In focus

Miguel Azguime

Photo: Miguel Azguime, July/ August 2020 · © Paula Azguime

MIC.PT Interview

· Describe your family, cultural, and sonic/ musical roots, highlighting one or various essential aspects, defining and constituting who you are today. ·

Miguel Azguime: My maternal grandmother was musically educated. She played the piano (and also wrote poetry). From an early age I used to go regularly with my parents to the so-called classical music concerts. At home, we also used to listen to music on a daily basis, before and after dinner. There was deliberately no television, so, when we had no guests, the major part of evenings was accompanied with music from almost all the periods; however in the 20th century the history stopped on Bartók and Shostakovich. We didn’t listen to anything from the second half of the 20th century.
My music education began very early (at the age of four or five, I don’t remember exactly). Yet when I reached adolescence, I wanted to find other music, which, until then, I hadn’t been given to listen. It was the time to discover the so-called contemporary music (the 2nd Viennese School and then Messiaen, Varèse, Stockhausen, Boulez, etc.) and electroacoustic music (musique concrète and electronic music), but also rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and extra-European music, either African, Arab, Indian, Balinese, Chinese or Japanese, etc. With this extra-European music I discovered a different way of listening and feeling. I understood that, although I inevitably belong to a specific culture which is European art music, this very music, however extraordinary it may be, is only one among other sonic cultures of equal value, existing on our planet.
I reject any idea of universal and hegemonic music. Perhaps the most important aspect of my education since childhood until the moment when I decided to dedicate my life to music (at the end of my adolescence), was the diversity of what I could listen to and the diversity of the music experience that I had (from baroque to free jazz, from written composition to improvisation, including the dazzle and exaltation I experienced with the new sonorities offered to me by the new music which I was discovering little by little, for example during my first visit to the Darmstadt Summer Courses). At a given moment, I was exactly sure of the path I wanted to follow – the one of permanent discovery and with unknown destiny.

· What are your main artistic concerns at present? ·

MA: Persevere in the invention of the present to discover the future and to create, within this process, my best possible contribution, taking into account the history, my history, the human condition and my condition as a composer.

· Do you follow your path according to a plan (for example, knowing that within «x» years you will meet the «y» goals)? Or do you think that reality is too chaotic to create such determinations? ·

MA: The «path» is not defined by concrete objectives, but rather by aspirations and ideals, and by our «understanding» of the world at every moment, and therefore it is built with a creative impulse that responds to the needs of the here and now, which in turn are part of a space without limits and in an endless time, which everything and everyone incorporates.

· Frequently, you defend the existence of a mystical aspect in artistic creation. In the Interview given to the MIC.PT in 2016, you compare the composition process to an «initiatory journey»1, subjecting the composer to a transformation… Could you elaborate how this «mystical» aspect is expressed in your work and if, in this sense, you also invite your audience for this «initiatory journey»? ·

MA: The «path» which I mentioned earlier, or the «initiatory journey» which the question evokes from the previous Interview, have the same meaning. The mysticism which I relate with the art and, in this case, with my compositional work has nothing to do with religion. It rather makes reference to the word’s etymological meaning. In its origin it means «something secret and hidden», available only to the to the one who’s initiated. Later, the New Testament describes the mystic as the one who «closes the eyes and mouth in order to experience and access the mystery». Its origins can also be found in the Orphic rites from the antient Greece. They preconize a total devotion, being personified by Orpheus, poet and musician.
Thus, when I make reference to a creative artist as a mystic, I understand it in various ways corresponding with what I’ve just said: firstly, as a path of complete devotion to art (as the only way to conduct artistic research up to the limits and also as the only way to resist the «contamination» of ideas that aren’t our own); then, if this research is conducted without deviation and with honesty, it effectively constitutes a discovery with transformative properties both for the discoverer and for the listener, that is, for the one who profoundly contemplates and thus also takes this journey «closing the eyes and the mouth in order to experience and access the mystery» (which is exactly what the one who wants to listen attentively, does); furthermore: the art of music isn’t an easy language and it demands preparation and a lot of work from the one who practices it, in order to be able to have access to something that at times seems to be hidden. Finally, the best music art is able to combine intelligence and emotion in a unique way. It can lead to states of unity and totality with ourselves, possibly close to the accounts of the religious mystics, reaching communion with the absolute.

