Our upcoming concert with the Latino Music Festival is designed to showcase the unique compositional voices of Latin composers in Chicago. Do you find that your Latin heritage and culture manifests itself in your music? Or does your music strive to be free of cultural ties and influences?
Andrés Carrizo: I certainly don't consciously think of my cultural heritage as I'm writing, though I certainly don't consciously seek to shake it either! The anxiety of influence, be it artistic or cultural, is something that every creator has to deal with, particularly in this context that prizes "originality" seemingly above all else. But it also seems like folly, and one that's caused me a lot of frustration in the past: how do you rid yourself of the things and experiences that have shaped you? You can't, and to try and do it is to shoot yourself in the foot.
As far as my Latin heritage is concerned, it's a tricky thing, because there's an expectation that your music will somehow reflect a specific part of your identity, when identity (musical and cultural) is an incredibly complex matter. The use of "exotic" sounds as representative of Latin culture is certainly not something I wish to communicate, primarily because that's not something that's exclusively me. I certainly grew up listening to salsa, Panamanian folk music, bachata, merengue, bolero... you name it. It's definitely part of who I am, and I know it's affected me compositionally in an infinity of ways. But I also grew up listening to jazz, to classical music, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Piazzolla, and a number of other types of music. Yet I don't consciously seek to emulate these influences either, and they're as much a part of who I am musically and culturally as the prototypical Latin musics are.
Out of pure curiosity: was there a seminal piece of music in your past that lit the compositional spark in you? What was it about this piece that captivated you?
AC: Though there are hundreds of pieces that have excited me, and propelled me forward, I'd have to answer that Bartók's "Augmented Fourths" Mikrokosmos piece was the one that really set me on the path. Not so much through the music itself (though I love Bartók!), but because I had to arrange it for an assignment, and the experience of handling the sonic material and shaping it in new ways was incredibly exciting.
Fonema Consort is fascinated with the role of the voice in new music. How do you approach writing for the voice? Does its inherent qualities and associations change or influence your musical language?
AC: I find writing for the voice to be *incredibly* challenging! For two reasons: the first is that I find it really difficult to set text. I don't tend to read texts musically (i.e. hear melodies as I'm reading), and so setting them to be sung instead of spoken often seems dangerously artificial to me. And the second reason is closely related to the first: I often find sung text to be unnatural, or cliché... I have a lot of trouble ridding myself of this impression. It's definitely tied to my literal understanding of the text: I enjoy opera, though much less so when I can understand the language it's being sung in. This is, naturally, not true 100% of the time, but it applies more often than not.
Because of this, it takes me a long time to decide on a text when writing for the voice. I usually decide on short texts, or on exploiting vocal phonemes musically rather than setting linguistically understandable material. And this I find very satisfying, particularly in combination with other instruments: the voice can be the greatest imitator, yet turn on a dime and acquire a sonic personality that's all its own in an instant.