Helado Negro

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SHORT BIO

Born in South Florida in 1980 to Ecuadorian immigrant parents, the world-building multi-instrumentalist Roberto Carlos Lange stitches together memories, impressions, and atmospheres to make detailed dreamscapes as Helado Negro. He produces, engineers, and mixes his own songs, literally creating and populating his own sonic world. Lange has a degree in Computer Art and Animation from Savannah College of Art and Design and works extensively with video, sculpture, sound, and performance. He brings that toolbox to whatever he makes, and there's a seeming effortlessness to the complexity. His songs are awash with vibrant melodies, sharp lyrical vignettes, and subtle,More

SHORT BIO

Born in South Florida in 1980 to Ecuadorian immigrant parents, the world-building multi-instrumentalist Roberto Carlos Lange stitches together memories, impressions, and atmospheres to make detailed dreamscapes as Helado Negro. He produces, engineers, and mixes his own songs, literally creating and populating his own sonic world. Lange has a degree in Computer Art and Animation from Savannah College of Art and Design and works extensively with video, sculpture, sound, and performance. He brings that toolbox to whatever he makes, and there's a seeming effortlessness to the complexity. His songs are awash with vibrant melodies, sharp lyrical vignettes, and subtle, even whispered hooks. Since his 2009 debut, Awe Owe, across multiple projects and collaborations, through his breakthrough records, 2016's Private Energy and 2019's This Is How You Smile, and to 2021's Far In, Lange's work continues to move past easy genre assignments. Showcasing that interest in open-ended multidisciplinarity, in 2022, he and his wife, the artist Kristi Sword, created the multidisciplinary exhibition, Kite Symphony, with Ballroom Marfa — it was a collection of impressionistic installations, drawings and sound pieces that encourages listeners to "open their ears to the sky, the sound of cacti, and the feeling of the wind on their skin." Lange's ninth studio record, Phasor, picks up on that interest in the natural world but in the form of pop music. Deep, atmospheric, and meticulously executed, it's Lange's tightest collection to date. Lange has been awarded a United States Artist fellowship and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts grant. He lives in Asheville, NC.

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FULL BIO

As Helado Negro, Roberto Carlos Lange stitches together memories, impressions, and atmospheres to make detailed dreamscapes. His songs are awash with vibrant melodies, sharp lyrical vignettes, and subtle, even whispered hooks. Born in South Florida in 1980 to Ecuadorian immigrant parents, Lange switches seamlessly between English and Spanish in his lyrics — you're so seduced by the melodies that it can, at times, it can take a few beats to notice. His compositions are both intimate and ready to soundtrack a packed club. They're songs about himself and the world at the same time. It's music to listen to while disappearing into the horizon line, private offerings to family and friends, and ecstatic audio recordings of the world. Lange transforms space.

Since his 2009 debut, Awe Owe, across multiple projects and collaborations, through his breakthrough records, 2016's Private Energy and 2019's This Is How You Smile, and to 2021's Far In, Lange's work continues to move past easy genre assignments. No matter what he explores sonically, though, he has held to a central core: The daily sounds of his childhood and earliest surroundings and, as an adult, his day-to-day life, whether living in Brooklyn, a Texas arts community, or his current home of Asheville, North Carolina.

Lange has a degree in Computer Art and Animation from Savannah College of Art and Design and works extensively with video, sculpture, sound, and performance. He brings that toolbox to whatever he makes, and there's a seeming effortlessness to the complexity. He produces, engineers, and mixes his own songs, literally creating and populating his own sonic world. For example, Phasor his eighth album as Helado Negro features guest percussionists and other contributors amid dozens of instruments and outboard effects and processors all piloted by Lange, who remains, as always, calmly at the center. It's pop music filtered through a window fan, or a warm breeze drifting through the Blue Ridge.

The title came to him while he was laying on his studio floor and listening to the record and he was initially inspired by a basic dictionary definition: "Phasors are rotating vectors having the length equal to the peak value of oscillations, and the angular speed equal to the angular frequency of the oscillations. They are helpful in depicting the phase relationships between two or more oscillations." Like much of what he imagines into existence, the explanation is technical and poetic. "I love the phrase They're helpful in depicting the phase relationships between two or more oscillations," Lange says. "All we do is oscillate. Partners, friends, people, music, movies and animals. We all oscillate at different frequencies all the time, sometimes in or out phase with the world." Phasor is also the name of a pedal effect deployed on numerous dub records by Lee Scratch Perry (The Mu-tron Phasor). "It's got this crunchy liquid sheen type sound quality that makes sounds seem like they are traversing dimensions right in front of your ears," he says. "I don't own one but I do/did try to emulate that sound where I can on the record." Other possible titles he'd scribbled down for the collection include Eight Songs About The Mountain and Eight Songs About The Sky. He mentioned words like "infinite" and "glinting." It is all of those things, but it ended up being nine songs about loss, echoes, intimacy, and memory. He could have easily named it: Sigo tu eco, I Follow Your Echo.

Phasor is Lange's tightest collection — deep, atmospheric, meticulously executed. It's aligned with 2019's This Is How You Smile, which found him incorporating more upfront drums and bass and focused grooves. Sequentially, it follows the expansive hour-plus long Far In, whose title was inspired by new age legend Laraaji and was recorded after 2018's PEOPLE festival, where Lange collaborated and performed with more than 150 people. In contrast to such a vast collaboration, Far In was created in lockdown, in Marfa, Texas, and lyrically it dug into connection. As its title suggested, Far In focused on being in quarantine — talking to your mother through Zoom instead of across a room. Phasor, in turn, is a homage to going outside again. It's a returning-to-life record, remembering what the sun feels like and letting it warm your skin.

