A boat sailing to Salamanca, Spain, in 1549 met an unfavorable fate somewhere in the Florida Keys. On the wrecked vessel was 13-year-old Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, who was saved and then enslaved by the indigenous Calusa Indians. He spent 17 years traveling extensively around the state and observing his adopted land. He served as a translator and wrote a memoir after reuniting with his countrymen. Struggling to explain this curious place, he began with the line: “Memoir of the things, the shore, and the Indians of Florida, to describe which, none of the many persons who have coasted that country know how to describe it.”
Though Emile Milgrim and T. Wheeler Castillo grew up in Miami about 450 years later, that statement resonates with them. The impulse to document and explain and describe their ever-evolving hometown resulted in a call-and-response vinyl and printmaking art project, Archival Feedback. It strives to reflect these tropical swamplands in both field recordings, as the call, and interpretations of those recordings by Florida musicians, as the response. They describe it as a “print and sonic map.” Wheeler Castillo calls Fontaneda’s work the spirit behind the project. “He’s part of the story. Not being born here, but making this place home and understanding its complex nature.”
Milgrim and Wheeler Castillo have been friends for 17 years, first meeting and bonding over music on the internet. They both moved to and back from Portland, Oregon, around the same time. Milgrim runs the record label Other Electricities, which she started in 2006 in the Northwest. She also plays drums with Quarter Horses while serving as managing partner and record buyer at Sweat Records. Wheeler Castillo is an artist and the co-director of Turn Based Press, an organization interested in print culture, and building communities through print bookmaking, printmaking, and other such activities.
Before returning home to the Southeast, Wheeler Castillo was already exploring the nation’s varied environments through different forms of art. “Landscape has always been something that spoke to me,” he explains. So he started collecting information, surveying the land, documenting the kinds of birds that live here, watching manatees breed and dolphins swim.
The Miami he returned to was much different from the mundane suburban Kendall community he grew up in. Living by Biscayne Bay transformed his view of South Florida. “It fueled ideas,” he says. He took thousands of photos and made sketch after sketch to figure out the answer to the question: “How do you convey this experience?” The experience of Miami. He found that, though you could do it through visual art, the most “in-depth way” was through sound.
About the same time, Milgrim and Wheeler Castillo were discussing making a record together. At first they wanted it to be a sort of homage to the state’s kitschy past with images and sounds on flexi disc postcards. Tatiana Hernandez, former program officer at Knight Foundation, loved their idea and helped secure funding for it. They then applied for a grant that helped them flesh out its framework. What resulted, Milgrim assesses, was “more academic” than the original idea.
The two then spent about three days a week for a year and a half recording their surrounding environments. These were five-minute clips, stuff they could edit down. That they be usable for responses “was always in mind when we were capturing things,” Milgrim explains.
Archival Feedback’s A side features raw field recordings. The B side has interpretations by six solo artists — all mastered by Rat Bastard in his Dan Hosker Studio on Miami Beach. The musicians include Miami native and ethnomusicologist io.ko (AKA David Font), Locust Projects’ Felecia Chizuko Carlisle, Coral Morphologic's Jared McKay, and two Other Electricities’ artists: music-maker and painter David Brieske (Fsik Huvnx) and Brad Lovett (Dim Past). A single has already been released that — though modeled after their vinyl format — is not on the LP. Sarasota’s Ortrotasce's response song is charmingly out as a cassingle.
Though you can buy just the record for $20, two other editions are available that include prints made by Wheeler Castillo. He says the reason they’re including these images is that printmaking “also has roots in record history and (they are) combining those histories together.” Think of vintage concert posters, but these feature prints of hand-drawn images which reference precolonial etchings and photos he took while thinking about living here. Milgrim says a fascination with terrazzo is the “unifying image theme of the project” given that Miamians all have a reaction to this classic flooring of their youth. You can get the record and two prints for $50 or the record with five prints in a handmade box for $350.
The release party will be held on May 9 at Miami Music Club, a “maison musik” and “alternative to the alternative” pop-up spot in the Design District run by writer and musician Rob Goyanes, Lovett, artist and archivist Dave Rodriguez, accountant Ryan Halstead, and videographer Ricky Vazquez. The event will celebrate the natural sounds of South Florida and the sonic reactions to it by those who’ve found themselves washed onto its shores, confusedly trying to explain its beauty and strangeness.
Archival Feedback. Released May 5 via Other Electricities, followed by the official release party featuring performances by Dim Past, Fsik Huvnx, io.ko, and Bobby Flan, plus DJ sets by Coral Morphologic, DJ Gulfstream, and Cheetah Flores. 8 p.m. Saturday, May 9, at Miami Music Club, 91 NE 40th St., Miami; facebook.com/miamimusicclub. Admission costs $3. All ages.