May 26, 2011
Interview: Marcos Balter (by Elly Fishman)
by Elly Fishman
I recently sat down with Marcos Balter in his Uptown apartment where I was enthusiastically greeted by both Marcos and his dog, Colin. It was a beautiful day in Chicago and spring fever seemed to have finally settled into the air. Marcos, an ebullient spirit, took time from his 3-deadline week (!), to discuss everything from his favorite Chicago spots to his enduring philosophies of music.
So, Marcos, how did you end up in Chicago?
I left Brazil in 1997, and did my undergrad at TCU, Texas Christian University. It was there that I became familiar with Augusta Read Thomas. I really wanted to study with her, so I applied to Northwestern, and was accepted. I did not end up here because of the weather [laughs].
When did Chicago start feeling like home?
I have spent most of my adult life abroad. And since I went to schools in so many different places, I kind of had to figure out a way to connect to each one. When I came to Chicago, it was an easy place to connect with. It has a large body of water, it is a city that values architecture and a place with a rich cultural life. But the biggest thing for me was the diversity. It felt really good to be in such a diverse place again.
It’s a funny question, what defines “home.”
Yeah. At first, home is where your family is. But as you grow up, it’s where your friends are, where your significant other is. And eventually it’s where your stuff is too. All that said, even though Chicago feels like home and I love it here, I still do feel like a nomad in many ways.
Let’s talk about your music. You mentioned you are very interested in sounds. Chicago is a cityscape with many diagetic soundscapes. Are there any in particular that you’re drawn to?
My experience with sound is quite simple. If a sound attracts me, I analyze it. I try to pixilate it as much as possible. Then I try to find out what are the portions of the sound that combine and make a complex timber. It’s really just sounds that are cool to experience, or intriguing to listen to, that attract me.
What about places in Chicago that inspire you?
I really love the architectural landmarks. I work on Michigan Avenue and it’s such a privilege. I just step outside the Columbia music building and can go to Millennium Park, the Art Institute, or the Museum of Contemporary Art. I also love the Fine Arts Building. But on a nice day, I always try to take advantage of the lake.
What about Neighborhoods?
I hang out a lot in Andersonville. I love that Clark stretch between Hollywood and Foster.
What are some of your favorite spots?
I adore the Brown Elephant. I love Pasticceria Natalina, this little shop operated by this couple Nick and Natalie. They are true artists of dessert. They’re the best in town. They are perfectionists, which I appreciate because I’m like that with my music. I like going to places and allowing the creators of those place and their concepts to show me what they had in mind. Kind of what I would like people to do with my music.
In what way?
I would like the audience to take in my music without any expectations. I always say that music is a personal experience. Music is whatever you perceive as music. And I would never try and dictate how one experiences my music.
Intention versus reception is an interesting dynamic in all art.
Exactly. If I expected everyone to hear the same things I hear, that would be silly on my part. In my work I often give a gesture without giving a result. And what I’m really interested in is individuals’ interpretations of those gestures.
Do you feel the work represents Chicago in any way?
Well, nothing in my work really represents Chicago, and that is what represents Chicago. Chicago really welcomes everything in music. I think my sound represents Chicago just because it’s all over the place.