In focus

Luís Antunes Pena


Questionnaire / Interview

Part I: Roots and Education

How did music begin for you? Where do you identify your musical roots? Which paths led you to composition?

My entire musical path until the age of adolescence was essentially autodidactic. Before having begun the piano lessons I used to read music with some effort, and it was easier for me to compose than to read. Therefore I went on composing small pieces, which I used to perform for my family and friends. The idea to become a composer was becoming reality gradually, without having been an absolutely conscious decision.

Which moments from your music education you find the most important?

I think that the first important decision was entering to the already closed Arcos Professional School in Estoril and to the Composition and Theory Courses. There, supervised by Evgueni Zoudilkine, I began my encounter with the music of the Western tradition. Then I attended the Lisbon Superior School of Music, where I met António Pinho Vargas. Simultaneously I had contact with a lot of other Portuguese and foreign composers in Aveiro at the New Music Workshops (Jornadas Nova Música) organized by Diana Ferreira, João Miguel Pais and myself. At the same time I attended composition seminars by Emmanuel Nunes at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which many times coincided with the Contemporary Music Encounters (Enconctros de Música Contemporânea). Finally I went to study in Germany with Nicolaus A. Huber and I took up electronic music studies with Dirk Reith. It is difficult for me to highlight one of these moments, since all of them were very important to my education.

Part II: Influences, Aesthetics & Compositional Practice

Which references do you assume in your compositional practice? Which works from the history of music and the present are most significant for you?

I think that the most important works have been changing throughout my progress; still there is the influence of a composer whose works I revise frequently – it is Ludwig van Beethoven. Then there are other moments such as the audition of Anton Webern’s music performed by the Klangforum Wien conducted by Beat Furrer at the Cologne Philharmonic, which was a true revelation, or the premiere performance of “Quaderno di Strada” by Salvatore Sciarrino, or “Serynade” by Helmut Lachenmann. But independently from the authors one of the aspects, which has had the most impact on my work, is the consciousness of writing in the compositional process, what the French call as écriture. In 2010 I wrote a text entitled “The consciousness of Uncertainty” (“Bewusstsein der Ungewissheit”), which is precisely about writing as a composition tool as well as the noise of writing and the noise used as a method for creating uncertainty.

The opposition between "occupation" and "vocation" ("inspiration") constitutes one of the aspects in defining the artistic approach of a composer. Where, on the scale between the emotive (inspiration and vocation) and the pragmatic (occupation), could you place your way of working and your stance as composer? Could you describe the process subjacent to your compositional practice?

I identify myself with the idea of Fernando Pessoa, that the creative act follows an intellectual intuition. He explains that it is intellectual because only the reason can construct the form, and it is intuitive because only the intuition can separate the essential from the secondary. I agree with this distinction. In my creative process there are phases of significant structuring, which, in opposition to what happens with the composers of the previous generation, is not as much a method to achieve the unity or depth; in the first place it concerns an occupation with the material, which constitutes an incentive to creativity. It is through the manipulation, more or less systematic, that one learns about one’s own potential. It means getting to know what one encountered. On the other hand, there is a domain, in which the reason itself does not explain the choices. Eventually it is this domain, which distinguishes Art form craftsmanship.

Some would say that music, due to its nature, is essentially incapable of expressing anything neither emotion, mental attitude, psychological disposition, nor natural phenomenon. If music seems to express something, it is only an illusion and not reality. Could you define, in this context, your aesthetic stance?

In my opinion music has a liveable nature. Therefore, it is an experience, which appeals to the senses and emotions. There are moments in which music does something to us. It makes us think and move, it stirs our emotions and awakens us. This presumes an opening, a predisposition towards listening. Talking about communication in this context is difficult since it can be quite easily interpreted in a wrong way. I think that music creates conditions for the communication to be able to exist. Nevertheless this communication is not of the same nature as a text or discourse.

Are there any extra-musical sources, which in a significant manner influence your music?

Recently I have become interested in some aspects of sociology through diverse texts, like for example by Pierre Bourdieu. Some of my recent works, like “K-U-L-T” for piano and electronics and some pieces from “Fragments of Noise and Bloood” for ensemble and electronics were influenced by these texts. These are notions which infiltrate my working process, but which subsequently are diluted in audition. However, they have only been essential to give form to what is heard. One could say that this is a side of my work, in which the idea or concept becomes form.

Part III: Musical Language

What is your relation with new technologies and how do they influence your way of composing, as well as your musical language?

The computer, or better, the electronics in general, has a great influence in my work. Not only is the sound universe influenced by the electronics, but also the ideas connected with musical informatics are fundamental to my work. This happens when I compose electronic, instrumental or mixed music. There is an idea, which I like to use in order to describe this process of instrumental and electronic resynthesis. I create working environments, which include sketches on paper, pre-recorded sounds or software. Then I transcribe from one mean to another the information, which can be transformed into synthetic sounds or into a violin or percussion line. It is a flexible form of transforming and resynthesizing information. That is why I do not distinguish between the work in pure instrumental or electronic music. The working method is the same. The set of works entitled “Vermalung”, which can be translated as “painting-on-the-painted”, includes pieces for electronics and other for instruments following the idea of instrumental and electronic resynthesis. The next one will be “Vermalung V” for instruments based on “Vermalung I – Western Music” for electronics.

Which of your works constitute turning points in your career as composer?

Recently I have focused a part of my work on aspects connected with pulse and noise. Since “Im Rauschen Rot” and “Fragments of Noise and Blood” these two aspects have had a great impact on my work. Therefore, perhaps it would be legitimate to see in these works the beginning of a cycle. “Três Quadros Sobre Pedra” also represents a new impulse as it was composed in a totally different way from the previous ones. It was above all working in studio with the percussionist Nuno Aroso. The method was similar to that used in a pop music group: we went to a studio and kept on writing, experimenting, composing and recording. This is a method of work, in which the performer is not at the end of the chain of creation. He simply makes part of it.

Part IV: Abroad

What are the motives for your choice to live / develop your activity outside Portugal

When in 1999 I left to Germany, my intention was to study. I finished a superior composition course having achieved the maximum academic level, which one could get at that time in Portugal. I felt that it would be good for me to continue studying during some more time, as I wanted to get to know other methods, and to find myself in other cities with a more intensive musical activity. To live in a place 2500 km away from the city where Beethoven was born or where Stockhausen lived has an influence. I think that far away, there is a tendency to cerate mystifications about these authors. And the fact of having lived on “the other side”, so to say, was for me an important step towards freeing from the academy and the tradition, from their constraining qualities, in order to focus myself more on me and on the act of creating music. On the other hand, there are also cities with musical activity, with which we can create affinities and points of identification. Taking into consideration the influence, which a city can have on us and on our music, it is not the same thing to live in Amsterdam, Paris or Berlin. Either in Porto or in Bombay there is a “cultural scene” around, which awakens us for different aspects.

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