Agarita joins forces with San Antonio native Nadia Botello for an aquatic concert this weekend

The performance at Alamo Heights Pool is intended to be listened to both above and below the water.

click to enlarge Composer Nadia Botello's Ojo de Agua required Agarita to find a unique venue for its next concert. - BONNIE ARBITTIER
Bonnie Arbittier
Composer Nadia Botello's Ojo de Agua required Agarita to find a unique venue for its next concert.

Agarita's latest concert is literally immersive.

The roving chamber quartet is known for playing in unique venues — including its mobile Humble Hall — but has outdone itself for its next performance. Attendees would be advised to pack their swimsuits for the free concert on Friday, May 6, which will be held at the Alamo Heights Pool.

For each of its concerts, Agarita works with another artist or group to create a musical performance that often incorporates other artistic disciplines, from poetry to glass-blowing. This time, the ensemble has collaborated with multi-dimensional artist and San Antonio native Nadia Botello on a new, two-part composition that required the musicians to find a particularly out-of-the-box venue.

Botello's Ojo de Agua is a series of two works that meditates on San Antonio's waterways and which are intended to be listened to above and below water. With Ojo de Agua, she poses the questions: "What might the river be saying for itself?" and "What does it mean to really listen to a body of water?"

Botello approaches the queries both literally and figuratively — Ojo de Agua incorporates audio from recordings taken via hydrophone as well as interpretations of scientific data related to local waterways.

The final layer of the experience is down to the listeners, who must choose how they take in the experience. Do they stay on dry land and listen to sound waves in the air? Or do they immerse themselves in the pool, where the music will be transmitted through the water?

Material and cultural history

A ninth-generation Tejana and fourth-generation San Antonian, Botello previously combined her passion for local bodies of water with sonic pursuits when completing her MFA in Music/Sound at Bard College. Her master's thesis, "Yanaguana Frictions," is a large-scale installation centered on more than 12,000 years of material and cultural history of the San Antonio River.

"Water is our most important resource. The city of San Antonio would not exist if it were not for the San Antonio River, the Edwards Aquifer and the sundry springs and creeks throughout the area," Botello told the Current.

"As we navigate through drought, the ever-expanding built environment, pollution and other major concerns ... What kind of experience and questions can we provoke for an audience — listening in a pool with water provided by these systems — and what might that mean for the attention to and care of our local waters?"

Ojo de Agua: I is a long-form underwater sound installation that combines recorded improvisations performed by Agarita with hydrophone recordings from notable sites along the San Antonio River. With U.S. Geographical Survey (USGS) water data from the San Antonio River and Olmos Creek, Botello generated graphical interpretations of measurements related to the health of the waterways which Agarita members Daniel Anastasio, Marisa Bushman, Ignacio Gallego and Sarah Silver Manzke used as the basis of their improvisations.

Unlike the rest of the evening's program, the audio of Ojo de Agua: I will only be played into the water, so it will require immersion to get the full experience. The piece is a marathon three to four hours long, but it's not necessarily meant to be absorbed all at once. Instead, the length is intended to make it so that listeners "never experience the same moment twice," according to Botello.

The installation will be played for an hour at the May 6 concert, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Evoking a shape

Following Ojo de Agua: I, Agarita will perform live at 7:30 p.m. The program is centered on Botello's Ojo de Agua: II, which will be performed by the quartet and transmitted underwater simultaneously.

While pieces of music usually hinge on following — or breaking — the rules of music theory, in Ojo de Agua: II Botello lets the river make the rules.

Using a custom machine-learning process, she translated patterns found in a decade's worth of San Antonio River USGS water data into the composition and arrangement for the quartet. The end result is a piece of music that evokes the "shape" of that decade of data.

In addition to Botello's Ojo de Agua: II, the concert will feature works by Claude Debussy, Antonín Dvořák, Timo Andres, Philip Glass, Jessica Meyer and Chris Rogerson, all of which will be piped underwater via speakers so listeners can experience the full performance from both above and below the surface.

While Botello's Ojo de Agua is high-minded, it isn't intended to be didactic. This collaboration with Agarita engages with big ideas, but the pool performance is also meant to be fun.

"My hope is that the audience can come experience something unique, accessible and perhaps leave with a few questions of their own," Botello said.

Free 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 6, Alamo Heights Pool, 250 Viesca St., agarita.org.

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