When I ask Argentinian-born, Portland-based artist Pilar Zeta to describe her work, she struggles to find the words. She throws around “colorful,” “retro-futuristic,” and “otherworldly,” which are all appropriate, before settling on a description that represents her virtual designs best: “It’s like a parallel universe!”
Zeta’s honed in on this distinct visual language—inspired by her interests in Egypt, magic, and metaphysics—in various forms over the years. She’s designed album artwork for bands like Coldplay, she’s provided live visuals for Katy Perry on tour, and she even had a brief stint as a clothing designer with her brand, Holographic Universe, which was inspired by neoclassical sculptures and time travel. Even her home, which she moved into last year with her partner, prolific producer Jimmy Edgar, is an extension of her surreal, bold designs: Every colorful piece of postmodern furniture feels as carefully placed as the objects that float in her almost 3-D virtual landscapes. Her designs combine these decontextualized objects with classical human figures in swirling, soothing colors—it’s a bold approach that she’s now translated into sound with her debut album, Moments of Reality, and one that feels fully in line with Zeta’s throwback sense of style, too.
The best way to get an understanding of Zeta’s surreal visual palette is by looking through the artwork on Ultramajic’s website. Back in 2013, Zeta launched the audiovisual project—it’s as much of a music label as it is an art collective—with Edgar. Edgar is an eccentric dance music figure with a storied career—he started off deejaying at raves in his hometown of Detroit when he was just 15 and signed to seminal label Warp when he was 18—but with Ultramajic, he’s able to bring together his sharp production skills, his interest in the occult, and his own visual skills (Edgar also helps with the artwork). Their emphasis on album graphics feels especially singular given how common nondescript, plain white paper sleeves are in electronic music releases. Ultramajic’s visual language feels like a strange and vivid world in comparison.
It wasn’t until the couple moved into their otherworldly Portland house that Zeta started thinking about translating her distinct aesthetic into sound. “Having access to all the music equipment all the time [at home in Portland], the lines started to cross. Me and Jimmy were like, ‘Okay, why don’t we bring your visuals into music? How can we creative direct and create an album that sounds like your visuals?,’ ” she says. The two started collaborating in the studio, just for fun at first, working primarily with analog synths from the ’90s. The resulting album sounds like a New Age playground of sorts, at once futuristic and grounded in a sort of old-world mysticism, as the esoteric chants on the title track convey.
In addition to citing Japanese musician Haruomi Hosono and pioneering synth group Art of Noise as inspirations, Zeta’s sound was also shaped by her obsession with postmodern furniture. “I was trying to redecorate my house while we were doing the music. All these lines crossed, and after a while, we just had all the songs for the album, and making the artwork was just so easy because it was part of it.” There’s a song on the album called “House of Memphis,” presumably named after the influential design group, and Zeta created visuals stemming from their reinterpretation of functional household items. “I created these objects—they’re basically sculptures that sort of look like appliances, but they don’t have any conventional use. They’re surreal objects in a way, and each song has a different one.”
Zeta’s aesthetic is cohesive: She wants her art, music, and clothing to seamlessly fit together. As she was decorating her house with furniture that she found in thrift stores or on eBay, she was trying to find clothing from the ’80s that matched this bright, angular world. “I’ve been collecting a lot of vintage Escada,” she says, which perfectly fit in the colorful spaces that she’s put together—she’ll even match her living room in a baby pink turtleneck and seafoam green slacks. “I started wearing suits and color blocking with turtlenecks, shirts, and button-ups. I have an obsession with colorful suits,” she admits. “I have 30 different ones.” Her favorite, though, is the multicolored Escada suit that she wears a lot, which is made up of soft yellow, blue, and pink stripes.
For Zeta, bringing color into her life is an essential part of her daily ritual. “When I pick my clothing for the day, I try to be in touch with how I feel. I pick the color depending on my mood. I always put on some ambient music and incense to clear the energy for my creative process. Having this kind of morning, a low ritualistic way of starting the day, and dressing up, it changes how the rest of the day will unfold completely.” It’s a far cry from the all-black uniform that she sported when she was younger. “Wearing color completely changed the way I was feeling. I realized experimenting with color will change your mood and the way you think of things in a very deep way,” she says. “And now, I’m just a rainbow. I’m wearing colors all the time, down to my socks.”