Kindly translated by Jimmy Lopez
1. How did you get started in music? Why did you choose to become a composer?
My 'official' start in music happened at a very early age, when I began to take piano lessons. After a few years I got into the National Conservatory of Music (Conservatorio Nacional de Música del Perú). I studied piano with Antonieta Frayman, Yvonne Mejía de Döringer, Margarita Chirif, Amalia Vásquez, Luisa Negri and Prof. Cervansky. I also studied guitar for a short time with Salvador de las Casas. Among the teachers at the conservatory whom I remember fondly is Edelmi Chávez. I also remember the influence of Mtro. Manuel Cuadros Bar during my school years.
When I reached puberty I left music aside and after completing high school I got into the National University of Engineering (Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería). Then I transferred to the Institute of Technology in Israel where I graduated in Electrical Engineering. By that time however, I had decided to come back to music and dedicate my life to it. Even though I might run the risk of romanticizing this decision, I have to admit the influence of 'Juán Cristobal', a marvelous book by Romain Roland, which I got as a present from a friend, and to Beethoven's music (in particular his Piano Concerto No. 5 whose 'appearance' on radio gave me the last push). That is when I decided to come back to my music studies at the University of Tel Aviv, and later on at York University in Great Britain. My technical education inclined me toward the exploration of the electroacoustic world, with which I fell in love. I consider electroacoustic music to be a natural complement to the acoustic instrumental world, and in no way as a replacement. I still love the orchestra, the string quartet, and in general the acoustic media with the same intensity.
Concerning my decision of becoming a composer, it is very simple: I compose out of necessity. It is a need to distill, re-create and exteriorize my life experience in the hope of being able to move and create empathy with other human beings through the temporal manifestation of this exteriorization in the musical work.
2. Which composers do you admire and/or have influenced you?
There are many composers whom I admire and who have influenced me. I have already mentioned Beethoven, but there is also Mahler. For me they manage to accomplish this exteriorization of human experience which I yearn to attain in my own works. I am also inspired by Ligeti, Berio, Lutoslawsky, Trevor Wishart, Jonty Harrison, Denis Smalley, Francis Dhomont, and my colleagues at Keel University: Mike Vaughan and Diego Garro.
3. How would you describe your compositions? What are the characteristics of your compositional language?
It is very difficult for me to answer to that question because I think that, in the end, a musical language cannot be totally defined consciously by the composer himself. Each work brings along a new search, including the evolution of a musical language. Otherwise, it seems to me that something got stuck, that I keep on repeating the same stuff. I would like to make clear that this does not have to be true for other composers -everybody finds his own path. This is, nevertheless, my view on it.
Naturally there are common characteristics between works. But these can only be observed with perspective, when one takes distance. This is the musicologist's job. At the moment, I am not a musicologist to my own works. All I can do is comment on processes used in their composition or analyze them. But this is different from a definition of my musical language.
4. What is more important for you when composing: emotion or technique?
I think the best way to reply is to quote Thomas Mann in his book 'Doctor Faustus'. When the composer Adrian Leverkuhn pacts a deal with the devil by which he will be able to reach greater musical heights, the latter enters a monologue which includes the following paragraph:
"...the figures, characters and incantations of music,...where algebraic magic is married with corresponding cleverness and calculation and yet at the same time it always boldly warnes against reason and sobriety"
It is precisely this balance and conflict between intellect and emotion which, for me, exists in music and which can reach the rarified air of parnassus. It is true that there is music which can move us without appealing to our intellect and there is also music which can stimulate our brains without moving us. But the music which inhabits both worlds is part of a synergy which has no comparison. Frequently, it is deep, so one can find something new every time one listens to it. There are so many works by Bach which can generate religious experiences in the atheist!
But the issue is more complex. The architecture of intellect can cause pure emotion. For example, it is enough to consider the emotions that Maxwell's equations generated and still generate in the scientific person when uniting almost all forces of classical physics. Can we really assert that emotions caused by the beauty of this order are different from those generated by art?
I will also dare to make an analogy with human beings: physical beauty is immediate and appeals directly to our instinct and emotions, but it can also stimulate our intellect. We can even appreciate somebody with a beautiful physique without having feelings toward that person. Inner beauty (spiritual or intellectual) requires an initial effort to search and reason, but once we have find it, it can also appeal to our emotions...and to our intellect. Everything operated in the same battlefield which defies our reason and sobriety.
5. In which piece are you working on right now?
I am about to complete an audiovisual work in the memory of my father. After that I will concentrate on a work for chamber ensemble and digital audio which the young group 'Ensemble Meitar' has commissioned from me.
