music

ECHOES: SOUND, TIME, AND COEVALITY

by Juan Velasquez

Coevality is a quality of relations, an accumulation of intersections between individuals, places, spaces, times, and ideas. It enables a particular experience of being in the world characterized by the consciousness of connectivity, contemporaneity, alterity, and  temporalities. Through the work of three composers: Carlos Vázquez, Brian Riordan, and Laura Schwartz, it is possible to explore how multiple accounts of time generate regimes of meaning and representation through different compositions. These composers question the universality of time by collapsing multiple times into singular, musical experiences.

In these works, sound events are transformed into experiences in which condensed and juxtaposed operations of time produce shared, liminal temporalities. From this perspective, the works of Vázquez, Riordan, and Schwartz question the universality of time experience in our state of contemporaneity, revealing sonic events whose experiential natures are relevant at two different levels: as an interpretative operation to complicate meaning, and as creative operation to produce meaning.

A PLACE THAT CAN BE ANYWHERE: LA MINA DE ORO.

“La Mina de Oro” (the gold mine) displays multiple experiences of time at work. “La Mina de Oro” is an opera in three acts with music by the Puerto Rican composer Carlos Vásquez and libretto by the Puerto Rican writer José Luis Ramos Escobar. This opera presents to the audience contemporary issues through a language in which the music connects text and action, increasing the dramatic tone of the narrative.

The plot involves a bar called “La Mina de Oro” located in a suburb of San Juan, where the main characters converge. They are: Peyo, a mute, the narrator who witnesses the murder of a drug dealer called Vitin in a gas station; Jay, the murderer and leader of Los Satos a gang that controls the local drug market; Gloria, Jay’s mother; and Mayra, Jay’s sister. Jay is in love with Desireè, a young woman whose father, Jiménez, is Jupiter, a corrupt lawyer with political aspirations who is the mastermind behind the drug traffic in the area.

According to Vázquez, La Mina is a bar that “exists in the real life, located close to my former living place. This bar is a point of confluence of people of different races, social classes, and genders.” Here, the composer notices a multiplicity of characters and experiences, dissimilar yet coexisting in the same space. This inspired Vázquez to create an opera that was “a contemporary criticism about corruption and the seemingly shared, tragic fate that it produces, which is seemingly unavoidable despite differences in class, gender, and race.”

The muted nature of the narrator’s voice stresses the sense of confluence of multiple temporalities that Vázquez envisioned, and facilitates the introduction of contemporary issues that allow him to present social criticisms of La Mina de Oro as a metaphor for contemporaneity and coevality. The narrator is a body that can’t sing nor talk; he is a voice without sound. Thus, the opera has a narrative voice that is beyond sound. However, in this case the absence of sound neither implies the lack statement (logos) nor a site of emission (topos). On stage, the mute narrator express meaning through his body, using gestures. The paradox of this procedure is that while the absence of singing creates a voice that is unable to express meaning on stage, its silence conveys a powerful mirroring among the audience. By introducing a body without sound as narrative voice, Vázquez introduces silence that echoes the sense of powerlessness that issues like political corruption, drug trafficing, social inequality, increasing criminality, and poverty under a neoliberal system.

TIME AS LIMINAL FLUX: BRIAN RIORDAN

Multiple temporalities can be introduced into contemporary music through the use of technology. As recent work by the American composer Brian Riordan indicates, digital delay can create a liminal flux of multiple temporalities. His mode of musical of performance entails a different kind of collaboration between performer and composer mediated by technology, producing a performance of the performance in real time, made possible through the use of sampling and software developed by the artist.

Riordan’s work presents new sonorities that create a repetitive yet encompassing experience among the audience, presenting echoes of sounds in a series of unexpected transformations. His work leads the listener to focus his attention upon time, by collecting and delaying short sonic events (which can last a maximum of 60 seconds), and  manipulating sound further to interact with events in real time:

I like to sample things that are happening in the now, and figuring out ways to delay that time. I might delay it by a second, but if they are stored into a buffer, I can delay it for a matter of minutes.

This manipulation of time and sound allows Riordan to create an ongoing sonic event that establishes unsettling or unfamiliar temporalities, synthetic times not possible in the acoustic world. Moving sonic events backward and forward while the performer is playing is a procedure that simultaneously recalls events from the past to the present, while producing a live processing that also envisions an open series of future events. In a few words, Riordan’s work implies a process of simultaneous prolepsis and analepsis that happens in real time. This promotes a new interaction between performer and composer, whose temporalities collapse, creating a liminal and unpredictable flux of sonorous events. This particular turn produces what Lydia Goer calls improvisation impromptu, a term which refers to “what we do at singular moments—in the moment—when we’re put on the spot, particularly when we’re confronted with an unexpected difficulty or obstacle.”

CONNECTIVITY, DIALOGS AND UNDERSTANDING

Although the close relation between composer and performer is not a new issue, technology provides a new model of connectivity that is changing the dynamics of this relationship. As explained by American composer Laura Schwartz:

Generally for me things always start with instrumentation. If I know the ensemble I am working with, which I generally do, I want to go online and research the people who are performing, and see what kinds of works they performed before, what kinds of things they enjoyed in the repertoire and what kinds they didn’t. Then I take those [things] and I generate material from that kind of aspect.

If there is an authorial voice, as claimed by Edward T. Cone (1974), in a technologically connected world it can exist in a different way, by which the temporality of the performer informs the temporality of the composer, shaping the further development of a sonic event. For this reason the authorial voice of Schwartz is strong, and her music has a particular deepness as a result. Additionally a sense of naturalness and a sense of familiarity structure her music. From this standpoint, connectivity promotes a particular interaction that also involves the audience when the composer envisions the interaction between the performers, her authorial labor, and the audience.


Brian Riordan is a composer, performer, improviser, producer, and sound artist originally from Chicago, IL. He comes from a very diverse musical background and creates music that reflects the eclecticism that he has experienced. By creating unique interactions of electronics, acoustic instruments and sonic spaces, he attempts to fuse these traditionally separate sound worlds generated by interaction of instrumental performers and computerized gestures.

Laura Schwartz is a first-year PhD student in Music Composition and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh. She attended the University of California, Davis (BA in music 2013) and Illinois State University (MM in composition 2015).  My music was performed during the 2014 Oregon Bach Festival Composer’s Symposium, the 2015 Oregon Symposium of Graduate Musicians, LA Phil’s Next on Grand: National Composer’s Intensive 2015, and 2015 Nief Norf festival. She is interested in creating music that explores dichotomies between pleasure and pain, noise and pitch, and aural and visual.

Carlos Vázquez is a Latin American contemporary composer. Born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Vázquez studied music at the University of Puerto Rico, University of Pittsburgh, New York University, and La Sorbonne in Paris, where he earned a Doctoral degree. His composition teachers have been Rafael Aponte Ledée, Frank MacCarty and Bruce Saylor.  Since 1972 his works have been premiered and played among different countries in America and Europe. 

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