· Recently you have composed various pieces for solo instruments (with electronics) in the context of a close collaboration with Portuguese musicians – virtuosos of flute, recorder, bass clarinet, saxophone, piano or viola… Who are, for you, the performers of your music? ·

MA: The performers of my music are people whom I admire the musical and technical qualities, and who have the generosity to devote additional work to the requests I make in the scores, which may require more time and effort. They are also musicians who help me find my own path, who often teach me and who, by their skills, motivate me to go even further.

· How could you describe the timbre of your music? ·

MA: For me the timbre lies inside and not outside the music. In other words, the timbre is not an exterior idea of any kind of sound that I would want or like to hear. It is rather the music material on its own, from which the compositional operations are developed. Thus, for example, I never choose this or that instrument for the sake of its «timbre» (the «timbre» of a flute or a clarinet, etc. – here purposely in quotes in order to distinguish the concepts). It’s rather on the contrary: the timbre of this or other instrument (or else, the intrinsic acoustic properties of each instrument), dictates the compositional operations and developments. It seems paradoxical, but when I speak of the timbre, I mean the properties of the sound as an element structuring the invention and the musical development. Therefore, to describe the timbre of my music would correspond to describing the music material of a piece. It’s impossible to do it, separated from the music itself.

· In the Interview given to the MIC.PT in 2016, the composer João Madureira said that «music is philosophy and politics, which is a way of inhabiting the world»2. Do you feel close to this affirmation? ·

MA: I imagine that in this context «music» equals music creation. I this case I feel very close to this affirmation. For me art means thought and, consequently, philosophy, so music is a way of thinking the world… and music that doesn’t think is not art! When it comes to music being political – yes of course! If it’s a way of thinking and being in the world within a community, it can only be political.
Apparently, art seems to have little political expression, as in short term it doesn’t have «power», due to the means it uses and the way it communicates. Nevertheless, in mid and long term its «power» is immense, since the way in which it is capable of thinking the world allows for reinventing it and for constructing a cultural identity, shaping everybody around. Throughout history, the transformations which art promoted, and the genuineness of its thought have influenced the whole humanity in a determining manner.

· Your production has a strong interventive side, for example – the “Salt Itinerary” (2006) alludes to the artist’s solitude in the society; the opera “A Laugh to Cry” (2013) is a «cry» to draw attention towards an urgent need to redefine the values of the (post)capitalist society; one of your more recent works, “NÃO! (NO!) – Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra” (2019, premiered in Brazil…), joins the appeal to end up with the uncontrolled deforestation of the planet… «To provoke, to intervene, to draw attention…» is, in your opinion, one of the main responsibilities of contemporary composers? Do you think that Portuguese music lacks this interventive side? ·

MA: The art of music can only be thought of in the specific territory of its own language, and as such its capacity for immediate and direct intervention is limited (despite the «power» it may have, as I mentioned earlier). Nevertheless, it’s always possible, even within an abstract language, to intervene to defend qualities, point out defects, criticise, value, provoke, change the world! Every creator, intending to do so, will know the best strategy to accomplish it. The music that makes use of the word is of course a separate case!
Yet completing the beginning of this answer, to my mind, the greatest intervention is always of aesthetic order (even though it can be complemented with other types of interventions). From this point of view, in Portugal, after a certain inventive and innovative flame in the beginning of this century, the pace became creeping, with a great number of aimlessly drifting creators.

· Does humour make part of your music? If yes, how is it expressed in your creation and what are its features? ·

MA: In my case humour appears only in the presence of texts or theatrical actions and it doesn’t exist in the music, as such. Yet in the pieces where it is possible, I have sometimes deliberately resorted to humour, or more precisely to satire, as a complementary form of communication, frequently being expressed with something surprising and unexpected.

