Le festival Champs Libres 2007

Le festival Champs Libres 2007 vu par le Transfo. Blog de la manifestation en temps réel. Photo, illustrations et gazette. ©LeTransfo

02 juin 2007

Arthur Kampela : l'Interview ! (improve your english)

How did you discover contemporary music ? What do you like in this kind of music ?

I discovered music, independent of styles first, i mean, I grew up in Brazil.an extremely musical country with a diverse culture. Brazil is a true melting pot. Although the original colonizers were the Portuguese, we have, besides the Native indian tribes, African, European and Asian nations that came in different times and circumstances and are now part of our cultural mix... My very upbringing in the midst of a Brazilian family with Jewish/European background, informed my sense of cultural diversity/identity... Contemporary music for me was in principle all that is happening at the moment. I was open to hear Stravinsky and samba, Eastern and African melodies and rhythms; Bossa-Nova jazz inflected harmonies and "Tropicalist" music collages. I can almost say that "contemporary" music discovered "my way of playing the guitar," my first instrument. Although I started playing pop oriented music when I was about 9 or 10, I was immediately drawn to composing my own tunes. Slowly my demands of techniques and effects, chords and harmonies would take me to a completely unexpected territory, and I would naturally incorporate those strange changes into my music... Regarding your second question I can say that, contrary to what people generally think, for me contemporary music has an inbuilt mechanism of freedom. Which means that although the classical heritage with it's strict "rules" of composing seem to say otherwise, the idea that you can deal not with the package outside the sounds but with the sounds themselves, not obeying any particular market strategy or style, is a powerful statement regarding the construction of self and self expression. As I said above, when you hear Xenakis or Ligeti, Jobim, Villa-Lobos, Dylan, Caetano and Ferneyhough, you friction against diverse modes of being, not only musical diversity. To stretch yourself into new territory is an imperative of being human. I said somewhere that "stability is but an instance of chaotic miscalculation." We all look for it, but we are beings in perpetual motion. This for me is the spiritual spiral that finds you one degree above, even if at "similar point" in life...

You come from Brazil. In Europe, many people are just not conscious that there is contemporary music or avant-garde in Brazil, they just think about bossa nova or batucada, you know what I mean ?


So, could you describe us how brazilian new music scene looks like ? What are its characteristics ? Is there a brasilian way of approaching this music ? Could you tell us a bit about Tropicalismo movement ? What is your place inside brazilian scene ?

As said before, the Brazilian melting pot exists within a vast geography: from urban massive landscapes (see São Paulo, Rio, Bahia) to the bucolic interior and rural areas of Brazil. The music that permeates this landscape is as diverse and "contradictory" as you can get. Plus, our connection with the European classical tradition is as old as Brazil. Since the XII century Brazil brought with the Portuguese King's court, musicians, professors, etc. At that period mines of diamonds were discovered in Diamantina in the state of Minas gerais. All of that wealth brought churches and musicians to (the interior of) Brazil, specifically to the town of Ouro Preto (meaning Black-Gold -- a remarkable city of that period)

The present New Music scene in Brazil, as the historical inheritor the above, has to oblige to the needs and demands of the market and of the culture. Like anywhere else, we have our cliques of modernists and pop-hybrids, die hard arvant-gardists, noise-makers, postmodernists, minimalists and the likes... All with a "Brazilian twist. i mean, since the predominant aspect of our culture is the popular music we have to "deal" with that. Many composers, with classical background, were influenced by Caetano's Veloso Tropicalist posture and started to work using a mixture of pop oriented materials and atonal and twelve-tone procedures, similar to what Zappa did in America. Myself, Arrigo Barnabé, Itamar Assunção, Sergio Rojas etc, are people who questioned the need to compose specificall for the concert hall and decided to distort the rhythms and harmonies of traditional forms with new precepts taken from contemporary music. Atonal sambas, electronic poems and lieds, were attempted as a compositional alternative. All of this grew from the modernist tendencies of Bossa-Nova. For me Jobim and João Gilberto, are at the forefront of Brazilian modernism. I see João singing as a true webernian "candy:" economy and bones. The "Tropicalimo" was another fundamental turn in our views (where collage albums like "Araça Azul" by Caetano brought together the afro-beat of Bahia and Berio/Cage collages techniques).

