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César Bolaños: Peruvian Electroacoustic and Experimental Music (1964-1970)

img  Tobias Fischer

Despite ranking among the key figures of the Latin American avant-garde movement of the 1950s and 60s, the legacy of Peruvian composer and electroacoustic artist César Bolaños never extended substantially beyond Peru and Argentina. Using multimedia elements such as slide projectors, transistor radios, and sounds meant to travel through multiple speakers placed around a performance space, much of Bolaños work is impossible to experience in its entirety through an audio recording. Yet even presented in this state of theatrical and conceptual incompletion, César Bolaños — Peruvian Electroacoustic and Experimental Music (1964-1970) offers a stunning cross-section of a brilliant and underrated composer.

Spread over two discs, the music of the collection is taken from Bolaños’ years at Latin American Center of High Musical Studies (CLAEM) in Buenos Aires, where he oversaw the development of the electronic music laboratory. The compilation opens with “Interpolations,” a 1966 piece for electric guitar and four-track tape in which pointillist guitar figures and string bends sound against clouds of prerecorded metallic sounds. Intended as a spatial composition, in performance, the guitarist would use a foot switch to direct the amplified sound to speakers around the room.

In “Flexum,” woodwind clusters swell and recede over manipulated tape, percussion, and strings bowed on the “wrong” side of the bridge, creating a ghostly, otherworldly timbre. Even all-acoustic pieces like Divertimenti I and III maintain a textural approach more akin to early tape collages than “contemporary classical.” “Intensidad y Altura” is particularly compelling—the only piece comprised entirely of electronics, the composition is driven by gurgling found-sound manipulations, recordings of dinner conversation, and rhythms of reversed vocal snippets

It’s difficult to ascertain exactly which acoustic elements are notated versus improvised. Like the work of others of the period, including George Crumb and John Cage, the music seems to be more about relationships of events happening in time than traditional compositional curve and motivic development.  Two of the compositions—“ Canción sin Palabras, ESEPCO II” and “Sialoecibi, ESEPCO I”—were co-composed with mathematician Maurcio Milchberg, their melodic material derived from computer-generated algorithms.

That’s not to say that the music isn’t climatic or bombastic … it certainly is. Violent atonal piano clusters, percussion lines, screaming voices and magnetic tape counterpoints (particularly in the 14-minute masterpiece “Canción sin Palabras, ESEPCO II”), or a combination of all three make their way into most of the pieces here. But most of the compositions seem built around murmuring conversational elements with jolting dynamic changes: hits of piano and flute aleatorically punctuating tape sequences, trilling horns and heavy percussion rolls rupturing quiet ambiances.

Listening to Peruvian Electroacoustic and Experimental Music (1964-1970), it’s astonishing that Bolaños remains so obscure, even within the already marginalized context of electroacoustic composition. This compilation, the first definitive collection of the Bolaños’ work, illuminates a remarkably innovative composer and musician, whose work is as emotionally resonant as it is intellectually stimulating. One can only hope that this release gets his music to more ears.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Pogus Recordings

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