José Luís Ferreira
Entrevista a José Luís Marques Ferreira / Interview with José Luís Marques Ferreira
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The composer’s path

The first stage began undoubtedly when I met Pedro Rocha, who was my teacher on the subject of Composition Analysis and Techniques at the Amadores de Música Academy. He really encouraged me to experiment. And after having experimented, the next step was to enrol at the Superior School of Music. There I followed a course that was identical to that of my colleagues. The second stage was when I met António de Sousa Dias; both he and his classes had and have to this day a great influence on my music. Not necessarily António de Sousa Dias’ music, but what he conveyed to me. At present, I follow my path, searching, studying what I can study, and that is where I am at the moment.




The importance of electroacoustic resources

They are very important to me, even when I write for instruments, and of course electroacoustic music itself on digital support, because we can do exactly what we want and do not have to depend on anybody.


This is a very old story – it goes back to Schaeffer himself – who asks this question and what it means for someone who is experimenting – and for a young composer whose pieces, be they for orchestra, solo players or for solo instruments, are not so widely played. Because it’s difficult, and often there are instrumentalists who like to play Portuguese contemporary music, but if presented with a piece by a young composer, they think it’s a bit risky and prefer to play it safe. And electroacoustic music happens to be a fantastic way of knowing immediately what works and what does not. The electronic transformation allows for the production and construction of sounds that are part of my search for a sonic/musical object, it allows me to make sounds that are not possible using just instruments.




Combination of instruments and electroacoustic resources: live electronics

It is a method and an instrument: an instrument that allows me to do more than just an instrument or a player can do, even only as far as the “spatialisation” is concerned. These are things that we used as a test in the first study; the second was already more developed and there will be many more from now on, be it with an oboe, saxophone or even with a bassoon. I am planning a series of studies in which I really try to create this method / instrument.


I am still a beginner as a programmer, still quite green, and there are certain things which I have not yet mastered. Of course, the idea of pitch-tracking [the synchronisation between musicians and machines] seems perfect, but I know it does not always work. For example, for the second oboe piece, I resorted to variations of intensity of a certain range, and when that variation was broken, the Max/Msp triggered a certain occurrence. Ideally there would be an interaction between the instrument player and the computer and between the computer and the instrument player. Quite honestly, and this is an aside – the idea of using a “sampler” to trigger and to reproduce events is something that I’ve come to increasingly dislike. I really want the sound to be transformed in real time with parameters that may eventually even be controlled by the instrument player himself.




Three electroacoustic works on digital support

The three pieces were made in three very different situations. The first was based on an electroacoustic work that I did for school. But I reworked it quite substantially and extended it for the competition and it ended up being twice as long. As for the purpose, I’m not sure that my intention was to be original.


Therefore, it started with an electro-acoustic work in which my aim was to create one single synthesis instrument that could make a very varied range of sounds and that was how it all started. The name, curiously, came about as a joke and for those who know the piece, it starts with a strong and grotesque impulse at the centre, to the right and to the left, and then it varies. I did not have much faith in that piece and it raises a lot of questions for me. It is an electroacoustic work, no doubt, but I don’t know, there is always that musical approach that makes me want to go on thinking of it as a study. I think that I worked on it in a musical way, but to consider it a work of music – even I have some doubts. But I was told I should participate in the competition and that I should send the piece, and when I learned that Jean-Claude Risset would be on the jury, I thought – well, I know Risset’s work, he’s going to listen to this and find it perfectly ridiculous. So then I decided to have a little fun – I gave it this name exactly because of the impulses that suggest, perhaps a cell, a tiny cell, and the title is a little joke in the end. Then I was really very surprised on the day I learned it had been chosen and I was really very pleased with Risset’s words, because he was very concise, he just said: “Very minimal, very original. Congratulations”, that’s all he said. And I was quite amused. In a way my music is very influenced by certain aspects of minimal music. Not its core, which I consider to be the dephasing, but the idea of repetition and the slow evolution being, in a way, the management of time. And it ends exactly with that dephasing, but not as slow, as it occurs in really minimal music, as for example that of Steve Reich.


The work I presented at the Música Viva Festival in Coimbra was an attempt to free myself precisely from Le Bruit… I tried to use a sound based on the sound effect of my voice, saying “Why?”, but I was at all pleased with the piece – I like what I had set out to do, but not the final result. Therefore, I am going to rewrite it, and if comes out completely different, it will become Why II, if it is based on the same ideas and if it really evolves, it will substitute the previous version, because I am not satisfied with the original. Regarding Le Bruit d’une porte qui…, which is the most recent, and that somehow contains some allusions (in fact Why also has some allusions to the first piece, but discreet ones), I think that here they very obvious, the impulses now are doors, but on the level of synthesis, and I’ve already use the so-called convolution. That is to say that I work on a sound content and go on to re-synthesise it with certain sounds, which allows for a varied range of sounds and movements. In this piece I continue to work a lot with the left and the right; in fact it is something the three pieces have in common and that will not be the case with the next piece, since I am working on a piece with four channels.



