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The Myth of the Free Spirit



"Going back to the past entails a big part of how we conquest the future".

Luis García Montero, 2019




Alberto Bernal
A tempo (2018), for 4 tenor saxophones and projected metronome(s)

John Cage
Four5 (1991), for saxophone quartet

Rafael Liñán
Esperanza (2018), for saxophone quartet and electroacoustic

Marc Mellits
Black (2012), for saxophone quartet

José López-Montes
Candor Chasma (2014), for saxophone quartet, electroacoustic and video projection

Henry Pousseur
Vue sur les jardins interdits (1973), for saxophone quartet


Notes to the program

By Marina Hervás
December, 2019

Utopia does not end, as it happens in PowerPoint presentations that accompany motivational talks, to the "no place", a concept that, artificially, is filled with everything that we cannot manage to encrypt in our present horizon. Nor should utopia be confused with a vague concept that would fit any (political) option that suits us to complain about what exists. In other words, it is not a mere flight from the present.

Utopia is one of the richest and most complex concepts that philosophical thought has given. And it is Ernst Bloch, specifically, who thought about it together with music, thus giving the so-called "art of time" also a tool to think of space as absent, but not for that reason "without-place". Bloch, in a few words, tells us that space and time, in general but also in music in particular, are related -at least- in several ways: on the one hand, as "desired-sound", in which the Music serves to "touch" what is no longer there because it could never be. It is his interpretation of one of the myths of music origin, that of the satyr Pan chasing the nymph Syrinx. Terrified by the pursuer, she asks to be turned into reeds in a stream. He, neither short nor lazy, cuts the reeds - another Syrinx - and builds himself a flute with which he plays - invokes, if we become more poetic - both the absent Syrinx and what could not be between them, such as the disappearance of Syrinx that originates - forever from that point on - that sound. What is silenced or what is absence would be the object of that "desired-sound". Another way of understanding utopia consists in the development of a model that is outside of what exists, but is articulated, ideologically, to criticize what does exist, whatever it is. It is a common tool: almost everything is already hidden in the structure of the phrase “Such and such should be a better person” (with which we assume that there is an external “best person” model from which to judge someone). In general, the concepts of good, evil, or truth are usually located in that external and abstract place (no-place, of course) that allows us to feel more comfortable with what exists. Another way of understanding utopia is to introduce what we placed outside of what exists in what exists. If we expected that "x" has something in himself that can make him change, we would be positioning ourselves here. Lastly, at least provisionally, Bloch proposes a last relationship with the utopian, thinking of “waiting without patience” or “waiting for what is to come without hope”, that is, thinking about a relationship between what exists and what come (that is, between time and space) in which an expectation is not imposed on its development. In short, things could be radically different if we could radically think differently about them.

It is from this multiple framework that the program of this concert is articulated. A tempo, by Alberto Bernal, brings into play the difficulty in understanding how music relates to what is perhaps his biggest problem: time. Is time something external, from where music is ordered; Or is it more the music that each time generates other possible times? In A tempo the performers face the regularity - even when accelerating - of the metronome, which advances inexorably. But it is not so much about reading A tempo as a nostalgic vindication of time beyond its arrangement, but rather an account of the fiction of such an arrangement, which could always be another, which realizes that time, both as a figure external as internal figure, is always an abstract principle of domination. Musically, this question appears in chronometric time that seems to want to drag tempo configurations that resist adapting to the mechanical.

by John Cage belongs to his Number pieces. The large number denotes the number of interpreters and the small number denotes the number of the work. In this case, it is a work with a contemplative component, in which the sound varies very slowly. The interpreters have a lot to decide, because each series of notes of each interpreter has two ranges: where each one is supposed to start and the moment in which their sound is resumed by another interpreter. It is a work from 1991 and, although in general I try not to influence too much this type of informative data, it is relevant in the search that Cage was carrying out during these years, namely, the reflection on the time beyond the concrete life of human beings. In 1987 the version of ASLSP (As SLowaSPossible - “As slow as possible”) came to light, which, although originally (in the 1985 version) was supposed to be between 20 to 70 minutes long, Cage wrote it to be 639 years long. There's probably not even a planet by the time the performance is done. In this piece we observe the case of Pan and Syrinx, but reversed. The past is not invoked, but a future that only names it, veiled, the sound: the one that we can never fully go, the one that names our finitude, the only sound that we do not want to know anything about.

