AVANT: Music of The Spanish Avant-Garde



AVANT is a monograph on experimental music in Spain. From the most academic electoacoustics to industrial music, from radiophonic art to post-no-wave improvisation, AVANT retraces some of the key moments of the Spain's musical avant-garde, scarcely documented until now. Each AVANT focuses on the work and career of a group project from the scene, documented and composed of two parts: the first part reconstructs the artist's context through interviews, and the second part retraces the artist's work with musical examples.

Produced and edited by Roc Jiménez de Cisneros for Radio Web MACBA

Esplendor Geométrico
Llorenç Barber
Francisco López
José Manuel Berenguer
Josep Maria Mestres Quadreny
Eduardo Polonio
José Iges
Vagina Dentata Organ
Victor Nubla
Pelayo Fernández Arrizabalaga
Juan Hidalgo
Carles Santos



AVANT #1. Esplendor Geométrico

Part I.
Interviews with Arturo Lanz (Esplendor Geométrico), Andrés Noarbe, Francisco López and Javier Hernando. (In Spanish)

Part II.
Music selection

AVANT #1 focuses on the work and career of the Madrid-based group Esplendor Geométrico. Every program is composed by two parts: the first one reconstructs the group's context and contributions in the first person, with narration by Arturo Lanz and commentary by Andrés Noarbe, Francisco López and Javier Hernando. The second part follows the group's musical career through a selection of tracks that span over three decades.

Born at the end of the 1970s as a reaction to the hedonism of Madrid's New Wave (which over time became to be known as the "Movida"), Esplendor Geométrico is one of the first cases of independence in the history of Spanish music. Theirs was not only a financial and structural, but also a creative independence, and their music, rooted in an aggressive aesthetic, founded on rhythm as a means of expression and free of elitist pretensions, stands out in the music scene of recent decades as the chief influence for the development of countless branches of experimental music around the world. With their feet on the ground, the members of Esplendor Geométrico struck a sincere and lively attitude that eschewed formalities, especially those of "industrial music". Arturo Lanz, founder of the group and a resident Shanghai today, has referred to it as "folk music made with electronic instruments".


AVANT #2. Llorenç Barber

Part I.
Interviews with Llorenç Barber and Ruben López Cano. (In Spanish)

Part II.
Music selection

AVANT #2 reviews the artistic career of the Valencian composer Llorenç Barber. From the first childhood musical memories to his theories on plurifocal listening, the first part of the programme follows the development of his career in chronological order, with special emphasis on his city concerts and his work with bells. The second part tries to portray the unportrayable through recordings and fragments of concerts, performances and naumachias.

Llorenç Barber was one of the first Spanish musicians to attend the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (International New Music Summer Courses) in Darmstadt (Germany), where in 1969 and in the company of Berio, Ligeti, Kagel or Stockhausen among many other geniuses, he refined raw ideas and accumulated others that would awaken years later over his long career as a composer. A succession of nuances and small linked changes that led him to practise his personal sound art under different coordinates and formats, jumping from phonetic poetry with his Flatus Vocis Trio in the mid eighties to electroacoustics (his work with the changing, open group ACTUM in the early seventies) or the reductionist iconoclastic post-ZAJ (and post-Fluxus) poetry of his Worldly Music Workshop, founded after the deep impact caused in the late seventies by the London improvisers scene. And then, of course, along came the bells.

The legend of how Pythagoras of Samos discovered by pure chance the arithmetical relations between the harmonic intervals tells that the Greek master was passing a blacksmith's forge one morning and became aware of the different notes produced by the hammers beating the anvil. Twenty-five centuries later, in a boilermaker's in Madrid, Llorenç Barber came across a piece of metal that changed his way of understanding composition for ever, the tempo, the sound spectrum and everything that hangs from his plurifocal concerts, as close to the music of the spheres as the musical theories of the Pythagorean Brotherhood. “I became a different being”, he says. “A being touched by the Holy Spirit”. For Barber the bell represented far more than a new instrument to be explored; as well as its undeniable richness of timbre it had infinite layers of history, message, latent content and, most of all, the possibility of escaping once and for all from the confinement of the stage and the academy, which had always made him uncomfortable to give shape to a new concept of listening.

