Album Review: Qoa – SAUCO: The Argentinian sound artist’s ambient hymn to a living landscape.

The Breakdown

The music is no simple homage to place but a communication of the shared vibrancy of small things through contemplative instrumental songs.
Leaving Records 8.8

LA based, Argentinian Qoa (aka. Nina Conti) is a digital sound artist and illustrator who focuses on tuning in and responding to the non-human world. That involves the composer’s serious engagement physical and imaginary, with plants and animals, streams and undergrowth, winds and weathers, and from this starting point developing a musical connection with the living planet. Their solo recording ‘Achiyaku’ from 2020 was a devotional to a river’s rhythms and ripples while 2021’s ‘Asteroide’ on Krut Records imagined land and plant forms beyond this planet. Now comes a new Qoa album ‘SAUCO’, out on LA’s reliably nourishing Leaving Records which offers up further evidence of their probing yet playful craft.

‘SAUCO’ sees Qoa shift gaze to their homeland, inspired by the flora, fauna and wildlife of Argentina’s almost surreal hinterlands, with an intention which goes beyond the personal. The music is no simple homage to place but a communication of the shared vibrancy of small things through contemplative instrumental songs. A track like LIQUEN briskly captures Qoa’s inventiveness and ability to transport through their organic synthesis of electronic harmonies, suggested beats and field recordings. The swell of dawning chimes and arcing notes, the synth clicks and airborne atmospherics, all combine exquisitely as pace slides down to more cavernous tones. YATEI is similarly kaleidoscopic, built around a kosmische pattern which hints of Phillip Glass clarity but refracted through Qoa’s own ideas. The mid-tune breakdown where sounds get scrambled before resolving with the earlier synth phrase is inspired, highlighting Qoa’s instinctive compositional sensibilities.

Much of the music here nestles readily within the Leaving Records collection, New Age sounds that look to calm and restore, but that doesn’t diminish this album’s gentle impact. Three pieces are inspired by Argentinian plant life with medicinal associations, connections which Qoa echoes in their healing soundscapes. The title track SAUCO (or black elderberry tree) rustles through soft Japanese tones with spacey synth detailing and roots the tune in meditative resonant bass notes. The ‘berry’ link continues with the pastoral strings and harp zings of LIPPIA ALBA before taking a surprising Fourth World turn via some skittering raga phrases.

The more impressionistic SENNA completes this recuperative trilogy. Here Qoa’s intuitive use of recorded wildlife, shimmering rain and distant human voices colour the atmosphere but it’s the song’s airy minimalism which is the key to this ambient soulfulness. Timbre and tone shift through miniscule variations from prosaic Riley organ to a deeper Divachi drone, in a piece that genuinely soothes. It’s a testament to Qoa’s musicality that, despite sometimes making you wonder how these sounds might be embellished in a live, visual presentation, ‘SAUCO’ holds its own as a sumptuous listening experience.

The album also gently stirs the passivity which can becalm ambient soundscapes with the careful introduction of soft beats and warm pulses. The gamelan weave of CIERVO DE LOS PANTANOS is tantalisingly complex, a course of crisp chiming runs which ripple around some synth quivers and sensitive sub-bass. Elsewhere Qoa makes the rhythms more fundamental as their tunes sidle up to the IDM zone. ANARTIA is a richly tabla-infused piece that melds East Asian vibes with quirky filmic zither lines and crisp vocal loops. Then there’s the locomotive MUITU where Qoa layers the cross rhythms and melodies with detailing reminiscent of Qasim Naqvi’s criminally underrated work. Amongst all this deftly realised syncopation perhaps ZAFIRO DEL TALAR is the most lively, as it jangles and skips with a raga-like intensity before tumbling into a final elemental, mid-earth squall.

It may be coincidental that these more openly rhythmic tracks picture the indigenous birds, deer and butterflies from the landscape at the heart of Qoa’s music on SAUCO, but maybe not. This album stays true to its inspiration, a portrayal of a living Argentinian landscape, and that gives it an earthy authenticity and distinctive character. It’s the sound of peaceful protest which aims gently lift the spirits and suggest a way of re-considering.

Get your copy of ‘SAUCO’ by Qoa from your local record store or direct from Leaving Records

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