Mariana Berreto is discovering new languages in which to express herself.
In the pilot of the Freeform drama Siren, a marine biologist addresses Ryn (Eline Powell), a mermaid whose sudden appearance disrupts a coastal town. "The night we met, you [sang] a song," he says. "Everywhere I go, I hear it."
That beguiling "Call of the Siren" is actually sung by Mariana ("Mari") Barreto, a New York–based indie singer-songwriter whose vocals for the show also include giggles and other sonic effects; her Ryn voice is electronically altered to double for the character's sister, Donna. Barreto had been asked to submit a demo by the show's composer, Michael A. Levine, who is her stepfather.
So, what does a mermaid sound like? "It definitely had to be seductive, but needed to transcend what one might normally think of as seductive," Barreto says. "And it had to be ethereal. I recorded different colors: oohs and aahs, with less breath in my voice, and more breath in my voice. Michael went with breathy."
The sound effects required "playing with my voice, trying to make different sounds rather than practical singing. Usually, a composer will come to me with a general idea of what they're looking for. This was up to me, to give variations."
Siren premiered in March and has been renewed for a second season, due next year. In the meantime, Barreto is busy with other projects. She recently contributed ethereal vocals to a track Levine composed for deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie, called "Seraph." And having released her first EP last year, she is working on a second. "I've started finding my voice — my songs are more bold," she says. "They're going to be a little darker."
Though she always enjoyed making music, Barreto had been concentrating on a career in photography. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design before earning a BFA in photography and imaging in 2016 from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Barreto's artistic images have been exhibited in galleries in L.A. and New York, while her event-based work for commercial clients took her to the Super Bowl in 2014. "I've always been interested in art in general," she says. "I grew up expressing myself in so many different ways. I've come to realize it's all just a language: a visual language, a sonic language."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2018