And like the rest of his career, Barber's contribution to campanology and plurifocality is broad and varied. From the recitals of delicate harmonics of his handmade 'portable belfry' to the vast and countless city concerts, where church bells, bands, whistles and cannons turn the space into an impossible concert hall where listeners can walk around while the piece is being performed. Or those sound excesses known as 'concerts from sun to sun', sound marathons in a spirit akin to Terry Riley's All-Night Concerts in the sixties or Hermann Nitsch's rituals in his Prinzendorf Castle in Austria. Or the logical continuation of all of them, embodied by the naumachias: mixtures of naval battle and concert where once again there is a blend of flashes in the individual and collective subconscious, tradition, instinct and this universal Valencian's peculiar way of conceiving and exploiting the environment-sound binomial.


AVANT #3. Francisco López

Part I.
Interviews with Francisco López and Rafael Flores. (In Spanish)

Part II.
Music selection

AVANT #3 reviews Francisco Lopez's entire career in music through this monographic program. From his home studio in the late seventies, Francisco López began working on what would eventually become one of the most solid careers in the international sound art scene. For decades, this biologist-musician has manipulated natural sound recordings and developed the basics of what he calls "absolute concrete music", a sonic approach that uses nature as the raw material for recreations of strangely beautiful parallel worlds and virtual realities.

Although it is now relatively easy to establish conceptual links between Francisco López's creative output and certain philosophical and artistic traditions of the last two hundred years, one of the most interesting (and paradoxical) aspects of his work is that it actually developed in personal, cultural and generational isolation, barely penetrated by external stimuli. Today, it is easy to connect the work of this nomadic artist from Madrid to the theories of Goethe, Richter, Herder and other icons of German romanticism who formulated the foundations of what came to be known as absolute music: a new aesthetic and formal paradigm that banished the use of words as a vehicle and narrative thread and concentrated on pure sounds as the true representatives of human emotions. Or to the musique concrète of Pierre Schaeffer and his followers... For years, López himself has used the term “absolute concrete music” to define the boundaries of his approach. But when López first began manipulating audio cassettes and environmental recordings in his home studio in Madrid, he was actually completely unaware of these schools. And in reality, his way of perceiving, conceiving and processing sound material arose from his own way of seeing the world, influenced by pop culture (from the many branches of alternative rock to Hollywood soundtracks), rather than associations of the academic kind.

As with many other artists his age, Francisco's work flourished (with difficulty) in a rich but dispersed underground scene, with a tape culture influenced by mail art and the punk ethic that provided people doing experimental work with a complex exchange network, laying down roots that survive to this day. What may seem paradoxical is that López was able to take this essentially post-pop, sincerely anti-academic premise and use it to build one of the most solid careers in the international sound art scene, to unanimous acclaim from critics, the art world and the experimental music community around the world. Over the decades, this musician-biologist has masterfully manipulated recordings of natural environments, developing an approach to sound that uses nature to create strangely beautiful parallel worlds and virtual realities, with their own narrative and aesthetic laws. Francisco López transforms the environmental recordings captured by his equipment into fascinating, disconcerting imaginary worlds –alternative universes that require a profound listening, free from aesthetic prejudices and especially from the need to associate what we hear with our actual surroundings. Because while the essential ingredients of López's work – his "musical objects", in Schaefferian terms – are often sourced from nature (insects, rivers, the wind, birds, urban soundscapes), his music totally transcends the original context of these phonemes.

In the last few years, he has further expanded his immense discography (simply too huge to come to terms with), with a series of untitled works that don't state the original sound source or explain the subsequent processing, but, like a Köchel catalogue, offer a number as their only clue. Something like the antithesis of the work of British musician Chris Watson, a founding member of Cabaret Voltaire in the eighties, now a sound artist specialising in field recordings of animals and natural environments. When listening to Watson's recordings, which portray unheard/unseen daily life in wild corners of the planet, part of the experience and a great deal of the enjoyment comes from recognising and knowing the source of the sounds. With López however, it is just as essential to put a literal and figurative blindfold over one's eyes and previous knowledge when approaching his sonic cooking pot, in order to fully connect with the universal human essences that cover the fabric of his compositions. The sober darkness of his mis en scène also prevails in the graphic quality of each of these untitled releases, which keep descriptive and decorative elements to a minimum: a clear invitation to listen first and foremost. To concentrate on what we hear and let ourselves be absorbed by these immersive, sublime, distorted, augmented and improbable but totally possible realities.


