July 25, 2021

Luis Torrejón: the protagonist in the shadows of Chilean musical history

You could say that the life of Luis Alberto Torrejon (Valparaíso, 1936) started like that of a typical porteño. He studied at the Eduardo de la Barra High School and then at the Federico Santa María University, played in the Santiago Wanderers children’s and youth divisions and had a stint in the Navy, where he worked in the electronics sub-department. Fate would have him move to Santiago at the age of 22, hired by the RCA Victor label, to quickly rise within the company and, thanks to his knowledge and inventiveness, end up becoming the main recording technician in the country and an actor. key to the golden age of the Chilean record industry.

Although his name is better known among colleagues, artists and collectors than for the general public, it is impossible to understand the history of Chilean music of the last six decades without the contribution of Torrejón, who according to his own calculations and external records -including the cadastre of the English magazine Studio Sound- has participated in the recording of more than 11,600 longplays of the local songbook. And that was ten years ago. At 84 years old and in the midst of the pandemic, he continues to work in the studio every week and today, he says, there must be close to 12 thousand records with his signature, although he does not keep the exact count. Despite having participated in some of the most important albums of folklore, rock, tropical music and the Nueva Ola and the Nueva Canción Chilena from 1959 onwards, in his house on Avenida México de Puente Alto he barely keeps a couple of copies. of all the thousands of records he has made.

“I am low noise. We are going to turn 62 recording but I never worried about everything I recorded, I never took a photo while recording, I never put myself for the painting “says the music engineer after The latest compositions by Violeta Parra, I put in your open hands by Víctor Jara and I lost you from “Pollo” Fuentes, the man who recorded Neruda, Cecilia, Margot Loyola, The rock of the World Cup The Ramblers and To the seventh line, who two weeks ago came out of his shadow and anonymity for a few seconds with a brief appearance on the television broadcast of the recent delivery of the Pulsar Awards. The well-deserved award given to him by the SCD for his contribution to the promotion and development of Chilean music is the first public recognition that the technician receives in his extensive career.

“I am not very fond of show business. You record so that there are stars, which are the singers, the artists, the musicians ”, he says, while declaring himself at peace with his supporting role and behind the scenes in the great history of the national discography. “There is a little satisfaction every time you hear one of those songs on the radio, every time people applaud it. There is 5% of me there and I feel happy about that “.

Photo: SCD

Despite his reserved nature and low profile, in the Torrejón studio he dominates the situation and from a young age he was able to sing the truths to the most famous artists. In some way, their decisions, suggestions and innovations are present and can be traced in a good part of the top works of the local repertoire of the mid-20th century. From him were born, for example, the then innovative recording techniques present in Kaleidoscope men (1967), by Los Mac’s, including a Bob Dylan sample and an inverted guitar by the English The Kinks. “We did it with the means we had, which weren’t many. We did various tricks, we put tapes backwards … we had to look for new sounds ”, he recalls about those days, when he also produced the first recordings of other Chilean rock heroes such as Los Jockers, Los Blue Splendor and Los Rockets.

The best-selling single in Creole record history, The rock of the World Cup (1962), recorded it in just half an hour in the RCA studios. “It was a quick question because there was not much time. They came in, did two or three takes and voila, it was left ”, he says.

In those years he also coincided with Pablo Neruda, for Odeón’s version of 20 love poems and a desperate song, in which the author brought one of his most famous works to the recording studio. An especially complex remembering experience. “In my opinion, there is nothing more disastrous than the voice of Pablo Neruda to record poems. We spent about two hours trying to record a single poem, because when I record I try to get something out of the artist, that he interprets beyond simply singing. ‘I don’t understand how you can speak like that, you have the same voice, you have to interpret,’ I said. “If these people want me to record, I like to write,” he told me. ‘But don’t you feel anything in your heart?’ In the end we just recorded. Pablo had tremendous poems but he was a stick in that sense, he was expressionless ”.

For Torrejón, the key to his work goes beyond the knobs and is both in the knowledge of electronics, acoustics and music theory as well as in artistic sensitivity and complicity with the interpreter. “If not, everything else is useless and it is better to dedicate yourself to something else, because in your hands is the responsibility of the final sound. This is not a mechanical job, it is a creative job, “says the engineer, who saw firsthand the take off of some of the most talented singers in the country, such as Osvaldo Díaz (” a beautiful voice, impeccable, clean, but even a certain inexpressive point ”, she recalls), Gloria Simonetti (“ she was 17 or 18 years old and was already an excellent interpreter, but before she exaggerated the interpretation ”) and Palmenia Pizarro, whom she defines as“ the interpreter par excellence ”.

For the technician, expressiveness is not necessarily synonymous with lyrical conditions. This was confirmed at the age of 30, in 1966, when in the studios located on Calle Matías Cousiño he began to work on one of the most important and universal albums made in Chile, the last album recorded by Violeta Parra before her death and the the only one that the artist recorded for RCA. The LP that contains Thanks to life, Back at 17 and the Rin del Angelito It was recorded in four long sessions and in addition to their children Ángel and Isabel and the Uruguayan Alberto Zapicán, many more instrumentalists participated than those who appear in the credits.

