Interview with Mauricio Pauly

Soprano Nina Dante interviews composer Mauricio Pauly on his vocal writing and the experience of collaborating on Fonema Consort's debut album "Pasos en otra calle".

Photo by Marc Perlish

Nina Dante: The vocal writing for Apertura del Becerro and Dust Unsettled are starkly different. In my mind, the melting lyricism of Apertura seems like a beautiful dream that the more distopian Dust Unsettled would have had. Could you tell me about your mindset and process while writing these pieces, and how they resulted in such disparate works?

Mauricio Pauly: The short answer would be that there is 9 years, 4 countries and a couple dozen pieces from Apertura to Dust Unsettled. But let's try and see if I can squeeze out some detail....

At the time of Apertura, late 2002 to early 2003 I had been exposed to a much smaller and narrower musical and life experience. That being said, Dust Unsettled is by no means a typical piece of mine (in as much as I can be the judge of something that's so immediate, so recent...) - it is in fact the first vocal work I have written since early 2004 when, immediately following Apertura, I wrote a soprano and string orchestra cycle using texts by Camilo José Cela. Although I truly like writing for voice and I have a good understanding of its potential and limitations, my taste for voice belongs in a place much closer to pop music than it does to contemporary music - this stands starkly in contrast with how I feel about (and how I practice) instrumental writing. Dust Unsettled is in fact a representation of how unsolved this issue is for me.

I like how you view the relationship between these two pieces...where Apertura is Dust Unsettled's utopia....Dust Unsettled wishes it was Apertura. That is partially true - the vocal part of the former perhaps wishes it had the supportive accompaniment of latter.  It is a good representation of my lopsided development!  The state of my vocal writing pretty much following on the steps of wherever I was in 2004 pulling and being pulled by 9 years of what to me feels like very strong changes and developments in my instrumental writing. But interestingly (and possibly by chance) this is true of the relationship between the texts as well.

ND: Speaking of texts, you use the poetry of Gabriel Montagné Láscaris-Comneno in both Apertura del Becerro and Dust Unsettled. His work is... unsettling. How did you come upon the work of this poet, what drew you to it, and why did you choose these particular texts?

MP: Gabriel is my oldest and closest friend - I have known him since we were children and we've been close since our early teens. His texts, naturally, resonate strongly with me - both aesthetically (choice of words, pacing, the odd grammar) and in terms of their subject matter. The combination of not knowing the details of the (certainly autobiographic) situations he's addressing but knowing quite accutely the way in which he thinks and processes ideas, events, relationships allows me to make connections with my own personal experiences from a rather unique vantage point. From a practical standpoint, I use his texts because he gives me complete freedom in how I use them. I am free to reorganise them, truncate them, repeat bits and even ommit entire verses.  Also, I don't have to bother with contacting publishers and other undesirable middle-men.

ND: Going back to writing for the voice, I've found that all composers have a very unique approach towards vocal writing: some reject the voice's inherent protagonistic role and it's tendency towards theater, others fully embrace these elements. What is your relationship to the voice, and how do you use or not use its native qualities in your work?

MP: In terms of orchestration the voice resists losing its auditory gestalt. That is, it cannot fully disappear within a compound sound - there's always enough that remains separate and perceivable as a voice. As such, we can't avoid to expect it to communicate verbally. Almost without exception, any noise or utterance has the potential (to the listener) to become a word...a word to become a phrase,..etc...and the whole thing to 'mean' something. Given the way in which I approach orchestration this is no small issue for me. Due to this and to my pop voice preferences, my tendency has been to present it in the foreground (as it will be in the foreground of the listener's attention no matter how much placed in the background of my intended texture) and flowing between speech and melody.

On the other hand, I often work the instrumental part to support, sustain, preempt or echo the vocal inflections. That is to say...I don't consider the above-described constraints symmetric. Instruments, and more specifically, instrumentally created compound sounds can be or refer to vocal sounds much more successfully than vocal sounds can refer to instrumental sounds. The former is potentially beautiful while the latter one is almost certainly silly and even ridiculous.

ND: Can you tell us a bit about your experience working with Fonema Consort and the Experimental Sound Studio on the recording of "Pasos en otra calle"? You came at the epicenter of our notorious Polar Vortex, do you think this arctic environment had any effect on the interpretation of your works on this album, on the parts of performers and yourself?

 MP: I had a wonderful time. The recording sessions were by no means easy - but the ensemble was well prepared, willing and open to experimentation and attentive to the real time collaboration with both me and Alex Inglizian the engineer.

On the day of the Polar Vortex at minus infinite degrees we recorded the instrumental trio. As everyone's car got trapped in the snow or refused to start, the day began by Pablo going around the whole city picking up each member. The five of us, huddled in Pablo's tiny car made it to the studio on time and we had a fantastic, productive and contradictorily warm session!