Shortly after graduating from our Electronic Music Production & Performance Bachelor in 2020, interdisciplinary artist Samaquias Lorta scored four major opportunities which solidified his place in Berlin’s arts scene. We chat to the electronic music composer, cello player and visual artist about the qualities that got him there.
For interdisciplinary artist Samaquias Lorta, opportunity comes dressed in the guise of collaboration – and you can be sure he never misses a chance to creatively connect. During his three years at Catalyst, studying our Electronic Music Production & Performance Bachelor, Samaquias’ name was always on the list – be it for shared projects, extracurricular activities, idea exchange, storytelling or volunteering opportunities. Samaquias stood out, not only as a dedicated member of the community, but as a shining talent.
Coming from a multi-stringed artistic background as a cello player, dancer and choreographer in the US, Samaquias further developed both his musical ear and visual eye in Berlin. His recent electronic music projects strikingly combine both elements, while expressing diverse and fascinating concepts.
A few months into life as a postgraduate, and the recognition he garnered during his study culminated in four major opportunities – all of which Samaquias gained via his connections to Catalyst. In October, Samaquias exhibited as part of Eufonia Festival Berlin’s Sound Circuits, along with current student Gabriel Strobel, aka OIIA, and five other Catalyst students. He also performed as part of our very own Signals Festival line-up. Meanwhile, he was enjoying a mentorship from legendary Berlin musician Jochen Arbeit as a winner of ACUD MACHT NEU’s Amplify Berlin residency programme. Then, to top it all off, in November, he performed at Most Wanted: Music’s MW:M Live showcase event. Who knows where the artist’s burgeoning renown will lead him next.
As we stand together on the fresh calendar pages of a potentially paradigm-shifting new year, we caught up with Samaquias to learn more about these exciting experiences, and to delve deeper into his astounding creativity and work ethic.
You were super busy at the end of 2020 with opportunities you scored through your connection to Catalyst. Can you tell us a bit about your recent work with Amplify Berlin, Eufonia Sound Circuits, Most Wanted: Music, and of course our very own Signals Festival?
It was a surprisingly busy end of 2020 and I am grateful for the time and effort I invested in my networks, relationships and education over at Catalyst. The Amplify Residency probably took up most of my energy as I focused on analog gear such as the Digitone and Digitakt. I created a composition that focused on Qanon and rising conspiracy theories under the mentorship of Jochen Arbeit. The opportunity was incredible and I have a soft spot for the people over at ACUD MACHT NEU.
For Eufonia Sound Circuits, my partner OIIA and I created 'Synchronicity', a 360 virtual sound art piece with visual artist Alina Mocanca. I love the idea of using a phone to explore a 360 environment, so we expanded on that idea and created spatialized ambisonic audio composition with a visual accompaniment. It created a parallel virtual world over at Frankfurter Allee. That whole experience was focused more so on the technical aspects rather than conceptual. It was also gratifying knowing that it's possible to use a QR code to place a composition around the city, giving access to passersby.
I volunteered for two years at Most Wanted: Music and was always incredibly inspired by the production team and the workshops and topics being discussed at the events. I was fortunate to participate as an artist in 2020, which was an incredible honor. Since this performance was in between my residency and Signals Festival I used elements from both compositions to create a hybrid with a finale of my own solo cello composition. It was raw and intimate, an unapologetic performance.
The Signals Festival performance was probably my best of 2020. It was the biggest audience I got to witness out of all of the aforementioned events, due to the current times. It was also heart warming as it was the first time I had returned to Funkhaus since before COVID-19. The production was one I wanted to do for my Bachelor before everything was shut down.
It focused on microcosms – the beauty of worlds within worlds – while contrasting with a sense of a bigger picture. “Our own perspectives – emotions, memories, imagination – feed an organic architecture of a microcosm. A microcosm in parallel to the infinite structures of reality. Creating a biome of the Anthropocene. A place of separation. Of togetherness. We are one; We are far.” This composition helps me find and contemplate the beauty in a world becoming simplified. This was a very loud yet intimate experience and I’m endlessly grateful with the outcome.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of that investment in extracurricular activities planted seeds of opportunity.”
While you were studying at Catalyst, you seemed to grab every extracurricular opportunity that came your way – from volunteering at external events, to co-organising a student-run performance initiative, to speaking as a Dialogues panellist. How do you think that proactive attitude has impacted your postgraduate career?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of that investment in extracurricular activities planted seeds of opportunity which, since finishing, has resulted in various opportunities. That includes being an audio editor for the Renew Democracy Initiative, as well as producing and performing for two separate choreographers. It took a lot of work to land myself in Berlin and I didn’t want to waste one second of opportunity. I’ve also had tutors from Catalyst reach out to me for professional collaborations.
“I have learned just as much from those experiences as I did in the classroom. It has made me ready to take on the real world.”
