative album of the year and right before the ceremony. However, it is more than clear that their careers will be just as breathtaking as Majical Cloudz was, and now I’m just waiting to see a Dahlia show, Matthew’s new project.