ISSN 2605-2318


Rebecca  Saunders (Compositora) 

Rebecca Saunders en El Compositor Habla


Entrevista. Rebecca Saunders | Silence is like the canvas behind the sound Rebecca Saunders es sin duda una de las compositoras más originales de su generación y su música ha sido reconocida con varios premios prestigiosos, el último: el prestigioso Mauricio Kagel Musikprize 2015. Invitada en numerosos foros y universidades, Rebecca Saunders ha impartido clases en el Darmstadt Ferienkurse, Graz, Ostrava y Hannover, entre otros. Desde 2003, Saunders ha intensificado su interés en las propiedades escultóricas del sonido organizado, explorando diferentes collages de grupos de cámara y fuentes de sonido en varios espacios. En composición, la preocupación actual de la compositora es una investigación del solista musical de dos maneras distintas: con obras para solista, y al mismo tiempo el solista en concierto; ya sea para solista y orquesta o solista y conjunto de instrumentaciones especiales.

Ruth Prieto, for ComposerSpeaks, interviews composer Rebecca Saunders

Silence is like the canvas behind the sound

"An unobtainable ideal. Silence is like the canvas behind the sound. It frames the sound. Silence is the absence. It can be implied and presented but only with the presentation of its opposite, of presence. Silence is an ideal and is absolutely fascinating. And impossible."

1. Ruth Prieto: Which characteristic defines you best?

Rebecca Saunders: I don´t know. It´s a very subjective thing, isn´t it, not just the listening experience, but what you perceive to be the qualities or the defining characteristics of someone´s music. What speaks to one person need not speak to another, and that is a good thing. There is no single way of hearing, listening, focusing on and perceiving a sound. Indeed, the particular process of communicating an ideal compositional form through the abstract means of a written score, which in turn is performed, the music projected into acoustic space in a fleeting moment to the listener … I don´t know, that wasn´t the question… I think my music divides itself pretty clearly into two kinds of states, the one pre-occupied with a certain "Stillness", drawing music out of silence, creating a static reduced skeletal almost mobilé-like music, and then the abrupt, direct, gestural, indeed choleric music, which is driven and can be overtly aggressive…Although these two musics embrace very different states, they are both concerned with creating stasis-like sonic structures, something that particularly intrigues me at present.

2. R.P.: What is composition for you in this day and age?

Rebecca Saunders: "In this day and age" implies a point of reference to another epoche, which opens up a big terrain. At present and in respect to my own music I find this rather difficult to define - I am too close up to it, inside it. And composition is very personal and we composers have infinitely different ways of embracing this process. At present for me the act of composing traces a process of thinking, a deeply explorative means of creating new virtual spaces in which one can create new acoustic structures and models, but it´s also a process of asking questions and seeking answers, and it is definitely about creating these acutely necessary moments of "inbetween", suspended outside of the normally experienced flow of everyday life, it´s about creating environments where an otherness is given space to breath and to enfold, to explode, to mutate.

3. R.P.: What inspires you as a composer and why?

Rebecca Saunders: Anything and everything

4. R.P.: What is your main obsession when working?

Rebecca Saunders: Precision would be number two. At present my first and foremost obsession is tracing a sound which if possible embodies a contradiction in terms: for example in the last 4 or 5 years I´ve been fascinated by sounds which embody an inherent fragility combined with a simultaneous potential to be direct, aggressive and overwhelming. A sound which has the potential to create two completely opposing sonic states, and/or conditions of being. I´m interested in the juxtaposition of extreme opposites not just in terms of the sonic material and the timbral fragments that I work with, but also in a wider sense I am pre-ooccupied with setting up an inherent contradiction within a piece, tracing a clear dialectic in a given moment.

5. R.P.: Could you describe your creative process?

Rebecca Saunders: Such a big question. That encompasses simultaneous processes on very different levels, some of which I cannot articulate. But, one important issue is exploring fragments of acoustic sounds, naturally occuring timbral fragments, sounds with particular acoustic properties that I focus in on and become, to use your words, "obsessed" with. Then a certain process of development takes place, pursuing the sonic potential of these fragments, not development in a dramatic sense, but stretching, exploring, mutating the material. Often the gestural fragments define the formal structure of the work, something which becomes apparent through the act of composing itself. It is important to ask questions, and seek answers through the composing process, gradually defining the formal parameters necessary to articulate both question and answer. A further issue - there is often something outside of the music, which runs parallel to the composition process, an idea, a question, an image… a point of reference outside of the pure sonic manifestation of the work can sometimes be important, but isn´t always so.