Obtaining a work visa ran smoothly because I was able to reach out to larger organizations with whom I had previously volunteered. They ultimately supported me. A proactive attitude has gotten me a long way in a short amount of time considering the current circumstances. I’ve been curious and open to learning everything the degree had to offer and have found myself completely fascinated by the multitude of facets the sonic world has to offer. I think it's easy to overlook extracurricular activities and get caught up in the drive for success or popularity. But I’d argue those activities are where a solidifying of education occurs. I have learned just as much from those experiences as I did in the classroom. It has made me ready to take on the real world.
We’ve noticed that you recently added a visual element to your already multidisciplinary art. What inspired you to combine visual art with your musical compositions?
Before becoming a musician in my teenage years, I was convinced that I would become a visual artist and I invested my time in drawing and painting techniques. However, I was never as fluent with it as my musical abilities. For eight years, I also worked as a choreographer for color guard teams and as a dancer. I naturally think of a visual representation to my music. The many facets to my performance might not always be accessible to audiences potentially because of cultural differences or musical taste. Having a visual support can give audiences a different connection to what I am saying or trying to depict.
From a programming and compositional standpoint, color and light are also waveforms at different frequencies than the ones we hear, so I tend to exchange inspiration between music and visuals within the broader conceptual idea.
If my production is also technically challenging or something goes wrong, then a visual element can act as a buffer to organize myself or fix any problems. It also has the potential to cause the opposite effect and has led to technical difficulties. That comes with working with computers.
In your current practice, you have a grasp of many different creation tools. Can you name your top three instruments/ pieces of equipment?
The cello is endlessly valuable; it can make sounds I haven’t even considered. The Roli Seaboard is extremely sensitive and musical and fits perfectly with the music I create. Though, its true strengths come from the synthesis programming with its connected software, such as Cypher 2 or Equator. One of my favorite pieces of gear is a walkman. It's simple, keeps me grounded, and records ideas quickly. I push play during performances and follow whatever gets thrown at me.
“I’m inspired by topics that seek to better our place in the world or help us navigate it.”
You integrate a lot of fascinating topics into your work – from the cosmos, to the environment, to mental health. How do you convert your inspiration into art? Do you have any particular creative process when coming up with a composition?
There are two directions I have when starting a composition: a strong concept and a technical skill. I’m inspired by topics that seek to better our place in the world or help us navigate it. And honestly it is quite challenging to depict specific topics – the more specific the topic, the more difficult it is. The concept for my Amplify Residency was Qanon. I had to be careful using clips of interviews and the overall pacing because it could have been misunderstood as a support piece for these conspiracy theorists. And I wanted the music to actually appeal to these people while simultaneously depicting the frustrations and confusions such theories cause, otherwise I would be preaching to the choir. There is a lot of experimentation along with a lot of research. Before I compose, I read as much as I can about a topic, I engage in conversations and I try to find references of past works.
I also use technical skills to inspire my work like looping techniques or focusing on a particular scale I rarely use. At Signals Festival, I focus on harmonic minor scales, modulating between various keys throughout.
I’d have to add that when I am performing, I am improvising. No two performances are the same. My research, concepts, and techniques are the ingredients I cook with when I get on stage.
You’ve recently co-organised a number of outstanding live-streamed performances. How has the pandemic changed your approach to performance, and what is your outlook for the future of performance?
Streaming was a way for me and several other artists to keep ourselves creating – keeping busy, while keeping in touch with each other. 1DWOH events were keeping us, artists, afloat while we were stuck in other countries or in lockdown or sick or broke or tired or scared. These current times have shattered and continue to shatter our understanding of what is possible. And us artists aren’t going anywhere. We have things to say. Moving forward, the medium of virtual performances will continue in various forms – either DIY or highly professional. Radio is a growing medium, which I've always been attracted to. Personally, I've started investing my time in animation and virtual film production.
My ultimate goal is to create VR experiences for my works. I love music, but what I imagine is far bigger than what only music can do. Though, live music shows remain a mystery to me. There isn't a way to justify such things while a virus is spreading. I do anticipate that a lot of talent will emerge, pushing the standard for artistic expression. And I also see artistic work crossing boundaries. For example, businesses or institutions being willing to find a place for artistic work or promoting it. It is something everyone took for granted and now is starting to be more precious and rare.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Sleep is good and there is no need to feel guilty for relaxing or taking things slow. Especially with the pandemic, I have had to learn to slow down, take things in, and commit to a healthy amount of sleep. I’ve talked with my peers and it seems many of us feel guilty for enjoying ourselves or taking a day off. I didn’t realize that that guilt is damaging over the long run. Guilt is a barrier to fully winding down and taking things in. The struggle is most definitely real but going at top speeds all the time can result in some serious crashing. Art is everything but it means nothing without a commitment to health.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2021?
I want to focus my year on solidifying myself as a professional sound designer. I won’t ever stop being an artist but I want to have a solid footing financially and legit experience working with clients. I had a taste of that last year but I want to take it to another level.
Plus, the skills and experience from sound design translates directly to how I compose, produce, and ultimately perform. This pandemic has made things uncertain and the internet is flooded with musical content. I’d rather invest in growing that skill set through experience so, when normalcy arises, I can pedal at full speed as an interdisciplinary artist.