Originally from the Basque region (Spain/France) Isa Suarez is a composer and performer based in London/UK.
Suarez creates contrasting sound worlds spanning a range of genres across film, visual art, song and performance. Her music is often described as ‘out of the box’ and eclectic.
Key to her practice is collaboration and participation. She often works with people living at the nexus of political, mental health or environmental situations. She seeks to articulate diverse lived experiences and bring together new dialogues, musical techniques and audiences often devised with community input.
She has created a number of sound installations, site-specific works, songs and soundtracks through performance, music and lyrics, in collaboration with organisations such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Platform, Extinction Rebellion, War Child, ArtAngel and a range of award-winning and innovative artists, film directors, choirs, musicians, bands and orchestras: Mike Slee, Ackroyd & Harvey, Wayne Mc Gregor, The London Contemporary Chamber Orchestra, The Marsyas Trio Ensemble; musicians from The English National Opera, South Bank Sinfonia and Transglobal Underground; The Ora Singers, The Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children London, The Choir with No Name, The New Teenagers Gospel Choir…
Her works have been performed, broadcast and exhibited in U.K and worldwide including: Tate Britain, BBC, Resonance FM, Cannes and Hollywood Film festivals, Glastonbury and Edinburgh International Festivals, Cape Town and Berlin Art Bienale.
Suarez explored Elan’s sonic resonance as well as the ecological strategies carried out by local ecologists, farmers and residents. She also reflected on her own practice and methodologies. This residency allowed her to engage with and learn from ecologists, take part in eco-activities, collaborate with local musicians, capture new audio material and draft fresh ideas.
Suarez’ artist residency influenced her creative thinking and approaches. It also expanded her knowledge on ecology, rural life and our relationship with water and nature.
Living Close to Nature
By living off-grid, close to nature and by slowing down, she ‘drifted’ into a fresh and calm mental state which let new ideas and working methods filter in: it was exhilarating for her to explore ‘form’ first, rather than content. She often initiates her works based on site-specific contexts or in response to an issue, concept or film brief. So it was invigorating to ‘have time to play’ with field recordings and spontaneous compositions.
She familiarized herself with the local history and landscape as well as with Elan Links’ ecological plans of action at the valley; she also read books on water, distributive-economics and on contemporary musical notation.
The slower pace of life and the quietness enhanced her sense of observation, especially the valley’s acoustics and the streams’ ‘melodic resonances’. Her feeling of isolation triggered a desire to sing non-verbally outdoors and at the cottage. She tried out new techniques: underwater recordings, minimalistic vocal improvisations. This new and unexpected material was refreshing and uplifting.
Shapes in the landscape started to become like ‘an impressionistic musical canvas’: tree roots and shadows, sharp stony cliffs, majestic hilly curves: she captured this visual imagery to use it as potential material to develop a musical-graphic score.
By meeting and talking with local farmers, residents, activists, musicians and eco-experts, she learnt about bio-diversity, regenerative farming and especially about eco-strategies and the challenges that local communities and ecologists are faced with because of climate change. This new knowledge will have a significant impact on her future works.
She also met and spent time with local cultural representatives in Rhayader including the manager at the music venue The Lost Arc and the two co-directors at the arts venue CARAD. Thanks to their links with the local community, she connected with local musicians and artists.
She carried out music improvisation and recording sessions with four female musicians: a harpist, flutist, violinist and percussionist. They had been playing folk music for many years as a leisure activity: although they knew each other, they had never played music altogether nor performed in a recording studio before. Isa invited them to ’jam’ and co-compose a piece together, in response to one of her Elans’ stream recordings; this was a new experiment, everyone was open to give it a go and enjoyed the process. Back at her London studio, Suarez finalised this new piece and shared it with the musicians online.
The quiet-slow atmosphere at the cottage and in the valley ‘helped’ her to examine her own artistic paths, interests and quests. The peaceful nature and the remoteness combined, gave her the chance to reflect on her practice, methodologies and objectives.
During her time at Elan, Suarez produced works in progress. Since then, she developed a number of pieces as part of her new project about rivers, ecology and well-being which was initiated during her residency.
Watershed exhibition – Midland Arts Centre – June-November 2023
This piece was developed using underwater and overtones of stream recordings made in the valley as well as original music. The atmospheric composition was created in response to the streams’ melodic and rhythmical qualities. The text includes quotes taken from interviews Suarez had with local experts about their eco-strategies at the Elan valley.
Fragment from the performance Soundtrack for a landscape – Watershed event – Elan Valley – September 2023
Streams, air and earth textures interweaved with Suarez live performance as a way to connect with environmental awareness.
Featuring sound recordings from the Elan Valley including: a selection of Elan streams, air and water sounds from the underwater pipe by Garreg Ddu Dam.
She has recently been exploring the musicality of river sounds further afield, in Scotland and Nepal. She hopes to continue her explorations in other continents and with musicians from around the world. In 2024, she will develop new compositions in collaboration with international musicians from the Third Orchestra.