AVANT #4. José Manuel Berenguer

Part I.
Interviews with José Manuel Berenguer and Joan Saura. (In Spanish)

Part II.
Music selection

AVANT #4 reviews José Manuel Berenguer's entire career in music through this monographic program.

A guitarist by vocation in his youth, José Manuel Berenguer was drawn to electronic media by a pure need to express a complex and disturbing musical discourse that would allow him to pose questions from the perspective of composer and listener. Having forged a career between Barcelona and Bourges in France, he is now one of Spain’s leading electroacoustic musicians – a key figure in the Spanish new music scene who continues to be interested in blurring the divisions between installations, acoustic experience and robotics. The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Berenguer is an interview that looks back over his whole career.

Several decades separate the classical guitar that José Manuel Berenguer almost chanced upon in the backroom of his mothers chemists' and his recent installation "Lucy", based on the bioluminescent behaviour of glow worms in Kuala Selangor. But both bear symbolic witness to a career guided by an analytical, critical spirit, which has led Berenguer - a doctor and an expert in neurophysiology, psychoacoustics and electronic circuits, but, above all, a musician – to approach different disciplines and aspects of arts practice and gradually develop a discourse based on the unexpected and the exploration of the limits of sound experience.

Fascinated by the creative possibilities of programming and just as much by natural phenomena like wind, light and waterfalls, Berenguer has been able to draw on a large range of different kinds of work, from acousmatic pieces and audiovisual performances to music for theatre, soundtracks, multimedia installations, robots and sculptures, allowing him to pose questions to audiences and to himself.

Berenguer had an ongoing relationship with the French city of Bourges, where he imparted classes and worked as a composer at the prestigious Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique for many years, but at the same time he has been a key figure in the history of music experimentation in Spain. His political consciousness and commitment led him to initiate numerous projects that aimed to promote networks of grassroots organisations and create a regulated infrastructure for the Country's electroacoustic community. Extensive teaching experience in various fields of multi media arts, sound and perception round off a curriculum that confirms the co-director of the Orquesta del Caos as one of the most multifaceted personalities in the last twenty years of Spanish sound art.



AVANT #5. Josep Maria Mestres Quadrenyr

Part I.
Interviews with José Manuel Berenguer and Joan Saura. (In Spanish)

Part II.
Music selection

The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Josep Maria Mestres Quadreny is an interview that looks back over his whole career, with the testimony of Oriol Pérez and Carles Santos.

If you had to name one Spanish composer who embodies the ideals of rupture, modernity and the avant-garde that shook the foundations of Western music in the 20th century, Josep Maria Mestres Quadreny would probably be your best candidate. His unusually multifaceted output perfectly integrates the different currents of thought and the most advanced methodologies in the field of composition over the last few decades, resulting in a body of work that is highly varied, extraordinarily cohesive and honest. His innovative spirit has led him to work in a wide range of formats (vocal, orchestral, electroacoustic, chamber and theatre music), to alternate and mix traditional instruments with new electronic media and to transcend genres (poetry, theatre, opera, visual arts), along with other key names in Catalan, Spanish, European and Universal culture – Brossa, Tàpies, Miró, Prats, Villèlia. And above all, to approach sound from a perspective that is more commonly associated with a research lab than with old-style composers like Homs, Morera, Gerhard, Montsalvatge, Guinjoan and many more of his predecessors and contemporaries.

