Pico-Bite-Beat (world premiere, LA Phil commission with generous support from Raulee Marcus)
About this Piece
Countless times I have taken upon myself the task of reflecting on the similarities that exist between an artist and a chef. I profess a special admiration for all those who dedicate their lives to transforming food into poetry, a new experience for the body and inner spirit. Chefs and composers alike find their own way to compose diverse materials, mixing and blending them together with the objective of creating a unique flavor, a language all their own. The excitement and strategies of their work combine in a back-and-forth internal dialog, in an endless search for what is essentially and profoundly human.
Pico-Bite–Beat is where I explored for the first time the idea of working with sound metaphors through food and music. For this purpose, I took the city of Los Angeles as my starting point, due to the fact that its particular gastronomy unites a fascinating, sui generis universe of culinary tasks where the notions of borders are diluted in the midst of a great multiculturality, the product of globalization and mass migration. I was particularly interested in exploring the development and impact of Mexican food within a foreign context, in this case California.
During the process to find an efficient and emotional line of work given this new challenge, several questions emerged. How has the cuisine of our ancestors been reinterpreted? How have migrations from other cultures influenced Mexican gastronomy? What have been the most outstanding factors in the development of Mexican-American cooking?
In my search, I found that the Korean community in Los Angeles eats tacos and quesadillas, only they add kimchi, a pickled garnish composed of cabbage, ginger, spring onion, garlic, and radish. The world-famous “burritos” are no exception, because in addition to traditional ingredients, they may very well be filled with pastrami. Myriad so-called food trucks offer increasingly sophisticated innovations which doubtless reaffirm a kind of street appropriation through a means of culinary democratization and multiculturalization. I also came across pre-Hispanic food and the nostalgia for a lost collectivity, a search to reaffirm our identity within a context where industrialization and mass production have given rise to salsa preserves or canned chili peppers, as well as a million little bags of tortillas artificially seasoned with corn syrup and monosodium glutamate.
Starting from this gastronomic reconfiguration, Pico-Bite-Beat explores sonorous symbolisms that break away from these conventional acoustic borders in order to give rise to a new way of understanding the world that is far more intermingled and musically globalized. The piece is divided into five movements: 1-“Pico Street,” 2-“Sopa de Piedra,” 3-“Kimchi-Quesadilla,” 4-“Burrito Pastrami-Mariscos Jalisco,” and 5-“Guerrilla Tacos.”
Both “Pico Street” and “Guerrilla Tacos” allude to urban issues, those streets filled with small local restaurants, or even those famous aforementioned food trucks.
In “Sopa de Piedra,” or Stone Soup, we are immersed in the sounds of rituals and kitchen recipes in the Ajüuk tongue, through recordings from Tlahutiltepec, Oaxaca, together with the imaginary sounds of ancestral cooking.
In “Burrito Pastrami-Mariscos Jalisco” we hear on the one hand the rhythmic platforms of the sounds originating from industrial cooking and on the other, ambient noise from the famous “Mariscos Jalisco” (Jalisco Seafood) food truck. Finally, “Kimchi Quesadilla” takes us into the sound world of an imaginary culture located somewhere between Mexico and Korea.
Pico-Bite-Beat is dedicated to the renowned food critic Jonathan Gold, who with great sensitivity, respect, and admiration spoke of these small local food restaurants located nowhere other than Pico Street, redefining thus the perception of Los Angeles gastronomy. It was Gold who, under a new vision without prejudice, which was free, more fair, and equitable, wrote for the first time about the invaluable contribution of all these small locales, no matter how modest, where the migrant communities themselves have taken on a fundamental role.
My deepest thanks to Jorge Verdin for his valuable collaboration in the sound design and rhythmic tracks for the movements “Sopa de Piedra” and “Burrito Pastrami-Mariscos Jalisco.” I am also grateful to the information provided by Rodrigo Llanes Castro, a renowned Mexican chef and historian, regarding the gastronomy of our ancestors. Lastly, I would like to thank my brother, Rubén Ortiz-Torres, given that it was he who introduced me for the first time to the work of Jonathan Gold.
— Gabriela Ortiz