Under the Natura Morta moniker, Maria Mallol Moya creates otherworldly music.
The Columbian artist is an undoubted cosmic drifter. Now based in Turin, Maria’s journey through life is captured on her late 2021 release, Diotima. One of the many albums that not only found its way into our possession, but stopped us in our tracks.
Released via the Italian label, Chierichetti Æditor Ræcordings, Diotima is wildly abstract (Bosson Du Higgs, The Second After the Big Bang), necessarily uncomfortable (Head (Abyssm), Blood Is (Eternal ) Life) and unequivocally beautiful (The Party Where I Play Dead, Flowers, Diotima).
The wild inventiveness of Diotima is its greatest feat. Every time you go back and listen, there are new layers which reveal themselves each time; to the point that it’s futile in trying to dissect it in words, and by attempting to do so, it threatens to reduce the impact of this journey.
Just think of a gigantic spotlight shone across the landscapes of experimentation, because that’s what Diotima is. An artist covering as much ground as anybody in this particular sound world.
Maria explores beyond the weird and wonderful terrains of Natura Morta, too. Whilst undoubtedly bending our minds with Diotima, Maria is also a part of a new project, Rhabdomantic Orchestra.
With new music on the way via Agogo Records, exclusive to Sun 13, below is the video for Rhabdomantic Orchestra’s lead track, Suffer! Suffer!
Recently, we had the opportunity to ask Maria some questions about Diotima and her creative process.
S13: When did you start making music, and who were your influences?
MM: “I think the first time I started making music was when I was a teenager in Colombia; I got a Mac and it had that fantastic little program called Garage Band, I was 14 back then. I was learning how to play guitar and bass since I was nine or so… and I was always making jams, playing covers of Le Tigre and Peaches and punk bands with my friends.
“Then I learned how to record little songs with the computer and started making crazy experiments that didn’t make much sense, very funny and free! I had many different influences: my parents were super in love with progressive rock, classical music, flamenco, post-punk vampy stuff and all around rock-pop from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s… My father was always bringing lots of crazy music back home cause he was doing documentaries about art and nature and publicity, so he would search for rare compilations back in Europe and bring them home to us; the first time I received an album by Aphex Twin, Propellerheads, Prodigy or even Vangelis was because of him.
“I spent lots of my childhood in very lost little towns of Colombia because of his work… so Cumbia, salsa, Vallenatos, merengue, boleros and well, Colombia’s vast folklore was always part of the musical canvas of my upbringing. It all has had a huge impact on the way I hear and conceive music, almost like all of these influences from my land’s culture to the depths of all the experimental music of modern times, and all that psychedelic rock combine searching a way to be expressed with honesty and humanity in itself.”
S13: Diotima contains such a vast range of sounds and styles. With this collection of songs, was it your intention to covers as many influences as possible?
MM: “It wasn’t really an intention…I think because of what I said in the last question it just came up like that. The songs in Diotima are a sort of diary: they emerged from my unconscious almost without any effort, as if all of these imaginary sound-landscapes in my mind materialised on one speech. I played all the instruments I like to play, I experimented with all the textures I like to experiment with, lots of different effects and ways to treat sound. I used as the main word the words of the bird I love the most, the Oropendulo, recorded in some of the trips I had in the depths of the Amazonas forest. so I guess, as personal and intimate as this record is, it showed all that I had to say on my weird way of thinking on my own.”
S13: Your approach reminds me a little bit of Labradford’s Parizision LP. There are conventional songs but they are nestled in between more experimental compositions. It’s like a journey. Do you see it that way?
MM: “So great you can compare Diotima to Parizision! It was Labradford’s first album as well, wasn’t it?”
S13: It was!
MM: “I bet maybe they “suffered” from my same symptom: you have been for so long experimenting, recording, making sounds for others, keeping what’s intimate very intimate, till one day great friends with a newborn record label tell you you can do whatever you want! and the journey that you have been deep in solitude walking becomes an opportunity to speak out all of these dreams and thoughts you kept secret, a place to share them with the world. That album, like mine, has as well a vast number of 12 songs…12 songs that describe a very dreamy and intimate journey.”
S13: Your compositions are underpinned by flamenco influence and field recordings, which I assume is inspired by your Colombian roots. How important is it for that to shine through in your music?
