Interview with Armando Santiago

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The following interview with the Portuguese composer Armando Santiago, conducted by the MIC.PT in June 2020 and published on-line in July 2020, has been replicated here with the kind permission of the Portuguese Music Research & Information Centre – You can read the original by clicking here.

Questionnaire/ Interview

How did your interest in music begin and where do you identify your musical roots? Which paths led you to composition and which moments from your music education are the most important for you?

Armando Santiago: Listening to music, «hiding» behind it, feeling the emotions – it all began in my childhood. At the age of six, I used to disappear at home. My mother would then find me in the gloom of the living room, immersed in the deepest armchair surrounding me like a fortress. While remaining motionless, my eyes got lost in the Infinite. The lady in the apartment above was playing Franz Liszt’s “Second Hungarian Rhapsody”! I was in a trance – there was nothing else but the ecstatic experience.

Armando Santiago © Atelier de Composição. Photo sourced from the Portuguese Music Research & Information Centre - MIC.PT website

Lost between my father’s books, there was one entitled “Rudimentos de música” (Essentials of Music). I got to know it all by heart.

After insisting a lot, my parents agreed to the idea that, while still attending the secondary school course, I would have piano lessons with a teacher of my own choice (after sharing some thoughts with one of my fellow students).

My family would then notice that I made progress, so my grandfather offered me a piano. It was one of the biggest events in my youth. I put into practice the contents of “Rudimentos de música”, which I assimilated all by myself. And my teacher used to tell me nothing else but: «How good you are at reading scores!» It was the living proof of the notion of scales, modes, strong Tonic, Dominant and Subdominant functions, together with the Forms «inherent» to the works which I listened to.

We were in the 1940s. Whenever I could, I spent my free time listening to «Lisboa-2» (radio). Chopin, Liszt and Beethoven were on my daily diet – musical, emotive and balancing. And so, I started composing mazurkas. The ideas came to me spontaneously. Obviously, above all I imitated Chopin’s harmonic essence.

As I went forward with my secondary school course, at the College I was being asked more and more often «to supervise the music events» at feasts and other official events. So, I sat at the piano to play my mazurkas. «Wow! You should never stop studying music!» It all happened according to the most sophisticated banality…

Adolescence. Facing my dissatisfaction with my teacher’s lessons, I insisted with my father to find me a serious teacher. That was Alberto João Fernandes, a composer and viola player at the National Broadcaster Orchestra. Dazzling! He began by telling me that my music experience had been loaded with «consecutive fifths». And thus, it came to me that I didn’t actually understand anything about Harmony… So, he took up the task of preparing me for the Conservatoire. And thus, I spent the most extraordinary 10 years of my youth.

Is it possible to ponder that my music roots were implanted here? The first ones… At least I’d never stopped composing. The pieces became «modern», according to my interior and conservative voice… In the 1940-50s I studied the Piano, Singing, Cello and Composition in the Lisbon music environment, so I wasn’t able to truly discover that my compositional experience had been far from «contemporary», in the word’s absolute sense. At the time, Debussy was still treated with great respect that should be given to the brave and progressive, avant-garde universes. Equally, one couldn’t speak of Ravel, of the «so dissonant» parallel chords in “Bolero”, without having goose bumps. The piece was admired by so many, because it was catchy, making them think of odaliques… I was subjected to arduous decoding when I started to discover Stravinsky, live, during his first tour in Lisbon, at concerts where he was conductor (1954), and still later, with him and Robert Craft (around 1961). Around this time, out of prudence, Pedro de Freitas Branco limited himself to performing only the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth. «How depressing! It’s like funeral music!» This music's "time" would take time to «reach», above all, Lisbon… From the Second Viennese School, the same conductor dared to perform “Wozzek” at the São Carlos National Theatre!

It wasn’t an easy task, to find roots which could nourish my future music life!

The true musical roots, with a genuine incision into my responsible and conscious compositional activity, I found in Paris in 1961 at the R.T.F. internship. With Pierre Schaeffer I discovered musique concrète. And then, I worked with Boris Porena and Goffredo Petrassi at the Santa Cecilia National Academy in Rome, and in Siena at the Chigiana Academy, with Franco Donatoni.

