Ale Hop: The Life Of Insects

Navel-Gazers #48 is an interview with Ale Hop who is going to talk to us about The Life Of Insects. Released on the experimental Peruvian Buh label in 2020, it’s an album which grabbed my attention the moment I encountered the title, before I’d heard any of the music - after all, what would this sound like? Would it be interpretive, scientific? Would it entail some kind of storytelling, or observation, the magnification of tiny insect sounds? As it turns out, the magic of this music lurks in an imaginative interior world which seems to link the production itself - a collection of wordless, mainly electronic material - to the very much organic subject at hand. I keep peeking over at the titles while playing ‘The Life Of Insects’, and I’m reminded of a conversation in the early days of Navel-Gazers - in that same year 2020, come to think of it - about titles which serve as a “punchline” to the sounds. Well someone’s spinning yarn here… I don’t know if it’s the crickets or the cockroaches or maybe it’s the artist, Alejandra Cardenas a.k.a. Ale Hop., based in Berlin and originally from Peru. She certainly seems like she’s got a thing or two to say and I’m guessing that if I ask just the right questions she can explain ‘The Life Of Insects’.

AC: Thanks for joining me on Navel-Gazers! As mentioned you are from Lima, Peru and based in Germany. Can you tell us about your practice in the context of that journey?

Ale Hop: I began my practice in the city of Lima, in the 2000s. I had some bands in Lima, I collaborated with other artists, filmmakers and so on. I played in several styles before finally arriving at experimental electronic music, which is what I do now. I recorded a bunch of tracks in 2012 as a solo performer, and I decided to also do a live show by myself, to explore the format of guitars mixed with electronic music, coming from a computer but also I had a loop station. So my idea was to loop several layers of guitars and try to make a show out of it. That’s how I recorded my first EP - you won’t find it anywhere on the internet, it was on Soundcloud but I erased it.

So that project began in Lima. After I couple of years I decided to move to Germany, because I wanted to tour more. In Latin America it’s really difficult. The distances are much longer. Europe is a very small continent, and people don’t understand this… to go from the capital of Peru to the capital of Brazil, you cannot take a bus, there are no trains, there’s the Andes mountain range… the distances are extremely long, you have to take a plane. You can go from Berlin to Amsterdam on a bus in ten hours - in Lima you can’t even get out of the country in ten hours - so I thought it was very useful to be in a country like Germany, you can move around and tour and that’s how I decided.

I also spoke some German that I learned at school, so that’s part of how I chose Germany in particular. Also I love krautrock!, that was my journey.

AC: Yeah I’m from the USA and I notice the same thing. Everything’s smaller in Europe.

Ale Hop: Right, like the size of Peru is three Germanys. This is something you can’t grasp on a map because the proportions are deceptive.

AC: That’s true as well.

‘The Life Of Insects’ was your fourth studio album. What can you tell us about the previous albums and how they led up to this one?

Ale Hop: That first EP, the songs were more like post-punk, with a steady beat. I really didn’t focus much on the rhythmic part, but I’d just have sort of a steady thing, making my layers of guitars and so on. I also at some point began to do field recordings which I’d incorporate into the electronics, to create a sense of immersion in the music.

The album before ’The Life Of Insects’ which is called Apophenia is the moment where I left the post-punk behind and got really into experimental electronics. For me that was a big change in what I was doing.

So with of ‘The Life Of Insects’ it was not a statement anymore, saying: this is what I’m going to do. By the time of ‘The Life Of Insects’ it was more: I’m going to have fun with something. The pandemic had just started, I was at home, spending a lot of time alone and I came up with this fantasy. Tracks that were narrative in a way.. with the names of the tracks I wanted to drive the imagination of people, also with this idea in mind that if you tell someone this is about this, and it’s something really specific and literal, but then you give them super-abstract sounds…?

AC: That’s very provocative for the listener, because they’ll become focused on those words, the title.

Ale Hop: Yeah so you say: this is about insects, and you throw them a lot of sounds and this is a way to provoke the imagination.

AC: So what came first on ‘The Life Of Insects’, was it the concept, or the sounds themselves, or something else?

Ale Hop: What came first was a few sounds and ideas, some demos of ideas that afterwards I’d develop into tracks. Then there was the concept, and after concept, I reshaped everything again, under those ideas.

AC: …sounds, concept, sounds.

Ale Hop: Haha yeah.

AC: What about the liner notes which describe how you spent one month living with different types of insects in your home studio? Can you tell us about some of these insects and their behaviour?

Ale Hop: I’m doing the music for a film - still am - it’s an animation movie made by a Peruvian artist, a full-length feature film with collage animation. It’s several years in the making. At some point in 2019 we were working on some things including the foley for this film.

There’s a character that has pet insects.. so I thought I’d buy some insects to spend some time with them. And I found an insect dealer in Berlin, which is the weirdest place! Afterwards I realised this shop exists because the insects are fed to lizards. So you might have a lizard and you go to the insect dealer and they’d give you insects to feed your lizard.

I bought crickets, and I bought some cockroaches, big cockroaches from Madagascar, which is interesting because people find cockroaches disgusting, but at one point I thought I should… pet them.

AC: Oh that sounds horrifying! Haha. So you weren’t intimidated?