MM: “Very… I feel I’ve been all around for a long time. Even as a child I didn’t have a regular home till I was 13. we were always travelling, changing places, changing homes, changing cities and towns. But I have always been a Colombian, daughter of a Colombian mother and the very Catalan blood of my father. Then when I was 18 I moved to Europe and still moved quite a lot here, growing on my own. So everything I call home is everything I carry in my mind, in the way I do things, in the way I am and the way I create.
“My roots are mixed, confused somehow, so I need the parts of those roots that are in me to shine in the things I create in their own way, in the way I remember and carry them in me, respectfully and with love for the way I have been created into this world. One never becomes an alien (or a cat) unless one recognises very well the roots, bits and bobs that made one the human that lives in this reality, and then you can transform all of that in a larger conception of life, of self…”
I would say Bosson Du Higgs is the most ‘out there’ track on the album. Can you tell us about this song?
MM: “2012 was quite a year…we thought the world was coming to an end because of Maya’s predictions, the new world order conspiracies were all around, people talked about these things all of the time: the end, mythological deaths, etc. A sort of scariness and mysticism was very intoxicating in the air of conversations around me.
“But then a really important thing happened: The CERN institute finally found the one particle claimed to be the basis of all mass…the Higgs Bosson. I felt this was such a definitive moment in history, as curious as I am for this sort of topic, in my immense ignorance, I could only but do a song. I was really inspired… I had composed the piano for this feeling, for this idea inside me… I wrote some lyrics in French, talking about the origins of the Higg’s Bosson, of what it could mean in our human life… that song remained in my pocket of sacred personal songs till not long ago. I re-valued the meaning of that moment in history, after almost 10 years… my mind has changed quite a lot about certain paranoias… but my fascination for astrophysics and physics have not. I really love that song and I think it does describe the surrealism and epic-ness of those kinds of reflections when you are a musician and not a science person in a formal way. It’s like a phantasmagoric reflection of an emotion caused by a very serious thing… ignorant but mystic.”
S13: Blood Is (Eternal) Life has a paranoid, haunting quality to it. Do you think this song encapsulates where we are in the world at the moment?
MM: “It could, but it’s a symbolic critic to the way humanity has carried the figure of women through history; a woman possessed by a force, a dark lord that is calling her like a beast behind her thoughts, asking her to liberate from morality and Christianism (that sort of beast on the back of the song is saying blood is life all of the time), regardless of the consequences she wants to follow that instinct calling upon her blessings denied by history. The woman claims her wish to be free in that desire, in that kiss in dark so deep, knowing that the consequences of that freedom are no other but her own death, the patriarchal judgment of the wildlife that pulsates on her blood.
“You see, the conception of eternal life and blood itself has been taken by the Christian church to relate with the masculine figure of Jesus. His blood is the promise of life, he will return from the dead, and all that story… But blood and life are actually a cycle that belongs to women. Fertility, the bleed of one’s womb in order to recreate the perfect conditions to create life, the eternal communication between that cycle of blood and the wild forces of nature… is a very long and deep conversation that I’m going to leave open. Blood is (eternal) life encapsulates the everlasting condition of woman in history, it’s the past and this moment, haunting and paranoid as it is for all of us feral beasts.”
S13: Flowers and The Party Where I Play Dead are beautiful tracks and so different from anything else on the record. Can you tell us about these songs?
MM: “They are both love songs. But not love that is romantic towards one person, but a reflection on how we live love towards others. When I wrote The Party Where I Play Dead I was feeling very far from home. I was scared of death, not because of dying but because of leaving the ones I loved in pain. I felt I needed to find the right words I would say to them, the right progression of chords, the right sound, to tell them, in a sweet and mystic way, that regardless of that scenario I would be there. That dead was never going to be the end because love is an everlasting mantra that lasts forever in memories, in the magic of a song, that my voice was going to be there always to remind them of this.
“Flowers is as well a love song that speaks about the simple way a symbol like a flower can actually express very deep emotion, sublime, conflictive or even metaphysic. A flower that would express the feelings some words cannot explain in that simple way, filled with natural beauty. They are both very sweet and ghostly songs, almost like a lullaby… I think that is my best way of expressing love.”
S13: Looking at your live performances, there’s an otherworldly vibe to it. It’s easy for the audience to get lost. How vital is the live experience for Natura Morta?