I can say that, from a practical point of view, my music roots and the paths that led me to composition are intimately connected. More specifically – the paths that led me to composition came from the inside and towards myself, so writing music has always been a «visceral» and implicit activity.

Over time, in terms of my music education and the most important moments, I would now say that they were the lessons with Boris Porena and later, the contact with the composer Franco Donatoni and his music.

Porena opened the paths, while Donatoni nurtured them. At the Academy in Rome, the focus during Goffredo Petrassi’s lessons was put on orchestration and the analysis of the aesthetic access to the music work.

Porena opened my path to assimilate and enter the contemporaneity of the first years in the 1960s. It was an education process, additionally to getting prepared to enter the Santa Cecilia National Academy. Acquisition of technique. Handling of Time Function, in view of music discourse fluidity. Liberation from the metrics. Treatment of Timbre. Acquisition of the concept: «Musical/ Timbral Realisation of Gestures». Demystification of the Shoenbergian dodecaphonic hegemony, in the field of the intervallic relations of the parameters/ levels, inside and beyond the equal temperament; yet without «despising» the universalizing aspect of the Komposition mit zwölf Tönen.

Donatoni led me to acknowledge the importance of the subtlety of creative gestures. The proliferation of a «material». The «Readings» technique leading the transformational and derivational possibilities to their limits. (Not to confuse with the classical notion of «development» and «variation»). Donatoni exerted a notable influence on my activity as a composer, having been an indisputable example of rigour, sensibility and modernity.

In your opinion what can a musical discourse express and/ or mean?

AS: From my experience, a musical discourse is the concretisation of a specific way of communication, in function of the dynamic force of the binominal, created by an idea and the interior listening intrinsically animating it.

The music idea is a living and emotive edifice, animated with an important dose of creative impatience. The interior listening is the spontaneous and implicit complementary phenomenon, «informing» the syntactic and semantic aspect of the idea, in relation with the nature of its own technical, micro-structural vocabulary, containing the germ of movement and information, particular to a phonetic and morphological gesture.

Are there any extra-musical sources influencing your work in a significant manner?

AS: My compositional/ musical work – as the one of every person writing music – cannot exist without the influence of extra-musical sources.

The other forms of art have unavoidably influenced my activity as musician.

My global academic and, consequently, aesthetic training was above all nourished through the assimilation of various fundamental facts from the History of Art. Everything began in College, during the secondary course, thanks to a good number of competent and enlightened professors. I attended the Faculty of Letters: the unforgettable classes/conferences by Professor Delfim Santos. I also had the privilege of privately following (for three years) the Aesthetics and Art History Course with Dr Maria Augusta Alves Barbosa.

Simultaneously, I had the opportunity of assimilating Paris; of having been profoundly nourished «with» Rome; of having absorbed the universe of Venice. And, let’s give credit where it is due, Portugal is not deprived of extra-musical manifestations of great importance, when thinking of its notable eight centuries of History, of its countless historical-aesthetic influences and radicalisations. Having been born there and having spent there my childhood, adolescence and youth, with my eyes wide open towards the assimilation of «everything», I couldn’t have stopped it from nourishing me, letting it influence me within countless aspects of my life.

To what extent these extra-musical sources exert themselves on my activity as a composer? Obviously, in the way of feeling the art, communicating, and in the choice of the sonic world’s «psychoemotional environment».

Are there any influences of Non-western cultures in your music?

AS: My general and music education has always been exclusively connected with western culture. Although I have contacts with some creative aspects related with Non-western cultures, I’ve never given in to their influence in order to nourish my own creative activity.

What does «avant-garde» mean to you and what in your opinion can nowadays be considered «avant-garde»?

AS: The «avant-garde» is the doctrine of the nonconformists. It’s the mystique of the impatient to create something that has never been seen or heard before. It’s the irreverence of the ones who reject the already trodden paths. The «avant-gardists» suffer from aesthetic heredity phobia. The «avant-gardists»… are heroes. They’re missionaries who begin by preaching in the desert.

Time passes and the «avant-garde» changes from amazement to acceptance, losing its virulence. Not belonging to the «avant-garde» anymore, its apostles become bourgeois and passively they have to conform with the advent of a new «avant-garde». And the cycle reprises. History repeats itself, fascinated by other «novelties».