After Far In, Lange relocated to Asheville, North Carolina and the landscape around him was essential to Phasor — the crystalline mountains dotted with mica, wild blueberry bushes, and inky dirt surface constantly. He made the collection at his studio, across the hall from the studio of his wife, his frequent collaborator Kristi Sword, who created the album art drawings for Phasor. "I dedicated all of November and December 2022 until March of 2023 to finalize all of these ideas," he explains. "Some of them were rooted in older sessions. Like most things I make, I start with processes, places, and people."

Some of the seeds for Phasor were planted earlier in 2019 on his 39th birthday after a visit to Salvatore Matirano's SAL MAR machine at the University of Illinois. "It's a complex synthesizer that creates music generatively," Lange says. "It has an old super computer brain and analog oscillators. It can be patched in many different ways to create an infinite number of possibilities in sequencing in sound. I was enthralled by it. The range of sounds I recorded during my five hours were a blissed-out moment."

What he did there became, in his words, "the bedrock" for Phasor. He says it also taught him more about himself and has become central to his creative process. "It gave me special insight into what stimulates me," Lange explains. "This pursuit of constant curiosity in process and outcome. The songs are the fruit, but I love what's under the dirt. The unseen magical process. I don't want everybody to see it because not everyone cares to see it. Some of us just want the fruit. I do. But I want to grow the fruit, too." The sounds he made with the SAL MAR have resurfaced as harmonic companions, rhythmic pattern guides, and flourishes for transitions. He often goes back to listen to what he recorded, as inspiration, and as a reminder of the gift of improvisation. "Not so much trying to search for an idea," he says, "Letting the improvisatory work happen, and if something new happens, that's the gift that appears down the path."

Many of the songs started with baritone guitar and recordings of the SAL-MAR Construction as the skeleton. He then builds frames around a core that can explode at any time — a balloon stuffed with glitter. Each song has infinite layers to peel back, and the musical influences are varied. Lange's notes for Phasor include Silver Apples' 1968 electro-acoustic classic "Oscillations," digi reggae records, Ornette Coleman, Scott Walker, ESG, Joan Armatrading, the Uruguayo legend Eduardo Mateo ("Mateo is my hero. I listen to him way too much," Lange says), Japanese percussionist Asa Chang's band Asa-Chang & Junray, the British group Electrelane's 2004 track "Enter Laughing," and the Danish jazz saxophonist and composer John Tchicai's album, John Tchicai With Strings, a delicate, expansive collection of free jazz recorded in 2005, a few years before his death in 2012.

Even with all of the influences and new locations, Lange's music retains the warmth of a childhood summer night on the Florida peninsula soundtracked by frogs and crickets, Bermuda grass between your toes. This is the setting for "Best For You And Me," a track from Phasor that nails one of the things that makes Lange's music special: His knack for bright, pastel tones and uplifting melodies is so strong you may not immediately pick up on the melancholia, sadness, and self-reflective yearning in much of what he creates. If you just catch the rhythms, "Best For You And Me" is an ebullient piece of dream pop. When you listen carefully, you take in that it's a song about his parents splitting up, Lange sadly standing outside beneath the moon contemplating it: "Mom's asleep/ Dad's not home/ It's what's wrong/ And I'll go outside/ Looking at the moon way too long." His words stick with you like the best short stories.

Phasor's opener and first single, "LFO," sung in Spanish, stands for "Lupe Finds Oliveros," bringing together Lupe Lopez and the minimalist composer and sonic meditation practitioner Pauline Oliveros for a song about ambient stress and endless scrolling. Oliveros is well-known, Lopez maybe less so. Lopez was a Mexican American woman who worked for Fender Guitar building amplifiers in the 50's. All the amps were marked on the inside by a piece of masking tape with the amp builder's name on it. "Lupe's guitars are sought after, her care and touch apparently harnessed a special sound from this design," Lange explains. "I fell in love with this story and this legacy and the mythology surrounding it. How craft touches us so deeply in the smallest ways. Deep care for the littlest things makes all the difference."

On Phasor, the subject matter spans topics, as does any life, but they share a feeling of yearning. As he says of "Out There," "I was thinking about this idea of grace and mercy, and how there seems to be very little public display of it. We all fuck up and we all need grace and mercy." The languid, dewy, "I Just Want To Wake Up With You," built around a chopped and sequenced guitar line, is a love song, an ode to domestic life, and to comfort and health. It's essentially, as the title suggests, about waking up with the one you love, resting your voice in their arms. The strummed "Flores," inspired in part by blueberries and mica, is about his grandmother and his friend, the late jazz player Jamie Branch. He explains, "It's a song about experiencing something so magical and wonderful and wishing all the people you love were there with you." It's in turn, also a song about longing for the impossible.

"Colores Del Mar," colors of the sea, is about disappearing on a walk or swim; there are the complexities of wanting to disappear, but to also be found, escaping by coming closer: "I don't want you looking for me/ I just want to disappear/ And I don't want them to come see me/ I'm just looking for your love." Lange explains "Colores Del Mar" is also, technically speaking, a song filled with hidden details. "It was maybe one of the most fun I had mixing and shaping. I embedded a lot of pride in this song. I tried to peacock it, to show off but also hoped it was a magic trick, maybe real magic, like something would happen when it's finished."

Phasor is magic. It's music about seeing your aura and living inside of it. It's music as landscaping. It's a soft ringing in your ear, cars passing by, gently on cement. It's your air-conditioner unit doors gliding quietly. It's about how, in one way or another, we're all looking for awe. And, truly, it's something that could only have been wondered and then realized by Helado Negro.

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