MM: “Very… I studied for many years theatre so for me the scenes is as important as the music. And I think when you have a solo project like this, with a sort of complexity on the sound and music, where songs never really have a start or an end, or where you touch such various styles you absolutely need the live performance to give a bit more of a narrative context to your speech. I always prepare some visuals for my live set, light is very important as well… I know I have a strong presence on a scenario but in this project, I can’t be as expressive as I am in other projects because I’m handling lots of things at the same time, so I want to make sure I can be focused on that technical part knowing that the public is guided by some images, by an atmosphere that would give a better comprehension of what they are hearing. I want it to be very immersive, to feel almost like a hypnotism session, a dream…”
S13: How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
MM: “This is a very deep question… Identity is such a complex concept. I feel we grow up in a world that makes it very difficult to be 100% who we truly are. That gets better over time. But even now in my adulthood and with a world that is apparently more open-minded there is always a sense of consumerism that makes me want to keep a little bit for me and the people that could understand a sense of sacredness in the intimate and precious… a sort of anti-capitalism of oneself.
“At the same time, creativity for me is something that changes its ways and its form all of the time in response not only to one’s evolution but to the world itself and all that information we are bombed with daily. Of course, creativity is [the] very bond to identity, though the first one is more subject to change than the other one and maybe that’s where it gets tricky…
“I feel a very strong sense of identity in me since I was a little girl, but somehow factors of my environment have always put me on alert on showing 100% that to the world. It has affected my creativity as well in the way I have shown in the past the things that I do both in the world of music and illustration… shy but secure I guess, very much like a cat would act.”
S13: How long have you been in Italy and how have you found the music landscape there in comparison to Colombia?
MM: “I have been in Italy since 2014, time moves so fast! before I spent some time in Barcelona where I studied Illustration and music, as well theatre. I didn’t do much in music there basically cause there wasn’t a scenario where I could feel a vibe for my way of expressing music. I haven’t lived in Colombia since I was 18 but I keep a strong bond with that place, most of my best friends are there, lots of them are incredible musicians with which I try to be as evolve as I can, trying to collaborate and give a bit of me to their music reality.
“I moved to Italy because of music, love and music. Italy and Colombia have very different landscapes that interact very well: Colombia’s music scene is some of the most amazing and mythological animals in the musical world. It’s filled with very amazing, talented and nerdy musicians that have taken our folklore and transformed it somehow in an example to be followed for many here in Europe, especially in Italy where people are so curious about a sort of exoticism and flavour. Bands like Meridian Brothers, Conjunto Media Luna, La Perla and so many others create an amazing impact on people’s minds here. They are very strong and rich and unique. Undeniable and filled with sense and pride and erudition.
“On the other hand, I think I stayed in Italy because of the underground scene: the famous Italian Occult Psychedelia… I found in this scene, in the friends-family of musicians here, a sort of generosity and simplicity that provide me with the security for doing my thing without feeling any limit. I play in several bands, all very different but in each one, I can be myself, give my part of contribution of the bastard I am, both in terms of artistic and background means.
“I celebrate this scene every day and everything it has done for me. To know Stefano Isaia or Federico and Chiara from Father Murphy, to play with all of the geniuses that I play with here from Paul Beauchamp to the French beauties of De la Cave, Maria Violenza, and many others, to be able to play in places like Fanfulla in Rome and so on, has been a bless and a pleasure! I’m sure I couldn’t have done this anywhere else in the world in such terms. Something quite Rococó is very charming about the Italian scene, very fluid and open, crazy and secret at the same time… witchy as I am, this is my favourite place to do such tricks of magic! with such delightful allies!”
S13: Art influences everyday life, taking on social and political roles. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
MM: “For a long time, I couldn’t really call myself ‘an artist’ and this finds a response in this question: when your everyday life is trying to survive against the doom of capitalism doing what you feel most passionate about, in my case music in all its forms, I guess you don’t see yourself in terms of a ready-made creation, or a product… you just do what you can do to say what you want to say against all odds. Sometimes this means that in order to keep saying things in a certain way you will work on very boring things to survive, till your speech becomes legible and legit without having to sell it on a costume. I feel many times we use the term ‘Artist’ as that costume.
“I’m scared to use that costume. I grew up very close to art, my parents both were deep into that world, being gallerists for some years, producing art documentaries, etc… I saw that world and all its lies. I never liked it when it became a money talk. I was fascinated by painters and then I had to see them trying to sell their beauty and it scared me somehow. It still does. I would trade the meaning of artist (as the seller of the art of an artist) for doctor of souls, translator of symbols, exorcist of realities, karmic assistant… that is how I want to be “an artist”. That is how I approach art. That is my weapon on political and social roles.”
Diotima is out now via Chierichetti Æditore. Purchase from Bandcamp.