As it always has been, this is what happens today. The more you seek to be from the «avant-garde», the larger the risk is of not knowing how to make it.

Perhaps one day one hopes to be able to make music «without sound»… That would still be missing!

But this phenomenon is old. Our glorious «Poet» (Luís de Camões) said it in the most elegant manner. «Times change, needs change… The whole World consists of change… And, apart from this day-to-day change, there’s another, a more astonishing one, that nothing changes as it used to, anymore.» [1]

Camões was in the «avant-garde» of his time. If he had lived today perhaps, he would have been a musician. He would have been in charge of inventing «the most recent avant-garde». The most extraordinary one!

Characterise your music language taking into account the techniques/aesthetics developed in the 20th and 21st century music creation within your personal experience, as well as your references from the past and the present. Does experimentalism play an important role in your music and how in this context do you define the relation between music and science? Which works from your catalogue do you consider «turning points»?

AS: Given the introspective isolation which I’m presently able to do, it becomes evident that experimentalism was for me an extremely important practice.

I adopted it in the particular moment of my education as «composer of my time», during my stay in Rome and while working under the guidance of Boris Porena. This experimentalism was essential in order to liberate myself form the redundancies of the preceding years. It showed me new ways forward, either from an aesthetic, or a purely technical point of view, regarding the emancipation from static metrics, from timbre, form and structure, which restrained my creative youth. As I’ve already mentioned, my act of composing is a phenomenon «coming from» and towards me. From this perspective, I can say that the experimentalism practiced in that crucial transitory time, allowed for the necessary adjustment of my own self-discovery, in projection, as a composer (creative musician). This was possible, insofar as I then consequently adopted the characteristics, which would thence really interest me.

Among the various examples of applying experimentalism from that time, I will mention the one concerning the orchestration of an abstract drawing. In its practical aspect, this project consisted of creating music for six chamber orchestras distributed simultaneously in different spatial zones, adequate for the stereo effect. The final drawing resulted from cutting another one, extensive and compact, placed on a large piece of paper. In this way, this total, large drawing was then transformed into a long but narrow «graphic information» strip/ band, obtained out of juxtaposition. The exercise consisted of subsequent operations, once the strip was put on millimetre paper – «reading and interpretation» of the obtained drawing through an equally millimetric controlling cursor, adjustable to the strip’s graphics. Every millimetre corresponded to a time unit. The irregularity of the drawing effectively ensured the «(de)metrification» of the sonic curves. The ascending or descending inflections indicated frequencies. The major or less complex graphic density suggested multiple timbral variations. The resulting score was a constant surprise! The music implicit in the graphics then emerged, almost magically, in a form of an unexpected timbral realisation of fluid and imponderable gestures, floating in space. The apprenticeship was conclusive.

However, and this is fundamental when it comes to the definition of my composer profile, once the «duty» of my pedagogical approximation to this «experimentalist therapy» was fulfilled and once I assimilated the predicted beneficial effects, in the continuation of my activity as composer I didn’t feel the need to stay in this «eternally» experimentalist practice, one can almost say, dispersing in effect. There are some exceptions, though. I have examples of two pieces composed much later on non-consecutive dates – “Pièce por cor et métaux” (1974) and “Musique pour quatre” (1988), version A, for saxophone quartet with percussion where the performance of the latter part is also realised by the saxophonists. Actually, for me they’re hybrid works «without consequences» and whose direction I have never retaken. In fact, taking into account my global production, my music interests have led me towards a stabilisation of my interior listening, necessary to exactly define my compositional personality, as the result of a double liberation: from the preceding constraints and from the liberation processes themselves.

After 70 or so years of music creation, when looking for a definition of my compositional physiognomy, I’m obliged to come to a conclusion – common to many people as I believe – that I can’t see how to tie me to an editorial uniformization. I don’t feel capable of identifying myself with techniques, nor with aesthetics, from this or that «afilliation» or fashion. In fact, I don’t have to compromise, even with myself. Moreover, it is extremely pleasant – a summation of assimilations, acceptances and rejections that have given form to the spontaneity and independence of listening. Thus, recently I’ve had the impulse which gave origin to “Groupes III” (2019) for solo piano.

