As proof that we go to the ends of the earth to spotlight outstanding radio makers, meet Joaquin Cofreces. Señor Cofreces lives and works in Ushaia, Argentina, the capital of Tierra del Fuego and last stop before Antarctica (average summer high temp. 50.5 degrees). But that's not the remarkable thing about Cofreces. It's what he does in that southernmost city on the planet.
Calling his work Documentary Radio is way wide of the mark. Applying the Sound Art label makes it seem too precious, even lightweight. So trying to pigeonhole Joaquin and his sonic portfolio is as futile as calling da Vinci a portrait artist. In the universe of audio, he navigates the vast area where sound-rich laps up against storytelling — not unlike his homeland, where the Atlantic meets the Pacific.
Of course, your mileage may vary. Listen and decide for yourself.
For now, let's settle for the cop-out generalization that Cofreces is simply in a different dimension. And like a painter filling an enormous canvas with immense detail that overwhelms the viewer — you can't turn away.
Follow our conversation with Joaquin and click on the links to some of his most prominent audio. It may be love at first listen, or an acquired taste. But one thing it won't be is boring. [Note: Joaquin did an admirable job of answering our questions in English, though not his first language, and we present it virtually as he wrote it, with only a bit of tweaking for clarity.]
Your work spans many genres. For example, "Dreamland," a sound exploration of Edgar Allen Poe's mystifyingly abstract poem. Where did the idea come from and how long did it take to produce?
Juan Cofreces: I live in a town on an island at the southern extreme of south America. When I began telling stories with sounds I didn’t know about the existence of sound genres so I mix them with freedom. There was a call for commissioning works of the group radio art from England. The subject was « Dreamland ». I googled that word and took me to Poe’s poem, I read it and many sounds came to my mind. Then the idea began to grow, and the concept became clearer. I sent the proposal and was selected…
Maybe sounds strange but I feel that usually the story finds me. Then the idea follows freely the path of my own limitations, it evolves, and get transformed by the field recordings, reality becomes fiction. The oneiric world had been a big mystery… how it sounds? Images coming through vibrations… It took around 3 months of production. It's made of many recordings I did on my traveling and interpretandohas (interpreting) voices of women from 15 places of the world who participated reading and interpreting Poe´s text and I thank them very much for their collaboration, because I think the diversity of their voices gave a very special atmosphere to the piece!
Talk about your complex piece called Saqueo 01(Sack 101) about the Argentine economic crisis of 2001?
J.C.: When I began producing this piece (The translation of saqueo is: Pillage, plunder, looting) I didn’t know about the existence of the radio genre called feature. I was working as a radio operator, always searching for sounds, music, fragments to add in a program that I had that was live but made with many production, very professional but unpaid… it was for fun!
2001 was a complicated year in Argentina that ended with the president leaving the government house in a helicopter. Also was a complicated year in my life … I felt I had to do something with all those feelings. Create a story from that sensation of emptiness. During that year I worked in an alternative radio in Buenos Aires (FM La Tribu) and had the chance to be at the manifestations, recording some material. Then I began to cut fragments of songs, politic speeches, comedians, etc…I wanted to express how is a society from different aspects, as a point of departure for its own circular destiny… It was conceived as a strange kind of opera, with no narrator, the story was told by different people, in most cases known by the Argentinean society, as if they were characters. Also the production process was a puzzle made by fragments of sounds, organized in a time line of the events that happened in Argentina during 2001.
5 years collecting sounds. 1 year of production…Also I had technical problems, an old computer and many textures of recordings….the result was incredible and the unpredictable! It won different prizes around the world (Bienal de Radio in Mexico, Ake Blomstrom award, Rey de España, etc) and gave me the chance to meet the Nobel prize (winner) Gabriel Garcia Marquez!