This article was originally published on Bristolatino.
Toby Feldman, Sports Editor for Bristolatino, sits down with dear friend José Luis Rangel to talk about his podcast/cultural revolution, Formula Secreta. A few small tips before you listen:
-Find a quiet, comfortable place.
-Try to ensure you have good headphones that will block out all the hustle and bustle around you- you will want to be enveloped in this podcast.
-Ensure you are ready for some very, very good music and chat.
Disclaimer: You may want to listen to the first episode before starting to read this article (available only in a wonderfully Mexican Spanish).
TF: Right, let’s start off by talking about how you started Formula Secreta.
JL: We organised a meeting with a radio station to speak about new programmes. Pablo and I head over and present this musical programme, where we would play mostly avant-garde music.
TF: Oh so, originally it didn’t have the current Formula Secreta structure, it was just a musical podcast?
JL: The project already had, more or less, the current structure. We knew we were going to talk about avant-garde music and the more peripheral themes of music; art, history, philosophy. The programme actually shares the title with a quite experimental Mexican film from the 60s, one of the more iconic films of Mexican experimental cinema.
JL: We presented the Project and they accepted it. All that was missing was a 3rd member of the team, we invited Astrid who was a colleague of ours- and so the team was born!
TF: This seems like a good time to talk about the 3 of you. What do you do? And who are Astrid and the other dude, Diego?
JL: Pablo is a professor at the Iberoamerican University and an artist. Me and Astrid are friends from university, where we studied Communications. She now works in Digital Marketing, whilst I make documentaries and do some graphic design.
TF: Were there any other podcasts that inspired you? Or was this creation entirely your own?
JL: Pablo already had quite a similar project on the go, whilst there is also another Mexico City based project called Omega.
The Formula Secreta Team welcome Mexican musician Concepción Huerta to the show for a special episode.
JL: Well, to be perfectly honest, the project is sort of developing as we go. A lot of what we play is very experimental, and the actual programme itself has a very experimental nature. We sort of define the structures bit by bit and so to be perfectly honest, we are not sure. It depends largely on whether more people start listening….
TF: That makes sense. You want the podcast to grow organically, and as the podcast becomes more successful, more ideas will come to the fore. Nice!
Let’s now talk about the themes found in your podcast. How and why did you choose the 4 themes: Body, Nature, Machine and Memory?
JL: At first, we wanted the programme and the music to go together in tandem, so that the music would be the instigator of our conversation. As I mentioned, we wanted to talk about peripheral themes in music by building links between the music and the other elements of human experience, be it art, philosophy etc. To achieve this, we had to provide some sort of format because otherwise it would have all become very erratic and bodiless. Pablo had the idea of splitting the programme into 4 umbrella categories so that when you listen to the programme you can trace some sort of line, like a map of human experiences so as to give the show an archival character. We chose the themes quite arbitrarily, just picking some that tend to recur in music. They needed to be sufficiently broad that we can keep them going throughout the show.
TF: As an incredibly avid fan of your podcast, arguably #1…, I am fascinated by the way the episodes all link up, by the thread that links every episode to the last or next one. I remember I once wrote an 80% ironic tweet which said “where is the plot twist??”, obviously this was a semi-stupid joke, but equally, there really is something quite cathartic and satisfying about the whole thing. You listen to, for example, a Body episode, and as you move onto the next one, you will feel a sense of familiarity, a sense of repetition.
JL: This tweet was actually really funny because we also make that comment a lot to each other. It is something we have thought about regarding the hypothetical end of this project, when someone will be able to listen to all the episodes at once.
TF: This sense of seriality and 4 repeating themes creates quite a therapeutic effect. I wanted to talk about the volumes too. I don’t whether it is just for organisation purposes? And what about the photos? As a listener, the experience seems to start before clicking on the click. You enter in a certain mood… for example, if I start a Machine episode, I enter expecting a certain town. It is really ingenious how you have managed to weave everything together.
JL: This is definitely one of the approaches we use. We want all the episodes to resonate off of each other, there isn’t really a given direction or hierarchy. You see?
TF: So, this was done on purpose?
JL: Yeah, this plays into the original structure of the programme, that there is no given marked hierarchy. Each theme will be revisited a number of times. This is exactly why I laughed of your tweet, the idea of whether at the end of this project, some sort of “secret formula” … some sort of key, or pattern, becomes evident.
TF: And what about the cover art and the quotes you use?
JL: We thought it would add to the archival feel of the work, like a repository or something.
TF: So it is just aesthetic?
JL: Well, there is the archival point, but also so that it can help the listeners to remember which ones they have listened to and continue on their journey through the “map”. A kind of visual atlas. I try to integrate some elements of the episode into the cover art.
The quotes are really just casual. Something from a literary or theoretical text. Nothing in particular.
TF: Now the most important part…
So, question #1: How the hell do you find such interesting music?
I am quite a musical person who has invested a fair bit of time into finding new music, quite a good candidate to pose this question. Not once have I known an artist, a song or anything that you have played! How and from where do you select the music in each episode?
JL: The music was always the most experimental part of the program. It had to have a heavy emphasis on the music for the meeting so it would pass, and we wanted to present avant garde music….
TF: How would you define avant-garde music?
JL: That is a good question. I don’t think there is really a good way to classify a genre or market that fits ‘avant-garde’ music. It is a feeling… I don’t even think you can say it is an aesthetic thing, it is just a way of doing things. Avant-garde music is all music which both explores the wide-reaching, new capacities of music, the experimental intrinsic nature of music, and also holds a certain resistance to usual classifications assigned by the market, it is not marketable, it is not in the charts.
TF: What you said about the music not being marketable feels very evident in your programme, it makes you feel ‘good’. There is a purity in some of the pieces you play, and when you listen to something with this tone, something so well curated, so chronologically satisfying and even dramatic, well, this type of music makes you feel happy, satisfied. It is like when you watch a really good film, you have that sense of boarding a boat and getting ready to set off on a real journey. You get that feeling when you listen to Formula Secreta.
JL: That’s lovely, I like that metaphor a lot.
TF: Literally, I sit down every week to listen and I am like “dude, where the hell am I gonna go this week?”
JL: We wanted this to happen too. We wanted there to be some sort of unpredictability.
TF: You provide the graphic with the list of songs, the artist and the year of release. This is enough to whet your appetite and give you that impulsion to listen, especially after your first time listening. You think to yourself “right, so I know all the identifying details of this song… I just have no idea what it will be like!” This curiousity obliges you to listen.
My final question: Can you talk about the technical process of writing the programme? What platforms do you use to choose the music?
JL: Once again, there aren’t really set criteria. We all like to choose different things, using basic algorithms on YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, music magazines etc. We divide the episode between the 3 of us and each one of us has our own methods and tastes.
Astrid likes to queue dance tracks, sort of ‘club’ music. Pablo goes for more obscure and alternative songs.
Thank you for reading this interview. We hope you feel compelled to continue on the quest to find the Formula Secreta! For more information on the hosts of this astonishing show, please click on the following links.