Postcard for argentine concert. Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana. November 1997
Vulcano's Forge by Daniel Varela (May 2002)Llorenç Barber is one of the mavericks of Spanish music. Departing from a passionate interest in John Cage - and particularly in ZAJ group, a sort of Spanish zen/ Dada collective- Barber has developed a truly unique musical language since his early minimalist-inspired compositions. He has developed a strong interest in one of the most ancient sounds of the humankind, the sound of bells. With his portative set of bells, Barber plays long improvised pieces in which uses harmonic chant; a minimal chamber setting which recognizes links with NY Downtown experimental scene from the seventies and eighties (in fact, he was there in early '80's). His other works includes music for several ensembles and extended vocal techniques, but his most original and breathtaking pieces are undoubtedly his "City Concerts." Here, he takes bell towers in different churches of the same city and composes scores using each bell tower as an instrumental line in the orchestra. Barber has "sounded" nearly 100 cities in Europe and America and has made another spatial compositions for marching bands in plazas de toros or for ship horns and ornamental fires.
The following interview was done editing different talks with Llorenç in Buenos Aires, Argentina during his visits in 1997 and 1998.
Q: The information about spanish experimental music is quite dispersed; we hardly receive the echoes of ZAJ 1 group. Knowing you as the heir of this tradition, what can you tell us about that story?
In September or October of 1964, Juan Hidalgo founded ZAJ and gave their first concert. ZAJ is the Spanish Fluxus and you can remember that many of their members reached the attitude of music-as-action through John Cage. They had a brief life in Spain- many were close to art galleries and certain more open minded artists, but (they) never into the musical circle itself. We young people inherited some of this independency because our music didn't fit the concept of the so-called "avant-garde," which is getting more and more "pacifist" with the musical and cultural establishment and is eager to perpetuate itself following the romantic and academic traditions. We who consider music from another perspective are ignored but they have to hear us because we not only exist but also make much noise!
It's there where the polarity between academicism and the ZAJ attitude came from, which as a group were almost going to disappear by 1968, through we had some sporadic concerts. Walter Marchetti gave a proper definition of the early ZAJ: " They are like a bar... people came in, ask for a drink, leave a tip and go away..." In 1971, the band was invited for a concert in Valencia and I saw them there. It was a shock, because I just finished reading John Cage's Silence. Then I became (a) friend of Juan Hidalgo and he sent me all of his writings and manifestos - a collection of papers and cards in a box , all in a typical Fluxus vein. I learnt all of them by heart, more for passion than for the fact comprehending them, and I turned into a Zajian of a new generation. When I arrived at Madrid in 1972 I took classes with Juan, which soon became talks about my first musical proposals. By that time I founded the group Actum 2, with whom we shared a third generation (which) invented minimalism though it happened at the same time that many experiences (happened) in the USA.
Q: How was the work with Actum?
We were a moving group of instrumentalists-creators; you never know who was going to play or to be absent, so we used instruction scores for undetermined instruments. It was a kind of free minimalism where the level of self-reference and repetition was intuitive, because you began and (then) you could go on whenever you liked. An open chasis where you could be repetitive to that the others did (happen). Everything was very simple, diatonic almost pentatonic, just to let things work well. In 1978, the invitation I received for the Music Context 3 festival at London scorched me so much. There I met people like Hugh Davies or Michael Nyman - at that time his music was very interesting, his Campiello Band was fantastic. But nowadays with Michael we don't even talk, he's just (into) business... He appears like a sort of an english Philip Glass... That's it. He only wanted fame and money and he got them indeed! But at that time, it was quite good to be around him. Back home, I had the basis to found the Taller de Música Mundana 4. It was the Earth Music Workshop- a place where my intuition was to create music and spread (it) to the outside and get into conversation with all that's moving or sounding in the cosmos. It was the idea of a utopian theatre.
Q: The meetings were like classes? Was it specifically for musicians?
It was precisely my first mistake because some composers wanted to join the project having their own professional careers then I took the decision - something that later cost me dear(ly) - to say no to them. I looked for musicians who would know nothing of that academic music but not being composers. Here comes Fátima Miranda 5, who was a librarian. There was also an economist and an architect who played free music. There was neither amplification nor traditional instruments. With natural instruments we sounded like stones, branches, vases or buckets of water, birds...
Q: Did you know at that time experiences like those of Akio Suzuki with paper sounds?
I met him later… I had a lot of data from all (over) the world but we tried to make (it) our own experiences. By those years, I was doing my thesis about ZAJ and through that I knew all Fluxus by heart. I could quote fifty pieces by La Monte Young or 200 pieces by George Brecht and Takehisa Kosugi because I loved it. Now I've forgotten them a little, but when I prepare a lecture, I revise them and that's all!