From his promising first work, the Weberian "Sonata per a Piano" (1957), Mestres Quadreny made it clear that his life's aim was to unconditionally regenerate the dominant musical language. Mestre's work soon hinted at his clear intention to radically break with everything – including the twelve-tone system and serialism, true symbols of new music in the mid 20th Century - in order to start practically from zero, following only his own aesthetic and technical ideas. Over fifty years later, it's hard not to acknowledge the resounding success of this "clean slate" that he cleverly filled with concepts from fields as diverse as mathematics, probability, programming and abstract art, while always maintaining the unmistakable mark of a sound that has been difficult for audiences and the music establishment to digest over the years. Even today.

Born in Manresa in 1929, Mestres Quadreny's personality and energy were key to bringing in the necessary rays of light at a time of total political and social darkness - not just through his compositional activity, but also as a catalyst and motivator in a cultural context that was a wasteland. His crucial involvement in important organisations and institutions such as the Fundació Joan Miró, the Centre for Catalan Studies at the University of Paris, the Auditori and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra consortiums, the Conjunt Catalá de Música Contemporània and the Phonos Foundation, are a perfect example of his tireless work towards spreading and regenerating culture. At all levels.enguer was drawn to electronic media by a pure need to express a complex and disturbing musical discourse that would allow him to pose questions from the perspective of composer and listener. Having forged a career between Barcelona and Bourges in France, he is now one of Spain’s leading electroacoustic musicians – a key figure in the Spanish new music scene who continues to be interested in blurring the divisions between installations, acoustic experience and robotics. The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Berenguer is an interview that looks back over his whole career.

Several decades separate the classical guitar that José Manuel Berenguer almost chanced upon in the backroom of his mothers chemists' and his recent installation "Lucy", based on the bioluminescent behaviour of glow worms in Kuala Selangor. But both bear symbolic witness to a career guided by an analytical, critical spirit, which has led Berenguer - a doctor and an expert in neurophysiology, psychoacoustics and electronic circuits, but, above all, a musician – to approach different disciplines and aspects of arts practice and gradually develop a discourse based on the unexpected and the exploration of the limits of sound experience.

Fascinated by the creative possibilities of programming and just as much by natural phenomena like wind, light and waterfalls, Berenguer has been able to draw on a large range of different kinds of work, from acousmatic pieces and audiovisual performances to music for theatre, soundtracks, multimedia installations, robots and sculptures, allowing him to pose questions to audiences and to himself.

Berenguer had an ongoing relationship with the French city of Bourges, where he imparted classes and worked as a composer at the prestigious Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique for many years, but at the same time he has been a key figure in the history of music experimentation in Spain. His political consciousness and commitment led him to initiate numerous projects that aimed to promote networks of grassroots organisations and create a regulated infrastructure for the Country's electroacoustic community. Extensive teaching experience in various fields of multi media arts, sound and perception round off a curriculum that confirms the co-director of the Orquesta del Caos as one of the most multifaceted personalities in the last twenty years of Spanish sound art.



AVANT #6. Eduardo Polonio

Part I.
Interviews with Eduardo Polonio and Claudio Zulián. (In Spanish)

Part II.
Music selection

The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Eduardo Polonio is an interview that looks back over his whole career, with the testimony of Claudio Zulián.

In a field as fragmentary as Spanish electronic music of the sixties and seventies, Eduardo Polonio (Madrid, 1941) was a virtually crucial figure, bringing personality, coherence and ingenuity to a scene that was often characterised by the use and abuse of canons imported from neighbouring countries. Today, his name remains linked to some of the projects and institutions that helped to place Spain on the European contemporary music map a few decades back: Grupo Koan, Laboratorio Alea in Madrid, Alea Música Electrónica Libre (the country’s first live electroacoustic music group), Fundación Phonos in Barcelona, Àrea de Creació Acústica in Mallorca and the Gabinete de Música Electroacústica in Cuenca. But Polonio wasn’t just a pioneer of what was once called “new music”. His work, rooted in the academic tradition and at the same time vigorously connected to different forms of popular music, from folk to pop to classical, occupies a strange, shadowy, unfathomable space, full of irony, multiple meanings and games, always keeping a prudent distance from electroacoustic orthodoxy.

