Helado Negro makes new music out of Latin, experimental sounds

Musician Roberto Carlos Lange
Roberto Carlos Lange, creator of Helado Negro, will be joined by a large group of international musicians for the world premiere of "Island Universe Story" at the Ordway Concert Hall this weekend.
Courtesy Helado Negro and SPCO

When Roberto Carlos Lange sets out to make music, his mission is to create layers of sound.

"I make things difficult," Lange said while describing the warm sonic bath he pours for the music group Helado Negro. "Yeah, that's what I do: I make things difficult."

This weekend, a group of internationally acclaimed rock artists will be in St. Paul to join Lange for a unique new musical collaboration — one that fuses rock instrumentation with his electronic creations.

At the Ordway Concert Hall on Saturday, Lange will continue the musical development he began in South Florida, where as the son of Ecuadorian parents he was surrounded by Latin American rhythms and also immersed in hip-hop and experimental music.

"I just learned how to make music through taking samples, and taking apart samples and building music like that," he said. "I never had a musical background in terms of like reading or writing but to form music and songs, I just figured it out on my own."

Lange's other valuable skill is his ability to collaborate. He quickly became much in demand as a musician and an innovative producer.

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For Lange collaboration is vital.

"Your collaborators aren't just musicians," he said. "They are people who are surrounding you all the time. So it's not just this isolated genius in a room. It's constantly collaborating."

In an era in which new attitudes to sampling have made musicians much more willing to share what they have created, Lange sees endless new possibilities.

"It's a new plateau," he said. "We can build from here now."

This weekend's concert, sponsored by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music series, unites more than a dozen collaborators who have played on Helado Negro recordings.

Roberto Carlos Lange and Kate Nordstrum
Musician Roberto Carlos Lange and liquid music curator Kate Nordstrum have worked together for more than two years to present "Island Universe Story" at the Ordway Concert Hall.
Euan Kerr | MPR News 2014

Liquid Music curator Kate Nordstrum, who commissioned the performance, said Lange often does his shows alone. But Nordstrum saw potential for a much larger production that includes 18 instrumentalists.

"I knew it was something that if he was given the opportunity, if he was asked to scale up and given a platform to do that, he would be able to take that on in a really exciting way," she said.

In addition to local musicians, a host of big names will join Lange onstage, among them singer Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab, percussionist Jason Trammell of David Byrne's band and keyboard player Mikael Jorgenson of Wilco.

Jorgenson fondly remembers spending days with Lange, as they connected as many synthesizers as they could find to see what they could create.

Musician Mikael Jorgenson
Best known as a keyboard player with Chicago-based Wilco, Mikael Jorgenson is one of many musicians who has collaborated with Roberto Carlos Lange over the years.
Courtesy SPCO

"He takes these simple ideas and then juxtaposes them against several other simple ideas that are all very complimentary and interesting once they are layered on top of each other," Jorgenson said.

Helado Negro is a fitting pick for SPCO's Liquid Music series, which aims to explore the best of new music, Jorgenson said.

Tools and software developed over the last decade, he said, allow musical exploration which stretches far beyond the pop and rock world.

"That really enable the computer and the digital world to connect with the analog synthesizer world and sort of learning how to use all that as somebody would a guitar or a piano," Jorgenson said.

Nordstrum, of Liquid Music, said she was frightened by the scope of the project when it launched. Now she can't wait.

"This is the largest-scale project that Liquid Music has been able to take on," she said. "So it shows what we can do."