On the one hand, if music is the result of constructing ideas by means of sound, and (in order to simplify this another vast subject) if one says that science is the system of exact knowledge and reasoning, with a determined objective and a method of its own, then the «first one» cannot exist without the «second one». In order for me to achieve, in a balanced way, everything that has been mentioned above, and to concretise the creative manifestations of my music edifices, it was necessary to get some, at least minimal, scientific support. Everything starting from the initial, generating «idea», obviously.

On the other hand, without intentionally looking for it, I sometimes see myself approaching certain late references of the Darmstadt school aesthetics, above all in the case of “Quatuor à cordes 1995”. It’s the result of a finding and not a determination.

Such a circumstance, of involuntarily «looking backwards» may in a certain way explain my natural physiognomy of a «conservative» composer… All things considered, the fact that when I was a teenager I didn’t listen to, think or feel otherwise, if not through Chopin’s nocturnes, polonaises and studies, must have left some explanatory leftovers on many things…

Considering this general perspective, which works can be turning points in my path?

It’s a complex matter!

At first, there were «turning points»/tumults/ perturbations/influence. They were multiple, plural and took months to work. They were asking: «Where does the Art’s deep force come from? »; leading me towards progressive transformations.

There was also a second, pragmatic, technical and aesthetic, turning point. What it told me, was pedagogical: «Henceforth, act differently!» It imposed itself on me as an obligation, marking an immediate conversion.

The first ones indicated to me, effervescently, the congenital ignorance of the primary emotion. They were the turning points of looking for the inside of the Being. I was changing slowly and painfully, without references to calendar dates. The cells of emotional understanding were changing. But there were overturns! I was passing through «altered-states». Even though I continued to write in a «mazurkian» style (it hadn’t been Chopin anymore…), the «movement» continued to Unconsciously nourish me. Turning towards the Infinite. And the Infinite is vast. It’s the Cosmos that defines the Personality. There were various representative works, responsible for the «turning points». They focused on different zones of the gradually constrained Soul, on multiple mimicries, as if I visited the Museum of Evolution. In its own manner, each work wasn’t far from the «avant-garde of its time». Without mentioning again, the already quoted “Second Hungarian Rhapsody” from my youth, there also was also Borodin’s “Prince Igor”, Beethoven’s “Seventh”, Mondeverdi’s “Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda”, Mozart’s “Jupiter”, Brahms’ “German Requiem”, Wagner’s “Parsifal”, Bach’s “Matthäuspassion” BWV 244, Faure’s “Requiem”, Franck’s “Chorale no. 3”, Ravel’s “Valses nobles et sentimentales”, Mahler’s “Third” and “Ninth”, Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Jünglinge”. I’ve certainly forgot about some (Let them forgive me).

They were turning points in which I always used the same safe-conduct, visiting similar departure points, in search for more emotions, of heart touching turning points. Subjectively. I was wandering around and having various ages, without plunging in interrogations nor looking for solutions.

The second «turning point» was abrupt, instantaneous and sudden. It made me experience immediate Responsibility to impose action. I was intimidated to belong to the time I was living in, defining conscious gestures, coming from the radical and unavoidable discovery of the «modus operandi». There was nothing heart touching about it… It was «punctual», objective and definite. Rome, Boris Porena’s lesson on a Tuesday, at 4h00 p.m. We were analysing “Il canto sospeso” by Luigi Nono. It was this work! Without emotionality… With both feet firmly on the ground. With the notion that I had an immense task in front of me. It was then that I started to work on the adventure of the six stereo orchestras. I entitled it “Il canto disperso” … Everything around me was boiling. And once finished I threw the “disperse” to the bottom of the drawer.

Taking into account the works I composed, corresponding to my Rome journey, the first one was “Quintetto di fiati” (1963) and soon after “Episodii” (1963) and “Musica per orchestra” (1964).

Yet in order for the cycle to be complete, there was a third turning point around the 1970s and 1980s.

