March 2013


By Graham Stephenson

In 2008 I traveled to Guadalajara, Jalisco, for the second time. I had spent a few months there in 2005, and wanted to return to visit the friends I’d made and reacquaint myself with the city.

I brought some gifts from Chicago for my hosts, Otho and Lalo, among them a copy of my duo CD with Dave Barnes. They wanted to listen to it, and did so against my objections. Otho’s first thought was to put me in touch with a noise musician friend of his who organized concerts in Guadalajara.

It was accompanied with text asking people to bring a small gift for me in gratitude.

So a few days later we met this friend, Esteban de la Monja, to play pool and talk music. The pool hall was playing a DVD of the Cure performing on MTV Unplugged, which was the worst music I have ever heard. Esteban suggested we put a gig together with him, me, and his collaborator, a guy named Cristián whose last name I forget. When I saw the website for the show, titled Wind City Noise, it was accompanied with text asking people to bring a small gift for me in gratitude.

Another few days later, they had borrowed a trumpet for me, and we got in a car headed to a suburban area of town with a shopping mall housing an independent record store run by another friend of theirs, called Ñaque Music. The mall was closed for the night, but it being open-air everyone was able to get into the record store, which was stocked with small-label imports and local independent and experimental music. A crowd of about 50 young people had congregated, carrying six-packs of beer.

Esteban and Cristián have a duo called León Casar, with the two of them playing digital synths, effects pedals, and stuff. We played a trio set that lasted about 30 minutes. Their playing was pretty drone-heavy. I figured out what note they were droning on and began playing the melody of a song called Y Cómo Es Él, a mournful, melodramatic, romantic Spanish ballad which had been in my head for weeks, in slow-/no-time over the drone. I did some more tonal playing mixed with noise-based playing for the duration of the set. Their playing was too loud and implacable for me to feel very free playing within, but it was a good challenge. One girl told me afterward that she recognized the melody I was playing.

León Casar then played a duo set, during which I decompressed and chatted in the courtyard of the mall with a girl named Lala. Esteban came out and asked if I wanted to play a solo set. I said yes, but that he shouldn’t announce it; I didn’t want the people to have to stop talking and pay attention while I started my set.

I went back into the store where everyone was mingling after the León Casar set and told the sound guy to turn the sound on and went up to the mic and started playing. I played a type of sound that I can do continuously while breathing through my nose, a sort of gently burbling warble that’s semi-controllable. The crowd continued to talk for several minutes unabated, and one by one they realized I was performing.

The PA system was pretty good, and my sounds had been present and audible in the room the whole time, just slightly obscured by the collective chatter. As the crowd quieted down, I too quieted down while maintaining the same stream of sound I’d been playing. It wasn’t premeditated, but it felt right, and I continued to diminish in volume and constrict the airflow as the crowd became attentive.

By the time the crowd had stopped talking altogether, I had become almost fully silent. I didn’t know what I was doing, of course, but I was now on the spot. I fumbled with a few starts and stops until I found a stream of air related to the one I’d been playing before, but more assertive and dramatic. I played this out as long as I physically could, for a minute or so, and ended with an uninhibited exhale of air through the horn for the first time. I instantly stood up and stepped to the side of the stage while the people clapped. The performance lasted about seven or eight minutes.

My friend Otho was the first to speak, saying in Spanish, “Is it OK if I laugh?” Some other people came up and asked how I made the sounds. A few people I hadn’t met came up to me bearing gifts, as Esteban had asked. I received a seashell, a Chinese finger trap, a tiny plastic maraca, and one or two other things, which I still have, five years later. ■

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Photo Credits

Graham Stephenson.

About the Author