Thirty years have gone by since Eduardo Polonio almost completely abandoned traditional instrumentation in order to devote himself to exploring the nuances and possibilities of synthesisers, computers, magnetic tape and other sources. Based on his untiring sound-humanistic research, this artist from Madrid has shaped a generous number of works of different kinds, from short electronic pieces to operas and soundtracks for theatre, often interacting with visual artists (Eugeni Bonet, Pablo Monedero, Carles Pujol and Toni Rueda, among others) in live performances in which the composer frequently plays the roles of performer and master of ceremonies, approaching the pop paradigm once more.


AVANT #7. José Iges

Part I.
Interviews with José Iges, Concha Jerez and Miguel Álvarez-Fernández. (In Spanish)

Part II.
Music selection

The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to José Iges is an interview that looks back over his whole career, with the testimony of Concha Jerez and Miguel Álvarez-Fernández.

If the context of sound art at the end of the dictatorship could be said to be, as Luis de Pablo claimed, "anomalous", then the context of radio art (artistic production created for the radio as concert hall), was virtually non-existent here. But if one thing could be said to define this anomalous period in Spanish music, it would be the sporadic appearance of islands - individual artists who weren't part of a coherent local scene, but nevertheless put forward a different discourse that was often more in tune with the tradition in other parts of the world.

Madrid intermedia artist José Iges was one of the few composers to defend radio art as a form of expression in Spain, but his solo work and his collaboration with other artists such as Concha Jerez and Esperanza Abad, among others, also adopted the message of the medium as its own message in countless compositions, interactive installations, performances and sound poetry works. And Iges is not just notable for his work as an artist: his name is also inseparably linked to Ars Sonora, the RNE Radio Clásica program he founded in 1985 with Francisco Felipe, and directed from 1987 to 2008. By commissioning and promoting new works, the invaluable task of diffusion carried out by Ars Sonora managed to connect the national scene to the global radio art world, in process that ran parallel to the career of the man who was its principal driving force. Accompanied by Iges, his close collaborator since 1989, Concha Jerez, and his successor at Ars Sonora, Miguel Álvarez Fernández, we explore the world of radio art through the perspective of its major Spanish exponent.


AVANT #8. Vagina Dentata Organ

Part I.
Interviews with Marc Valls, Pau Riba, Paco Alvarado, Xavier Cot, Eliseu Huertas i Cos and Marc Viaplana. (In Spanish and Catalan)

Part II.
Music selection

The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Vagina Dentata Organ includes interviews with Marc Valls, Pau Riba, Paco Alvarado, Xavier Cot, Eliseu Huertas i Cos and Marc Viaplana.

Jordi Valls happened to be in the right place (London) at the right time (the tail end of the seventies) to witness one of those subtle transitions that can only be identified by an observer with a finely honed historical perspective. Punk had appeared out of nowhere, having brewed in the catacombs of the underground at arms length from the conventions of the record industry. But almost immediately it mutated, again spontaneously and without a strategy, to become something else altogether. This movement, which continues to embody the spirit of self-management and independence to this day, exploded into a million pieces, leaving behind a perfectly defined, almost textbook, stereotype of what punk should be. At the same time, it gave way to numerous different sub-scenes that took its oppositional, dark and destructive seed one step further. One of these metamorphoses led to something that its exponents called "industrial music", which history has often portrayed as rather Manichean, but, particularly in its early days, proved to be an enormously important breeding ground for Western contemporary subcultures.

As a privileged front-row spectator of this new anti-genre that began with mechanical repetition, noise and the use of electronica, under the banner of “Industrial Music for Industrial People”, a young Jordi Valls (living in exile in the British capital for decades before returning to Barcelona in 2008), could have joined the growing list of names who emulated the work of line-ups like Throbbing Gristle, NON and Cabaret Voltaire. But Valls preferred to distance himself from the main scene with a project that is still difficult to pigeonhole today due to its unremittingly personal nature.