The influence of the techniques and concepts of electroacoustic music for instrumental composition

From a Certain Point of View can be considered acoustic music because – it is actually not mentioned, but it will be – the piece has two bassoon players and one normal “ensemble” with one instrument player for each instrument, except for the bassoons played by two musicians; and the bassoons each have a contact microphone linked to an amplifier that is right beside the bassoon player. He can switch the microphone on and off and, basically, the idea is to mix the aeolic sounds made by the bassoon with a simple “staccato” under a small impulse without a reed, which is actually quite powerful. The idea is to fuse these sounds with sounds produced by the rest of the “ensemble”. There is a large section in which the division of the pulse is constant, creating other pulsations and beats due to the various rhythmic patterns used. The idea is to fuse this aeolic sound with the orchestra as much as possible – naturally, in principle, I will be at the mixing table to control the balance between the sound of the bassoons and the rest of the orchestra. In the case of Synthesis – which is a saxophone quartet – the very title asserts the idea of synthesis. It was written for the Apollo Saxophone Quartet and it was the result of a proposal by Luís Tinoco to several composers – and according to the choices made by the Apollo Saxophone Quartet itself, the pieces would be played or not. Unfortunately, my piece was not played, although I received some compliments from some members of the Apollo Saxophone Quartet. And of course, the idea in this case was to write a quartet for saxophones – therefore, I could not use electronics – but on the conceptual level I did (concepts of synthesis, naturally), individualising the sounds in what could be called a kind of added synthesis and that’s how I made an instrument which happens to consist of four saxophones.


In the case of Kyrie, this was an invitation made by Ricercare Choir to make a religious piece and I really decided to compose a Kyrie, using the two Kyries – actually the piece is called Kyrie(s) – of the Mass in B minor by Bach. I merge the two, fortunately it does not sound like Bach and I managed to use the two pieces and merge them into one.


Harmonically, the piece is based on the second Kyrie – an interval of a major second and a minor second descending. Therefore, it is somewhat like a cluster with practically three notes, and there are three harmonic sections and two sections in fugatto – in a way it is a kind of homage to Bach, because he uses those themes as a theme for a fugue. I did exactly the same, only with other harmonic and rhythmic rules.


I can talk about (un)Broken. This is a piece that was written in 2000/2001, and was commissioned by the Belém Cultural Centre. It is a piece that also marks the beginning of my search – and that has everything to do with my idea of a sound object and a musical object. That is exactly what interests me: that the listener, recognising what could be a musical object in his or her mind, should understand its evolution. That is how my music is and that is how I compose the narrative. It follows a line that people – if they listen attentively – can follow and perceive the evolution of something that begins in a certain way and that when it ends it is already different, it is by then something else.


In the case of (un)Broken, it was the first piece in which I was really concerned with perception, and I purposefully exaggerated this, because I arranged five objects which are very different from one another. The piece is divided in two parts. Let’s say that there is sonorous discourse that one can even consider typical, a continuous harmonic discourse that evolves gradually, and that discourse is broken – five time as it happens – by various types of sounds: glissandi, aeolic sounds and the last of these is a perfect cadence. That is because the discourse, despite being harmonic, is not tonal, but there is in fact a chord with a dominant seventh and afterwards a chord with a really very explicit tonic that ends the first part. And, therefore, we could say that those small objects are going to cut, they are going to break up the main discourse and the whole of this conception is inverted in this second part where the objects begin to evolve and start taking on a life of their own and overlap with one another and, from time to time, they are cut; the discourse is interrupted by certain chords – that come precisely from the main discourse in the first part. In the piece, it is difficult to hear that – this conception of mine is difficult to hear – but let’s say that it was a first attempt and I think it sounds good. I never know if a piece of mine is good or not, I can only say if it sounds good or not – and for me the piece sounds good and I have occasionally thought of changing it, but I will not. The title (un)Broken is explained precisely for that reason: the name of the piece is related to what happens in the composition. I chose English simply because phonetically it sounds much better and it is only one word. In the case of From a Certain Point of View, which I made about two years later when I had in mind an idea that was somewhat simpler, because it deals with two objects that interact and in which one becomes the other and we can really wonder if that object is always the same, or if there are two, or if it is the same at different moments – that is why the title From a Certain Point of View makes complete sense.

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