For better or worse, the first thing you notice about the music of Ela Minus is the voice. At times soft, occasionally sharp, its pitch is undeniably high and, juxtaposed with brooding bass lines and wobbling synths, it seems to hang in mid-air, floating atop what are often sinister compositions.
Like many of us, Gabriela Jimeno, the young Colombian woman to whom the voice belongs, used to detest the sound of her own voice. But she’s finally taking ownership of her voice’s qualities, and the results are stunning. On her latest EP, a three-track tease called Grow, she embraces the child-like tones of her voice, manipulating its youthful pitch and rhythm by sampling it and turning it into another instrument for her to wield. Far from being a separate component to lay on top of a song after it’s finished, her vocals become building blocks from which to compose — and when performed live, to improvise.
Grow, now streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, is her second three-song EP. She hopes to release a full-length LP, but her process is still evolving, and for now, she’s building off these short statements. Jimeno says she releases the music in short bursts to avoid self-sabotage. “I get bored with things so easily,” she admits. “If I play around with it too long, I end up trashing it.”
Gabriela Jimeno in Manhattan’s Battery Park. Photo by Matthew Ismael Ruiz.
To record Grow, she travelled to Chile to collaborate with Andrés Nusser of the group Astro, which proved to be an inspired pairing. Astro straddles the link between rock and the experimental electronic programming Jimeno has skewed towards, making for an interesting evolution from her debut EP, First Words, to Grow. Jimeno further credits Nusser with helping her embrace the qualities of her own voice. “He told me that if I was going to do this, I needed to go all the way,” she says. “No reverb, no effects, just the voice.”
Refreshingly, the Ela Minus name is highly descriptive of the music and the ethos behind it. Half rooted in her identity (Ela is her father’s nickname for her) and the minimalist approach she takes to sound design, the name is quite literal — it’s herself, minus everything else.
Born and raised in Colombia, Jimeno moved to US to study music at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachussetts. As a teen in South America, she had played in punk and emo bands, but her last band before going solo, Balancer, had a bit of a softer edge. A rock drummer by trade, her Ela Minus project represents a major departure from her career so far — yet in other ways, her music is more true to herself than ever.
Ela Minus performs at C’mon Everybody in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Matthew Ismael Ruiz.
A self-professed gear nerd, Jimeno performs as a one-woman band, but it’s far from digital karaoke. Her live setup is an engineer’s wet dream, with MOOG synths, drum machines, sequencers, and effects boxes, carefully packed into a single travel case that serves as a desktop on stage. When she records, it’s to a computer, but when she writes and performs, she triggers her loops and microbeats by hand, using her Akai MPC as a MIDI controller. When we caught her show in Brooklyn, she played the Akai like a futuristic keyboard, going off on improvised runs, a drum solo for the 21st century.
“Did you see that?” she asks us, seconds after walking off the stage at C’mon Everybody, a shoebox-sized club in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. “I did a little bit of freestyle.”
Being a young woman who produces weird electronic music is going to draw some pretty obvious comparisons, but of the few we tossed at her, she felt the most kinship with Empress Of’s Loreley Rodriguez — emulating the energy and passion she exhibits on stage, and holding similar aspirations for a live touring band.
For now, at least, it’s still a one-woman show, and while she still has room to Grow, it’s clear that any apprehension she has about her voice has passed. She’s even gone so far as to contribute vocals for another producer’s track, guesting on BeGun’s charged-up pastel-colored EDM jam “DORA.” Whatever else her future holds, it’s sure to be bright.
Ela Minus’ synthesizer rig, shortly before a performance at C’mon Everybody in Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Matthew Ismael Ruiz.