In focus

Pedro M. Rocha

“I would say that a more natural path is music’s evolution towards major complexity of acoustic relations, without making judgments that today’s art is superior to past. (…). It is obvious that one will never create music of the future. One always makes music of the present, but with eyes looking to the future.”[1] Pedro M. Rocha was born in Torres Novas in 1961. Since early childhood he has revealed music talents, but only at the age of 16 did he begin studying music more seriously. “I remember improvising since childhood. I used to sing and pretend to play the guitar whilst holding a plane object in hands. I even played on different tins and cans – made of metal or plastic – whilst singing songs. Some I knew and others I invented at the moment”[2], remembers the composer. In 1981 Pedro M. Rocha began studying Geology at the Science Faculty of Lisbon University, which he attended for 3 years. He obtained scientific education important to his future musical path. “What happened is that, eventually, my scientific education strongly impregnated my first years of music studies. I do not think it was negative as I learnt a lot. The fact that I was obliged to formalize in an extremely rigorous manner gave me a certain type of school. Nevertheless, later I began to realize that, very often, less formalized works did sound better.”[3] Simultaneously with Geology the composer studied Piano with Gilberta Paiva and later with Olga Prats at Lisbon National Conservatory. In 1982 he began studying Composition first with Christopher Bochmann and then, since 1986, at Lisbon Superior School of Music. Between 1982 and 1990 he took part in various courses and seminars with Jorge Peixinho, Emmanuel Nunes and Christopher Bochmann, among others. In 1986 he attended the emblematic New Music Courses in Darmstadt and in 1987 he realized an internship of Portuguese Musical Youth at the Electroacoustic Music Office in Cuenca (Spain). During the internship he composed “Dual” for piano and 4 samplers – his first work of intentionally personal character. “After a revision in 1995 I consider «Dual» as my first personal work. Apart from improvisation of electronic sounds, the score contains a piano part with a determined level of openness – not exactly improvisation. I think that open works constitute a certain type of improvisation, although on a more predetermined level.”[4] In 1990 Pedro M. Rocha concluded the Composition course at Lisbon Superior School of Music and received a Gulbenkian Foundation Scholarship for Artistic Perfectioning, which allowed him to study with Alain Bancquart in Paris, between 1990 and 1994. During this period he attended various music informatics courses – the STYER Internship of Recherches Musicales under the direction of Daniel Teruggi as well as Composition and Music Informatics Courses at IRCAM, where he worked with such composers as Brian Ferneyhough, Tristan Murail, Phillipe Manoury and Jonathan Harvey. From this period it is worth mentioning such works as “Caminho” for flute, horn and electronic device, Pièce pour vibraphone et live electronics and “Cri” for flute orchestra. “«Caminho», is a work, which I also consider quite important. It joins formalization with intuition and above all it contains music material with sounds from various sources – not only instrumental, but also their electronic transformations, as well as concrete sounds, crude or electronically changed. Therefore, it is a relatively vast panoply of sounds.”[5] Since 1994 the composer resides in Lisbon and his activities include teaching Composition Analysis and Techniques, Choir, Chamber Music as well as Improvisation and Orchestration at Academy of Music Amateurs in Lisbon and Leiria Arts Conservatory. According to Pedro M. Rocha music education based on controlled improvisation in fundamental to open new publics to new artistic languages. The composer is interested in all forms of cultural expression. He investigates the relations between image and sound, having been composing acousmatic works in collaboration with such visual artists as André Sier (an unfinished triptych “To a World Free from…”) and Ana Carvalho (“Simbioses”). “At present we are probably not fully prepared to capture the multidimensionality of these two worlds – image and sound. Then, why to do it? For I believe that art can stimulate our evolution. It is a matter of making us not only experience who and what we are, but also to broaden our capacities, our access to the interior «I».”[6] In such works as “To a Free World” for ensemble and “To a World Free from Beliefs” for instrumental ensemble and prerecorded sounds the composer not only explores the possibilities of improvisation, formal openness and sonorous continuum, but also, by giving them an extra-musical programme reflected in the titles, he transmits us a part of his philosophical concept. “Beliefs are a complex mechanism developed by human beings. One of its possible origins is that of conservation of the species, which allows individuals to survive in adverse conditions. Nevertheless its side effects are vast. The most evident is to prevent us from living fully HERE and NOW.”[7] Pedro M. Rocha’s compositional style distinguishes itself by rhythmical and timbric complexity manifested in the usage of ultra-chromatic language of micro-rhythms and microtones.[8] On the one hand the composer is eagerly interested in music, in which perception and performance are led to their own limits. On the other he composes technically less demanding works for the reason of his pedagogical activities. In opposition to a more scientifically-oriented approach from the times of his musical education, more recently Pedro M. Rocha has been changing his aesthetic stance by defining sound as a sensorial and intuitive mean. The composer emphasizes improvisation as one of the most important factors in his creation as well as in his activity as a teacher. Improvisatory processes applied along the course permit creative openness and inventive liberty. “Improvisation has sculptured both my mind and my hearing to become totally open to sound”[9], explains the composer and underlines: “(…) in recent years my approach to sound has become more irrational, more sensorial, emotive and based on intuition and this in itself is another source of knowledge, (…).”[10]


1 - Sérgio Azevedo, “A Invenção dos Sons. Uma Panorâmica da Composição em Portugal Hoje.”, Editorial Caminho, Lisboa 1998, p. 378 English translation: Jakub Szczypa 2 - Pedro M. Rocha em: 3 - 4 - Pedro M. Rocha, op. cit. 5 - Miguel Azguime, op. cit. 6 - Ibidem 7 - Pedro M. Rocha – comentário no folheto do CD do Sond’Ar-te Electric Ensemble, Miso Records (mcd 021.09), p. 8 English translation: Jakub Szczypa. 8 - Nancy Lee Harper, “Pedro Rocha” em: “Enciclopédia da Música em Portugal no Século XX”, direcção de Salwa Castelo-Branco, Círculo de Leitores / Temas e Debates e Autores, Lisboa 2010, p. 1127 9 - Pedro M. Rocha, op. cit. 10 - Miguel Azguime, op. cit.




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