Q: Did Fluxus shocked you?
Of course, and even without knowing it, I got it through Cage and ZAJ 6. It was something nobody had ever told me about because in Spain, it's since five years that Fluxus is known. I made the thesis picking up things, collecting and asking a few who remembered something. Juan lived at Milano and it was the time when he recorded with Walter Marchetti at the Cramps label. Through them, I learnt the manifestos by heart, because until then I was a poor pianist from the provinces and so I launched to the stage.
Q: Maybe that poor technique as a pianist was really necessary for reaching the other musical road...
Certainly. It helped me to playing everything and encourage myself on stage, so I lost the respect of my "conservatory" colleagues but I gained all the creative freedom of the world. Thanks to the Taller, I achieved something even more wonderful to bring. (The) great singer Fátima Miranda near music. Meanwhile, in 1979, I joined the Complutense University of Madrid to lead some activities in the Music Department. It wasn't an academic job but (it was a job) of cultural spreading, and with the little money we had I invited all the artists that were on hand. I called the Fluxus artists and second generation as well as musicians from Downtown New York - I got in touch with them thanks to my friend Carles Santos 7 who had just arrived from NY. By that time I had also created the ENSEMS festival at Valencia and the FLES (Festivales de la Libre Expresión Sonora/ Free Sound Expression Festivals). These activities were so thrilling because all the young new people, eccentrics and anxious gathered and got their way. We even created a little collective Elenfante, with very different and mixed people. That's my style: to create a little public square where everything is put and goes to everybody. That was a very decisive overriding moment in my life. The courses at Madrid let them know friends like Tom Johnson, Charlie Morrow, Glenn Velez, Trevor Wishart, Alvin Curran or Giusseppe Chiari. The course was opened by Juan Hidalgo when he was back from Milano. All this produced many things in our friends: the sound- poetry was reinvented, ZAJ returned… But unfortunately as time when by, some people changed and stop doing things… the Taller de Música Mundana was carried on and in the middle of that story I came across the bells...
Then, there came the democracy years in Spain which in art was very snobby, and in contemporary music, they fell in the clutches of Tomás Marco y Luis de Pablo, the more formalists composers, for whom I was considered an unclassy person who still lived in the '60's. Today, so many people are mystified by ZAJ but I was very cruel with them because they had put themselves on the pedestals and took the attitude of real mummies. Power mystified things from the past which are not still any problem and turned into myth. I'm happy for Juan on this aspect, for not having economical problems, but he didn't take any attitude towards the defense of creative plurality. He got on the pedestal and pissed on everybody.
Q: Many Fluxus artists had that ambiguous attitude.
Being a very pluralist movement, you have to consider what each character has done with his own life... some are slower, others are less. But Juan had a privileged place all the same. He put his "sublime artist" tie on and that's why we have now an official book about him that cost so much money 8. Those who have a critical vision are not included in that book, Juan himself vetoed me to participate in it.
Since the '80's, the powers of the Spanish democracy pleaded for a musical aesthetic of splendor, luminaries and conceitedness, without any basic work. It's a very snobby attitude that shits (on) the external Spanish appearance because we only export "post-Darmstadt" formal music. That's the Spain they really want but it's not the only one, because I keep on ringing my bells. What is critical is that they delegate to themselves the representation of a collective creation, which really also occurs in other countries. I had always denied the idea of a single music- music is Brian Eno, Ferneyhough or me!
We are all sons of our time and we contributed with a color to the extent of our intensity. I'm against of any exclusiveness, even more if it's based on public money. In that case I prefer a free-trade attitude where people may decide what they like. But if that money is handled through the connection with ministers or officials, it seems to me something particularly condemnable. I appreciate the same, because I made my way and found my own way of being a musician, meeting people all the time! I've played in a lot of cities, however almost never played at Madrid this bells, which are an instrument to me since 25 years. I played in schools, parks, churches, or wherever anyone calls me, but never in a "normal" place for a concert during 25 years 9. We have to invent ourselves our own world - it's my great dream to create a new music biennial show with Latin American people, just right for our pleasure and benefit, to tell about our lives, to play and to help each other.
Q: How did you get into the world of bells? Are you interested in bells of other cultures ?