“At first there were like 12 or 14 musicians with her, in the first two sessions, but they fought a lot with each other. Something made her bitter. I told her: ‘Violeta, the songs are yours, they can’t change the rules of the game for you in the studio.’ Then two weeks passed and at the end of ’66 she arrived alone with a cuatro and a charango. He told me he was coming to record. And there we recorded the most important songs, which she did alone ”.

The last compositions of Violeta Parra; I put in your open hands, from Víctor Jara, and Kaleidoscope men from Los Mac’s. Three discs recorded by Torrejón in the 60s.

“Sometimes the one who plays well doesn’t necessarily have a nice voice. And there we have the case of Violeta, who always sang with melancholy, with great sadness. That’s good, ”says Torrejón, who before The latest compositions recorded six other singles with the folklorist. “I only told him that in the lyrics of Thanks to life, for example, being a theme of gratitude to life, try to express that gratitude. Or in Black marriage, which had something more sparkling, I asked him to sing it with a little more joy because otherwise he would sing it the same way as the rest ”.

Despite its emphasis on interpretive expressiveness, the technological aspect in the studio at that time was not something that many mastered and included true technical feats, having to record live, with almost choreographic movements in front of the microphones and with no more post-production than which was achieved by cutting a piece of tape with a gillete to join it to another with scotch, among other procedures common at the end of the 60s in the rooms of Matías Cousiño, in the days of the takeoff of stereo recording -two tracks- and the New Chilean Song.

“There, with the technician Luis Torrejón, a true legend of that time, we recorded the album X Vietnam in one afternoon, the first album by Víctor (Jara) and later, I put in your open hands”Eduardo Carrasco from Quilapayún recalls on the group’s official website. “Torrejón, with his mustaches and his eternal dark glasses, was very appreciated by all the musicians and that is why he had all his schedules taken. Hence, we did all these jobs on weekends, and thanks to his goodwill and his friendship with Víctor Jara ”, he details.

Torrejón’s footprint is also present in some famous live recordings of the Chilean discography -such as the ones he recorded at the Astor theater for Buddy Richard and José Alfredo Fuentes, at the end of the 60s together with the technician Fernando Mateo-; in classics of tropical music (Luisín Landáez, Los Peniques, La Orquesta Huambaly); in LPs by Rolando Alarcón and Arturo Gatica; on The droplet by Gloria Benavides and in multiple productions of folklore and neo-folklore. He says that between the 50s and 80s he recorded more than 1,800 cuecas by Los Hermanos Campos, Los Perlas, Pedro Messone and Segundo Zamora, among many others. Even his fame led him to record with the German conductor Bert Kaempfert in Dusseldorf and with Domenico Modugno in Italy.

“When you enter the studio you think ‘we are going to try to make this the best song in the world, to make it known to the whole world.’ That is success. It does not always happen but I am lucky that in many cases it has been, ”he says.

The rain in the capital in recent days and a damage to his car have prevented Torrejón from complying with his work routine in the studio, which he develops today on the second floor of the headquarters of the Union of Musicians and Artists of Chile (SINAMUARCHI ), on José Miguel Carrera street in downtown Santiago. “With this, the pandemic has been very complicated. I go once a week in the meantime, until I hope this gets up sometime “, says the technician, who despite everything has recently managed to record an album for a young rock band and two productions for the tenor Guillermo Santana.

Although he dominates the digital and multitrack possibilities, Torrejón prefers to record “old-fashioned”, with the musicians all playing together live and with analog technology. A possibility that some current musicians have tried to recover to give more nobility to their productions. “Young people call it retro, but I’ve always recorded the same, because when you play the instruments you have to take advantage of the harmony, and when you record separately, the mixture is never produced, that mix that reaches people. If, for example, I record four voices, in the four voices there will be a fifth harmonica. And if I record three, a fourth harmonica. That harmonica is what I have to grasp and it is achieved when recording directly with the musicians ”, he explains.

Photo: SCD

In times of streaming platforms and Grammy-winning records recorded at home and with a computer, Torrejón declares himself incredulous: “Now musicians use a lot of sampling, a lot emulator, all digital recording is very comfortable but it eliminates harmonics by 50%, it is finally unbalanced. It is playing record and unfortunately people got used to it. We electronics call it discrete technology because digital has no science ”.

He says that he is happy with his place in history but that there is an issue that worries him. A long-standing debt to his union in the country. “In a recording, the composer is recognized with intellectual property rights, the musician is recognized with related rights and the singer is also recognized. But the engineer, who is responsible for everything, for designing the sound, in the case of Chile, no. I don’t really like to mention it, I’m low-key, but it’s the reality. What I am asking is not that they recognize me, but rather the union from now on ”.