Alma Laprida is creating a futuristic sound with medieval tools

Alma Laprida is creating a futuristic sound with medieval tools

Last year, as Alma Laprida prepared to relocate from Buenos Aires to Bethesda, the packing wasn’t easy. She gave away some furniture, asked friends to hold on to her books, and sold off a collection of synthesizers that she’d been using as an improviser and composer in the Buenos Aires sound-art scene. Then Laprida came across a piece of gear that had been sitting untouched in her closet for years. It was her custom-made trumpet marine: a stringed medieval instrument that, when bowed, generates an ancient sigh.

She remembered learning to play it when she was 19, and how “it totally resonated with my body,” Laprida, now 37, says — so much so that whenever she wasn’t playing the instrument in a medieval music ensemble, she’d be bowing it at home as a means of meditation. On various nights spent navigating the Buenos Aires performance art world, Laprida found herself toting her trumpet marine everywhere, from museums to discos, occasionally playing it on her head. “There was one performance where I played it dressed up like a nun, but [the habit] was all white, and I was wearing Kiss makeup,” she says. “There are no pictures. I’m so sorry about that.”

All of those adventures felt significant to Laprida, so when her husband accepted a new job in Washington last year, she brought her trumpet marine along — a decision that has since become central to her music making. “My context has changed radically, and it makes you [ask] a lot of questions about yourself,” she says. “In Buenos Aires, I knew who I was as an artist. When I got here, I didn’t know who I was anymore. So it was [good to have] something that was mine.”

Thankfully, Laprida quickly found her way to Rhizome — a venue that routinely hosts the area’s most adventurous musicians and audiences — and she’s appeared there semi-regularly since, performing both composed and improvised pieces on her trumpet marine, often running its two-stringed sound through amplifiers and effects pedals, learning what it can do in real time. “I don’t want to dominate the instrument,” she says. “I want to have a dialogue with it. That’s why I play in a very minimalistic way. I’m trying to play as little as I can and let the instrument do its thing. … Sometimes, I try to not control what I’m doing at all. Just let your arm go a little loose and these harmonics will appear.”

Turns out, learning this instrument by experimenting with it is somewhat of a necessity. There aren’t many trumpet marine stars out there to idolize. But Laprida says that dynamic speaks the instrument’s appeal, too. It’s capable of creating an age-old sound with almost zero pedagogical baggage. “So Jimi Hendrix is an influence,” she says. “I’m not comparing myself there. But he invented a way of playing. And there’s always new ways of doing things, I think. I like that. I also like recovering stories that seem lost in time.”

Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. at Rhizome, 6950 Maple St. NW. $10-$20.