Entrevista a Carlos Bechegas / Interview with Carlos Bechegas
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Interview with Carlos Bechegas

 What paths led you to composition?


At 18 I began to give classes. I had finished the António Arroio School and my idea was to go to Fine Arts because ever since primary school my teachers used to tell my mother: “It’s a shame, this boy has to go to Fine Arts because this boy has an unusual talent” – as you always do for music, or for this or for that. And when I finished the António Arroio, after being there for five years, I thought: “I don’t need them to teach me anything for me to draw, I’ll just go on, pay attention and do it” and I had started to play some songs on the beach with my freak friends, and so on.


I began to get very excited with the performance side – with the relationship with the people. Painting is something very isolated, and so I thought: “No. I’ll follow music and so I need to learn music.” And perhaps one day – I thought when I was 18 and began to study in the Conservatory – I can leave classes and begin to paint, and so I’ll live from painting and from music, but this was never possible.


These photographs behind us show that side of aesthetic exploration on the beach, some photos, right? And this is the artistic side of expression, of the language, of the plastic aesthetic. But at the same time I was lucky, because the fact of giving classes allowed me always to have some financial stability, and I was always able to do various things, except that as I gave classes I was not always available and so an experience which could have lasted 5 years to do took 10! The Conservatory took longer, I was playing Jazz, I didn’t just dedicate myself to the flute, etc. All of this stretched out over time, but at the moment I feel good with myself because I think that it was worthwhile.


Beginning with academism, my time at the Conservatory was a structure providing work discipline. I knew it was going to take eight or ten years but that wouldn’t be a problem for me. Or rather, I was already giving classes, I was playing jazz at the same time and I did my improvisation workshops but on Monday I had to be playing and if I hadn’t studied by Friday, I had to sacrifice my Saturdays and Sundays.


Then, going to the Gulbenkian Contemporary Music Encounters was very important. It was fascinating for me, even without understanding any of it – I became very attracted to that world. In parallel with this, the more in depth training with two people, with Emmanuel Nunes – almost always as his assistant, but where I could accompany his work – and António Pinho Vargas. They were the first to start.


It was very interesting to be able to understand the complexity of that music but in an extremely simple way, how you started with a simple archetype towards greater complexity. This was important for me in the sense that I was already feeling improvisation as I was listening to FMP records from Berlin and felt that there were analogies between one thing and the other.


Also at that time, I did some workshops with Pierres-Yves Artaud. Here I understood what it really was to play flute with impressive technique, with sonority and then with a wide scope of interpretation. He also used to teach Baroque music, but then he used to do those things which we hoped to hear from him, related exactly to the context of improvised music.


Then starting Jazz with José Eduardo was also very important in my education – he was patient enough to spend some Saturday afternoons with me playing the piano and trying to hum over my first blues. He made some notes on photocopies of these pages, which were fundamental, and handed them out to all the members of the Orquestra Girassol. It was fantastic for that whole year, in the late 1970’s.


I think I should mention one thing that was fundamental, which I forgot to mention just before. I said that I had only been very impressed the first times I heard contemporary music in the Gulbenkian and at that time what struck me most was the energy in Jazz, that capacity of interaction. I had already started to go to Jazz concerts and to the festivals in Cascais in 1972 or 1974, I had already heard Plexus in 1974 but suddenly there was a huge bang. It seems somewhat complex for anyone who doesn’t manage to analyse this from the theoretical point of view and then I discovered contemporary music and thought: “But this is exceptional!” It had a part which was very cold, a certain coldness, and I said: “How I’d love to do this one day!”. It is true, it was just like that when I, basically, expressed that emotion. One day after hearing Plexus I thought “What I would like to do one day is to manage to transport this wealth of ideas and materials into Jazz and for improvisation.”


Because I already thought that in improvisation, what there was of it in Portugal, the people, from the point of view of mastery of their instrument and of technique, were a little… Well, it was what was possible, without a doubt. It is not a criticism, it was what was possible and things have every reason to be as they are. I thought that one day I would like to complete the Conservatory to become a competent instrumentalist, to be able to transport into improvised music and into Jazz all the wealth that was on show there, sometimes in a very cold and disciplined way.


So basically I feel satisfied, I can see something of myself in my work, and I feel a certain comfort for having found a path, which was always systematised and thought out.