As a composer i see myself as an offspring of all of the above. However, my need of discovering new territories, operates in a twisted way: I do not like to conform with what I am said to be: a Brazilian. i am above all an earthling. My identity is in sync with what i do, not the landscape i inhabit. My "country is my tongue" as Caetano would put. The planet is my backyard! All that is a given, for me, is suspicious in the first place: I like to question not only music formats but the instruments that propel such music.  For example, when I composed my harp solo piece “Phalanges,” I used a series of devices (e.g. paper between strings, tuning fork, constant pedal glissandi, half-pedal “buzz,” etc.) to destabilize the typical way of operating on that instrument. More than seeking for mere effects, I was “seeing” the instrument as a sonic object, that could be “subjected” to different types of (ergonomic) demands.  This state of affairs where new gestures mean the spelling of a unique motoric vocabulary bring forth the assumption of a new compositional output. Another example of my music’s hallmarks can be heard in my “Percussion Studies” for solo guitar. In these pieces, I attempt to create a set of pieces (or movements) that have in common an unusual playing technique called the "Tapping Technique". This technique enables me to intersperse percussive sounds performed over the guitar's body and executed only with the hands. My goal was to demonstrate that it is possible to treat the percussive effects as you treat the pitches. The complex rhythmic structure used in this and other pieces of mine grew from the need to allow the pitches and noises to surface at very precise points in the piece. In my concerto "Antropofagia" for electric guitar and large chamber ensember, premiered in Stuttgart last July at the 2006 World Music Days, I had the opprotunity to use all the deconstruction techniques acquired with earlier pieces for the whole classical ensemble. It was a magnificent result, for me, as every musicalgesture where re potentialized to an unusual degree! Thus, I see the composer more as a de-constructor of forms than anything else. I like to think that one of the ultimate purposes of art is to rehearse a multiplicity of "states of affairs," not possible or not yet represented in the rest of contemporary society.  It is exactly at the moment that one enhances a medium's entropic potential (when "refusing" to subscribe to the very elements that constitute it) that the medium starts to "regenerate" itself, regaining a "healthier profile." This "invitation" for a given system to renew itself, to act against a background of accepted techniques and aesthetic polarizations is at the root of any authentic artistic enterprise.

It is difficult to store you in a musical category : one can find in your production elements of rock, jazz, free music, ethnic, electronic, etc.

Do you think that the future will be made of a meeting between so called « serious music » and so called « popular music » ?

Not necessarily. It's not that easy and simple in my opinion. Mixing doesn't mean composing, or finding new art forms or new art formats. Just because one "recycles" a rhythm from a piece and mix it with another piece's melody or whatever, this doesn't guarantee aesthetic closure. To start with, pre-used forms are counterintuitive to open and invented forms since the material in use, the material you choose, will slowly develop its own needs, shapes and priorities. You have, right there, one of the first principles of composition. I can't also accept well some forced superimposition of different mediums (interactive painting happening at the same time of a note done by the synthesizer etc.) What's that? Why not a frog jumping instead of that image of a dog barking? What's the principle underlying much of this techno-interactive hoopla? For me, if you don't fully comprehend cognitive and perceptual principles where for isntance, colors become shapes, lights and/ or smells etc. you can't possibly understand the way those qualities could possibly interact in a meaningful way in time, to cohere as new art format. Not that we cannot attempt novel superimpositions (of musical or other) found objects, but again, it implies complex principles where narrative has to grow out of the material instead of forcing the material to just exist in a state of jumble. However, to contradict much of what is said, 

You are both musician and composer, and, as I said, you are open to many musical tendencies. How those both activities – musician and composer – do interact to each other ?

