Adán De La Garza once tried to use Shazam to figure out what song was playing at a liquor store. But it was just the air conditioner.
That’s the kind of musician De La Garza is — one who's interested in the sounds most people overlook. He creates audio compositions by recording sounds he encounters in the world, then mixing them with samples from his record collection using MAX, a flexible interactive media software program. The result is heavily distorted soundscapes that break free from more conventional music styles.
“I'm not a trained musician, really, and I've been able to build a skill set on my own terms, which is really fulfilling,” says De La Garza, who is also a filmmaker and programmer of the experimental media series Collective Misnomer. “The lack of expectations is really freeing and feels like you don't owe anyone anything, so you can experiment. You’re inventing the standards, and you can change them if you want to.”
De La Garza's latest release, The Burden of Realized Potential, is particularly bleak. His collected sounds are warped into fourteen aggressive, staticky compositions that verge on metal and are consistent in their intensity. Listening to them can knock the air out of you and make you feel desperate for a reprieve that doesn't come — which is how they were meant to be. The album matches form with content: It's difficult to listen to, as it unapologetically deals with difficult emotions.
“I think it's actually really harmful to think you should be happy all the time,” De La Garza says when asked about his inclination to make this kind of music instead of more uplifting tunes. “I mean, I like some pop music. I love ice cream and sweets, but it would be bad to live off of that. It's okay to be sad.”
This darker focus was precipitated by events in his personal life. He recently was forced to quit his position as an adjunct professor of 4-D foundations and performance art because of the job’s financial instability, although he loves teaching. He was a pedicab driver downtown but got robbed at gunpoint.
“I actually stayed out working that night, because I didn't want it to define the evening,” says De La Garza. “The robbers only got $20, but it was pretty fucking terrifying. I needed to keep working there for a while because I depended on the income.”
He’s worked a series of other short-term hustles until more recently, when he started a full-time job as a truck driver and mechanic at a bike shop — for a company that is now possibly dissolving. And to add fuel to the fire, he’s dealing with housing instability after his landlord sold the building he lives in.
“To be clear, I don't think of this as tragic or anything,” says De La Garza. “It’s just a lot of things I've had to process.”
Although he's a performance artist who uses a variety of mediums, especially film, he’s found music to be a good way to process his emotions related to these events. He also released a remix version of Burden, which allowed him to collaborate with many other creators he admires, whether they’re people he’s known for a long time or just recently met.
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On the new album, he gives tracks seemingly contradictory titles, such as “self-actualizing gig-economy fascist” and “warm blanket of ugly feelings” — phrases that are connected not just to events in De La Garza’s personal life, but likely similar to what many people are experiencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those without job security.
“The gig economy is taking a real hit right now, so people who have transferred over to that job are really hurting,” he says. “I would also say the gig economy has a lot of strong ties and approaches to the colonizer mentality. I could go on and on why it's a bad deal for everyone.”
Like many artists, De La Garza has had to change his creative course because of the coronavirus pandemic. He canceled plans for a regional tour using a speaker system that “blends [his] interests of sonic warfare and noise music,” though he still hopes to do a local show at some point in the near future, once things open up again.
“I have to develop an entirely new way of performing,” he says. “It is all so laptop-based, and if it's just me tapping keys, I don't know how exciting or different it would be than just listening to the album. That might be an oversimplification, but I would really like the performance to match the energy of the sounds in some capacity."