Later, in relation to the ACARTE, through Madalena Azeredo Perdigão, the creation of the Encounters in the Nova Música amphitheatre – which were produced by Rui Neves at the time – where we were able to listen to the English school, the Germans and the Workshops held with Steve Lacy and Evan Parker. For example those held by Constança Capdeville and the ColecViva group, with Fernando Grilo – I remember one, with Fernando Grilo, which was very interesting. But concerning the music, and improvised music, it was interesting to be able to get close to Steve Lacy and Evan Parker. I understood what I was doing later on. This possibility I have of going to some festivals and to have recorded with these people, I understood that, as Steve Lacy used to say, “The problem now is that we have produced many players of notes, these young people tend to play many notes but do not read, they don’t go to the cinema” – he told me in the Hot Club after an afternoon in the Gulbenkian.


This dimension is interesting because the relationship with these personalities, which I revere now, has made me being accused of being too deferent with them. In fact on my solo record I dedicate some pieces to other musicians, and I dedicated them because they inspire me. This close contact, for me, is fantastic. Before going to play with the musicians, to be able to have dinner with them and hear their stories for me is exciting – it isn’t anything special, but it touches me.


For example with Emmanuel Nunes, to feel that I am facing a genius, I mean, someone out of the ordinary, from a dimension… And so, these days I usually say: “Between the copy and the original, if I had the opportunity to play with the original and record with the original I would prefer to record with the “old-timers” who are all over 65 years old, for me it is a privilege, and I have time for the others in this respect.”


Basically these were the most outstanding situations along my path, until I finished the Conservatory. I finished the Conservatory in 1988, and then I decided to stop the saxophones and begin to opt for the flute in the perspective of extended techniques and to look for my language and my discourse.


Interview with Carlos Bechegas

 As an instrumentalist you began with the saxophone, but then you followed other pathsÉ


I played saxophone for 12 years. What happened was that I thought that it was very important to improve myself by doing and entering in a variety of things, and if possible, practising.


I did theatre workshops and I began with musical theatre with Constana Capdeville. I have a piece of musical theatre which is called Despertando Ð which I wrote, I presented once, I filmed it and then it was put on the shelf, but which comes exactly from that. I produced two shows, one in the Comuna in 1991 Ð multimedia, with a sculptor and with a dancer also, one show lasting one hour. Or rather, I felt the need to improve myself through a variety of languages, not necessarily linked to music. When I finished the Conservatory I understood that, in order to do anything Ð I had a desire to innovate, I think that in art it is only worthwhile to innovate, to run risks, to make people stop and think Ð I had to dedicate myself to only one instrument. When I played Jazz I also played flute, I played about one third of the songs on the flute, but it was only a stage of learning, of enrichment.


When I finished the Conservatory I said: ÒNow youÕre going to look for your path and youÕre going to try to turn the flute into an instrument which can develop a language, to be a protagonist or, at least, have a role in improvised music. This will be your challenge. You can either manage it or not.Ó And so, after that I opened up the manual which I had been given by that composer who used to give classes in the Conservatory Ð which is a little older than us Ð Paulo Brand‹o. When I was in the sixth year of flute, he said: ÒDo you want it? Take it!Ó And he gave me the manual of contemporary flute by that American, Robert Dick.


I said: ÒWell, great, itÕs still not yet time!Ó and I packed it away for 4 years and only after finishing the Conservatory I opened it up again and began to analyse it.


Today I greatly admire a musician who plays on the saxophone what I would do, from an aesthetic point of view, if I played, who is Gianni Gebia Ð an Italian musician, younger (heÕs about 35), who does exceptional things. What does he do? Above all he incorporates the extended techniques of contemporary music. So basically this is what I do on the flute.


Interview with Carlos Bechegas

How do you define improvisation as an aesthetic language? In this perspective, what relationships do you see between the dichotomy between improvisation and composition? What do you mean when you speak of a Òstructured improvisationÓ?


I believe that basically there isnÕt as much improvisation as all that. Or rather Ð and most of the things that exist in improvisation exist in the other areas of music Ð I think that, basically, from the point of view of the materials, from the point of view of aesthetics, improvisation doesnÕt properly bring anything new.


