There are those times when musician/artist/nice guy (his words) Roberto Carlos Lange does live shows, performing under his musical alias, Helado Negro. But there are also those times when he does shows where he lets his creative freak flag truly fly.
Last Saturday, he went back to his alma mater, Savannah College of Art & Design, to perform a live performance called “Brain Finger Composition,” which consisted of conducting a 10-piece orchestra by connecting each musician to his fingers with pieces of yarn.
His performances as bilingual-singing, genre-bending, sample/loop maven Helado Negro are usually a lot less complicated than that. When he’s onstage, he’s armed with a synthesizer, a laptop, a drum machine and a microphone.
“I think electronic music is difficult music for an audience to kind of relate to in a live setting,” says Lange, 33, on the phone from Savannah. “So the music that I’m making and I’m performing is designed to be performed through these speakers, you know. And those are the performances I’m doing, and that’s kind of what I’m gearing toward in how to, like, show the music.”
He would like to merge his Helado Negro persona with the performance-art pieces he does.
“I think there is something I’m working on in my mind, how I’m bringing some of that stuff together with Helado Negro, and it is something I’m consciously thinking about,” he says. “But, right now, there is a separation, you know.”
Helado Negro may encompass his more subjective performances, but they’re no less artistic and ambitious. According to the woolly-haired Lange, he started working on his alter ego when he moved to New York in 2006. Lange, who has collaborated with fellow experimental music wizards Julianna Barwick and Scott Herren (aka Prefuse 73) on projects, says his sound was inspired by all the music he listened to when he was a kid growing up in South Florida.
The son of Ecuadorean immigrants, he listened to mostly Spanish-speaking music when he was around the family. “And then, listening to music on the radio in Miami at the time, it was, like, electro and Miami bass and freestyle,” he remembers. “And then, the music that I had with my cousins or my brother or my friends – you know, we were listening to a lot of hip-hop tapes. And so in terms of what I do, I think they reference all of that, and I started my production like that.”
Three years after his New York move, Lange released his first album as Negro, called “Awe Owe.” He came up with Helado Negro (which means “black ice cream”) as a handle because it represents what he calls “intimate attachments in my personal life, being that my wife’s favorite food is ice cream and my nickname growing up was ‘Negro’ because I was the darkest one in my family.”
He says, “It’s a lot of what my music is – it’s, like, history that I’m stringing along together.”
Lange believes what truly makes his eccentric, electronically eclectic stylings are his vocals, which he performs in both Spanish and English.
“Conceptually, I think that the thing that keeps Helado Negro intact is the fact that I sing all the music,” he says. “It’s not exclusive to it. I feel like it doesn’t always have to have singing. But a large percentage of it has to do with my voice being a part of the music.”
He sings in English for “Dance Ghost,” the first single off the newest Negro album, “Invisible Life,” set for release on Tuesday. It’s another collection of tunes that show how inventive and original Lange gets when he assumes his Helado Negro persona.
“For me, when I make my music, I think about that,” he says. “I want to make my own thing – you know, my own sound. And I know that’s difficult in a marketing sense, because people can’t sell it. People can’t say this is, like, one thing, you know. And I know that’s not very helpful for the bottom line of the monetary world of commerce. But, in the sense of it being the process of the art and the outcome being the music for me, that’s pretty important for me to have my own sound and my own thing, you know.”