Mabe Fratti is a Guatemalan cellist, composer, and producer currently based in Mexico City. Though she moved there in 2016 after being attracted to the city’s vibrant music scene, the stress of the pandemic led Fratti to La Orduña, an abandoned juice factory turned artist residence in Veracruz. During her stay there, Fratti recorded the follow-up to her 2019 debut, Pies Sobre la Tierra, drawing inspiration as much from her natural surroundings as her encounters with fellow residents in the space. Fittingly for a largely improvised album about human communication, Será que ahora podremos entendernos? – released on June 25 via Unheard of Hope – features collaborations with the likes of Texas-based experimentalist claire rousay, multi-instrumentalist Pedro Tirado, and the drone rock band Tajak, though Fratti carves out a vision that is distinctly hers. The record’s title, which translates to Will we be able to understand each other now?, not only alludes to the conversations Fratti imagines through her music, but also evokes the cyclical, unending nature of its journey towards a shared intimacy. Wrapped around a hypnotic combination of cello, synths, and field recordings, Fratti’s ethereal voice posits questions and suspends them in time through repetition, oscillating between hope and fear, briefly turning personal insecurities into avenues for connection and openness.
We caught up with Mabe Fratti for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her musical journey, the making of her new album, and more.
You started playing music as a pastime with your sister. How do you look back on those memories of connecting to music at a young age?
It was kind of just trying to understand the magic of it. I come from a religious family where music kind of has this power from, like, an external entity. So I kind of knew about that energy, that load to music, but once I started playing, especially just going to the academy and stuff, it was more about knowing how I could make it. I remember playing some long notes on the cello, or, as I was practicing my exercises, finding something that was very resonant to me and enjoying that; enjoying the exercises or enjoying a scale, finding things that I felt a lot as I was playing.
Was there an interactive or conversational aspect to it at the time when you were playing with your sister?
We played together sometimes like a game, but it started like a game and then it became our discipline, and we kind of just went alone to our rooms and practiced. So what started like a game very fastly became more aboutour personal process. I found out about the conversational way later.
As you mentioned, you both went to study music at a small academy, where you decided to focus on the saxophone, only to be told by the academy’s director that you didn’t have the breath for it. Did you feel strongly about this at the time?
I don’t remember my reaction, but I remember that I kept when going to the ensemble to see my sister play the violin. I just started just seeing all the other instruments and I went, “I wanna play the cello.” Now I have a saxophone, and I’m learning saxophone now. [laughs] I didn’t feel like I was defeated in any way, I was like, “Okay, if that’s the thing, I can see other options.”
During that time when you were studying music as an academic practice, why did you then decide to abandon it?
I kind of felt stuck. There’s a series of exercises made by Karl Popper – there’s like different levels, and the last level is too much. I was feeling that I was not going forward. And I think that, parallel to my teenage mind – I was like, rebelling from everything, not doing anything, kind of being very nihilistic about life and all that. So I just felt stuck and stopped practicing.
How did you fall back into it?
In my rebelling years, my teenager years, I started listening to more music that was more like what was going on on TV and all that. My mother was against TV, so I didn’t see MTV or anything like that. I jumped into music in general, listening to contemporary music, like bands and stuff – that was with Ares and Limewire and all those software that you used to download music. And I met people that were listening to music that made me feel like, “Oh, what’s this?” Because of that, I just came like back into music from another perspective that was more like, “Okay, I want to make those kinds of sounds, how can I make them with an instrument I know how to play?” And I saw the beauty of the cello as well, the sounds still resonated when I played them. That feeling came back; it was always there, I just didn’t remember.
Could you try to describe that feeling?
It just makes me feel really attentive of what’s going on with the sound. It’s like a meditation thing, when you are very present.
You mentioned getting into more contemporary and popular music, but were introduced to experimental music at all at the time? Was it something that you were aware of?
It’s funny because in Guatemala, there’s no such direct access to experimental music. Here in Mexico City, you can go to a place where they are playing noise or people are improvising. In Guatemala it’s not too much like that, but I did meet a couple of people in the academic circle that were into more contemporary music with extended techniques; but more into the academic perspective, not very punk, not very trashy stuff. I felt a connection to music that sounded, like, difficult, and I started learning more about it through conversations and books, but it was all academic. I learned a little bit about free jazz as well. But then I got a residency here in Mexico in 2015, and I met crucial people in my life: I met Julian Bonequi, who is a noise artist and improviser, and Gudrun Gut, from the German band Malaria!, and met one of the members of Faust. We were in a residency made by the Goethe Institut, and I started just talking about music and I remember I was very amazed and surprised at the things that I didn’t know yet. That was like an awakening for me and my curiosity. They kind of opened this door for me, like, “Hey, this is something that you haven’t explored too much.” After that I eventually came to live here.
What did you like about the improvisation scene in Mexico City?
