Entrevista a Pedro M. Rocha / Interview with Pedro M. Rocha
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Interview with Pedro Rocha

Education: the inner search


Well, I’ll try to answer your question given that I think that there are components, diverse vectors which led me to be the person I am -  well, I think that each of us always has diverse vectors or diverse variables which lead us to be who we are at any given time. The fact that I lived in the countryside, shall we say with a certain type of fairly restrictive behavioural principles and the fact that I experienced the 25th of April revolution when I was 13 years old are factors which, one way or another, later on led me to develop a concept that I could call "freedom" - which is not only a concept but a value to which I attribute increasing importance. Then I went to the Science Faculty at 18, I studied geological sciences for 3 years, I almost did my bachelors degree. At that time I also entered the Conservatory where I continued to study piano.


In 1982 there was a seminar in Viana do Castelo which made an impression on me. It was a seminar with electroacoustic music, which, somewhat, extended the musical panorama of that time.


Later, in 1983, I decided to opt to study music full time and, from then on, there were certain personalities which started to influence me. One of them was the composer and maestro (and great teacher too) Christopher Bochmann, with whom I started to study harmony (and composition also, in private classes from 1982), another was Emmanuel Nunes, with whom I was with many times also in the Gulbenkian Foundation. Later on, in Paris, I had the opportunity also to be with Alain Bancquart. I would say that Bancquart was more the kind of person who gave me a small jump-start, a kind of catalyst for ideas which were already brewing inside of me which is the idea, shall we say, of micro-chromaticism. He, somehow, gave me the courage to begin to work with microtones – although before I went to Paris, in 1990, I had done a work called Vórtice in which I already used microtones for the first time.


My time in the IRCAM was also important, also in the GRM. This allowed me to have a relatively wide vision of the technology which, at the time  - well things evolve very quickly - was possible to have at our disposal. This vision was extremely important, and it continues to be important today.


The science of fact is an important component in my concept of life, of art. Painting also. In my adolescence I had a colleague who was interested in painting and he, somehow, passed me the pleasure of painting and image. In fact, it is something which always was extremely important for me to the point of, in some way, wanting to reconcile the image with music -  as you know, this is the work I have been developing over recent years, although not in as consistent and systematic a way as I would like.


The other component which I would like to mention has to do with my way of being, my manner or, perhaps, the way of reconciling two quite contradictory personalities. One would be a quite extroverted individual, an individual who, shall we say, would love the more immediate things in life, and the other is a profoundly introverted individual, profoundly concerned with the reason for existence, why we are here  - with those age-old questions, who we are, where we came from, where we are going. Lets us say that this was something which, until I was 30, was never very pacific. At a certain point, the imminence that my life as a physical and mental being would disappear was something which caused me immense anguish. In fact there was a novel which affected me deeply at that time, Aparição, by Virgílio Ferreira, which touched exactly on this topic of our ephemerity -  which on the one hand was underlined by my scientific view of the universe, or rather, would matter by itself be capable of creating life, and would life arising from this same matter be capable of creating, by itself, the whole of this mental and emotional universe that we are. This journey, in a way my relationship with this journey, and the people with whom I have been on it with, specifically Emmanuel Nunes who, at a certain time, advised me to read some books by Castañeda, led me to approach existence - my existence as something slightly different, or I may say actually completely different, from an ephemeral being which is born from matter. All his attributes would be due to matter and in fact, some years ago, I began to have a completely different perspective, that our senses do not transmit to us the first or last truth of what the universe is, and neither does our reason. Or rather, my very journey as a musician, my relationship with music and, in general, my relationship with art, obliged me to review this point of view and to have to consider myself as something much more than a being which is only formed from matter, who, probably, has a part which is pre-existent and which will continue after the disintegration of this same matter. In a certain sense you can also say that music itself forms a source of education.


Dealing with sound is, sometimes, something absolutely sensorial and intuitive in which reason progressively increases. In my case, I had a very rational approach at the beginning of my education as a musician. In more recent years, my approach to sound is increasingly more irrational, more sensorial, emotive and intuitive. This constituted, in itself, another source of learning which is that of seeking knowledge inside of myself and, by extension, believing that knowledge can be obtained throughout a search which is, somewhat, consistent and humble within each of us.

