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Building music

Texts of researchers that compose include their thoughts on the creation of contemporary sounds


Sound sculpture by Marco Scarassatti: Tzimtzum – Palácio e refúgioALAN VITOR PIMENTA

The heroic times when a composer would engage in the tough battle to “construct the great revolutionary work” are now well past. This is how the São Paulo state born composer Marco Scarassatti, aged 41, a professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) starts his thoughts in Ofício do compositor hoje [The profession of composer today] (Perspectiva, 2012). This is a collection of 14 essays edited by Lívio Tragtenberg. Most of the texts are about marking out territory. Scarassatti, along with the composer Silvio Ferraz, also from São Paulo state, aged 52, from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), are two researchers who think consistently about the creation of current music.

“The composer’s field has become far vaster and more all-encompassing than the expansion capacity of the concept of music. Music has become merely one of the arts linked to sound or to sound art,” Scarassatti writes. “My work is much more part of the field of sound art than of music.”

Author of the excellent Walter Smetak, o alquimista dos sons [Walter Smetak, the alchemist of sounds] (Perspectiva, 2008), about the Swiss “sound sculptor” established in the state of Bahia who trained generations of erudite and popular musicians, Scarassatti says that he also likes to “build music materially, with my own hands.” Like Smetak, he invents musical instruments with pieces from discarded objects, bringing together conceptual fragments from other cultures, and shapes this combination by practising sound exploration through directed improvisation. His Sonax group creates musical sculptures and sound interventions with live electronics. The materials are wooden boxes, PVC tubes, discarded elements, pulleys, springs, ropes, pegs, etc. “My interests are acoustic sounds, the invention of new instruments bringing together new sounds in plastic form.”

Several sound sculptures are reproduced in his book. His dream is to “live off collecting objects and fragments of objects around us. To compose and recompose utensils, apparatuses, artifacts in general (…) there would only be negotiation and barter. A fair with objects to barter.”

Negotiation of listening, a fair with objects to barter. This might be the product of chance, but it does not look like it. Silvio Ferraz’s article, “Escutas e reescritas” [Hearings and rewritings] is constructed with interconnected aphorisms. “Writing music corresponds to letting it pass by in just one moment, a slice of life, people and places, in a handful of sound space-time.” Silvio proposes to “silence the codes” that are anchored “to the idea of art, and art overlaps with what is attractive, useful, important, noble, revolutionary.” Marco and Silvio reject “the great revolutionary work.” They want to interact with “life, people, places” (Silvio); to compose/recompose the world by joining together pieces of objects (Marco).

Silvio indicates other important points. He warns that “in the game of music writing, perhaps the most difficult thing is to remain a free power, like a loose line that links more than one collective, that delimits a space while also opening itself to others.” He compares the art of the composer to that of a swarm of bees. At the center, these insects are slower; at the edge, they are freer and faster.

“The art of a composer lies in sometimes finding the center and losing his speed of invention, and other times placing himself on the edge and getting rid of the codes that determine the collective element.” A paradox, because, while he is “happy to have his work accepted,” he “questions this acceptance and acknowledges having lost the power that lent him speed.”

He assumes the pendular movement between avant-garde and tradition, aware that “after time has passed, the comfort of the receptiveness of a collective is more than comforting, it is stifling. At this point, the composer is born, he who invents new ways of letting oxygen in.”

Marco and Silvio are guided by what the former calls “de-territorializing what one conceives of as music, de-mechanizing the ready-made and pre-established relations.” The other reminds us of Guimarães Rosa’s diving “into the speaking of the men from the hinterlands, connecting man to jaguar and jaguar to sound, as if a language were being born while we read. Perhaps this is the point that music should seek out, the point at which a language is invented, that unfolds and is invented at the same time as it is heard, always for the first time.”

To listen to and to read:
CD Sonax, with Marco Scarassatti, Nelson Pinton Filho and Marcelo Bomfim, Creative Sources, 2008, Portugal
CD Trópico das repetições, with the works of Silvio Ferraz, Sesc, 2008
Walter Smetak, alquimista dos sons, by Marco Scarassatti, book + CD, Ed. Perspectiva, 2008
Música e repetição, by Silvio Ferraz, Educ, 1998
Livro das sonoridades, by Silvio Ferraz, Editora 7 Letras, 2005
O ofício do compositor hoje, Lívio Tragtenberg (ed.), Ed. Perspectiva, 2012