Ale Hop: It was a process, because as of the beginning, my whole life I had been avoiding cockroaches. But at some point I could touch them and they could be in my hand. I have a video of this - at one point HKW which is a cultural institution here asked me to record a video of my process doing this music and I filmed with these insects. Some people told me: this is disgusting, I’m not going to watch this video!

AC: I’m going to be brave later and watch it.

Ale Hop: In the end, I thought they were cute to be honest.

AC: Really! Good for you - it sounds like you didn’t think so at the beginning, so I commend you.

Ale Hop: Yeah in the end, I ended up liking the cockroaches a lot, and crickets not so much. In the beginning I liked the crickets a lot but then I found them annoying. They were in my room and they make noise 24/7. I would have nightmares that they were out of their terrarium. I didn’t like them at all, but I recorded a lot with them. I realised the sounds are interesting, but they’re more interesting when they’re in their own habitat than in the terrarium. And this is when I started to think, what if I don’t take literal field recordings but instead just imagine things?

I liked with the cockroaches for example that they made brutal sounds, loud hissing but then very small sounds. This contrast I really liked and I tried to imitate these kinds of extreme dynamics.

AC: So the insects themselves are not on the album right? It’s guitars, electronics…?

Ale Hop: There are some crickets. There’s a cockroach on one song. ..but it’s not the main element. The main element is this inspiration to imagine how their lives are.

AC: What is your process of composition and recording? To use one example - The Way To The Ocean - that’s quite an interesting construction. It’s got these spiky electronics, gurgling water, some sort of procession with fifes and voices and more. What are some of the ideas and techniques behind this track, how was it made?

Ale Hop: As I remember, the inspiration for this track was that I saw some ants one day, and they were walking on the sand, crossing the beach. I thought that they were trying to reach the ocean.

For this particular track, I used processed samples. It has no guitar. It has synths. granulator synthesis—I love granulator—and field recordings. There is a main marching field recording of a school march. In Peru, it is common for students to march at school with snare drums in a military-like fashion. I don’t know if this happens in other countries.

AC: Yeah a marching band.

Ale Hop: A marching band. So I thought that was an interesting feeling for the marching ants going into the ocean.

AC: So that’s actually a field recording from Peru.

Ale Hop: Right.

AC: You are not only a musician but an all-around multimedia artist - you produced your own video for La Procesión which is extremely cool. What’s the story behind the video?

Ale Hop: I made three videos for the album. ‘La procesión’, Pollinators, and Jungle Depredation. I spent, like many people, a lot of time in my apartment that year and I just bought a camera, so I thought of making video clips for the tracks because I had no concerts and what else could I do? These three videos were all shot in my apartment, in two square meters. If you look, there is no space in the videos - it was all shot in a small space in my home studio.

In a way I had to figure out: how can I do this without moving at all? So the video you’re referring to, was shot against a piece of glass, and I had some paint, and I came up with this idea of floating in nothingness, shooting in slow motion and so on.

In the other two videos, one was filmed in a world made of food, which was what I had in my fridge, in the other one I used my own body as the central theme... so in a way it was ingenious to work with what I had at hand. When I watch them, I have the feeling of not moving, of being very still.

AC: Your full name is Alejandra Cardenas. How did you come to be “Ale Hop” and how did your website come to be “Ale Hop Hop”?

Sound Studio 80s
Ale Hop: When I was in my early 20s, I had a bandmate, in a band called…. well, it doesn’t matter. But when we were recording an album, he wrote this nickname in the credits. I don’t know why. He said that I needed a nickname, because the rest of the band, they all had nicknames. They were playing a lot with irony and humour. …and I never came up with an artist's name, and when the booklet went to print, my contribution was credited as Ale Hop.

And so then I was in another band, and I just kept it. At one point, I wanted to get rid of it, but then the guy who gave me this nickname, he died, so out of nostalgia I kept it. Later, when I moved to Germany again, I considered going back to my actual name, but there was someone else who was called the same. So, again, I kept Ale Hop. It was never something I chose. It just happened.

The reason why my website is called that is just because the other one was not available!

AC: Ah someone had the Ale Hop domain.

Many of my readers would be familiar with where to find experimental music in Berlin but what about in Peru? Any recommendations?

Ale Hop: I would say you should begin with that label Buh records, who are the label that released this album. You’ll find the Peruvian classics there, some reissues, electroacoustic music, 60s psychedelia…

In terms of connections in Peru I still have some with my generation - but with the newer generations, not so much.

AC: What are you working on next? I like the new album with Laura Robles, anything else in the hopper?

Ale Hop: I’m working on a guitar-oriented album. I think it’s going to be released next year.

Right now I’m touring with Laura, because we released this album in April. Now we have a few festivals… that’s always how the cycle works: release, tour, release, tour….

AC: Ever get to the UK?

Ale Hop: I played Cafe Oto recently, and in September opened for a band called Deathcrash at Fabric.

AC: Nice, I’ll be sure to catch you one of these times! Thanks for talking to me.

Ale Hop: Thank you!

Ale can be found at

All images no credit / Ale Hop except 2) Elina Matvejeva and 6) Csilla Fodor.

Popular posts from this blog

Zhu Wenbo, Li Song, Yan Jun: There Is No Music From China (compilation)

Bablicon: A Flat Inside A Fog, The Cat That Was A Dog

Natalia Beylis: Library Of Sticks