Interview with Pedro Rocha

Art, Eternity and Motivation


Well now, more and more I believe that life and the universe, are something which is much more transcendent that our very reason can handle. On the other hand, a work of art, however brilliant it may be puts us with a problem, right? How can we recognize a brilliant work of art? What is a genius? Maybe a brilliant work is only brilliant in a given culture, while in another, maybe, it is not considered that brilliant. Or it is not brilliant in one time period but later it is considered to be brilliant… Well, let us suppose, hypothetically, that we do have works which are by geniouses, and I personally believe we do. I think what is important is that we are able to experience ourselves fully as beings that we are. When I say experience ourselves fully, I am not only referring to the spiritual side but to the physical side, let us say, to the totality of that which we are as beings  and, as from the time when I can be extremely happy, when I hear a piece of yours or I hear a symphony by Mahler or I hear the mass by Machault, I think that what is important is that I feel good, that I feel happy when I am listening, when I am experiencing this music. If it will be eternal, I personally think not. My scientific perspective of the universe tells me no. My perspective, of the little that I know of the evolution of the universe, well, is that in 5 million years time the sun will become a red giant and will dilate and therefore Mercury, Venus, the Earth and Mars will disappear. At that time we may have perhaps transferred ourselves to another planet, with all of the historical-cultural stream that we had here. But is this important? I don’t think that it is, I increasingly think that, really, the concern with genius – if I write a work which has a place in history or not - is irrelevant. It is evident that all of us, as artists, we like our work to be recognised, we like value to be acclaimed to our art and to our work. This is something that is inherent to any honest artist, I think, but on the other hand what is important is that we are happy, that we enjoy doing our work, that we enjoy the happiness we have in conceiving a work and the happiness we have afterwards in living it, in experiencing it.


I could have been a painter, I could have been a scientist, if I had had another type of education and other circumstance. I think that I could have been. But I also think and also believe that, probably, of all the arts, music is the one that causes the most impact on a human being. I think that it’s no coincidence that music - well light, pop, rock, it doesn’t matter – can move hundreds of thousands of young people, or millions of young people, millions of human beings in the whole world. Music is something quite universal, in fact we who are musicians know this, because we are here, we choose to make music our way of life. I think that for you it will be relatively easy to explain this, but it isn’t always easy to explain to other people why I am a musician if I don’t think it important, in fact, that a work of art is eternal. Because really experiencing music is something which allows us purely to be. My experience tells me that when I am fully me (and when I say fully it doesn’t imply only my rational part being fully itself but all of my subconscious, unconscious or super-conscious) when I am fully that being that exists within me, or possibly the deepest part of me, when this experiences itself in its plenitude, then we are happy. In my view, music is one of the few things in life which allows us to be fully ourselves, and we can be ourselves perhaps in three ways: hearing it, playing it and composing it. In fact composing is not so totally an act of audition as the other two, but it is a very particular act, it is an act where there is a happiness to be creating an acoustic, sonic building. The act of this creation is also an act where we are being fully ourselves because we have to be fully ourselves from the emotional point of view, we have to be completely involved.


The fact that I have a certain type of concern does not give my music superior characteristics to those of another person who does not have these same preoccupations. We are what we are, and we cannot run away from what we are. Perhaps my music reflects this person I am, now I don’t want to say that another person who possibly has a more “nonchalant” way of being, a person a little more extroverted by nature than I, I don’t mean to say that that person, this composer, or this artist, may not have absolutely fabulous work. I am not claiming anything for me, although I believe that, to a certain point, there is something which unites us as human beings, and therefore I believe that somehow, if I like my work, I think I have a better chance that someone else will like it. Not everyone, for sure, but I think I would have a better chance that someone will at least like it. In fact, the criteria of quality for one person, as you know, are not the criteria of quality for another and the cultural conditioning factors, are possibly also very strong, so that it is very difficult to find yourself within some universality in art. But to answer your question in a slightly more definitive way, I would say that it is not a very important concern, the most important concern is that I like what I am doing but, I believe that if I do it and I satisfy myself, I believe that I will satisfy someone else.