I had acquired knowledge and an editorial experience, yet I lived with the discomfort of feeling as a kind of «follower». This circumstance gnawed at my deeply rooted, artistic health. It was necessary to get out of this embarrassment. Basically, it wasn’t anything immeasurable. It didn’t mean more than to find solutions and some writing details. In this order of ideas, while the new layers of composers of the time were furiously making a tabula-rasa of anything that would be a manifestation of sentimentality, as far as I was concerned the path to follow showed me the opposite direction. Nothing more than to reopen the door to emotion and my human authenticity. So, I began to consciously and peacefully reject the exterior effects, whose sound I found inconvenient and gratuitous. Nothing more was necessary. I remembered, on many occasions, Goffredo Petrassi’s lessons: «No useless extravagances camouflaging the lacks in technique!» And, progressively, with «transitory relapses», new works appear: “Pièce pour percussionniste seul” (1973), “Undecassonia” (1975, rev. 1984) for small orchestra, approaching 11 levels of sonic sources edition, “Requies” (1979-83) for male choir and 25 solo instruments.

And the 1990s came to confirm this path of mine, beginning with “Quatuor à cordes 1995” – one of the most representative works within my music thought. “Quatuor à cordes 1995” intends to be the result of only one itinerary of intentions, although its base material has been obtained from four different and necessarily complementary tempi: 1) a set of «incisive» and discursively predominant curves, constituted of fast, overlapping values; 2) a «trace» of involving nature, an organic material with predominating curves, acting as a moving cluster; 3) a superior, inferior or mixed pedal-material, likewise with wrapping nature and presented in overlaps; 4) a vertical, simple and articulated, dispersed «attack».

When it comes to its structure, the piece takes the shape of an «ostinato» (an exalted «romanticism»?), where the different, generating micro-cells are subject to the most varied forms of «readings», multiplying their profiles. A long section, preceding a developed «coda», presents a conical swirl, oscillating and involving the four instruments in a suffocating atmosphere. On the other hand, the auto stimulation of the different inter-complementary gestures, re-exposed and renewed in communicating vessels, depends on the search for timbres, being oriented in function of depth zones within the sonic fabric.

All this editorial set intends to establish a ceaseless, psychoemotional and tormented situation.

The score was edited through a software which I conceived exclusively in order to be applied to the “Quatuor à cordes”. It was destined, above all, to emphasize the specific graphical aspect of the proportional, metric and mixed notations.

Do you have any music genre/style of preference?

AS: Actually, to identify preferences for music styles or genres, as an orientating and stabilizing «filiation» of my music creation, hasn’t been an easy task. As all composers from my generation, I went through various periods of education and, consequently, I was influenced by the aesthetics I explored and assimilated. However, I can’t say that the result would definitely correspond to this or other «preference». It wasn’t more than the integration of an apprentice. As time went by, the preference of this or other style has never occupied, as a strictly inviolable «credo», the field of my creative activity. In this regard, I’ve ended up not decisively preferring any path. The sum of my «past» auditive experiences, without defining any particular scholastic inclination, has led me to «hearing» edifices and then to write them. And I’ve noticed that I prefer much more to «do it» than to «have done it».

What happens in relation to musical Art in general (and to other creative manifestations)?

AS:All the manifestations are coated with an indisputable interest, without necessarily choosing a creation zone, more «attractive» than the other one. I adjust my analysis/audition/observation to the time when the manifestations were created. For me, all styles and genres have their own interest. Examples? Listening to the romantics, it seems that time doesn’t exist. Listening to Stravinsky, I’m marvelled. I approach Johann Sebastian Bach and I rediscover him, as if I would «prefer» him upon all the others. Second Viennese School? What interest lies here!

When it comes to the music of the times that followed, it has always awakened great attraction in me. Yet my attitude persists. The different «currents» correspond to the discoveries and impatience of indisputable legitimacy. I observe and listen to them with the greatest respect.

When it comes to your creative practice, do you develop your music from an embryo-idea or after having elaborated the global form? In other words, do you start from the micro towards the macro-form or vice versa?

AS: It is not a uniform process. It depends on the content and, sometimes, on the dimension of the score. In a general way, however, I can say that what prevails is the creation of the form, a posteriori.

In most cases I start from a «spontaneous, inner audition», conducting to the creation of a «generating nucleus», a concise micro-bloc. This nucleus may make part of the work or be abandoned after having obtained from it a sufficient number of satisfying «readings». This method was very dear to Franco Donatoni, with whom I worked in Siena and who, in this regard, has considerably influenced my compositional process.

