A recording of José María Sánchez-Verdú’s Libro de las estancias (The Book of Abodes) appears on the first documentation CD from the 2013 Warsaw Autumn Festival. An hour-long music theatre/installation piece, it makes use of spatial distribution of its performers, lighting effects, electronics, and a mobile audience.
In how it relates space and time to musical sound, the piece owes much to Nono’s Promoteo. The connection is more than coincidental, since it makes use of an ‘auraphone’, an ‘installation-instrument’ developed at the Freiburg Experimentalstudio with Joachim Haas for Sanchez-Verdú’s opera Aura. The idea of the auraphone is to create a space in which resonating instruments – such as gongs and tam-tams – can interact with the voices and instrumental performers. It isn’t played as such; it responds autonomously to the sounds created around it. However, it is controlled from the mixing desk, so its compositional function goes beyond that of, say, Radulescu’s upturned pianos (‘sound icons’). The effect, however, of a sonically excited, mobile, plasmatic space very definitely connects with both Radulescu and Nono.
I’m still acquainting myself with Sánchez-Verdú’s output; I wrote a short note about his SCRIPTVRA ANTIQVA (2008) from the Neue Vocalisten Stuttgart CD of madrigals on col legno a couple of months ago for Little Star, but beyond that I don’t know much. (On that occasion I admired how well he managed to sustain a meaningful musical continuity despite an almost complete erasure of his material.) The composer describes Libro de las estancias variously as ‘a pilgrimage through seven abodes’, ‘a poetic reflection on sound, space, light, and the voice’, and ‘a great palimpsest composed as a meditation on a part of Spain’s history that goes beyond the merely sociological or political reality of the period ushered in by the expulsion of the Moriscos (Moorish converts) after the 1609 decree’.
So as well as its contemporary installation aspects, it is also a meditation on 16th-century Al-Andalus, on Moorish Spain and the hybridity of Western and Arab perspectives. Sánchez-Verdú delineates these according to differing ways of organizing space, time, sound, light, and life, derived from the Arab desert or the Greco-Roman city. The texts reflect this duality, taken from the forged Torre Turpiana mansucript, and the Codex Calixtinus, as does the use and antiphonal distribution of two solo singers, one Arab and one Western. The result, however, partly thanks to the auraphone and partly thanks to Sánchez-Verdú’s light-handed techniques of collage and layering, is of a continuous space rather than a confrontational one.
There’s a short video introduction to the piece’s performance at Warsaw Autumn last year here:
The first two images used in this post have been taken from that video.