Do you know how the Globe Unit started? It is extremely interesting, he received a commission, from the Berlin Jazz Festival, to organise a group Ð a quartet or a quintet. But the Jazz festival Ð I was reasonably open but I was Jazz Jazz. And he made a counter-proposal and asked if I couldnÕt put together a more open orchestra, a more extended group based on improvisation with a certain structure. He created the first group, he performed, and people loved the result and from then on the Globe Unit was born. And the systematisation that he looks for, and the ideas which he puts there, are ideas from contemporary music. Evan Parker, when he plays that amount of harmonics, all of that also comes from way back. Everyone incorporates it. Z’ngaro when he makes his effects with the bow Ð all of this comes from classical music.


I think that what improvisation brings that is new Ð by new I mean different Ð is rather an attitude of on the spot composition, from the emotional catharsis that exists, not only between the musicians but between the audience, and this emotion also comes from a certain risk. Now, I think that some structuring always goes on, even with the musician who does not improvise in a structured manner, or rather that structured improvisation implies the organisation of the time of certain parts/cycles in the narrative. Doing this or that at certain points may be suggested, but when a musician is improvising on stage for the first time with another musician, he has a notion of the time, he has a notion of what is a good or a bad improvisation and knows, at a given point, that it would be interesting to leave the other musician solo and deliberately stop playing. This is a clear intention to compose, that is, to drop out or to suddenly interrupt, isnÕt it?


Basically people base their improvisation on interiorisations, and these interiorisations can be more or less explicit for the listener. They may understand that something is already a clichŽ of that musician, but in fact, those musicians who declare themselves as the main references in improvisation are, above all, singular in their personal language, beginning with their sound and their quirks, their clichŽs. If we listen to Steve Lacy, for example, for me the great strength of his language begins in the interpretation, which is that sound, or rather, that melody played in a certain way. With an action, an interpretation, which does not have that sound, that attack, it doesnÕt have half the strength. Trying to play Steve Lacy on the flute is redundant, unless you put your breath into it and dirty it up with the voice, because that needs attack and body, and that gives it personality straight away Ð this is structure, this is determinism, etc. Steve LacyÕs language is extremely structured, there is a scheme of arpeggios which he repeats, there is a module, something which is very, very rational and very erudite.


What improvisation means for me is the fact that I, at a given moment, reached the conclusion that I could give, with what I have, more than myself Ð and it would be more important to people if I improvised than if I played music that was written down. This also has to do with the fact that I am completely lacking in memory and this also affects music. So it affects everything, I read some things, then I just forget it, but some sort of sense remains here, which I then call on when I improvise.


But for example, returning to improvisation, when I do solo concerts everything is very prepared from the point of view of the organisation and the sequence.

Interview with Carlos Bechegas

Or rather, the need to have a form, a structure is not something which does not belong to improvisation? What differences exists between the type of group you are in? What differences are there between playing solo and in a group? And in what way does this limit your work or not?


For me, playing solo attracts me because it is the most demanding situation for a musician, from the performance point of view, and from the physical, technical and aesthetic point of view too.


To hold up a narrative for one hour all by yourself means that you have to have what it takes to do this and so this, basically, ends up by being a more rewarding challenge for you. By playing solo, you are at ease, you establish the narrative and the journey, in fact.


When I play in a group, in an ensemble, especially in certain moments, I want to focus, to bring more detail Ð diversity is a part of me, it attracts me. I have a panoply of material and I can be aware, according to the group, of those characteristics, of what I can do that is more interesting. I become more aware of the use of certain materials, of certain responses, according to the context where it will occur. And very often Ð just as an athlete takes stock of what he or she should do before jumping Ð I, for that concert, focus on whether it would be more interesting to play this material or other material, or try to be aware of the possibility of leaving some stuff for solo playing, as I heard it on the record, and so I internalise this groundwork before I go to play and, normally, when I am on stage this comes to me.


Basically this structure comes and I organise myself in this way. This doesnÕt mean that it couldnÕt be done differently. There always has to be a sense between your ÒintentionsÓ and whatever may be happening, and which you never know from one moment to the next. But there is a certain foreseeability Ð for example, the last record I made, Right Off, with Derek Bailey Ð he had the electronics, itÕs a bit like him behind me, you see? It was a little impetuous. But I thought it was interesting because he would do impressive things with his amplified guitar. For example, I interiorised now with Schlippenbach, to always give him the initiative and to always be resting. It is always being a bit behind and, I donÕt know, it would be interesting if people noticed this. On the record itself I see the result of this decision, of this option to hang behind, to always be giving the initiative to the piano.