In this case, the macro-form is the result of composing», reciprocally, out of the obtained «readings».

If I take as example my “Quatuor à cordes 1995” (duration: 22 minutes), there was an initial, materially constructive gesture (without the characteristics of a generating nucleus), creating a multiplication (not properly «development») obtained from around itself. This gesture came to project itself on varied profiles, by means of rhythmic and timbral treatments throughout the score. This work «triggered» new situations or discursive materials that were not derived from here, but rather complementary or intentionally «divergent», up to the point in which the information contained in this gestural accumulation would be regarded as sufficient, conducting to a coherent global gesture, obviously, according to my own communication demands. It’s evident that in this case the score was obtained from an evident formal process, a posteriori.

In scores of shorter durations, it’s easier to find the a priori form concept. Yet it can be better observed, as one goes back in time, to the dates closer to a less «mature» age, dare I say. It’s the case of “Trois miniatures pour clarinet solo”, where one can almost say that the form created the ideas.

How, in your musical practice, do you determine the relation between the reasoning and the creative impulses or inspiration?

AS: Let’s thus contemplate the possible relation between the notions of «reasoning», «creative impulses» and «inspiration».

In my music practice, reasoning is the mechanism allowing me to conceive a form, to preserve the coherence of «writing», to learn and apply (with the efficiency of excellence that my capacities and my knowledge make possible) the nature of the «carriers», yet another panoply of technical, complementary details. All this in search for the concept of balance to which I have access. Then, I return to the result and in most cases I «rewrite» everything until my self-analysis tells me: let it be. «Let God our Lord have mercy on you», as one of my professors used to say when I was supposed to take an exam…

The creative impulse (accepting the application of this term to my person, in the present period of my life when the teenage «ebullitions» are already very distant…), is the thing that could make me obey a more or less complex form of impatience, which then would lead me to create something. One can say that the «creative impulse», in a certain way, constitutes a form of «anxiety» and «disquiet» that could stimulate me to give form to «something», without effort or predetermination.

Inspiration (I have to make even more effort in order to apply this notion to my music activity), is perhaps the thing driving me towards the state of listening to an emotion or another «soul shake» and which, without wanting it, invades my thought and sensibility, falling from the heaven upon my being, during a morning of dazzles and concussions of unspeakable wonders. (It seems that one would want to say that the 19th century was full of it! And why not? They created so many extraordinary works!) It somewhat makes me recall the phrase: «Oh God! Please give me a sign of your existence!»

All this concerns applying these concepts to my music practice.

  1. The reasoning and the creative impulse are always present. When it comes to inspiration, I don’t know what it is anymore. I would prefer to replace this word with «inner listening». The latter I still have, even after aging.
  2. What is the relation between these three states in exercising my creative music action? They interpenetrate each other and are undoubtedly necessary.
  3. Analysing and trying to understand the complexity of these interpenetrations of factors – on the one hand, I’m Pasteur’s «disciple», that is, I don’t believe much in spontaneous generation, thus, isolated and candidly expectable… Therefore, I give considerable value to the virtue of work, as a «follower» of the precious Stravinsky lesson: «the ideas come from working with ideas», that is, the more you search the more you find. On the other hand, I’m attracted by the power of the «dream» and I believe in the fertility of intuition and poetic imagination. One attitude doesn’t exclude the other one. They complement each other.

What is your relationship with the new technologies and how do they influence your music?

AS: I’ve never felt the need to resort to a specific musique concrète practice (which I approached very directly in my youth, during the internship in Paris, together with Pierre Schaeffer, at the R.T.F., in 1961); nor to the one of electronic sonic sources.

However, the contact with musique concrète has thrown some new light on my compositional work, when it comes to the flexibility and independence of the structure and gestures. In a certain way, it also opened a door to the timbral plurality, without necessarily introducing the notion of «global chance».

I can’t classify that action as an «absolute influence». Far from it. Even though the concrète musicians have, in their own manner, an important facet as «constructors»… Yet, it is exactly «their way» that I didn’t adopt. Because above all, taking into account the appropriate distances, evident and of varied species, I believe that I was greatly influenced by Bach and Beethoven.

