Rodrigo Sigal / Steve Yépez / Various Contemporary Composers
DePaul University; Chicago, IL

Encuentros, organized
by DePaul Music School professor Juan Campoverde, is now in its second year
and has expanded to two full nights featuring contemporary music by Latino
composers. The first night focused on multimedia works interspersed with
electro-acoustic pieces. Rodrigo Sigal was the only composer present at the
event and took on the responsibility of running the show, segueing between
pieces and controlling the levels of the eight speakers that surrounded the
audience. The live diffusion was not as impressive as it seemed at first,
though; there were only two channels of audio being output from the computer,
each going to four of the speakers, and Sigal could only control the
spatialization of those two channels, not introduce new sounds to the audience
live. The technological side of the evening felt further compromised by
Sigal's use of the free version of QuickTime. As the pieces were played off of
his computer, the top bar as well as the icon bar was visible.

The first piece of the night, which ran independently of the supplied program,
was "Snout" by Ricardo Giraldo. The multimedia piece used quick, almost
stop-motion edits of close-up shots of a dog as well as video of the ocean as
its primary visual sources while the primary sound source appeared to be
strictly canine. The fast edits of the video were matched by the audio
portion, which featured a pointillistic collage of dog growls, snuffs, and
other sounds. Of the two most traveled categories for this kind of work,
ominous and ambient, "Snout" fell into the more ominous camp, particularly in
the climatic portion of the piece, which was denoted by sharper sounds and
strobe-like images of the dog's teeth. The images were treated with a filter
that increased the contrast and made the white fangs stand out against the
darker background. The focus moved back to the treated shots of waves
crashing, and the piece ended.

At this point Sigal segued into a tape piece by Alejandro Viño called "The
World We Know." This piece seemed much more in the pop realm than most of the
audience seemed to expect. As I listened to the metallic clanks, drill sounds,
a baby crying, and, I am 90% certain of this, an "Unh!," I was reminded of the
cheesy, proto-techno type tracks a friend of mine used to do in high school.
Viño's work was decidedly more professional, but the feeling of dressed-up pop
music shone through the composer's stated purpose of exploring the clichés and
traditions associated with rap and hip hop. That's not to say it was not
enjoyable or lacking in complexity, either. The drum and bass breakbeats would
at times begin to play over each other, creating polyrhythms and the thought
in my head that this is what John Cage's aleatoric "Imaginary Landscape No. 4"
would sound like if it were performed in Chicago on a Saturday night. The
eight speakers worked quite well for this piece, though more for the depth and
life they added as their outputs phased and added a slight delay effect to the
listeners' ears, not for the diffusion. The piece ended as it had begun; the
layers began to fall away, and the steady, beating pulse that had sustained
throughout disappeared, leaving what once again sounded like a sparse
collection of unrelated clanks and bangs.

The second video piece of the night was Dennis Miller's "Vis a Vis." A change
from "Snout," "Vis a Vis" was ambient with its primary video source
unintelligible, though I'd venture to guess it may have been either video test
patterns of simply abstract images run through video filters. Similarly, the
audio portion of the piece seemed either electronically created through FM
synthesis or possibly a combination of that and some vocal sounds. Possibly
the result of antiquated equipment (the program notes mentioned that Latin
American countries rarely have up-to-date technology for this kind of work) or
a lack of creativity on the composer's part, the piece seemed little more than
a reworking of John Chowning's revolutionary "Stria" set to abstract video
that was obviously processed using recognizable video filters. Compared to
Giraldo's "Snout" and even Viño's pop-sounding tape piece, "Vis a Vis" came
across as amateur-ish. The only sense of form was given by the introduction of
a gray area to the sea of floating, spinning, undulating colors that sustained
through the piece.

