In focus

Igor C. Silva


Questionnaire/Interview

Part 1 . Roots & Education

How did music begin for you and where do you identify your music roots?

Igor C. Silva: There was a lot of music available at my family home and thanks to this fact, since very early I have had quite naturally a close contact with different music styles. At the age of seven I developed an interest towards performance, and this also happened quite naturally since we had at home instruments such as piano or guitar, which I sought to explore spontaneously. These activities led my parents to sign me up to a music school where at the age of seven I formally began to study classical guitar. This more “classical” approach ended up being complemented by a somewhat more individual experience of other music universes, such as jazz, blues and rock; genres where the guitar has in fact a leading role. There were lots of hours of contact with the instrument, experimenting and transcribing the music that until then I had known only as listener. These pieces have become part of my music lexicon.

Which paths led you to composition?

IS: Apart from the contact with the instrument, I developed quite naturally an interest towards writing music that I improvised, and thence the will to see it represented by a score. At the same time, already at the beginning of adolescence, I began to have a serious contact with electric guitar, what led me to have even more interest in music universes where composition and performance are inseparable, such as jazz and rock. I was involved in various experimental jazz and rock groups, what certainly led to the need to compose for them. For me this is the most intuitive way of composing, and presently I still cultivate it. Already in the middle of adolescence I started studying formally jazz guitar and, simultaneously, composition; both of them became complementary in various projects that were arising, until I joined the composition course at the Superior School of Music, Arts and Performance in Porto (ESMAE).

Part 2 . Influences & Aesthetics

What in your opinion can be expressed by the music discourse?

IS: As a matter of fact I believe that the opening of the expressive and aesthetic limits in music creation is an indispensable attitude when it comes to the systematization of one’s own music discourse. From the moment when a composer seeks incisively (or at times almost obsessively!) for a determined sound universe, appearing to him/her as an adequate music material for his/her compositional practice, it becomes inevitable that the music discourse gains new strength. The capacity of an artist to focus his/her creative attention constantly on a determined aesthetic/expressive point, allows for a development of his/her own language. The freedom emerges thus as the most important factor in order for the composer to be able to look at his/her own music from the inside, and not necessarily through the prism of the canons that the current music practice imposes.

Are there any extra-musical sources of inspiration that influence your work significantly?

IS: For me as composer it is completely impossible to become isolated from the massive quantity of stimuli, to which we are being exposed every day. Wherever I find myself, technology, noises, compulsive marketing and a globalization constantly invade me. Inevitably they influence me both as human being and composer. From the moment that a musician or composer has contact with these motivations, never again does he or she listen to the world in the same way. It is therefore impossible that music would remain the same just as 100 years ago, when the soundscape was totally different. The noise of the radio, of a sizzling amplifier or the possibility of listening to music at considerably high volume levels, directly influence my compositional practice. To ignore these stimuli, making them completely inexistent in my music, would mean to ignore the present and the world where I live. It would make my music completely decontextualized from the surrounding soundscape.
If one looks at some of my more recent pieces, as zap_ping_ (2014) for trumpet, percussion, electronics and video, one will see clearly that there is the obsessive idea on how television as a tool of globalization corrodes our vision of reality. The same happens with You Should Be Blind to Watch TV (2013) for ensemble and electronics, which is based on exactly the same idea, where the sound universe characterizes the whole noise, compulsivity and the almost ridiculous side of the modern media, with which we have to deal on a daily basis. On the other hand, in works as Non”/sense%)8$messages#_! (for a nonsense reality) (2012) for large orchestra and electronics, there is also a socio-political side. In this way I intend to create a kind of reflection on the almost senseless present where we live, and on how we subtly loose the notion of the real, and how one virtually leads people to a kind of social insanity.

Part 3 . Language & Music Practice

Describe your music language, on the one hand, from the perspective of the techniques/aesthetics developed in music creation in the 20th and 21st centuries, and on the other, having in mind your personal experience and your path from the beginning until now.