There's something in common with the minimalist paradigm in any musicians and it's to keep your feet on earth. To create a thousand ways of minimalisms becomes related to a deep respect for ethnic culture as an answer to the abstract trends like post-Darmstadt composition models, where music was the same of the Japanese or a Jew. It was my bells (which) fitted into that wide spectrum perfectly, which I met by chance and because of the cold weather. I bought a stove-heater. I needed a chimney flue and I found those irons on the Smith's floor. There I began to hit them, to play them, kissing the bell's edges and I found the history of echoing metal. It was a searching time, because I was in the Taller and I created my portative bell instrument. Then I met a Valencian anthropologist, Francesc Llop 10, who had given me copies of his lectures about traditional bells in Spain. I visited London regularly where I met the tradition of "bell ringers" 11, who are very closed- they are almost military gymnasts. Flemish carillon players are also very closed. But on both sides, and after many years, I managed to make friends who were disposed to understand and collaborate. There are contemporary works for carillon in the Netherlands, but they are rather formalist. We don't have to forget between the most interesting things, the experiences of Charlemagne Palestine 12, one of the paradigmatic minimalists, who invented it without knowing any rule of the carillonist tradition...
Q: Its more or less well known (about) your experience with bells in the cities 13, 14 but, what about your "De Sol a Sol" (From Sun til Sun) concerts 9?
They are a nice madness I made true at the beginning of the '90's, but which I wished to develop years before. We made it thanks to a friend of mine who has a country house on the mountain and she devotes herself to land art. I proposed a different thing for each concert, but there are two solutions: total free music or using two themes - subjects as poles with all the transition elements, as if it were a proverb that appear and spend the whole night without boring me or boring the others. There were 200 or 300 people including children, grandmothers, in tents. They got to know about it from (other's) comments and nobody received money- you only had to inform and have a map to get there. The only rule of the night is not to bother. I arrived two or three days before and settled down my "flying" bells with iron ropes, from one mountain to the other. These bells are of different size- their strings hung down and when they swung to and fro, you could hear the Doppler effect and the glissandi in the silence of the night with the rocks of the mountain acting like a frontwall. Image this effect at four in the morning with the deer in the distance and full moon, surrounded by friends that get sleep there by the light of the bonfires. I played with my portable bells mounted on frame that is on the mountain and then, I walked towards the flying bells.
This was in parallel with the development I made of "sonar ciudades" 9 where I visited more than seventy cities and I got accomplices in so many places. I'm very happy for that. There's no return. After a madness like that, you realize that everything is possible. When you are well surrounded by friends, everything is possible.
Bell installation, a mix of portative bell instrument and "flying bells"
1) V.V.A.A: Zaj. Exhibition catalogue. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 1996.
2) Medina, A: Actum. Diccionario de la Música española e Hispanoamericana. Tomo 1, pp.46. Madrid, SGAE. 1994.
3) Toop,D ; Cusack,P.: The Music/Context Seminar, LMC, August 2nd. Musics # 20. Dec. 1978.
4) Nauck, G: Paper Opera. Spanische Minimalismus aus dem Geist von Fluxus. Positionen 28, Viii, 1996.
6) Medina,A: "Barber Colomer, Llorenç". Diccionario de la Música española e Hispanoamericana. Tomo 1, pp.192. Madrid, SGAE. 1994.
7a) Jonson,T: Carles Santos Invents passionate minimalism. The Voice of New Music, Apollohuis, Eindhoven, 1989.
7b) http://www.the-temple.net/santos/2eindex.html: his own website including texts, discography and MP3.
8) V.V.A.A : De Juan Hidalgo. Antología 1957 - 97. Consejería de Deportes y Cultura. Ayuntamiento de las Palmas de Gran Canaria. 1997.
9) Barber,L: La Ciudad y sus Ecos. Gramáticas del Agua, Nerja, Málaga 1997. Barber's own writings on almost all of his Works. Also interesting comments on Barber's aesthetics and works can be found in the liner notes of his CD's Concierto para Campanarios y Espadañas de la Ciudad de Granada, Hyades Arts CD 6 (1992) ; and Linguopharincampanology, Hyades Arts CD 19 (1994).
10) Llop i Bayo, F: L'afició a les campanes. Doctoral Thesis about bells in Spain, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 1985/ 86. Electronic version available at : http://www.cult.gva.es/gcv/tesis/tesi1m.htm
11) Morris,E : The History and Art of Change Ringing. Chapman & Hall, 1931. For a simpler explanation also check the URL of the North American Guild of Change Ringers http://www.nagcr.org/index.html
12) Palestine, C: Sonority for Carillon. Performance at Sonambiente festival, Berlin 1996. Description at http://www.adk.de/sonambiente/index.htm
13) López Cano,R: Música Plurifocal: Conciertos de Ciudades de Llorenç Barber. JGH Ediciones, México DF, 1997. A landmark work by Prof. López Cano, a Mexican musicologist, devoted to the study of Barber's bells concerts in cities.
14) V.V.A.A: Campanas e Sonazzos. Centro Sardo Studi & Ricerche, Cagliari 1998. A collection of essays about bell music from Sardegna and Spain with writings by Barber.
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