6. What, in your opinion, is the role of composers in our society?
A lot has been said about the role of art and music in society, from Plato -who maintained that these pre dispose of the spirit of the people and that's why they should be regulated so that they can exert a positive influence on society- until McLuhan who considered the artist as a cultural mediator and guardian of clarity of communication in respect to his objectives. We can also find the famous phrase of Praque, who asserts that 'science comforts us, art disturbs us'. Likewise, we have not freed ourselves from the paralysis caused by the romantic concept of the genius; misunderstood in his Olympus and far from any human being, only to be vindicated in the future. Adorno proposed the modernist idea, invoking the duty of the artist to reflect upon and criticize society, showing it the future. As a contrast, Jacques Attali suggests a future in which the distinction bewteen creator and consumer of music will not be easy to discern, calling this stage 'composition'.
If there is something that we can take as a lesson of our post-modernist times (or are they post-post-modernist?), I think it's the modesty that comes out of the realization that the importance of the artist is not universal. For example, composer and researcher Simon Emerson proposes an ecological model in which art for the minorities (in contrast to art for the masses or industrial art) provides the necessary variety to society so that it can evolve and adapt to change. The alternative is similar to the analogy that a society which depends on a single crop can be eradicated by an epidemic, causing an irreversible catastrophe.
But the most important thing is to note that composers are, before anything, human beings. That is why they have the same duties like everybody else. And maybe one of the greatest duties to be performed these days is to keep ourselves informed and to act accordingly so that we may not be deceived as a result of our ignorance and so that we may not be guided to serve interests that go against general well being. I am not only talking about listening to the news every day: unfortunately in our global era these only cover superficial aspects from a great number of essential issues, and at best, they present incomplete pictures. At worst, the distort reality taking it out from its historical context. That is why we must develop critical faculties based upon hard knowledge and we must stay ready to grasp new information which could radically alter our vision of reality.
In this sense, the composer is capable of presenting synergetic information of intellect and emotion which can provide a much deeper and concentrated dimension that the 'dry' facts. In this way, it is possible for them to be voices of social and political conflict through music. This also coincides with the idea of distillation and exteriorization of the lived experience, because this is also philosophical, political and social.
In my opinion, it is important to remember three things. First, music can be political, philosophical or social, but politics, social orientation and philosophy do not make music automatically: the latter can still be music without any external affiliations. In second place, there are ideas which are expressed effectively through language which in turn cannot be expressed through music. Finally, the fact that we can express political issues through music composition does not exonerate us from contributing in other ways. Music cannot feed physically the body, only the spirit. This does not mean that one cannot 'convert' the economy of music into material goods, as the musicians who participated in 'Band Aid' did in the 80's, providing food that saved plenty of lives in Africa. However it was not music itself which created those funds, but the artists who decided to donate their time and resources and convinced the audience to donate from their wallets.
7. What do you think is the future of our music?
I do not pretend to be a prophet, so I will only ennumerate a couple of facts that might have importance in the future (or maybe not?).
First, we are living through a time of great financial, political and social change. That is why many musical institutions might change or might be transformed until they become unrecognizable. For example, the lack of viability could reduce the symphonic medium to a few orchestras in affluent enclaves, with little demand for new music for this medium. I have also mentioned the ideas of Attali, which have started to become true, partially thanks to the spread of technology and the access to global communication. Nowadays there is music that exists mainly in virtual spaces in the Internet, which is relatively independent from industrial economy, providing stages for many artists and minoritarian art.
It is also possible that artistic demand will be more and more connected to relatively new phenomena: interactivity and integration of several digital media. In the case of interactivity, I observe my kids' generation which is more and more interesting in 'taking part': they watch less TV and are more involved in the virtual and active world of computer games. The latter are also examples of art which uses more than one digital medium, not only video but also music; in many games, both are integrated synergically. Virtual reality already exists, lthough it is still in its infancy. It might be also possible that in a not very distant future, games will submerge the players totally in a virtual world in which all senses will participate, as is the case of the famous 'holodeck' program in 'Star Trek'. Will that be the cinema of the future which will displace the model which we now know?
Personally I think that creative spirits, and specially musicians -whose actual art is the manipulation of time using sounds- could welcome those new possibilities with open arms. After all, they would still manipulate time, but they would use additional media: not only sound and image (as many already do in audiovisual creations, in which sound is not the servant of the image, contrary to most of today's cinema), but the actual immersion in that three dimensional image, tactile experiences, smells...a fully blown 'reality' encapsulated in the work. That does not mean that there would not be room for acoustic instruments. Integral art could combine live music and it could also articulate time by means of configurating the real with the virtual. Then it might be possible that all of us could visit Alice's wonderland.