"Ceremonial sound art," Crystal Quartez's self-described genre, might evoke Instagram altar displays, yoga retreats and flower crowns. But the Portland musician's first full-length album, Causal Loop, is hardly some passive, love-and-light spa soundtrack.
"This album was a huge part of my personal journey of healing from trauma," she says, "and being able to transform that experience into a sonic healing space meant holding space for both darkness and light."
The five-song album is slated for release this week. Sure, there are flute interludes, water sounds and glass and crystal vibrations, but there are also elements of industrial noise and electronica.
For Quartez, music and ceremony are deeply intertwined—her shows often feature an art installation, like a recent show at Northeast Portland's S1, where she recorded the sound of audience members painting on a canvas. In her own life, rituals have helped divine order from chaos.
Quartez, born Crystal Cortez, comes from a musical family—her mother is a concert flutist and her father was in a successful New York street band. She was born in San Francisco, but was raised in rural Minnesota.
"I never quite fit in there, and always knew I wanted to get out to one of the coasts," she says.
So shortly after turning 21, she moved to Portland. Though she didn't start releasing music as Crystal Quartez until 2018, she belonged to other bands and performance groups, including one called Sea Charms. Last summer, she earned a degree in coding from Portland Community College, where she now works as a teacher.
Quitting her previous job, going back to school, and recording Causal Loop were ultimately cathartic for Quartez.
"The veil between my internal process and the external world dissolved," she says.
That's partly because Causal Loop was written and recorded as Quartez recovered from personal wounds. There's an internet age adage that "healing is nonlinear," and Causal Loop actualizes that idea through sound.
"A causal loop, as I define it in regards to healing, describes how there is often not a singular point of attack when it comes to healing," Quartez says. "There is a system of causes at play that all affect each other."
Causal Loop provides an ASMR-like release. It's the kind of music Enya might play when she needs to recharge. The album's shortest track is over five-and-a-half minutes, and its longest is nearly nine.
But Causal Loop is not easy listening or mere background noise. Quartez's arrangements compel you to stay focused. "Helix," Causal Loop's first single, is on the lighter end of the spectrum, thanks to trickling chimes, windy textures and otherworldly echoes. Other songs, like "Rumble" and "Rise," are on the darker end, using grittier, heavier sounds to build tension, as though gearing up to face one's fears.
Quartez is still trying to decide if there will be an installation component to her album release show Jan. 30 at Holocene. But with a bill stacked with some of Quartez's favorite experimental musicians—Omari Jazz, Avola, and Dolphin Midwives—it might be best to concentrate on Quartez's live flourishes on complex tracks. Besides, the audience is a crucial part of her musical alchemy.
"Through this work," she says, "I hope to open the door to the invisible to you as well."
SEE IT: Crystal Quartez plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., holocene.org, with Dolphin Midwives, Omari Jazz and Avola, on Thursday, Jan. 30. 8:30 pm. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.