So thatÕs basically how it is, there is always a way for you to establish previews and to prepare a kind of discourse. ItÕs just like football Ð that is why football is so beautiful Ð you prepare a tactic and then it is only great if you pull it off, so if you have a tactic which is becoming redundant and that the others realise it isnÕt working, you take your options at the time and do the alterations. This is improvisation. Football has a lot of improvisation because of this. And within a group also, basically improvisation is teamwork.


Jazz is a bit halfway between completely written music and improvisation because it has more rules and it has that school, that systematisation. But I should tell you that it has happened, in one concert or another, or for example now in the seventh record that IÕm preparing, that there wasnÕt much systematisation. You feel that itÕs all very tense, very nervous, always on the move, always moving, there wasnÕt much time to think and this is also interesting.


But what I think is very curious is that when we are young there is a certain density, a certain precipitation, there is a certain hurry to get things out, not giving enough time for things to become defined. And for me, improvisation is the capacity for you, in the middle of something which is not clear, to suddenly bring things into focus, make these things clear for the listener, to make sense and then unmake it, then you make another ÒsenseÓ and unmake it Ð this is improvisation with quality.


In improvisation it is impossible for you to always have quality. With written work you can control that, you can have that pretension, but not in improvisation. But what is interesting is that at a certain moment you get caught, you understand? And now where are they going, and now how is this going to end? I mean, the crowd, right? And the musicians themselves, right? And suddenly it falls apart and youÕre there for five minutes where nothing happens and everyone is all over the place and suddenlyÉ There are cycles, arenÕt there?


Do you know Peter Kowald? Well theyÕre not in a hurry to get to that point, to clarify it, you see? And then they not only clarify the aesthetic, they clarify the composition itself and then also add more emotion and what we get over in five minutes or in three minutes with them it takes ten minutes, or if necessary it can last half an hourÉ That is the difference. Things that you no longer need to interiorise, this pace of composition is already there, it has to do with life, with experience.


Interview with Carlos Bechegas

 You have been collaborating with top names in improvisation: Derek Bailey, Kowald, Schlippenbach, Michel ƒdelin, and with this you already have four records, besides Flute Landscapes. They are all quite different, because the result is different according to each musician with whom you are playing Ð could you point out the type of language you used in each of these four records, specifically the CD with Michel ƒdelin, which is clearly different to the others.


I will begin with the aspect which I think is similar and that, basically, has to do with my quest to be able to give the flute a possible voice in improvisation, which could provide a response to the context of the materials in improvised music.


As the flute is an instrument with a more delicate sound, with a timbre with fewer harmonics, one of the ways I thought that could resolve the problem would be diversity, and because it obviously attracted me, I was drawn to what I was hearing in contemporary music. Diversity is in fact an aspect that runs through my work as a flute player. This diversity is obvious in my first work, which is why I called it B’blia (Bible) Ð all of that can be very much more developed over the following years. Flute Landscapes, as the name tries to indicate, are a diversity of landscapes played on the flute. This record also has short takes Ð the idea is that they are not so much narratives but mostly possible paths, matrices.


Flute Landscapes, the second record, signifies freedom from electronics, which up until then had always been a support for me, one way for me to support myself given the fragility I felt of presenting myself on stage with only my little ÒtoothpickÓ in my hand. I felt naked, unprotected. And then, exactly when I finished recording Carlos Bechegas Projects, which has 4 songs with electronic flute with Pitch to Midi and also with the group X, I said: ÒIÕm going to try to find a way out with acoustic flute.Ó And so this work was born. Then came the record with Kowald, which was the result of an invitation from the Festival Òî da GuardaÓ, where I proposed that Kowald played also, using electronics. I did a concert in Guarda and then in Lisbon and simply asked him to also make a record. Then he said: ÒNo, if you donÕt mind I would prefer it Ð he had already listened to me in a workshop Ð if we tried it first with only you playing the flute.Ó Very well, then. And this record is exceptional from the point of view of improvisation.


The record has 13 takes, we recorded 15 takes, all straight off! We only left two out! We recorded 4, we listened, next. We recorded 4, we listened, next. And thatÕs how it began. He did one thing on the double bass for 15 seconds: ÒSee, if you arrange something that goes with thisÉÓ I did it, there it is. In fact, we did one after the other, "itÕs better if we start to make notes!" Or rather, we quickly defined 7 takes straight off, 3 or 4 based on his ideas and 3 based on my ÒartificesÓ. We got 7 takes just like that. We recorded everything, one after the other, we went to lunch and then recorded the rest. We ran along to the BelŽm Cultural Centre at 5 in the afternoon, as we had a concert at night.