Sometimes they fight sometimes thy cohere. But i love to perform. It's a compositional principle for me to be active as performer . So i have to make piece with my two selves!... When singing my own tunes and throwing myself in the friction of performing pieces of different tendencies, I am also operating against the grain of the expected modes of hearing. To go to club and play an atonal samba or my complex pieces like the percussion studies for guitar is to say: my only aesthetic precondition is AIR. if you like what i do or not, that's not much I can do about that. Don't tell me where I should be playing. I think that music should be played at any venue independent of it's "usual churcehs of hearing". I would open any show of a famous band anytime and with no concessions regarding the style. Play the shit out of what you can and be it. The greatest lesson for me, of New York (where I live -- and believe me NY can be conservative sometiems!) is: be yourself. Don't try to be Jobim or Ferneyhough, or Coltrane: I have the originals. So be what you can and revel on it."

In some of your composition, for instance in Naked Singularity or Layers for a transparent orgasm, it sounds on a way like if you were using technological effects or samplers, but of course there is none. On other works, you use electronics. On which way does technology and influence your work ?

i am now getting to use electronics more symbiotically being an extension of the instrumentalist and the playing. but i can say that the physical extension of my pieces, as they project beyond the mere instrumental mechanics to involve the performer as a whole - his/her body as a donator of sounds - is a fundamental aspect of my understanding of the ambiguities between gesture and sound. The re-channeling of energy spent in performing can acquire the status of "structural" cell if we view the bodily "reaction" to the music being played as a complementary detail of its utterance. A scream, a click-tongue, a hum, the tapping of the feet, etc., can be enlisted in the contrapuntal presentation of the sonic materials. However, I might add, minus the “gimmicks. The works "work" because of these ergonomic aspects are tightly woven in the compositional fabric. And the sounds coming out of it can be exciting...

Could you introduce shortly Elastics II and Percussion Study V, which Linea gonna play at the festival ? A few words also about your concert with Jose Moura ?

Percussion Study V came out of a previous idea I had for a piece for viola solo which for me was a total insight! It was called “Exoskeleton” and proposed to re invent the way a traditional instrument, should to be played. The name “Exoskeleton” (meaning: outer shell of insects) is a metaphor for the exporting of my “tapping technique” (created specifically for the guitar) to the viola’s morphologic context. Again, in this piece working with a palette of percussive sounds, noises and pitch oriented material (pitch is not precisely indicated in the piece only rhythm), I tried to accomplish a true deconstruction of the expected sonic qualities of viola. First, a violist cannot play this piece. Only a guitarist. This first “subversion” betrays traditional modes of motoric and gestural demands that are incrusted in the tradition of viola music making. Secondly, the compositional byproduct of such posture is not necessarily “viola music” but “pizzicato music” played at speeds never heard before within the instrument. Therefore, (on top of the playing speed), the compositional newness and integrity of the piece (and the instrument) is maintained since the viola is submitted to complex technical demands where ergonomic considerations play a fundamental role. I added an electroronic part and samplers and my intention in this piece is to have the instrument disapear at the end, like magic. I had already "exported the guitarist to play the viola, therefore, leaving the guitar behind. Now, I want that the electronic sound by the end of the piece bring the envelops the viola and make it disappear altogether. Well, you'd have to see it for yourself...(no it's not magic it's just music...)

Elastics II, came from an earlier piece of mine. It's for Flute and guitar and I re adapted with the use of electronics. I prefer just to say that for now... 

What is your craziest or weirdest musical dream ?

One of them -- I have plenty: A school of samba in Rio's Carnival that instead of singing the traditional samba would premiere a moving opera, an operatic chamber music parade... (5000 people every year in EACH SCHOOL). etc...

Do you have something more to say or to express ?

I am exhausted. But thanks for the great questions and the opportunity to share some of my music and insights with the people of Strasbourg. I want to dedicate this event to Jean Phillipe Wurtz and all the members of the Linea Ensemble. Thank you guys!

Arthur Kampela

Posté par Le Transfo à 00:19 - Commentaires [2] - Permalien [#]


  • After read blog topic's related post now I feel my research is almost completed. happy to see that.Thanks to share this brilliant matter.

    Posté par Electronics help, 12 octobre 2010 à 12:36
  • a pleasure to witness

    this was a very nice way to open this years festival. i think alot had to do with the presence of a. kampela, who struggled with the french language but nevertheless could convince me about his "longue". thank you!

    Posté par aker, 02 juin 2007 à 06:10

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