· When do you fully assume microtonal and spectral techniques in your language? What are the aspects of spectralism that you find attractive? ·

MA: In terms of compositional writing, my education has three main ancestries (apart from the great music of the past): serialism, musique concrète and spectralism, which in a certain way allowed for a conceptual conciliation of the two former ones.
When it comes to spectralism, I do not mean the spectral French school, sensu stricto (although I studied with Tirstan Murail in Paris), but rather the approach that I denominate as the «spectral understanding» of the sonic phenomenon and the consequences I take from it for my composition. This way of understanding the sonic phenomenon allowed me to include in the same plan all types of sounds (and also, consequently, all types of sonic creation processes: instrumental, concrète, electronic, …), and to combine apparently contradictory writing techniques. This «spectral understanding» is particularly embracing, being an expanded concept of what sound and music actually is. Potentially, it incorporates different «types of music» and thus by itself it doesn’t have any aesthetic implications. As understanding, it also includes listening, carrying not only a different way of comprehending music, but also another way of perceiving it. When it comes to microtonality… since it’s specific to every timbre (and the timbre is the main paradigm of my music), in my case the development of microtonality is thus an inevitable and coherent consequence of this very understanding of the sonic phenomenon and of its organisation into music.

· To what extent do the new electronic and digital instruments open for you new paths and when do they become constraining? ·

MA: One needs to consider two types of electronic and digital instruments: the ones that produce sound (that is, the proper music instruments) and the ones that allow for a symbolic representation of music and its consequent manipulation. I have rarely used electronic music instruments. Now the music representation and calculating instruments, whose paradigm can be the computer, these ones play a fundamental role in my way of thinking and composing music. When connected with the sonic analysis instruments, the computer lets me construct a working environment particular to my aesthetic needs. It has become an unconditional tool, in which I can’t find any constraints, and which allows me to develop logical systems accompanying, step by step, the development of my continuous compositional exploration.
Additionally, it allows for an intertextuality between disciplines (particularly between poetry and music), supporting greatly the way I handle my multidisciplinary stage works and operas.

· In what sense research and invention are inseparable elements of music creation and of Art, in general? ·

MA: By definition, Art is an invention to go through and explore the sensitive world in an intelligent and communicative way. Such an invention implies, necessarily, a thorough research and exploration, if one truly wants to communicate something relevant and unique. Otherwise, it’s better to remain silent.

· How do you listen to music? Is it a more rational (analytical) or emotional process? ·

MA: I listen to music exactly as the mystics, which I’ve mentioned earlier, «closing the eyes and mouth in order to experience and access the mystery ». This mystery is an assembly of diverse phenomena: acoustic (therefore physical), psychoacoustic, rational, emotional, cultural, etc.; which, precisely because of being a mystery, I’m unable to define… an absolute of life in a given moment!

· Do you prefer to work isolated in the «tranquillity of the countryside» or in the middle of the «urban confusion»? ·

MA: I don’t prefer… I do need total isolation to compose, whenever I start a new work! And it’s not indifferent whether it’s in the countryside or in the city – I definitely prefer the tranquillity of the countryside. But the most important thing is the isolation, which means not to be interrupted, no interferences, no disturbances... In this time when we are always connected… I deliberately decide to disconnect at these moments!

· How did the pandemic change your life as composer, performer and artistic director of Miso Music Portugal and O’culto da Ajuda? Not being able to participate in rehearsals, concerts, in the organisation of performances must be a strange sensation… ·

MA: Regarding composition, the immediate change was insignificant (apart from the concern, disquiet and anxiety of this situation, dramatic and fatal for a lot of people, with deaths and severe human tragedies all around the planet). With the absence of other activities (which are plentiful) I got more time to compose. This allowed me to develop and complete various running composition projects and also to dedicate some time to finish various pending issues (for years, in some cases).
For my work as performer, the pandemic has been a disaster, since all the events have been cancelled and the ones which in the meantime have been rescheduled are shrouded in uncertainty.
When it comes to my work as artistic director of the Miso Music Portugal and O’culto da Ajuda, it has been even more disastrous, since all the activity has been interrupted and even though we’re rescheduling the major part of the planned events, some things are hopelessly lost. What also causes my suffering is to see the difficulties of my colleagues directly involved in our activities, and not to be able to help them as I would wish to.
And there’s some apprehension towards solely on-line and in live stream events, leaving a bitter sensation of profound dissatisfaction, despite all the enthusiasm and energy that we dedicate to these initiatives.