The next piece that left a mark on me was one of Sigal's tape pieces, "Mambo a
la Braque." This piece was entirely based on samples of others, centered on a
mambo by Damaso Perez Prado. Every two bars the mambo would pause for a break
and a quick burst from a symphony, and then it would return to the mambo. The
samples built in layers with piano sounds, baritone saxophone, and percussion
all playing over, around, and in between each other, their layers
differentiated by their individual fidelities, ambience, and equalization. I
spoke to Sigal the next night about this piece to gain a greater understanding
of his intent. Taking the idea of quotation within a piece to an extreme,
Sigal wanted to use clips of different musical styles as a way to expand the
meaning of his work. Quoting, or in this case, using samples of different
styles, drew certain ideas from the audience about what they knew of that
style. By layering these samples/styles/ideas in a surrealist juxtaposition,
Sigal hopes to challenge their conceptions of what would be considered
well-understood forms in other circumstances.

After almost an hour of multimedia and tape pieces, the audience was ready for
a step in the live direction and was awarded with a piece for flute and tape
by Sigal called "Sonic Farfalla," performed by DePaul student Steve Yépez. The
piece made use of several extended techniques, most notably flutter tongue as
well as key clicks and whisper tones. The piece once again included a drum and
bass portions that faded in, unrelated to the flute part and layered over each
other, creating a three-part polyrhythm. The tape also had a very present
flute part on it. Some of the parts were reversed and used percussively, but
other parts were of an unprocessed flute, and toward the end the sound of a
muted trumpet could be heard coming out of the speakers. I generally have a
prejudice against pieces for mixed media since my feeling is that tape is
static and therefore can't truly interact with a performer, but I do
understand that certain sounds can only be achieved in a studio setting and
cannot be created live. Following that logic, unprocessed instruments have no
place on tape in a mixed media piece. Listening to the piece, I also began to
question the compositional process that Sigal had spoken of earlier, beginning
with the acoustic portion first and then writing the electro-acoustic part as
accompaniment, as this piece's tape part was far more interesting and Sigal
amplified it over the live flute.

The final piece of the night was "Blink," another multimedia piece with the
video done by Ricardo Giraldo and music done by Rodrigo Sigal. Once again
falling into the ominous realm of multimedia works, this piece began with
reversed sounds and FM synthesizer tones playing, accompanied by black and
white video of the inside of an abandoned building. The immediate feel was
that of a low budget horror film along the lines of The Blair Witch Project
or Saw. The piece developed into more than that, though, as the video
switched to color and the exterior of the building was shown followed by
several other buildings in similar disrepair. Samples of a classical aria and
trumpet piece drifted through like the memory of better times as the less
obviously assembled sounds continued. The video eventually went to black as
the trumpet piece came to the forefront and cadenced with ambient sounds
floating around and eventually fading away. I later found out that this piece
is somewhat political, reflecting Giraldo's disillusion with the civil
conflict in his native Columbia, focusing on the long-term destruction it has

Overall, the night was an interesting experience of work that far outshined
the student multimedia performance held at DePaul a few weeks earlier. Still,
an amateurish feel lingered through the performance, mainly due to the
conspicuous presence of the computer's tool bar and the overbearing hip hop
and drum and bass influences in several of the pieces. Multimedia works are in
the process of fighting an uphill battle to claim legitimacy in the many parts
of the classical music world, and when a performance put on at a
university-level music school that is run by composers with PhD's still comes
across like this, legitimacy is not gained. Performances, practices and other
precedents need to be established for the presentation of works like this, as
the works themselves are relatively free of classical structures. The first
night of Encuentros was presented in a way that felt like a slipshod
classical performance, and it did not work. People did not know whether or not
to applaud between works, especially in the sometimes long pauses. In most
cases there were not performers and the composers were not present, so who
would the applause be directed towards? If works are going to break with
classical styles as much as these video and tapes pieces did, then their
presentations need to break with classical practices as well. Otherwise, isn't
it only half new? Still, there was a second night to resolve these questions,
and I eagerly looked forward to it.

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