Interview with Pedro Rocha


Composition, Discipline and Freedom


Well now, this is a gradual and slow process too, which had to do with gaining awareness of social values. Or rather, there are certain things which tell us: “Doing it this way is right, doing it the other way isn’t right.” and nevertheless, if we take a look at certain habits or some laws throughout history, certain behaviour is held as correct, then it becomes incorrect and then possibly it becomes correct again. So where does that leave us? What is absolute? What is true? Let us say that this attitude was also, in a way, transferred to sound, to sound itself, from the microscopic point of view - the material, if you like -  and also in a global way. What is the best result, the most beautiful, the most artistic? - well, subjectively speaking. What happened is that, possibly, my scientific education strongly impregnated my first years of academic musical education. I think that this was not negative, I think that I learned a lot, the fact that they obliged me to formalise, in an extremely precise way, gave me a certain type of didactic approach, but I began to realise that, quite often, works which were less formalised were the ones which sounded best. And vice-versa. The less formalised works where there was more of that flash of: “Now this is the idea, it doesn’t matter why.” These works are frequently the ones which sound the best. I would like once again to call on painting here. Having observed the career of various painters - Picasso, Kandinsky, Pollock – who at a certain point purely and simply made a radical cut with the traditional pictorial universe and started to do things almost completely as outsiders, - like the case of the Dadaists in fact, and in a way Marcel Duchamps also, Marcel Duchamps’ very provocations, John Cage’s provocations also, (well, this could take us very far, to the limit of this type of provocation which is “Artist’s Shit” by Piero Manzoni) – all of this, in fact, leads me to ask: “What is legitimate?" or: “What is really beautiful?” “What is the best option?” “Why do I choose this and not that?”. Sometimes, the only answer I have is: “Because I felt like it at the time.” Or rather, a work is the result of various options which each of us took at various moments. Probably at another time I would have chosen slightly differently and the work would certainly sound slightly different, but possibly in its overall Pathos it would continue to sound like the work it is.


I don’t know if I answered your question well, but to underline this answer and for it to be a little clearer, at the moment what is happening is that I don’t stop myself from using a certain material or a certain form just because I was trained to think that this certain type of material could not exist or this certain type of form could not exist.


To give you another example, we live in a world which is increasingly no only mixed (from the view of races and also from the point of view of cultures) but increasingly we live in a global village. Curiously, the flux of various things – other than musical, therefore absolutely non-musical – has converged to make that which I am or that which I know. I think that these various types of flux, or types of knowledge are increasingly visible in my more recent works, which is why in some works (particularly in the project I am doing now) musical instruments from the whole world co-exist, or from most of the world. Musical instruments which often play melodic or harmonic lines, which are typical of the musical idiom to which they belong, and with which I am working by overlaying them. Or rather, I am reaching an extremely high level of fusion. Will I continue to be interested in it in the future? I don’t know, but at the moment it is an idea which I feel like using and to answer your question, it is this, at the moment if I feel like doing something, I purely and simply do it.


Now, what has happened is that I have worked more and more without formalising my work, although at times I feel the desire, well, to do a certain type of things, to speculate. Normally, if I intend to take some fairly reduced material and want to take it much further, sometimes it can be useful to formalise it. But the truth is that I have felt perfectly fine with my conscience lately, working with little formalisation or at times with none at all. But there you have it, I mean, formalisation is a tool. It is a tool which, at any time, I think that it can be useful to use and if I feel like using it at any time I will. What some of my works do is reconcile things, even those works which I consider to be better written like Dual. It is a work which reconciles exactly these two aspects, extremely high level formalist precision and, on the other hand, fairly large and extremely intuitive gestures.

Interview with Pedro Rocha

The sonic continuum and ultra-chromaticism as a “tool” for composition


I can take a sound, which I consider to be good, I won’t analyse its spectrum, it sounds good as it is, but I may take a part of this sound or of any other sound and split it into tenths of a tone as I did in To a world free from countries. In order to answer your question more precisely I would like to say the following: ultra-chromaticism, which is a concept which almost seems as if I am the only composer in Portugal who speaks about it – I would like to clarify that ultra-chromaticism is not an exclusive characteristic of my music - ultra-chromaticism has to do with present day music, or rather there are composers who do not speak of this concept but whose music involves this concept. It is, shall we say, an inevitability of present day music, where we can work on each parameter in such a precise way that in fact we are heading towards a musical continuum. You do it in your music, Emmanuel Nunes does it in his music, and other colleagues of ours do it in their own music. Maybe they don’t give it this name, maybe they speak of a spatial or rhythmic formalisation, in the case Emmanuel Nunes, well, other kinds of things, but this concept of sonic continuum, as you know, is not even my concept, it is a concept which dates way back. The modernists of the fifties spoke reams about it and so I think that, somehow, it is an inevitability and is something which belongs to all music, not only to my music but to everybody’s music, actually.


