Orquesta de las Nubes, The Cloud Orchestra, isn’t really an orchestra, that we know for sure. What it is is a trio of Spanish musicians aiming to make music that was unlike anything else. While researching the history behind the band I ran across interviews by founder Suso Sáiz mentioning how even they themselves didn’t know the type of music they were making and after awhile didn’t care. So, starkly different was their music compared to the rest of the Madrid scene that was fixated on new wave, punk, and other things. Orquesta de las Nubes’ Manual de Usuario (referred to as Manual de Usario in some places), wasn’t the product of a grand vision, but a product of a group realizing they had nothing to lose and nothing to hold on to.
Orquesta de las Nubes was the creation of two kindred spirits: Suso Sáiz and Pedro Estevan. Suzo Sáiz (guitarist/sonic manipulator of the group) and Pedro Estevan (percussionist) were drawn to each other based on their shared love of American minimalist and Eastern music. In Madrid, the repetitive, minimal sounds of Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich mixed with the hypnotic music of Asia, the Middle East, India, and Africa forming the basis of Orquesta de las Nubes’ own initial experiments in with a new kind of Spanish music. Suzo even admits to being influenced by the music of ECM, Brian Eno, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Tastes so challenging/obscure for their own time, and in their own side of Europe, that made them fully realize that if they wanted to venture there, hardly anyone else would follow them along this path.
Initially electroacoustic in nature, it wasn’t until they added soprano vocalist María Villa that their sound coalesced into something special. Not beholden to any tradition, all three would switch instruments depending on the song and explore different styles at will (sometimes all in the same song). Maria was especially important. She would play the role Djong Yun would in Popol Vuh’s music, adding wordless sung etherealness that mere instruments couldn’t create. They could be avantgarde, they could skirt the ambient line, they could roll in Spanish folk song, but they were anything but predictable. Much like similar-minded Spanish group Finis Africae, they had a knack for creating utterly hypnotic fourth world music that quietly created a far more timeless set of music than anything coming out of the rest of Madrid.
Their debut album, Me Para Cuando Suena (I’ll Stop When It Rings), gives you a taste of some of that kind of post-rock, neo-folkish, minimal sound. It wasn’t until they started to find their footing in subsequent releases that we’d get to hear just how intimate and progressive their sound could be. Expanding far more into the stratosphere of sound and temperament, their own style became less homage and more their own thing.
Music From Memory’s recent compilation of Suso Sáiz’s solo career gives you a hint into how much expansiveness the group could add to his own sound. Within the group, those strange electronic samples and guitar deconstructions found in Suso’s solo work, become more atmospheric, lending far more intimacy to his work. It’s for those reasons I’m sharing what I think is their most realized vision Manual de Usuario, even if it’s their final as a group. The timbres and textures that Pedro Estevan adds through his percussive or wind instrument playing are truly in peak form here, while Maria’s vocals take a special glistening turn, all perfectly complementing Suso’s commanding sampler and guitar playing.
What do you find there? You find songs like “Vendrán Las Lluvias Negras”/The Black Rain Will Come, “Tiempo De Espera”/Waiting Time with long stretches of unclassifiable floating music (perfectly fitting their name). Others like “El Corredor”/The Runner, “Ella No Lleva Gafas”/She Doesn’t Take Glasses”, and “Conversaciones Entre Una China Y Un Ogro”/Conversations Between A Chinese Girl and An Ogre are filled to the brim with interesting percussive trance music. Whatever’s left in the album is it’s own unique third way music. Presenting so many varied moods in what could easily fall into predictable minimalism, it’s actually an experimental album that’s a joy to play and (many times) wonderfully meditative music to relax/ruminate to. You might not know the record label Grabaciones Accidentales now, but this gives you a taste of the fascinating new Spanish music they were gathering and releasing under one roof (one I’ll get back to soon enough)…