Vagina Dentata Organ was born at the same time as may groups from the first crop of English industrial bands, but the form and the concept of its sound and visual works make it impossible to limit its legacy to a simple label tying it to a particular time and culture. Vagina Dentata Organ is the surrealism of Breton, Dali and Éluard, Bacon's unwholesome darkness and the grotesque triptychs of Bosch, passed through the filter of post-punk. A collection of gruesome portraits of human emotions, primal instincts and cultural violence constructed with audible objets trouvés – field recordings in which the artist's only obvious intervention is the selection of the material. The pieces are enormously diverse: Holy Week drums, howling wolves, recordings of the final hours of Jim Jones’ sect in Guyana in 1978, the sound of a Harley Davidson motorbike on the roads of Catalonia’s Empordà... But they all share an attraction for the dark side of human nature, for the brutality that underlies social relationships and religious conventions and the dark and bloody element that hides in all of them, brought together by the small obsessions of Valls, the silent common denominator.

In spite of the radically aseptic attitude of its creator (who chose to let friends and acquaintances talk about him for this interview), Vagina Dentata Organ has had cult status for many years, and its work is sought after by collectors around the world. His singular "ready-mades", edited in the form of picture discs, are already icons of the recent history of sound art and experimental music. A name and a professional career that are synonymous with provocative symbolism, the destruction of taboos through impenetrable narrative and an anthropological fascination that suddenly becomes perversion, all blurring the line between document and visceral portrait.


AVANT #9. Victor Nubla

Part I.
Interviews with Victor Nubla, Pascal Comelade, Juan Crek and Rafael Duyos. (In Spanish and French)

Part II.
Music selection

The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Victor Nubla includes interviews with Pascal Comelade, Juan Crek and Rafael Duyos.

When Victor Nubla and Juan Crek founded Macromassa in 1976, they began more than just a simple duo. To many people, this Barcelona group is the touchstone of independence in Spanish music: the first fanzines, the first self-produced record in the country and a musical attitude that lies somewhere between the destructive and the surreal positioned Macromassa at the point of convergence between many influences —futurism, punk, industrial, free jazz, Borges— that had barely permeated the "desert" of late seventies Spanish culture. But in spite of the lack of precedents, training or institutional support, Crek and Nubla’s personal immersion in the world of free improvisation and sound experimentation allowed them to clear a path for themselves and for future generations. Even so, Macromassa is by no means all there is to say about Victor Nubla. His vast, indefinable career, both solo and as part of many other lineups (Dedo, Aixònoéspànic, Leónidas, Massa Fosca, European Experimental Composers Orchestra, Secreto Metro and more), forms a complex puzzle that initially seems as hard to put together as the found pieces of jigsaws that Nubla has been collecting and rigorously cataloguing since 1984.

To solve this impossible puzzle, which consists of Nubla's discography (with dozens of releases), his bibliography (in and out of his publishing company Misántropos) and other activities (his crucial cultural management work with Gràcia Territori Sonor, for example) from the mid-seventies onwards, we have to accept the post-avant-garde (anti-avant-garde?) attitude of a born cultural agitator who believes the most important aspect of his work is its popular nature. Experimental music born in the streets, not the academy, and reinvented a thousand times over on those same streets, in everyday life, in the surreal, in food, in the neighbourhood, in coincidence, in literature, in new and old global networks and in dozens of instruments. Because one of the most obvious distinguishing features of Nubla's extensive career is undoubtedly his radical evolution in his choice of tools for each of his artistic incarnations. From clarinet to voice, voice to radio, radio to sampler, sampler to computer, with effect pedals as more than just an ornamental flourish: a non-linear progression that indirectly tells the story of some of the changes that have taken place in music technology over the last few decades. The changes that have allowed this musician and die-hard resident of the Gracia neighbourhood in Barcelona, to fully develop his eternal semi-random search, while at the same time filling the stave of his imagination with ideas, memories, methodologies, metaphors and, above all, sounds that question formal certainties.


AVANT #10. Pelayo Fernández Arrizabalaga

Part I.
Interviews with Pelayo Fernández Arrizabalaga, Cristina Casanova and Sergi Jordà. (In Spanish)

Part II.
Music selection

The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Pelayo Fernández Arrizabalaga features interviews with Cristina Casanova and Sergi Jordà.