What I really like about improvisation is the energy that it transmits to me. It’s the kind of music that I really enjoy seeing live, because I just feel hypnotized by this kind of music; I like the fastness of it, or just how it’s not perfect, it’s not planned. And here in Mexico City, it’s very vibrant, because it’s a really noisy and chaotic city and there’s too many things going on all the time. And you can see that also in the places where people improvise.
It must also be difficult sometimes precisely because it’s not planned, and you can’t always control where that energy comes from. And for your new album specifically, I read that it was hard for you to find inspiration at first, but the project started taking shape while you were staying in La Orduña. In what ways did this artist space influence the recordings? The opening track, ‘Nadie Sabe’, seems to be particularly inspired by the surroundings.
I was very paranoid about the pandemic and there were so many things going on with my life. I remember one of my friends, who is a partner of one of the persons that live in the factory, she told me that she was going to go to the factory, and I’m like, “I’m going with you.” And then, when I go to the factory, I just have this enormous open space. There’s a lot of fauna, but on top of that it was summer so there were lots of animals and insects especially. You could feel the presence of so much life. And I was with friends, and we were having lots of conversations talking about music and we were listening to each other’s stuff. Being in that environment, I felt so safe, and didn’t feel so much the pressures that I felt in the city.
And in the first track, because I was given a room in a house, and I opened the windows and I recorded with the windows open – it’s funny because there are so many coincidences in the tracks where I sing and a bird responds, or I play the cello and there’s also a bird, like in ‘Hacia el Vacío’.
What inspired you, then, to focus on the theme of human communication, even though nature plays such a big part in this project?
Yeah, but we are also nature in a way. This topic specifically, with Coco [Badán] – he’s one of the people that collaborated, he’s the bass player of Tajak, the band that was mixing their album there – we’re just sitting and I remember we were talking about, like, not being able to say something. And because he always gets too many ideas in his head, he’s like, “You know what? Nothing.” [laughs] And he’s like, “I always get this feeling that I want to say something, I feel like I have it in my head, but I just cannot say it because I don’t know how.” We’re talking about the idea – all of this information and finally just having one small organ that translates and condenses all of these ideas. So, after that conversation, I was like, “Yeah, this is something very human, and I feel like that all the time, I want to talk about it.”
To what extent do you see improvisation as a way of having a conversation or a dialogue with yourself?
I think we are always, in a way, improvising, right? With myself, I sometimes can be very neurotic in my everyday life, but there are moments where I feel extremely fluent and that’s when I feel extremely comfortable. I see improvisation as a means to understand yourself better, or even enrich or nourish yourself. I really connect intuition with improvisation, and I do really like to explore my intuition because that’s how I think that I’ve come to understand the color palette I use to make music. So it’s a means to understand myself and my own musical language. I suppose that also applies to me; the way that I talk, my language skills.
With this album, did you feel like you were trying to balance this intuitive approach with something more intentional in your writing?
Yeah, I was trying to kind of balance it out without leaving away the improvisation, because you can actually configure yourself in a gesture to make an improvisation. Like, “We’re going to play very slow and very quiet,” like that is a configuration that you decide before improvising with whoever is going to play with you. And in this sense, I was configurating myself, like, “I’m going to talk about this, I’m just gonna let myself write.” But I did correct stuff and I did edit stuff as I was writing.
I was reading about this idea of “diagramación” that you used to build these tracks, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on that concept.
I have this idea, when you go to a psychologist as a kid and they tell you to draw like a sun and a mountain and they analyze where you put the sun and where you put the mountain – when I relate that to my tracks, I can make the analogy with a drawing or a canvas. I really like to see this, like, white space with minute 0-4 or whatever, and I try to think like, “Where will I put the vocals?” I do a lot of organizing like that as I am going with the production or composition of a track. I just come with an idea and then I start to position things as where you would put a table in a room – it’s like management of space. I was really aware of that as I was producing and mixing.
With that said, what is your headspace like now? Is there anything that you’re working on or that you’re excited to share in the future?
I have a couple of more releases this year, but with collaborations, and I have made music for a Mexican movie that I really enjoyed. I’m in the mindset of creating a new album, but I have to find myself the space and time where I can focus on that.
What’s something that you’ve learned from this process that you’d like to apply to the next album?
I want to simplify and not use, like, spatial effects – there’s always simulations in effects, right, especially the ones that are like reverb and delay and stuff. And I don’t want to use that simulation now, I just want to find a space where I can take the acoustic of the space and just work with that. I just got this really cool microphone that can capture from 10 Hz to 30,000 Hz, so it’s not even something that you can really listen; it’s a very sensitive microphone. I’m really into the idea of making very clear sounds, like, absurdly hi-fi sounds. We’ll see what happens.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Mabe Fratti’s Será que ahora podremos entendernos? is out now via Unheard of Hope.