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CD Feature/ Gustavo Becerra-Schmidt: "Obra Electroac├║stica"

img  Tobias

There has, of lately, been a noteable surge of interest in the earliest emanations of electroacoustic music. The results have been all but benefitial: Anyone wishing to go back in time now has access to a slew of anthologies, monographs, box sets, tv documentaries and enlightning interviews with those who were there when it all started. The ensuing debate has also offered a fresh perspective on  the early days of the Synthesizer and on the question of the legitimate historic birthplace of electronic music – welcome additions to an often cliched imaginary world built exclusively around Stockhausen and Cologne's electronic studio. Musicians and scientists from France, the USA and Russia have rightly contested that, as much as the German fraction may have been leading the way, exciting things were going on in other parts of the world as well. Gustavo Becerra-Schmidt's „Obra Electroacústica“ allows for an even bolder theory: That electracoustic music was a wholly international movement, whose seemingly infinite sonic potential and revolutionary re-distribution of production- and composition-duties appealed to artists all around the globe.

Until the publication of this 14-track, 3,5-hour compilation, which assembles almost the entire electroacoustic catalogue Becerra-Schmidt has built over a nearly four-decade long timespan, after all, few will have known about Chile's participation in these developments – or South America's for that matter (except, perhaps, for Argentinian Mauricio Kagel, who is however mostly subsumed in the German cosmos). It is a good thing, that none of the three laudatios nor the introductory words of the composer himself, try inflicting a sense of guilt on the curious public for this blatant display of neglect. That is only fair for there are several reasons to explain for the discrepancy between the monumental influence Becerra-Schmidt's oeuvre has had on generations of local artists and the poor to the point of non-existent knowledge of even initiated audiences about its existence in the Western world. It didn't help that the military coup d'etat in Chile arrived right at the moment when he was first setting foot in the scene. His apparent disinterest in releasing albums, which left most of his pieces in general (and all of his electronic compositions in particular) unavailable for most of his life, didn't either: A grandiosely conceived and dramaturgically impressive opus like „Lenin“, which opens „Obra Electroacústica“, might have had a chance of repeating the success of Morton Subotnick's „Silver Apples of the Moon“ - if someone would actually have been able to buy it.

Most importantly, however, Becerra-Schmidt's profile as an electroacoustic composer remained relatively low because his image as a „traditional“ composer (using non-amplified acoustic means) continued to rise in the 70s and 80s. Until he was effectively expelled from his work as a cultural attache at the embassy by the junta in 1973, for example, he already had three Operas and a plethora of Oratoriums under his belt. He was always much more than „just“ an artist, too, dividing his time between writing stimulating essays on various issues relating to the state of contemporary composition and teaching at Oldenburg University as well as several other renowned European colleges. And while he remained a sort of fatherfigure for those left behind at home, the spatial distance made it hard to cultivate his local roots. „I referred to the underground status of these works in our local scene, manily because of the physical absence of Maestro Becerra in our country“, Federico Schumacher, who actively encouraged and supported the process of transferring the music to the digital domain says about his importance in Chile, „not only as another consequence of the dictatorship, but also because of our local academic entities' lack of interest for this art music genre.“

It must be considered a blessing that Becerra-Schmidt's diverse interests shine through in his music. „Obra Electroacústica“ includes early allusions to genres which would today be called „Ambient“, „Dark Ambient“, „Sound Art“, „Minimalism“, „Microtonality“, „Avantgarde“, „Drones“ or „Soundscapes“, but were just plain music to the composer himself. To him, the fascination of electronic means consisted less in the timbral possibilities the new medium had to offer but in the minute and seemingly complete control one could exercise on all elements of a sonic work. In stark contrast to the protagonists of complete determination, his ideal was the notion of a composition as a set of flexible parameters fixed by the determinants of one particular instance in time. Even the rules of processing these elements were open to discussion. It appeared ridiculous to him to assume that the world would be any better, or our understanding of it more precise, if we considered it an aim in itself to carve compositions in stone forever - in terms of musical terminology and in the eyes of the establishment, this kind of behaviour must have represented the next worst thing to complete anarchy.

And yet, the concisely structured and almost romantically rooted nature of his music made this drastic term sound absurd. Becerra-Schmidt wanted to be free from the dictate of pitch and the circle of fifths, but his output undeniably plays with melody and harmony in a way that suggests a deep personal affinity as well as a knack for integrating the worlds of Sound Art and classical composition in a bewilderingly organic way. „Interior“ from 1987, for example, at first presents rhythmically agitated motives, only to later deconstruct them into percussive sequences. „Quando“ is built around tonal patterns of undulation. And „Cornos Volantes“ draws musical blood from what initially appear to be sheets of pure noise. The most telling episode of the collection, however, can be found in „Concierto para 4 pianos sampleados“. An eighteen minute high-speed rollercoaster ride of helterskeltering keyboard cascades and sudden moments of reflection bordering hyperrealism in its complete defiance of even the most genial human virtuoso capacities, it also shows how much Becerra-Schmidt enjoys playing with the paradoxes of the brave new world using labels designed for traditional formats: In electroacoustics, after all, one Piano would completely suffice to do what the title asks four of them to do.

Fate and fame are curious fellows and instead of exercising revenge, „Obra Electroacústica“ simply wants the world to finally be able to listen and enjoy. To our 21st century ears, some of these tracks will sound dated in terms of production and colour, but that, too, is an illusion: Becerra-Schmidt has continued to write until this very day and it is his interest in presenting ideas rather than immediately pleasing sound carpets which explains for the aesthetical differences with many of today's publications. If this release closes with a piece from last year, then that is anything but a coincidence, for the composer's gaze goes out into the future: „I dedicate this work to the new generations of electroacoustic music makers, or working with elements decidedly close to it, to come and grow into an integrated cultural world in progress", he writes on the pages of the Pueblo Nuevo Netlabel, which offers this insightful compilation for free download. There can be no doubt that the music on „Obra Electroacústica“ has played its part in helping them do just that.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Gustavo Becerra-Schmidt
Homepage: Pueblo Nuevo Netlabel

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