Martin Rodriguez is one of Montreal’s most innovative guitarists and composers. The Mexican-Polish-American, who has lived in Arizona, Seattle, Boston, New York, and Montreal, has spent a lifetime floating between places and identities and feels most comfortable “creating sounds that exist on the margins.” This is apparent in his project Open La Puerta, which includes a wide array of improvised sounds on a variety of instruments, from jazz guitar to homemade electronics. He performed the piece once with a band in winter 2013 before being diagnosed with brain cancer.
We spoke with him about his unique approach to music, his experience battling cancer, and his recent return to the stage.
Open La Puerta was recorded live—is improvisation a crucial elementof the project? Or could you envision a studio album?
I’ve always embraced improvisation, as I find it the core of communication and the purpose of music in many ways. OLP was created, presented, and released as a live concept in reaction to what I felt was over production in music these days. I could definitely envision a studio album, but I’ve grown so much over the past year that I doubt the songs would sound much like what you hear on the recordings. When those recordings do happen, the production approach will definitely be “live off the floor,” plus or minus some of the original material.
Has being diagnosed with cancer left anylingering effects on your music? Life? Worldview?
One month after OLP I was riding a wave of creative energy, having just produced and presented my first real solo work. On April 28, 2013, I was playing in the park with my wife and dog when I had a seizure, blacked out, and was rushed to the hospital. When we got there, they ran some scans and found a mass in my brain. Later that summer I had a successful “awake” surgery to remove the tumour.
When I came to after the surgery, the left side of my body was paralyzed from brain swelling, and I lost some neuro-connections. As a guitar player, you can understand this is a big deal for your fretting hand, and as of today, I would say my playing is about 80 percent back. Obviously, going through something like this affects you on a deep level. Facing mortality as a 29 year-old is scary shit, but in all honesty, my overall experience has been positive thanks to the support of my wife, family, friends, health care team and community. When you go through a life altering experience you can either cling to panic or hope, and panic just closes doors and leads to more fear. Hope and positive energy have brought me strength and excitement for the future.
What have you done since returning to music?
In March I debuted my most recent collaboration with Jeremi Roy called Cabezón. The project was influenced by my experience with a brain tumour and was presented as a sonic performance environment where the audience could interact with the sonic atmosphere while the musicians were performing. The music I’m creating now is more inspired by my joy for life and excitement to share and implement all the ideas that float through this brain of mine.
[magazine month=”May” year=”2014″]