at Tangier, June 16
It’s faintly odd that Argentine singer-instrumentalist Juana Molina used to be a TV comedian. You wouldn’t figure that from her series of gently astonishing albums featuring her demure, benign voice, calmly plucked acoustic guitar and off-kilter electronic filigrees. Tonight, as she accomplished on her new disc, Son, Molina earned rapt response the way teacher got us to listen: by speaking very quietly.
As if her whole sonic structure hung in delicate balance, Molina first fine-tuned her various digital-delay pedals, keyboards, samplers and microphones, then picked up her guitar and began a short set of highlights from Son and older material, plus a couple of works in progress. Often tapping rhythms on her guitar’s body or neck and looping them on sampler, she conveyed each piece in a sweetly flat-aspected way reminiscent of Astrud Gilberto, though more similar in vocal tenor to Claudine Longet, enhancing her seduction through the self-deprecating tone and intelligent terseness of her presentation.
She sang in Spanish — impressionistic musings on old friends, life alone, a walk in a canyon. Her arpeggiated guitar intros induced a trancelike reaction, deceptive because of how actively she engaged with her friendly but opinionated electronic squiggles, tracings, lacings. Flying around our heads, these warm sounds were like an extension of the voice and guitar; Molina’s use of digital harmonizer in particular was queasy and even woozily drunken, suggesting emotional conflict or intriguing ambiguity. None of this was done for obvious effect; in fact, she appeared to be using electronics to aid in the creation of new ideas.
Molina’s settings are as important as her sounds. She’s inventing her own world, her very own musical garden, and her garden is strange and beautiful. Here, it’s about 10 a.m., the sun is shining, birds chirp, and you can smell the grass and flowers.