I see myself, fundamentally, as a composer-constructor.

In contrast, I used MIDI sonic sources to create “Música Intuitiva” (2003).

This construction is constituted by 12 immediate listening modes, destined for a virtual orchestra.

  • 1-2. Explosion – Lumière
  • 3. Soleils
  • 4. Nova
  • 5-6. Pulsar – Gravitations
  • 7. Chutes
  • 8-9. Galaxies – Ombres
  • 10-11. Tourbillon – Quasar
  • 12. Expansion

The work results from a poetic gesture.

The principle of the Principle, darkness and light, life and death of everything that exists, the phenomenal energy of the celestial nucleus, the cannibalism between the galaxies, the abysms of the infinite, the gravitational whirls, the destiny of the cosmic reality; everything piles up and clashes before an imaginary, audacious and privileged testimony.

It’s the spontaneous seduction of the unfathomable, through independent or juxtaposed gestures aiming at liberating themselves from the solutions of continuity.

Conceived as if it were destined for an orchestra and filtered human voices – the sonic MIDI sources, with instrumental liberty and dogmatic neutrality, are thus transformed into a gigantic and virtual instrumentalism. The work advances as a long ode with static verses, where microorganisms, multiplied up to the infinite, spread out upon curvilinear objects with almost enchanting endowments.

“Música intuitiva” (2003) was conceived as a fundamentally musical work, with autonomous sonic sources, despite the parallel multimedia vocation. From the beginning of its conception, the piece hasn’t been able to move away from an aspect implicit in ballet music, synchronised with the idea of a colourful and vigorous choreography, and in complicity, in the background of the stage, with simultaneous projections on a giant screen, showing images of the gigantic, deep and abysmal Universe.

What is the importance of space and timbre in your music?

AS: When it comes to the elaboration of my music, the timbre is one of the music fabric elements with a primordial interest, upon which I try to exercise the necessary treatment techniques. Obviously, at an equally important level, they are joined with implicit and indispensable complementary operations, defined by the «manipulation» of other parameters, as the degrees, frequencies, registers, durations, attacks, asperity, dynamics and articulations. The textures. In the compositional work, all these parameters are complementary to each other, within converging vectors. Or diverging, if it is necessary for my music discourse. In this order of ideas, the construction can look for support at various levels within an infinity of operations. The generalization of the notion of interval and its proliferation. The generalization of the notion of scale. The dosage of discursive elements in function of their grammatical organization. The control over the «function of time». The quantification. The qualification. The rotations. The translations. The «dominating zones». The concept of dialectics applied to the act of composing music.

In practical terms, what interests is to mention, among other examples, the use of the sounds, «special cases» of instrumental sonic sources (both determined and undetermined).

Facing the relations between the different constructive principles of «writing», I aim at projecting them in different directions. Both their definition and ordination become vital.

Hence the importance which I find in the determination of the different dimensions of the musical plot, in order to create the essential movements of the sonic discourse. That is, the ascending, descending and depth-determining directions. How is the notion of space defined? It is the element which I find just as important as the other factors in the creation of the music work.

To what extent composition and performance are complementary activities?

AS: In my opinion, composition and performance can become activities with a relevant complementarity. It’s a privilege, every time this situation is possible. I’ve verified it in the situations when I had the opportunity to conduct my own works.

I essentially think of the dynamic aspect, a parameter to which I give special importance, not only when it comes to writing my scores, but equally concerning the listening to the whole music work.

This, in my opinion, systematically requires an always renewed attention.

When it comes to my own experience with the exact obtainment of the dynamic demands (and not only, quite obviously!), the complementarity was implicit as an obvious example in the case of “Música intuitiva” (2003). Here the whole sonic result, evidencing the composition/ performance binomial was integrally my responsibility.

Armando Santiago, June 2020 © MIC.PT


1 - «Mudam-se os tempos, mudam-se as vontades… Todo o Mundo é composto de mudança…. E, afora este mudar-se cada dia, outra mudança faz de mor espanto, que não se muda já como soía.» (Luís Vaz de Camões, in "Sonetos"); Translation to English: Jakub Szczypa.