Shall we say that I, once again, would tell you that ultra-chromaticism, whether in fourths, or sixths, or eighths, or tenths, or hundredths of a semitone (I think that that a hundredth of a semitone would be hard to hear, don’t you? Also because any sound is so utterly complex and variable in time that well, it’s not even worth talking about this order of magnitude…), music itself in semitones, after all, is only in semitones - perhaps – if it were played on the piano or on the organ. If it were a choir, or an orchestra, there would be an approximation. Once again I would consider this as a tool. It is a tool which allows me to take for example – once more I remember To a world free from Countries, which has a pizzicato sound on the viola or the sound of a scale pan or other sounds which appear in the middle of the work and which are recorded and then transposed in fact to the order of a tenth of a tone - well, why a tenth of a tone? Why not an eighth of a tone, why not twelfths of a tone? Well it was a unit which seemed sufficiently small and, at the same time, sufficiently audible for me to perceive melodies, you see? It was a tool, purely and simply. It is a tool. In fact, what happens these days, if I want to do something, I do it and very often I’m not concerned with the quantification of what I do, provided it sounds good to me - with all the subjectivity that the word holds - ok, then that’s what I will do. If it’s good for me now to work on a certain type of material, and really try to use micro-rhythms, smaller intervals than the tempered semitone, well it will be a process. It is a faster way of composing perhaps, if you like. Instead of thinking lots, at times, like: “Let’s do this scheme like this…” Sometimes formalisation, or I would say, perhaps in the best cases, formalisation is what allows us to compose more quickly or make better use of our time and obtain something which is relatively consistent and coherent from a musical point of view, if this is what is important, because, these days, I should say that not even coherence and consistency are things which bother me.

Interview with Pedro Rocha

The use of electronics


It is difficult for me, with the time I have available, to be able to produce a work which has electronics in real time. This on the one hand, shall we say, is a physical and logistical difficulty I have. And a facility I have too, is to compose purely and simply to magnetic tape, therefore acousmatic music. Shall we say that it is a work process which allows me to make the best use of my time. On the other hand I have also had some difficulty with instrumentalists playing my music. Probably my tendency is to in fact write with microtones or with micro-rhythms possibly, and instrumentalists have been, in general, relatively reluctant to do this. It is evident that only instrumental music, or only acousmatic music, or the merging of acousmatic music or electronic music in real time with the instrumental world, it is evident that these are worlds which interest me and they are all valid. They are all completely valid forms of expression, in my view, which complete and complement each other. In my case I would say that it has been mostly the logistical problems of managing to achieve this as the final result. But I think that, in the relatively near future, things could become a little easier with regard to this.


Interview with Pedro Rocha

Relationship between music and image


Shall we say that there are two angles. One which is absolutely theoretical, has to do with my spiritual and evolutionist side of believing that we are on the path of acquiring greater intellectual, perceptual capacities, and that we are on the path of becoming beings whose capacities will be more effective in the future than they are at the present. The fact that we extend our perceptual capacities in contact with a work of art - or rather, not just having only the image or not just having only the sound, but rather both things – obliges us to take a quite a high leap in terms of perception, in my opinion. My experience is that it is extremely difficult to maintain a high level of perception from the point of view of observing an image and an extremely high level from the point of view of perceiving the sound at the same time. Normally what we can do is to be very aware of perceiving the musical discourse, or be also only very aware of observing a pictorial and energic discourse. Joining both together implies a somewhat high leap in perception and probably we are not, at the moment, prepared to capture the multidimensionality of these two worlds - image with sound. So why do it? Because I also believe that art is a way of making us evolve. It is a way of making us not only experience what we are, but also of extending our capacities, widening the access to our inner selves. And, in this regard, the total work of art can be a bonus - well, it can be. In fact in my own case, what I think is ideal in either case, where there is image and sound, is that we may be able to see only the image separately and only the sound by itself, or rather, we can at least have this possibility and then be able to have the possibility of bringing them together. This is something which in my opinion is a theoretical concept which is related in some way with this. Another thing which I perhaps would like to add has to do with quite an interesting article about 4 dimensional awareness which I read some time ago, where it said that "if we imagine a one dimensional being and a 2 dimensional being, the 2 dimensional being moves from A to B and this is watched by the being which lives in only one dimension. If the 2 dimensional being makes a leap along his path, a leap which is not included in the dimension of the being who lives in one dimension, this leap may not be perceived, or rather, the two dimensional being may momentarily disappear". Where does this type of speculation lead me? – to consider that at the moment we have a certain type of awareness in n dimensions (I would probably say 2 dimensions, or rather, one dimension has to do with the surface - not with volume - ) and which does not allow us to think about 2 things at the same time. Normally we can alternate, we can think about 2 things alternately but at the same time, as far as I know, this is impossible. So, in relation to art, it is also extremely difficult – if not impossible – to perceive 2 things at the same time. However, and as, once again, I believe in evolution, I think that our successors or other beings which inhabit this galaxy or other galaxies, will have these capacities – they already have a capacity to perceive more dimensions than we do. And of course they will have different artistic manifestations to our own. I also wanted to tell you that I don’t live all afflicted thinking of a kind of way out, that art has necessarily to reflect what it is to be a human in the future. Once again I insist, what is important and what is good, and what really makes us happy, is us being happy now, doing what we want to do now, and, above all, enjoying ourselves with this.

