Subtropics Festival Immerses Miamians in Experimental Sounds

Subtropics curator and founder Gustavo Matamoros
Subtropics curator and founder Gustavo Matamoros Courtesy of Subtropics
Venezuelan-born, Miami-based composer and sound artist Gustavo Matamoros might be the most approachable man in Miami music. Speaking with him about his artistic passions — theories of harmonization, ideal listening experiences, and, above all else, experimentation in sound — is almost a symphony unto itself, sweeping in its scope and ambition but grounded by a relatable presence and a smiling face. For all of the highfalutin concepts and theories used to contextualize his work, Matamoros, both in conversation and in his art, is remarkably accessible. When Matamoros describes his approach to experimental musicianship, it becomes no more inscrutable than any other career choice.

I think about experimental music in the same way that I think about science,” Matamoros shares, emanating an infectious enthusiasm profession. “I don’t think scientists and artists are necessarily that different; they are both trying to seek answers to questions. And these questions are often related to [seeking] a better understanding of the world around them.”

Inspired by the likes of experimental trailblazers John Cage and Steve Reich, Matamoros has spent his life in dedication to the avant-garde. Having intrepidly explored the outer reaches of sound, Matamoros has in the process also been actively testing the limits of what is deemed conventionally "listenable." Miamians curious about his findings will be able to listen for themselves during the 24th edition of Subtropics, Matamoros’ now-biennial celebration of sound and all of its possibilities.

From the time of Subtropics’ opening July 5 to its final live performance July 22, Matamoros will be accompanied by artists of both local and international origin, all of whom have worked in pursuit of creating immersive sonic experiences for attendees to lose themselves in. For Matamoros, "immersive" is not only an operative word but also a mission of intent: One of the exhibits on display, Listen, is a collection of installations that practically demands for attendees to actively engage with the works before them. This might be in the form of bold colors and geometric shapes generating ideal acoustics and conditions — as is the case with Venezulean artist Freddy Jouwayed’s contribution to the showcase — or with Matamoros’ Sin Ninguna Imperfección, an assemblage of distinctly different sounds and tones corralled into one unlikely collage.

According to Matamoros, “The essential function of art is to be at the edge of society.” Even with his outsider approach to form and craft, he nonetheless hopes to rehabilitate how people listen to and digest music, with the work on display at Subtropics serving as an important first step.

“I want to engage people in active listening... a kind of listening that can help people make a better relationship with the world around them,” Matamoros says. “When you listen to music and that music does what you expect it to do... you already have created a certain way of listening to that music, and if it doesn’t happen, then you’re not satisfied. Whereas in experimental music, there are no expectations. If you go into an experimental music concert with expectations, then you’re shortchanging yourself.”

Matamoros believes that the act of listening to experimental music, and all of the unfamiliar engagement that entails, can produce a more empathic, better-attuned listener. In his view, this can reap results far beyond the realm of outsider art.

“I think it is more about trying to utilize your listening skills to figure out what’s going on... that informs the value of the experience. A logical projection of that is all these things can be utilized in order to better communicate among people,” Matamoros says. “People listen to music expecting a [lyrical] message and then focus on the message, and the message sometimes is simply verbal. But in that process, once you get the idea of the song, a lot of times, the music becomes irrelevant. We’re so accustomed to listening to music that way — even if it doesn’t have a verbal or clear message — that we expect it to, and that expectation sometimes prevents us from really getting what’s going on in the music.”

Subtropics XXIV

7 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, at ArtCenter/South Florida, 924 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-674-8278; For more information, visit
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Zach Schlein is the former arts and music editor for Miami New Times. Originally from Montville, New Jersey, he holds a BA in political science from the University of Florida and writes primarily about music, culture, and clubbing, with a healthy dose of politics whenever possible. He has been published in The Hill, Mixmag, Time Out Miami, and City Gazettes.
Contact: Zach Schlein

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