Interview with Juan Campoverde

Nina Dante : Juan, your music is full of deep, secretive, and lush magic. There is something profoundly worshipful about your music, something ceremonial and reverent. Your pieces often revolve around nature and the deepest human emotions. In your music, I hear the water and birds and stones and stars. You were born and grew up in Ecuador, and from my travels there several years ago, I can affirm that it is one of the most incredibly beautiful places in the world. Your duo for voice, flute and tape Basalto is in a large part based on whale songs, and basalt is the rock of which Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are composed; your quartet for two voices, flute and guitar Umbrales uses a text that likens a man to stone; your quartet for voice, flute, clarinet, and harpsichord/guitar Los lugares del deseo is full of metaphor linking the natural world to human desires, and is a lush landscape of a piece. Could you talk about the influence the natural world has on your music, and why it is so present (in direct and indirect ways) in your work? How much of Ecuador is embedded in your music?

Juan Campoverde : Thank you Nina. You have the words of a poet.

Indeed, I have lived half of my life in Ecuador and undoubtedly my music has been shaped by this fact in ways that I could not completely articulate. It is quite possible that what I see and feel as the raw and unmediated energies emanating from its volcanic landscapes (to mention one salient feature as example) has influenced the ways I think about forms and about expressive tensions and ruptures in my music.

On the other hand, I can say with greater certainty that fundamental aspects of my creative path can be found within the spaces that have emerged from the distance (geographical, temporal, psychological) that separates the experiences I have had in Ecuador, and those I have had here in the US. I think my music owes a lot to this sense of perspective, to call it in some way, that has allowed me to observe and feel what is dear and meaningful from different planes and gradients, using shifting lights and shades that touch the immediate and sensual and that equally illuminate the abstract and distant.

ND : Your writing for the voice and instruments is extremely distinctive and unique to you: lyrical, fluttering between textures (I think of the moving patterns that sunlight through trees casts on the ground), and deeply expressive. Spiritually, it is birdlike: always on the wing, always shifting... a sound is always in the process of becoming another sound. Technically, your scores decouple several parameters of vocal and instrumental sound production into different staves, which facilitates timbral shifting. In the case of your vocal writing, sound production is split into three staves: (1) consonants and vowels, (2) rhythms and pitch, and (3) breath. Your particular use of this method produces an effect that I feel when I sing all your vocal works: that I am in a secretive duet with myself. What impulses led you to develop your compositional style? How does the decoupling of parameters allow you to create the musical atmosphere you hear in your imagination?

JC : Probably the main impulse for my approach is the exploration of how simultaneous trajectories (musical parameters projected on individual time-lines) can weave together sound-forms that in their constant evolution facilitate the emergence of expressive energies defined by their transitional nature. Not as unforeseen occurrences however, but rather as the product of carefully designed environments that nurture this type of parametric interaction, with both its fractures and its strengths.

More generally, I believe that the use of simultaneous trajectories and time-lines also reflects the time/space compression that characterizes our existence and that can be observed around us if we care to see and to listen. The simultaneous presence of several streams of information competing for our attention; the porous and complex nature that informs the formation of our memories, feelings and sensations…

ND : In three of the vocal works you have written for Fonema, you embedded poetry by Ecuadorian poets. In the case of your 2017 quartet Los lugares del deseo, you set four poems by Cristobal Zapata, revolving around the sacredness of erotic love. In your 2013 quartet Umbrales and 2014 duo Basalto, you set fragments of a mourning poem by Efrain Jara Idrovo, which translates as Weeping for Pedro Jara; Structures for an Elegy. Both of these works are full of the most potent imagery, full of the natural world, full of the deepest expression of human emotion. What impulse led you to choose these texts? What is your relationship to the poets and their work? What role does the poetry play in your works, both musically and spiritually?

JC : I found that, as a response to what I felt to be a lack of historic continuity that has characterized several aspects of the musical life in Ecuador, it was helpful for me to embrace other forms of creative expression as points of reference and validation. In this regard, the resonances I perceived in the works you mention by Jara Idrovo and Zapata were instrumental in grounding and connecting my concerns and aspirations within a shared reality.

The depth and the power of their imagery, in a virtuosic balance with their meticulous approach to matters of form and structure, captivated my imagination, prompting me to explore latent aspects of my subjectivity.

Did I succeed in this exploration?
Does my work manage to inhabit these spiritual spaces?

I can only hope.

Further Reading/Listening
Juan Campoverde website
Efrain Jara Idrovo
Sollozo por Pedro Jara; Estructuras para una elegía by Efrain Jara Idrovo
Cristobal Zapata