Interview with Pedro Rocha

Dual, Vórtice and Caminho


Dual, without a doubt, is the one in my catalogue I consider to be my first personal work, where in fact I managed to reconcile – in my view with a degree of success - a certain formalisation with a great deal of intuition. In fact, at the time, it was a little difficult to do this work. I recall, I had some guilt complexes for having allowed myself certain types of freedom in this work which was a thing which, at the time, was hardly conceivable for my manner of viewing composition.


Then, later on, well - Vórtice – I still think that this is quite an important work in my musical production. It still isn’t finished, but it is a work in which this intuition and this formalisation coexist, and it is a work where you can start to see not only my penchant for microtones but also for pink noise possibly, either more white noise or less white noise, pink noise, more inharmonic spectrum.


After that, in the IRCAM, Caminho, is a work which I also consider to be quite important. The same thing, therefore – there is formalisation together with a fair amount of intuition and there are mostly sounds from extremely different sources - not only the universe of instrumental sounds, but instrumental sounds which are transformed electronically, and concrete sounds used as they are or also transformed. There is therefore a relatively vast panoply of sound. It is a work which I consider to be very important although, as I had the opportunity to tell you here some years ago, even today I don’t know very well how I stand in relation to this work, given that there is such tremendous speculation about this work and, I confess, even today I don’t really know what to think about it. But there is no doubt that it was very important for the whole of my development after 1994.

Interview with Pedro Rocha

Salmo 148, To a World Free From Religions and To a World Free From Countries


Later, in 1998, I would again highlight Salmo 148 which is a work which has mixed choir, organ, soloists and magnetic tape, which still isn’t finished, but it is a work which was debuted with what already existed. In fact the magnetic tape of a part of Salmo is the part which forms the basis of To a World Free From Religions, which is quite curious, don’t you think? Because this reconciles what I often call spiritual anarchy, or a spiritualised anarchist, - I don’t know what would be the best definition -, which is exactly to have a magnetic tape which belongs to a work which, somehow, comes from the Judaic-Christian tradition, like Salmo 148, and on the other hand to be part of the basis for a work like For a World Free of Religions. This apparent type of contradiction is often extremely interesting.


I also consider To a World Free From Countries to be an extremely important work in my production, on the other hand, because it also uses images and I think that this was relatively well done. There are some works which I have still not managed to hear, for example, my piece for strings has not yet been debuted, and will no longer be played this year. It was to have been played this year in the Estoril Festival, but logistical reasons prevented this from happening because, in fact, it is quite difficult from the point of view of reading the work, given that there are a number of signs which the musicians are not used to reading. I think that this was a relatively important work from the speculative, formal, intuitive perspective and for the aspect of the use of microtones with those noises.

Interview with Pedro Rocha

Improvisation and pedagogy


There is improvisation in some of my works, Dual has a kind of improvisation. It is an open work which implies various reactions in the moment, mainly from the choice of each piece of material in each of the pages by the pianist and of the tempo he or she uses to go from one material to another. There are other works which have used improvisation, but controlled improvisation, shall we say. In relationship to the open work, which is a concept which I think is not yet totally defined, I would like to say that, on the one hand, any work is always a closed work. Why? Because for us time is processed linearly, so any work is always a closed work. It is only an open work in as much as we can then confront it with another interpretation of this same work  - and, in as much as we establish comparisons, we distinguish differences, and in this way it becomes open, - but when any work is being executed it is always a closed work. Or rather, any improvisation, in spite of everything, ends up by having a closed result when we are listening. Improvisation and the open work form become interesting when we can begin to establish differences from one interpretation to another. I personally consider that improvisation, and open work in the same measure, is an extremely interesting and extremely expressive field of possibilities and of exploration. I should say that it is something which quite interests me and which I would eventually, later on, like to be able to transport to acousmatic music.


Since 1999 I have set up an improvisation class in Leiria in which there is a component where we approach Jazz, Jazz standards, but it is only one component. Then we have another where we approach atonal music, and, at times, there are interesting things. We will improvise, for example, with only sounds of vocal chords, voice sounds with vocal chords or voice sounds without vocal chords and then we mix them, maybe with other things, or with sounds produced by our hands or by our feet. Sometimes we mix this with the instruments they themselves play and, in fact, it is very interesting that practically without any formalisation, only with verbal instructions, very often extremely interesting musical, acoustic-musical results are achieved. In fact for me it has been a laboratory, as a musician, in which I have tried out a number of things and which I think that, sooner or later, will have ramifications. Or probably it already is having an effect on my work.