Turning loss into beauty (Phinesse Demps

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Multidisciplinary artist Harley Cortez to release “An Inventory of Memory: Vol. II,” an ambient-classical album, on August 13

LOS ANGELES (19 July 2021): If we were only to focus on Harley Cortez’s forthcoming second chapter in his four-album “An Inventory of Memory” recording series, it would be like having a phone conversation with someone with spotty cell service that allows you to hear every fourth word. The Los Angeles-based musician turned painter, filmmaker and writer utilizes the full scope of his artistic gifts to communicate his messages and themes. Set to release “An Inventory of Memory: Vol. II” on August 13, Cortez’s examination of genetic memory has been the muse of his multidisciplinary art for several years, but this musical exploration delves deeply into loss and how to process it after the passing of his mother and nephew with the goal of turning loss into beauty.

Multidisciplinary artist Harley Cortez to release “An Inventory of Memory: Vol. II,” an ambient-classical album, on August 13

The evocative, cinematic music Cortez composed for “An Inventory of Memory: Vol. II” is indeed beautiful. He wrote and performed the eight Avant-classical tracks that he brought to life with the aid of accompaniment by Modeste Colban on flute and saxophone, violinist Andy Baldwin and Nancy Kuo’s (Janelle Monae) strings.

The album opens with the minimalist “Metaphors,” a soothing, electronic vibrational mantra. The gentle piano cadence on “Y” and its gorgeous melody intimately convey raw emotion, planting the seed of renewal and the blossoming of hope in its radiance and simplicity. “How We Become Butterflies” is transcendental, nurtured by airy piano passages, a plunging upright bass line, and gentle dancing upon a ride cymbal. A string quartet illumines “Be Still,” turning it into a sweeping, emotionally poignant meditation. A somber majesty reigns on the contemplative “Seven Mountains” while “After the Tz’utujil Ceremony in Atitlan” includes an audio sample from a Mayan tribe recorded in Cortez’s mother’s native Guatemala. A serene interlude, “Selected Memories” feels transitional, offering comfort and optimism. The recording closes with a “How We Become Butterflies” (Reprise) on which Colban’s moody saxophone plunges to vaster depths than on the original.

“After a hard year of many losses, I decided to resume finishing these albums. The thing I realized is that we all experience loss in some form, but it’s a whole other thing to create beauty from it. I suppose the job of the artist is to be the vessel, one that the traumatic experience can filter beauty from,” said Cortez, who has exhibitions of his paintings and sculptures opening in Mexico City at the Museo Tamayo in October and at another venue (to be announced) in the same city in November.

“The album series title comes from an idea of genetic memory —it has been a focus of mine for a few years now and a narrative that is at the center of a lot of my exhibitions. It’s usually an attempt to dissect ancestral language in some way. Art for me is a way to call on the duende (or soul). I sometimes think souls speak a language that is beyond human understanding, and so we have art.”

The music heard on the “An Inventory of Memory” series is vastly different from Cortez’s earlier career, which included solo, duo and group projects as part of Just an AnimalRed Cortez and the Weather Underground as well as touring as the opening act for Morrissey. This four-part series is entirely instrumental.

“As I have explored the world of classical and ambient music and less pop, lyrical music, it has become something I have been exploring more. I decided to release a series of albums not just because I had so much material, but because I wanted to gather it and split it up in a way that felt like individual experiences. Each volume has its own field recording from different places I’ve been to around the world. Usually, these field recordings have a spiritual or religious ritual specific to that place such as on ‘After the Tz’utujil Ceremony in Atitlan,’ which was recorded in Atitlan, Guatemala,” said Cortez, who will release a companion book of short stories, poetry and other recollections titled “An Inventory of Memory” early next year.

Cortez grew up in Los Angeles and Queens and lived for a short time as a young kid in Guatemala. His paintings, drawings and abstract pieces have exhibited in Los Angeles, New York City and Tokyo. As a filmmaker, he’s released short films, experimental films and music videos. In fact, “How We Become Butterflies” from “Inventory of Memory: Vol. II” is the theme song to the film he made about his experiences with his younger brother, who is schizophrenic.

“An Inventory of Memory: Volume II” contains the following songs:

“Metaphors”

“Y”

“How We Become Butterflies”

“Be Still”

“Seven Mountains”

“After the Tz’utujil Ceremony in Atitlan”

“Selected Memories”

“How We Become Butterflies” (Reprise)

For more information, please visit https://www.harleycortez.com.

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