Arca is Alejandro Ghersi, a 22-year-old producer with cheerful brown eyes and a wisp of an accent that’s tough to place. “Speaking two languages fluently makes each language not so important,” he says. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, he moved with his family to Darien, CT during preschool and then returned to Caracas as a third grader. “Language was the hardest thing to adjust to,” he says of moving back to Venezuela. “I really loved watching Cartoon Network, and all of a sudden I had to watch it with Spanish dubs.”
Ghersi emigrated to the US in 2007 to attend NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, and since then he’s been making weird music in New York, his scattered sound the inevitable result of so much ping-ponging back and forth between countries. In high school, he preferred computers to soccer, spending time on message boards, gaming and making abstract electronic songs with sounds collected from the internet. “Thank the Russians and the Polish for that,” he says. “If Sony releases a sample pack of drum kits, someone in Russia can crack it, and you can find it.” Puzzling over tons of audio junk became his favorite sport. “There’s like 200 files in each of these folders,” he says of the bootlegged WAVs. “So you just start going. It’s fun because not all of it is in your control. You have to allow for a little bit of chaos.” Keeping with this ethos, Ghersi now supplements samples with warped live percussion and works off of his production software’s grid to keep songs loose.
For Strech 1 and Stretch 2, Arca’s recent LPs for New York’s UNO label, Ghersi added his own distorted vocals to the mix. “For me the music is about pulling the sounds to their edges and making them rubbery,” he says. Tensing and unfurling like an athlete’s muscle, Arca songs switch fast and by surprise, wistful one moment and totally psychotic the next. “Manners,” the instrumental that closes Stretch 2 with gorgeous plucks of kora, is stunning and lush, a treat for listeners who’ve made it through the difficult stuff. Ghersi knows his music isn’t for everyone, but he cares more about engaging people than making them comfortable. “It is supposed to be alienating, but it shouldn’t bore you, “ he says. “There has to be a sense of humor and there has to be playfulness, otherwise it’s not fun, and why would anyone care?”
On Stretch 2’s “Broke Up,” he delivers a string of hard-to-decipher phrases in a voice that squeaks like a pressed chew toy. It sounds androgynous, like a sluggish, flirty demon from an unreal place. “There are 50 personalities within this voice,” he says. “One is sexy and one is self-destructive, one is nervous and one is ecstatic.” Ghersi considers Arca as much a group of alter egos as a personal project. “I put myself in the role of different people,” he says. “If I was the drummer, how would I think about this snare pattern? By the end, you have a band of people who are trying to avoid the obvious.” Ghersi’s task is to wrangle these parts of himself and keep them in constant tension, like a performer spinning 20 plates in the air.