There are 13 takes and if you look at these pieces youÕll see that more than half of them are exactly the same typologies I used to play solo on Flute Landscapes. There are more or less simply 12 or 13 matrices. Simply, on Flute Landscapes he dubs over, there are 28 takes because I did 12 or 13 interpretations and then recorded another 12, in second takes, with a slightly different approach. So, up to there everything progressed more or less with a direction. Then, of course, the singularity and action of Peter Kowald enters Ð in his time, his calmness, in his manner of playing, with his support which allows me to fly and here there are much more intense dynamics from the emotional point of view, there is that climax, in relationship to the flute recording which was colder. Then came the opportunity with Derek Bailey Ð here I thought it was interesting to use electronics again - and there came this record where the recording was completely spontaneous. It was start recording and the first take lasted 20 or more minutes, then the other also lasted 15, and then another 15, and then we used the best parts. The recording wasnÕt done live but it was followed by a live concert in the Serralves festival.


What I have done with these people is that they normally come to Portugal from abroad, and itÕs always me who produces everything. They have the possibility to play in Portugal and I say: "Look, I have the opportunity to play with this musician, how about it?Ó ÒAh, interesting, this would be very interesting, but we already have the budget forÉÓ ÒDonÕt worry about that, let me manage things.Ó ÒHow much do you have for this situation?Ó ÒWe have so much.Ó ÒWell, donÕt worry as IÕll handle the restÓ. Very often sacrificing a part of my cachet I do the overall financial management. So with Derek Bailey it was more ÓLetÕs get back to electronicsÓÉ And thatÕs what the situation was like.


This was the fourth record. The fifth and sixth, I had got to know ƒdelin through a few messages on the computer, and he seemed very interested in my work, in the way I used Pitch through Midi and in the language I was developing. At a certain point I went to Paris to do a concert with Jo‘lle LŽandre in Jazz Nomade Ð which is a relatively recent festival Ð where in fact I had a setback as I have had three situations where I am about to play with these people and they either die Ð unfortunately like Peter Kowald Ð or they are sick and canÕt show, and so I took advantage of the situation and we recorded this record with Michel ƒdelin in a theatre.


In fact this is also my experimental matrix, which he likes so much. He is a musician who gives classes and plays with the cream of French jazz, normally in projects under his name. He plays with Daniel Humair, with Franois MŽchali, who is a very well known double bass player also, but who was always greatly drawn to more experimental music and who couldnÕt fit into that slot. He told me: ÒYou are going to make me get into that slot.Ó Because this functions here, as it does everywhere, he used to say: ÒHere you are thought of as le super flutiste portugaisÓ. In fact there also arenÕt many and I was amazed with his reference. In any case he suddenly presented me with a series of flutes, little flutes, and we did a prior rehearsal in his house. The next day was the studio session and then he turns up with a series of little flutes and even those sounds to call ducks. I found it fascinating: ÒLetÕs go!Ó and we were there for an afternoon defining possibilities for systems based on certain matrices of material with this flute and with that one and we recorded 20 or more takes and chose 15 or 16. We played a bit of everything, as you say and very well, approaching the ethnic language a lot, and I find this crossover interesting, because, for me, it wasnÕt enough to improvise. To me there has to be an aesthetic within the improvisation, a certain story. I think that improvisation is stuck in a jam, because these days all the theory is there, people all play "in the style of" and everything is all very close to an impasse.


Interview with Carlos Bechegas

 What is there left to say about your work?


I establish a very close relationship with painting. This relationship is very important for me, as painting has helped me a lot to listen to sounds and sound has helped me a lot to see painting and to interpret. On the other hand there was another aspect which was also fundamental in my progress, at the end of the eighties, which is when I got into multimedia through the workshops with ColecViva, with Constana Capdeville. I also did an interesting workshop with the Welfare State International Ð an English company which then put on a show in the Gulbenkian gardens, in Lisbon.


This dimension was very interesting from the learning point of view, from the relationship with the other arts, and I only stopped because I understood that I had to opt to dedicate myself exclusively to the flute and to a discourse.


It occurs to me to only say that, in spite of the Internet and the ease of passing on information and discovering things, in spite of all that, you still have to be there, you still have to be in the centre, to know the people and be able to speak to them face to face.