Friday, May 8, 2015

An Interview with Sound Artist, Raimundo Gonzalez

“I call myself a sound artist,” says Raimundo Gonzalez with a calm confidence. There is no internal struggle as he declares this label for himself. At the same time, that simple noun phrase feels inadequate to encapsulate the complexity of his musical interests. While he does work with the choral palette in his compositions, he does not see himself as solely a choral composer.

For Gonzalez, his compositional process is guided by what he wishes to communicate. He explains that he has a concept of what he wants to say, but depending on what that message is, the medium changes. “If I wanted to work with text, then a great medium would be an art song or choral. If I'm working with a painting, and I want to make a sonic representation [of the canvas], I would try other mediums such as electroacoustic music or sound improvisation,” he states with passion. Gonzalez describes how sound improvisation explores the aesthetics of sound and how individual sounds can be presented in organized and unorganized combinations. Gonzalez is cognizant of how challenging it is to incorporate technology in a way that is still accessible for audiences. He wishes to demystify much of the electronic complexity that is hidden under the hood of computer. “I want to bring technology in a form that is still expressive and something that people can relate to and enjoy,” Gonzalez explains. One such tool is using visual feedback. Making the compositional process visible aids in audience understanding.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Gonzalez had musical exposure to many different types of music in his formative years such as piano, sacred church music, death metal, and folk music. Gonzalez’s musical start took the form of singing and playing piano. By the age of 16, he began composing music. Gonzalez takes a moment of silent contemplation while he muses on his desire to pursue composition: “Creativity is the highest form of knowledge.” This statement is paraphrased from his father. “Basically, I was always creating. I was never just performing. I was always performing, learning, and writing at the same time.” Gonzalez challenged familial expectations by pursuing music performance and composition within the academic sphere. “My Dad wanted me to be a Doctor. Even though he loves music, he never supported me being a composer… it took a while for him to open up and start listening,” he reveals. Gonzalez completed his Undergraduate in composition, classical piano, and jazz guitar performance at the Instituto Escuela Moderna de Musica in Santiago before moving to Edmonton to complete a Master's degree in Music Composition from the University of Alberta. His parents didn’t show up to hear his musical work until Gonzalez had moved to Canada. “I had to fight my own way through music. It wasn’t a decision that was supported but something I did for myself. It was challenging in a good way,” Gonzalez states with a tone of quiet determination.

Choral music plays an important role within Gonzalez’s diverse sound interests. While he identifies as a sound artist, he is drawn to using the choral sound. “I love the human voice. I think it's an instrument with endless possibilities. It is not only the instrument I perform with but one that provides me with a palette of sonic colors I can work with,” he states. Gonzalez did not begin choral singing until he was pursuing his Masters at the U of A. “The first choir that I joined was [The University of Alberta MadrigalSingers] and the first piece we sang was Haydn’s Creation. The shock of singing in harmony was mind-blowing. There’s that blend of voices becoming one as a [choral sound object],” he states with a palpable excitement.

Gonzalez’s main choral work is entitled, My Soul, with the textual inspiration coming from the Matthew 26:38 phrase:

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

“It represents a moment of a [Jesus Christ] experiencing loneliness. I think it’s a very powerful thought to think that a strong and inspirational individual can experience weakness and express it. It makes you realize they're still human... Ultimately, [loneliness] is a universal truth. It’s an emotion that is not always dealt with and it is good to externalize it,” he explains as a motive for the work before continuing. “There are two sides to the piece: there is the announcement of loneliness but there is the desire for company and there is an uplifting feeling to that - a sensation of embrace.” It is clear that Gonzalez wishes to negotiate an overlap between the two worlds of choral and avant-garde music. He has done this by employing compositional tools like aleatoricism in My Soul.

It is clear that Gonzalez does not intend to be confined by a specific medium when it comes to sound expression. “There is a lot of judgment in what an artist has to do to be a part of a certain collection of work. If you are an experimental composer, everything has to be experimental. If you’re a choral composer, then everything has to be tonal. There’s a certain expectation that if you try things are too different, you don't know what you're doing. I disagree because I feel humans have different means of expression and degrees of complexity depending on what they want to say. I'm trying to be an integral human being in my works and not represent one sole genre,” he states in a wise tone.

“How do you view your role as a composer when views of music are changing?” I ask.

Gonzalez expires his remaining reserves of air before tackling my question: “The size of what music is nowadays is so huge. It's impossible to keep up with everything. I'm just a composer, one individual, trying to make a comment on one community… I try to create an awareness of sound as being a physical phenomenon that we don't think about enough.” 

Gonzalez asks himself a guiding question when initiating the catalyst for any new project:

“What is it that I wish I could experience?”

It stems from a desire to expand the paradigm of a listener and introduce an experience the audience didn’t think was possible. “I’ve worked a lot with biometrics - sensors that use information that comes from natural systems like pulse sensors or an EEG machine. I had an installation where a whole room was connected to a set of lights. Once an individual entered the room and placed their hand on panel, the whole room would light up with their heartbeat. The listener would get to listen to their heart and experience it through different sounds and lights,” he explains with a concrete example.

There is an established sense of identity as Gonzalez prepares to move to Edinburgh in the Fall to pursue a Masters in Science and Acoustics. His aim is to continue developing as an Acoustician and Composer. “You want to have your voice so people can recognize you but, at the same time, be consistent with yourself. If you’re really interested in the message of what you want to say, you have to find a way for the audience to understand it without losing yourself,” he states as a constant struggle. It is hard to not to feel inspired upon hearing Gonzalez describe his greatest challenge, which is also his greatest motivator, as he contemplates his future with promise.

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