Esperanza, by Rafael Liñán, deals with other finitudes. Liñán has been concerned, for years, with two aspects: on the one hand, thinking about what are the elitist and elitizing components of so-called contemporary music and, on the other (although directly linked to the first aspect) on the position of each one regarding sociopolitical and economic inequalities. It recovers, to a large extent, music from different latitudes, styles and periods. Esperanza is, specifically, a work in which he endeavors in a musical reflection on the sea turned into a migrant cemetery. Can music position itself, from the sound, before something so terrible? How can music express those extreme experiences? Perhaps that has always been the fundamental question that music has asked itself, that is why we have tried to sing to love, death or life, to conjure its mystery. In Esperanza, in addition, from its title, utopia comes into play as its opposite, as hopelessness: perhaps because only if we have survived can we try to give a voice to the victims.

Hume said that repetition does not affect the repeated object, but it does affect the one that experiences repetition. Many theorists have argued about this, because perhaps there is never true repetition. Something of that was conceptualized by the minimalist composers, who play with a varied repetition of a rhythmic motif, thus asking the sound and the listener, at the same time, about what it means to repeat and the continual appearance of supposedly the same material. In music, therefore, we do an impossible exercise for what seems to be our chronometric time throughout our daily experience: we do repetitions, however difficult they are, and assume the consequences of those repetitions. In the work Black, by Marc Mellits, there is both repetition and what is impossible about it. From within itself, time boycotts itself, thus generating a compendium of interruptions that constitutes the initial part, which gradually transform into small cells that expand the rhythmic component towards a progressive search for the melodic in the intermediate. Funk and jazz creep into his proposal. Little by little, that small concession to the melodic is renounced to return to the initial gestures. Perhaps it is that the seed of repetition what has articulated western music, at least in those forms that have been considered nuclear, like the one in this piece, A-B-A (the one we hear in a sonata form, for example). But the second "A" is never such, but what becomes the initial material after what happened in B. Be that as it may, it seems that Black, with its repetition within the repetition of its form and from within sound, seeks what is opposed to the mere temporal flow we usually face.

Perhaps due to its Martian inspiration, due to its reference to one of the canyons of the Valles Marineris system, Candor Chasma, by López-Montes, it may be the closest to the generalized idea of "utopia". For decades we have imagined what could happen on other planets and universes. Everything we learn from outer space, however, gives us more doubts and, above all, more smallness. In other words, the beyond makes us rethink the here. At the sound level, this is worked with very wide sound layers that create long-range dissonances and, together with the very delicate electronics, refer us to the strangeness that life has been possible somewhere in the inhospitable space. The exterior, converted into vibration in the piece, serves as a figure of the strange in the everyday.

"Personal style is fed by a multitude of collective currents; we are the focus, the crossroads of intersecting trends, of crashing waves. Our own work, then, is a mirror of much that comes from elsewhere.": this is how Pousseur responded to Bálint András Varga when asked about his compositional style. In a world of composition divided, towards the middle of the 20th century, by different compositional proposals that involved a whole line of militancy, Pousseur faced one of the most aggressive composers of the 20th century, Pierre Boulez. Rumor has it that this happened because of Pousseur not wanting to completely renounce tonality, that hierarchical arrangement of sounds that, for centuries, has been the fundamental element of Western music. So, the "forbidden gardens" (by Boulez's prescription) that he looks at in his work, are those of the tonal world that can be expanded from the tools of the atonal one. It is his dissident farewell letter to paradise from the official account of "what is contemporary". The core of the piece is the coral "Herzlich tut mich erfreuen", by the-little-known-Baroque composer Samuel Scheidt. The work begins from scratch, with a very small sound. A sort of flutter and clusters go, so to speak, stretching the piece, and they reveal, fragmentaryly, elements of the coral that point out, like the breadcrumbs of Hansel and Gretel, the way back that has been erased forever. For this reason, it sounds both archaic and contemporary, perhaps because we still have to justify the possibility of this division. Following Walter Benjamin, it would seem that time is all that was suspended as an exception, as an “instant of danger.” The danger, for example, that everything could be different: perhaps that was the core of the absence that Bloch was trying to delineate.

The spirit was understood as that “something”, the “divine breath”, according to religious traditions, that gave life to a being and, in addition, made it different from mere objects. Its definition is one of the great challenges of our thinking. Above all, it was believed that, in the face of the finiteness of the body, the spirit is free and surpasses history: it participated, so to speak, in an order that went through particular existence. It was the way to find, in that short period in which we inhabit a space and a time, an answer to the question about the meaning of life, the why and the reason for all there is. Perhaps the negation of meaning and, at the same time, the impulse for life - as Beckett proposes, for example - is the cancellation of the myth of the free spirit and the number of the possibility of utopia: where the fact that everything is expecting to be done makes possible non-oppressive configurations of existence, so that the past, paraphrasing García Montero, is truly a conquest of the future.