One of the most intense and harrowing pieces of music that I've heard this year – local or otherwise – is hands-down "The Twitch" by local electronic musician and DJ Stereo 77 (Alejandro Ramirez) and artist and educator Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz. Over Raimundi-Ortiz's chilling, fraught spoken-word narrative about domestic abuse, Ramirez creates a dense mat of intricate sound that is somehow meditative and anxious at the same time – ambient music as cathartic tension. This collaboration may not have been undertaken in real time – indeed, Ramirez had been trying to set Raimundi-Ortiz's recording of these words to music for a long time – but this is very much the result of two performers in telepathic sync.
Raimundi-Ortiz is a multimedia artist, professor and activist perhaps best known for the heart-breaking and life-affirming durational performance piece Pietà, for which Ramirez provided backing soundtracks. Ramirez is a DJ, producer, record label boss (Filtered Deluxe Recordings) and musical jack-of-all-trades. "The Twitch," on Stereo 77's new album Consider Time, is the newest and perhaps heaviest chapter in their creative partnership.
You can stream or download "The Twitch" from Stereo 77's Consider Time EP on Bandcamp here.
How did the spoken-word piece on "The Twitch" come to be?
WRO: "The Twitch" was inspired by witnessing a friend struggle with an abusive relationship and recognizing the red flags from my own personal experiences with domestic violence/abuse. At the time I was still reeling from my own situations and put pen to page and started reflecting on the feeling of walking on eggshells around a violent person, then watching someone else go through it and you can't do much to help them. You can only witness and remind them that you are there to support them. My written work is what people probably know least of my creative practices, but the word and storytelling and grappling with my own trauma plays a big part in how I make all of my work.
And you performed this as a spoken word piece at an event where Stereo 77 was spinning?
WRO: I performed it as part of an event I organized called Poetas con Cafe at the now defunct Blank Space café in downtown Orlando. I'd heard Alejandro spin before and asked if he'd spin that night for the event. After he'd heard the premise of the night he agreed, and the rest is history.
You two have been collaborating for a while.
AR: I believe the first event we partnered on was [Poetas con Café] at the former Blank Space in downtown Orlando, now known as the 7-Eleven. I DJed, while various poets and authors performed and read their works.
The last event and project we worked together on was Pietà. I created the soundtrack and mini-score for the piece, and we performed it live at Rollins College, UCF and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. It's without a doubt one of the highlights of my career as a DJ and producer, and I still can't believe we pulled it off!
WRO: Alejandro and I go back nearly nine years. The gig at Blank Space was our first gig together. I was an instant fan of his vast and eclectic musical selections, his unique ability to fill a space with super-vibey tracks, remixing joints on the spot.
We started a live art night at XL Gallery, now Aku Aku, in Thornton Park on Friday nights, where he'd spin and I'd improv paint inspired by his selections. It was always a good time. Like nonverbal communication the whole night. He's since created several soundscapes for my Pietà performances ... but this is the first time he's set my words to music. This is a serious first for me.
How did setting the words to music for "The Twitch" start for you?
AR: I reached out to Wanda with an idea for a song or project. Eventually, I received an email with three or four recordings of Wanda reciting her poetry, and "The Twitch" was the one that really hit home for me, as I unfortunately know very well the damage caused from physical, verbal and mental abuse. Throughout the years, I attempted to produce anything strong enough to carry her words, emotion and scars – but nothing was fitting without sounding forced.
What was it that made this "the" version of the song, after previous attempts?
AR: Last year I started a new project under the name SASA, utilizing field recordings from places I've traveled and classical guitar. This track utilizes a live recording from a subway ride in NYC as the backdrop to get the listener into the state of mind Wanda was in when she wrote this. The music was about 90 percent complete, but somewhat lacking a flow and purpose [when] my crazy-talented and genius friend Jorge Collazo sends me a message requesting that I send him a track to work on! Jorge knows how to deliver with very little direction. The kick drum beating as the heartbeat to her words was his idea. From there, I rearranged the composition a little into what it's known as today, and decided to release it under my Stereo 77 moniker.
What's next for both of you?
WRO: I'm definitely still working. During my yearlong residency at the Maitland Art Center I've been building a new body of work that addresses hair politics and race struggles, sanctuary. I'm also thinking a lot about disease, mutation, trying to manipulate nature while attempting to be one with it and all that hypocrisy (of which I am entirely guilty). I've got exhibitions coming up this fall and throughout next year, so I'm pretty busy that way.
AR: As a full-time working DJ, this pandemic has unfortunately and temporarily canceled all of my contracts and gigs. I took this opportunity to focus on my music projects and branding my record label. Currently, Filtered Deluxe Recordings has a solid release schedule lined up for the rest of the year, including new artists, remixes from some of our favorite producers and more from my Stereo 77 and SASA projects.
“The Twitch,” by Stereo 77 with Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, is on the Consider Time EP – listen at filteredeluxerecordings.bandcamp.com