· Could you reveal the projects on which you are working at the moment and your artistic plans for 2021, 22…? ·

MA: A month ago, I have finished a work for 12 a cappella voices. It’s a commission by the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, which will be premiered by the Austrian vocal ensemble Cantando Admont on October 17th and 18th in Graz and Vienna, respectively. Then, the piece will be performed in Lisbon, on October 23rd. Presently, I’m writing a triple concerto for clarinet, cello, piano and orchestra, which will be my homage to Beethoven. The work has been commissioned by the Belém Arts Centre (CCB) Foundation and it will be premiered on December 15th at the CCB by the Sond’Ar-te Electric Ensemble Soloists and by the Alma Mater Camerata, conducted by Pedro Neves.
I’m also preparing a new sound poetry performance, which will be premiered at the beginning of 2021 at the Rainha Theatre in Caldas da Rainha. Apart from this for next year I have already planned and sketched two new works for solo instruments and electronics, as well as a duo for cello and piano. I’m also preparing a new Op-Era, which will have an interventive character and which will be a «cry» in defence of the indigenous people, who still exist on our planet and who are ominously threatened.

· If you hadn’t followed the path of an artist – composer, performer and poet –, what alternative paths would you have taken? ·

MA: This life decision was made early, at the age of 16, and so I left my parent’s home quite precociously, still as a minor, at the age of 17 and without any help. I had to build my path without godfathers or concessions. Unless it was bound by force, there is no other path for me. My being is integrally fused with what I create… What if I had to go back? I would do the same again!

· In one of the more recent interviews the Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas has said that «the new art creators act as yeast in the society»3. What is, in your opinion, the role that art music plays in the society and how is it possible to increase the importance of this role? ·

MA: Art music, just as all art worthy of this name, is created by great inventors and discoverers leading their research up to the limits, often going beyond their time and culture, increasing our sensibility and our sensitive knowledge on the world and life. Art is not accessory (contrary to the opinion of many) and it is, yes, fundamental for the human condition. It’s an aesthetic and communicative manifestation, characterising the being and the whole history of humanity, which, over time, has moved forward thanks to great art. Art is a sublime and extraordinary combination of perception, emotion, thought, ideas and intelligence. It has no equivalents. Our future is constructed and invented by means of our creative capacity.
Creation in general and art in particular, motivate innovation and discovery, hence for me they constitute the key for the capacity of humanity’s evolution. I find it even more important and vital that art within society, separated from the economic interests of the market, can be developed in the sense to preserve this evolution for the good of all at a global level. Artistic creation has, effectively, generating and regenerating virtues, inherent in the humanity itself.
Its role becomes even more relevant in the climate of a profound philosophical and civilisational crisis, which we’re experiencing at the moment. I believe that art and creativity constitute a crucial and privileged bridge to overcome this crisis – they are a real model of civilisational thought.

· In terms of aesthetics and techniques the history of Western art music is full of births, ruptures, deaths, rebirths, continuations, discontinuations, other ruptures and so on… Taking on the role of a «futurologist», could you predict the future of Western art music? ·

MA: I don’t think it’s possible to do «futurology », but I profoundly believe in the regenerating capacity of the new generations. I hope that their present and future proposals will follow the best examples from the past and that they’ll know how to respond to the new challenges and contexts, which the contemporaneity brings. In other words, I hope that their response to the present time is positive, responsible and solidary.

Miguel Azguime, July/ August 2020

1 Interview to Miguel Azguime, conducted by the MIC.PT in July 2016 and available at: >> link.
2 Interview to João Madureira, conducted by the MIC.PT in October 2016 and available at: >> link.
3 Interview to Georg Friedrich Haas, conducted by Filip Lech in June 2020 and available on-line on the website at: >> link.