Pelayo Fernández Arrizabalaga (Laredo, 1949) grew up loving and soaking up the jazz standards popularised by Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. Up to a point, we could actually say that his music career is unquestionably linked to jazz; but hardly to that which is "standard". Inside and outside the genre, this musician—born in Cantabria in northern Spain and based in Switzerland—has gone to great lengths to turn a thousand and one conventions (structural, harmonic, compositional, methodological) on their heads, both in his solo work and in numerous group projects from the early eighties onwards. This transgressive streak has often gone hand in hand with another of the great vectors that cuts across all of his sound work: the idea of collage.

Clónicos, the group with a mutating line-up that he formed in Madrid in 1984 with Markus Breuss, is the perfect embodiment of this cut-out-and-paste ideal, of the extreme mix of ideas and sounds that we still associate with Pelayo today. The group, which took Frank Zappa, John Zorn and other illustrious dissidents as possible points of departure, left its mark in the European underground of the time, not just with its curious superimposition of sounds, which jumped from free jazz to pop to electronic music to free improvisation in the course of a single track, but also thanks to an attitude that broke away from the seriousness that supposedly went with all things experimental. It was precisely in that unusual workshop of underground avant-garde that the combination of wind instruments (saxophone and clarinet), electronica and the use of a turntable as an instrument took on meaning for Arrizabalaga, eventually becoming his own particular triple modus operandi.

By the early nineties, his experience in the electronic music studio at the Conservatory of Basel under Thomas Kessler helped to definitively lay the foundations for a compositional style in which sense of humour is still a constant, not in a gratuitous way but through an inertia that is almost innate and, very often, as a healthy antidote to the inflexibility of his environment: the same humour that is already present in songs by the Clónicos (look no further than “Kakabulistán” with unwitting vocals by king Juan Carlos I of Bourbon) continues in Arrizabalaga's electroacoustic work in Spain immediately before and of course after his training in Switzerland, challenging the conventions of the academy, as shown in pieces like his "Adagio with Chicken" for violinist, cellist, sampler and fryer (with chicken). This innately ironic spirit exists side by side with a certain synaesthesia that is sought-after rather than natural, but nevertheless present at different levels in his work. His "cross-modal integration" may be the fruit of his broad experience in the plastic arts, rather than the result of the anomalous workings of his fusiform turn: "yeah, if only..." he says with a smile on playing on his lips. His expressive graphic scores, the extremely theatrical performances of the Clónicos and the omnipresence of collage as a creative technique all correspond to a way of seeing the world based on intuition more than formulas, a creative method that replaces clinical analysis with (pre)sentiment or, as regular collaborator since the days of FMOL Trio Cristina Casanova says, "the enthusiasm of a little boy".


AVANT #11. Juan Hidalgo

Part I.
Interviews with Juan Hidalgo, Esther Ferrer, Rubén Figaredo and Hénar Rivière. (In Spanish)

Part II.
Music selection

The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Juan Hidalgo features interviews with Esther Ferrer, Rubén Figaredo and Henar Rivière.

The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy defines "Ockam’s Razor" as a philosophical principle according to which simple theories are preferable to more complex ones—also known as the principle of economy or the principle of parsimony. This concept, attributed to the Franciscan Friar William of Ockham, is a perfect fit for much of the work and activities of Juan Hidalgo (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1927). In the course of a complex career that resists easy classification, this multidisciplinary artist has skilfully used this imaginary razor to gradually refine a visual, poetic, sound and, above all, conceptual discourse that combines elements like everyday life, the apparently superfluous, irony, sexuality, and many more His work involves a constant exaltation of the senses, which goes back to the play of lights, colours, tastes and smells of his childhood, and which, with some distance, can be mapped onto almost all of his output. Hidalgo’s work offers a new, distinctive take on the legacy of Duchamp (whom he calls "my grandfather"), intertwined with the influence of Zen Buddhism and Eastern philosophy.