IS: Since very early my music has become rapidly influenced by technological means, either the computer or electr(on)ic instruments. This influence exists obviously due to the fact that I studied electric guitar, an instrument that is essential to sound manipulation. Additionally, I have always listened to music that uses electronic means. Therefore my compositional practice has been since early influenced by electronic tools, what inevitably led me to write music essentially for instruments and electronics, from solo pieces to large orchestra. The computer is without any doubt one of the main tools in my compositional process, being allied to score writing in terms of composing for instruments.
On the one hand my music is close to various aesthetic currents related to electronic music, with influence of concrete music, as allied to instrumental writing. On the other hand the use of live electronics has also been an extremely important tool for the aesthetic representation of my music, as well as for the definition of the sound universe where I intend to belong.
There is also a very strong connection, not necessarily with the aesthetics, but yes with the spectral technique. This approach has been very important for creating an association between the instruments and electronics, since my main objective is a junction of these two realities within a one-and-only sound universe.
Obviously a certain freedom of interpretation has also a clear influence in my music, as I provide the performers with different levels of indeterminacy by means of improvisation, many times interconnected with digital interactive systems. Once again this allows for a connection and strong proximity between the performer and the computer.
Finally, and this time as listener, I have always been interested in the music of certain underground universes, such as noise, glitch, free jazz, etc.; they are also present in my compositions. It is thus inevitable that my music has begun slowly distancing itself form the formal/traditional classical universe, frequently moving towards more ambiguous worlds; and this ambiguity inspires me enormously.

Do you have any music genre/style of preference?

IS: I have been more and more interested in different music genres that, although apparently distant, have as a common idea the use of electronics and a certain experimentalism and inventiveness, including glitch, IDM, noise, indie and some alternative rock. When it comes to music that is closer to a classical tradition, I have been considerably interested in music practices that are once again related to electronic music and audio-visual means. Fortunately there are various groups and ensembles that are focused on the creation of works joining instruments, electronics and video, thus creating quite up-to-date artistic objects.

When it comes to your creative practice do you develop your music from an embryo-idea or after having elaborated a global form? In other words do you move from the micro to the macro-form or vice versa? What is the course of this process?

IS: Most commonly I start from extra-musical ideas, thus creating elements that are in a certain way related with the initially idealized subject or environment. These elements are normally recreated electronically, and so almost always the electronics emerges in the phase prior to the instrumental writing. In this way, the small elements created from the various electronic studies developed for a given piece gain more and more importance, progressively influencing the musical writing. It is in this phase that I plan the form of the work, joining the various music materials, either from the electronic or performative point of view.

How in your music practice do you determine the relation between the reasoning and the “creative impulses” or “inspiration”?

IS: I always intend to preserve a more impulsive and spontaneous approach to my music. In the first place, because the act on its own turns out to be extremely pleasurable. In the second place, because the music result is generally more transparent and clear, transmitting more directly my music ideas.
Nevertheless, in spite of trying to guide myself within certain impulsivity, this phase of composition is actually preliminary where through improvisation, either on instruments or on electronics, I allow myself to find the basic elements. However, after this impulsive phase a certain maturation of the material is also important. This maturation is obviously achieved by means of reflection and careful “cleaning”. Still, in spite of this process of reorganizing the material, I always try to preserve the same impulsivity and spontaneity, thanks to which these elements were born.

What is your relation with the new technologies, and how do they influence your music?

IS: For me it is completely impossible to dissociate the composition from technological evolution. If we look at the past, composition has always evolved in parallel to instrumental development. I think that it is perfectly natural and almost obligatory to use the tools that are at this moment developed and that characterize so much the sound universe that we live in, in the 21st century. These tools allow me to achieve expressive and aesthetic results that otherwise would be totally unapproachable. The constant use of amplification, electric instruments, electronics and video, makes part of the technological reality that I use constantly in my works.

Does experimentalism play an important role in your music?

IS: Without any doubt. For me composing means searching, and one of the ways to come across the sound, expressivity and aesthetics that one aims at, is in my opinion achieved through experimentation. It is quite common in my compositional process to constantly experiment with techniques, sounds and different instrumental approaches directly on the instruments, as well as to experiment and try out various interactive relations between the instruments and electronics. I spend various hours playing, improvising and recording the music elements, in order to use them later and manipulate electronically. Consequently I come to understand the validity and interest of each one of them, and to obtain a distance of judgement. In this manner the instrumental writing is never dissociated from the electronic writing, frequently preserving a relation of synthesis between the two realities.

