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15 Questions to Juan Matos Capote

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hi, I am very good. Thanks. I am at this moment in Brooklyn, New York, at my apartment.

What’s on your schedule right now?
Right now I am looking forward to the imminent release of my first solo album, “The Subway Aural Recordings,” at Einzeleinheit. This album is comprised of several aural compositions based on field recordings of the New York City subway system that I recorded over several months during my rides in the subway between Brooklyn and Manhattan. I am also working in new material and collaborating with other artists. Also, I am preparing for my moving to Spain at the end of the year.

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
I came into sound through the visual arts. I was trained academically as a visual artist and not as a musician. The paintings and sculptures I have been making are dealing, among other things, with the aural. I was working with onomatopoeias, or written sounds, and silence. Some of my interests have been on the monochromatic visual tradition, on concrete poetry, Cage, Arte Povera, phenomenological sense perception, synaesthesia, etc. Lately, I have been interested on Pauline Oliveros’s teachings on listening, and after I began to study “circuit bending” with Reed Ghazala, I started to play with electronic modified toys and instruments I built. Among other things, I learn from them improvisation and chance as a way of combating extreme rigidity. I like an experimental approach to sound making, and see myself as part of a group of sound artists that use sound as art, as an element, the same way I can use colour in my paintings.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
No, I don’t think about the actual music scene as being in crisis. On the contrary, I think about it as an effervescent creative scene, where the concept of Music has been already expanded and identified as Sound. And this fact brings renovating energies not only at the level of the music scene but also at a societal level; music has being democratized. The discriminating particular has returned to the involving whole. I see much hope here.

What does the term “new“ mean to you in connection with music?
“New” for me is that which cannot be categorized on first listening. Eventually, it will loose that “newness” once it is categorized. But “new” is also for me that which always affects me in a novel way, even if the piece is old.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
I think about sound as aural space, and composition as the guided or improvised movement through those aural spaces.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Lately I am giving a lot of importance to the live performance, to the act of performing in a present moment, and when I play I improvise but I also compose within the flow of the performance. In this case, their separation tends to kind of blur. On the other hand, when I sit in front of my laptop at my studio, I can be inclined to compose in a more strict way.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
A good performance for me is that in which you get engaged so much in all the aural that you forget about what happened and what will happen, and it kind of affects you in some way. My approach to perform in stage is to try to play in a way that engages me, involves me, and surprises me as the piece evolves.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
We would have to discuss first what we are referring to when we say “music.” Which kind of practice? With which characteristics? For my actual understanding of music (and for my hope on it) music embraces a broad range of practices, so I have to say, no, I don’t have the necessity of drawing a border. I see a whole.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
I suppose it has to do with what you do with the so-called “serious” and “popular music.”

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
Some art may be explicitly more political or social than other that may look like very personal, but I think that in art, individual aspects can always be transposed into societal aspects. It is inevitable.

True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
That is true. We would have to argue then which kind of education it would be necessary depending on which type of music. One needs to be educated to be able to appreciate classical music as well as any type of music, and also to be able to appreciate more contemporary experimental sound practices.

Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?
Not necessarily. Why would that be an improvement?

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
I would include performances by sound artists and audiovisual performances, with some emphasis in the craftiness of sound and visual source devices or instruments. I also would like to include performances of extremely altered pieces by contemporary artists of more “popular,” traditional or classical music compositions, pieces that use elements of them, and that as a result, they create something entirely different and new. I would try a program that would create a place of improvisation, chance and play.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
No. I tend to think in terms of the whole in my practice rather than in a specific masterpiece.

The Subway Aural Recordings (einzeleinheit) 2007

Juan Matos Capote
Juan Matos Capote at MySpace

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