Zaj, the collective he founded with Walter Marchetti in 1964 (and which also involved the collaboration of artists like Ramón Barce, Esther Ferrer, José Luis Castillejo and Tomás Marco), which blurred the lines between poetry, music, action, theatre and the visual arts and merged them into what Zaj called "etceteras", still represents one of the major turning points in the arts scene in Spain during the second half of the 20th Century. In his work with Zaj and outside of it, Hidalgo has undeniably influenced not one but several generations of Spanish sound artists, who not only acknowledge his historic precedent (he was the first Spanish artist to present works at Darmstadt and the first to compose an electroacoustic piece), but also see his promiscuity of languages and his radical approach to the artistic act as a change of paradigm, synonymous with a renewal that was absolutely essential in periods of cultural and political obscurantism.

A transgressor by nature, an almost involuntary provocateur, Hidalgo often says that Spanish musicians consider him a visual artist and visual artists consider him a musician. And that only the poets consider him a poet. The trick is obviously to see Juan Hidalgo as all of these at once. His work is like a Mandela, a symbol that represents totality and integrity, and can be understood as a model for the structure of life.

Juan Hidalgo in UbuWeb Sound
Zaj Group in UbuWeb Historical


AVANT #12. Carles Santos

Part I.
Interviews with Carles Santos and Pere Portabella. (In Catalan)

Part II.
Music selection

The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Carles Santos features an interview with Pere Portabella.

To a large extent, the history of the piano, from its origins in the eighteenth century up until the present day, is also the history of the music of Western civilization over the past three hundred years. Curiously, the instrument that revolutionised learned music in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, survived into the early twentieth century as the main means of popular entertainment and music transmission in the homes of the new European middle class. The arrival of electronic media pushed the piano into the background in comparison to its previous social role, but even in the unstable context of music in the first half of the twentieth century, with its radical changes and new sound sources, the piano held onto its status and mutated along with the times. Thus, most composers who spurred on cutting-edge music on both sides of the Atlantic around the 1950s, used the piano as a tool and as a means for expression.

The life and career of the musician Carles Santos (Vinaròs, 1940) has also been inseparably linked to the presence of the piano. "There are piano artists, and there are artists who have turned the piano into a work of art. Santos is a piano artist and an artist who has turned the piano into a work of art," wrote Manel Guerrero in the catalogue for the exhibition "Visca el piano!" So much so that even his brief period without a piano (when, rebellious, he sold it to buy a motorbike) allowed Santos to synthesize his relationship to the instrument with the same irony that hovers over many of his creations.

The education of this Valencian musician follows a similar pattern to that of other key figures in twentieth century music: he started as a student, went on to become a young performer, then a torchbearer for contemporaneity (first the Vienna, then New York versions), and later a composer. But in the case of Santos, this process acquired a transversal slant that soon led him to develop an aspect that defines his work to this day: an interest in related arts disciplines (theatre, film, dance, plastic arts), which led him to bring about a radical change in music (and particularly in the way audiences perceive the musical act).

Meeting the poet Joan Brossa was an unmistakable milestone for Carlos Santos, who describes him as the "ideologue" of the group of artists and activists that Santos himself sprung from. Their relationship deeply influenced his global conception of the performing arts which has led him, over the part forty years, to compose with a stage rather than an auditorium in mind, to mix scenes and specialities and to superimpose seemingly unrelated concepts like minimalism and romanticism. It has also led to him to make forays into film, putting forward alternatives and breaking traditional codes and structures, mainly in the company of filmmaker Pere Portabella, but also other directors like Gonzalo Herralde, Jordi Cadena and Carles Durán. In Santos’s work, extravagance, sexuality, histrionics and sarcasm are placed at the service of music and art, which he sees as a form of communication and entertainment, in the best sense of the word. Although his work implies a rupture that he shared (almost inevitably) with many of his contemporaries –the break with the single discipline, with linear narrative, stylistic continuity, and the distinction between high and low culture that can be seen in the work of Santos–, it challenges not only the status quo, but also boredom. A challenge that is part amiable and part hermetic, somewhere between popular accessibility and that unfathomable aspect of contemporaneity in music that Santos struggles to dissolve in acid.

Carles Santos in UbuWeb Sound


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