6. R.P.: What are you working on now?

Rebecca Saunders: I´m completing a series of smaller pieces for soli and duos, many of which will eventually be fused into a large-scale dance theatre piece for 2018. I am exploring certain vocal fragments with a wonderful soprano as preparation for a large voice and ensemble piece to be performed later on in 2016. Having written two large concertos last year my present preoccupation with solo instruments and their minutely detailed timbral palettes is incredibly liberating and feels very healthy. I´m also just finishing up a series of a small chamber pieces on which I´ve been gradually working on the over a number of years.

7. R.P.: What are your musical roots (real or imaginary)?

Rebecca Saunders: My parents and grandmother are/were pianists and my grandfather was an organist. My father arranges choral music, and since retirement he has become an organist and runs a choir. There is also a strong vocal tradition in the family, and my sister is a jazz singer. And I did at least ten years ballet as a child, so movement to music was an integral part of my life. I studied the violin and played in many orchestras for many years. As a teenager and in my twenties I did a lot of clubbing, dancing, being enveloped in sound was important, in a way just like playing the violin in an orchestra.

8. R.P.: In this personal "inventory" that we all have of noises, sounds, music and songs, what can you tell us about your soundscape?

Rebecca Saunders: Living in a city environment is I think very important to me. I love the seeming cacophony, the noise, the metal, voices, stone and machine sounds. I like to follow the dialogue of seemingly estranged sounds around me. Specific to my work, I am at present extremely interested in exploring timbral fragments that embody an inherent contradiction, which I described briefly above in 4., which enables me to exploit contrasting sonic states or conditions. … at present I am trying to explore processes of mutation between different states …. not a process of development and no longer just single static states, but trying to form a very gradual process of mutation from one particular sound fragment world to the next … this is something that preoccupies me greatly at the present.

9. R.P.: What is silence?

Rebecca Saunders: An unobtainable ideal. Silence is like the canvas behind the sound. It frames the sound. Silence is the absence. It can be implied and presented but only with the presentation of its opposite, of presence. Silence is an ideal and is absolutely fascinating. And impossible. Thinking about and being acutely aware of silence is necessary to compose, and being aware of working within the framework of silence enables me to sense the absolute necessity of each sound, whether it´s on paper or played in real time and space. Silence is also a potential, under the surface of silence lies an infinite potential of sound, from which one draws a fragment of sound like on a thread, or one lets it momentarily explode and be again engulfed by silence.

10. R.P.: Have you got a composer of reference or someone who made a special impression on you as a composer?

Rebecca Saunders: I think that I´ve played and studied and listened to an enormous amount of Bach and it has had a strong influence on me. Also listening to the music of Galina Ustwolskaya made a profound impression on me because of its stringencies and its extraordinary courage, and her ability to reduce music to its essence - to work with skeletal structures and to present a music of such intensity with the simplest and most reduced means possible. That I found incredible. Discovering the music of Morton Feldman when I first went to the States in 1995 was fascinating. It introduced me to another sense of time and musical space, and made me aware of the creative potential of the smallest and most simple fragment. The abstraction of the late Beethoven String quartets. The power and uncompromising nature of the orchestral music of Xenakis. The city landscapes of Varese. Lachenmann - his extraordinary differentiation and precision, and also the deep sensuality of his musical landscape.

"And I played an enormous amount of orchestral music when I was younger and I think that I am still hearing those resonances and still working through those listening and performance experiences when I write."

11. R.P.: Have you got any eccentricities when composing?

Rebecca Saunders: Probably…I can´t smoke anymore when I write, which is a pity because I think that it is a wonderful thing. I go running, I bite my fingernails, I bite my pencils, the usual things. I eat raw vegetables. Not very interesting.

12. R.P.: What do you expect from the future?

Rebecca Saunders: It is best not to expect and I try to be ready for anything and to focus on the task at hand.

13. R.P.: What have you not yet been asked to do in music?

Rebecca Saunders: I would love to work more closely with dance. I did a large-scale project a long time ago in 2003 and I now have a projects-in-progress planned for 2017 and 2018. But I also would like to work with dance in smaller and more intimate constellations, and would be fascinated to have some of my past pieces choreographed. And to explore freer musical structures and performance possibilities together with a choreographer…I´m interested in accentuating the physicality of the performer and of the listening experience, the immediacy of sound. I would also like to work with comtemporary film. That would be fascinating.

Rebecca Saunders, Berlín, August 2015

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