Which works can you consider turning points in your career?

IS: In from underground_03 (2011) for ensemble, electronics and video I explored more profoundly for the first time the relation between a large ensemble and electronics; I wanted the digital part to be the most performative possible. Apart from this purely technical challenge, it is also one of the first pieces where the relation between the electronics and ensemble is achieved through various spectral techniques such as synthesis and re-synthesis, thus creating a strong fusion between the instruments and electronics. This approach has become quite common in the works that followed.
In zap_ping_ (2014) for trumpet, percussion, electronics and video once again I explore the relations between instruments and video. Nevertheless, it is my first piece where I use live video, thence creating a strong relation between the image of the performers and the image generated by the video. Once again the means used in this piece have began to influence a great part of the music written after the composition of this work. It is also an extremely important work for me due to the use of electronics even more independently than it had been usual before; almost as if the electronics were a third performer added to the duo. The electronics begins to draw more and more on the universe of glitch and noise, to which I have been more and more introduced. Leaving the techniques aside, zap_ping_ is a work where the message is conveyed in an extremely clear and direct manner, without “detours” or false poetries. This raw and direct side came to be more and more important to me, influencing from this point my aesthetics.

Part 4 . Present & Future

What are your present and future projects?

IS: My work Frames #87 (2011) for clarinet, live electronics and video has been recently published on the CD Press the Keys . Frederic Cardoso . Clarinet & Electronics PROJECT. This has led to the realization of various concerts with the piece. This new CD by the clarinettist Frederic Cardoso presents works for clarinet and electronics, with special attention on Portuguese contemporary music.
Still in July 2015 I was making an artistic residency at the LEC – Lab for Electroacoustic Creation by the Miso Music Portugal, where during three weeks I was working on a work entitled Poporn for flute, live electronics and video, for the flutist Tatiana Rosa; the work will be premiered in 2016.
Likewise, when it comes to CD editions, recently I have composed a new work for baritone saxophone and electronics, entitled Numb (2015), for Henrique Portovedo, which will be included on a new CD whose recording in planned for November/December 2015. There are also various concerts with this piece, scheduled in September in Aveiro, in October in Brussels and in February 2016 at Casa da Música in Porto, within the presentation of the CD.
At this moment I am finishing a work for electric guitar, electronics and live video entitled Slowmob, commissioned by the guitarist Gil Fesch; it will be premiered in 2016.
Apart from being involved presently in a Master’s Degree Course in Live Electronics at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, I am also initiating a long-term project to create a multimedia opera, which will be premiered somewhere in 2017/18.
Finally, there are various concerts with my music scheduled during the next year.

Could you highlight on of your more recent projects, presenting the context of its creation as well as the language and techniques used?

IS: In the work Slowmob, composed for the guitarist Gil Fesch, I intend to create an approach to the universe of electric guitar, which, although directly related with the idiomatic writing for this instrument (being naturally connected with the jazz and rock culture), approaches this instrument in a quite experimental way –there is a relation between the performer and instrument almost similar to percussion. It is a work where the coexistence between performer and computer is totally interlinked with regards to the timbre and gesture, making that the two realities are constantly superimposed. At times it is difficult to make a distinction between the instrumental and digital parts. In this manner the work gains a great expressive force and density, allowing it to fluctuate between aesthetic universes ranging from contemporary experimentalism to pure noise music.
One of the major concerns of this work was without any doubt trying to create an environment that would be extremely linked to the almost mechanical side existing in the electronics and which naturally gravitates to the instrumental part, creating also a very strong relation with the live video. For this piece I use a webcam capturing the movements of the hands and the various objects used to play the electric guitar, thus reflecting in a clearer manner all the subtle movements that the performer executes on his instrument.
The junction of the sound environment with the image created through the real time manipulations on the performer’s figure creates an environment that recalls certain underground practices. Obviously this aspect has become increasingly important in my music, moving away from the exaggerated lyricism that doesn’t have to do anything with the sounds that surround us daily.
It is a work that aims to reflect on the form in which the crowd, the people, the social masses become more and more apathetic, ceasing to think for themselves.

August 2015, Igor C. Silva
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