Gemma Ragués Pujol (Komponistin)
Musikwissenschaftler Michael Zwenzner im Gespräch mit Gemma Ragués Pujol.
MZ: Well, my first question would just be: Would you like to introduce yourself, tell us something about who you are, what you are doing? That would be wonderful to get into our conversation.
GRP: I’m Gemma Ragués and I’m a composer, writer and performer. And this year I will be at Eclat presenting my project Treppenhaus, which will be sung and performed by Daniel Gloger and Truike van der Poel. And it’s a piece that combines scenography, singing, choreography and poetry texts.
MZ: Great. So to begin with, could you just tell me something about the general concept of the Poetry Affairs project? I think that’s your second contribution for the project now for this festival?
GRP: Right, it’s the second time that I’m working in Ptoetry Affairs. And I think the concept is basically to combine poetry and music and to find out where the boundaries between text and music are. What is text and what is singing and where can it be placed? That’s why it gathers some poets and some composers. And I think the aim is to gather forces and to just discover new ways of presenting sung music.
MZ: Okay. So last time for your piece Probleme you have worked with the text by poet Cia Rinne that was presented by three singers and by a psychotherapist. This time the constellation is quite different. Could you just tell us something about your choices of texts and the cast and the content of this piece, and what genre would you assign your work to? It’s not a Klavierlied, right?
GRP: Yes. So this year I wanted take the challenge to produce the text and the music myself, because for me, it’s so bound together that when I think about music, I already think about words. So it kind of melts in such a way that sometimes it’s even hard to take an external text and just put it into music. Because for me, it really comes together, everything like the concept and the scenography. And that’s why this year I wanted to try to work with my own texts and music.
MZ: And the decision for the cast was given, of course, by the personnel of Neue Vocalsolisten. How closely have you collaborated with the singers in creating your piece and how much mutual influencing was there within the process of writing and composing?
GRP: Very close. Very close, actually. I asked specifically if I could work with Daniel and Truike because they are a countertenor and an alto, and they have these very similar voices in terms of pitch, so they could sing the same pitch, and if you close your eyes, you wouldn’t know really well who is who if you don’t know them so much. This is because I wanted to work with repetition and symmetry and asymmetry, I wanted to have two voices that are almost the same, and to kind of take them apart and then bring them together again. And that’s why I chose them both. And we have been working very closely in the process, because the piece also involves movements, and the dramaturgy is so much linked to what is happening on stage that we really had to try out the set together in order to see if some movements are right, if they can do some things or not because it’s a physical piece and in a way we created some of the movements together. I had the idea and then we tried whether this works, this not, maybe yes, maybe not and maybe this could work instead… Yeah, that was great. So it was very close. And actually it’s a very dear process that I can work in this way, me investing so much time and also them, it’s like something very precious because then it becomes very personalized to who they are.
MZ: And this time you’re also involved as a performer, again? Are you also on stage?
GRP: No, no. It’s different than last year that I was on stage. As you saw in the script, there’s also my name written somewhere, but I will just be at the mixing desk with the microphone as a third narrative voice, sometimes telling them what to do, but they are the main characters on stage.
MZ: Okay. So as you have told before, you have a very broad concept of composing, which includes not only creating music but also the text, the performance, the choreography, stage situations, even objects, maybe. How do all these things come together in the creative process? Do you have a correspondingly comprehensive imagination before you start writing, or do you build all this step by step?
GRP: It’s different every time. I need to say it’s very different in this case. What came first was the idea of working with some set of stairs. I wanted to create a nice scenography and something which turned out to be like infinite. And that’s why there are these two blocks of stairs on stage that form a square, so they could just be walking all the time and actually be going nowhere because they are in the same place. So I had this very strong idea of the set that I wanted to work with and from there it made perfect sense: I have two voices which are very similar and I have two sets of stairs which are asymmetrical and then that’s where it started. And then I decided: okay, so now maybe the text also needs to be in this way, symmetrical or cyclical. And also the different elements that keep coming in, which are like numbers that coordinate the time, how it passes by, which is also like what the stairs symbolize. So in the end it’s like a representation of life through this stair set, I would say.
MZ: I saw a video that you have produced for the Musikhochschule Bern, I think, where you said you fell in love with repetition somehow. And just going up and down the steps has also a repetitive momentum which you might take on also musically. We will speak about the music later. First of all, maybe you could tell us some words about what the story is about?
GRP: In terms of content, it’s a representation of life. And it’s taken in the sense that two people meet and meet again and it’s like they keep meeting and separating during the piece and it repeats itself. So sometimes it’s as if you were in another universe: now we are in another dimension and here we are meeting again and something different could happen. Now maybe someone would die, will fall down the stairs or now maybe we will almost marry. And now we will just walk around the stairs. And this is what it is about. It’s like saying: all stories can happen in the same place. And yes, that’s basically it. It’s approaching going away and meeting, time traveling, going to the past, also: what does saying goodbye to a person or to a past self of you mean? So it’s some airy and fluid way of representing life and meeting one another.
MZ: In the dramaturgical setup, there are two parts that are called time travel. What’s the role of those time travel aspects within the whole dramaturgy of the piece? Is it a symbolization of memory or what are they about?
GRP: It’s also about how time passes by. So sometimes we will see that they just go a bit apart. Okay, now we would meet again and something slightly different might happen as two seconds ago. If we would have done these two seconds two seconds later, again something else would have happened. So this is what it means. And because they are just walking around this set in many different ways, it’s just showing the different possibilities.
MZ: Let me ask you about the genre. Would you say it’s a miniature music theater piece in a way, or is it on the threshold between concert music and theater? How would you consider this?
GRP: It’s difficult to know the answer. I would say there’s some theater and there’s some music and there’s some choreography. Whatever is in between could be a nice thing.
MZ: Well, one of the basic topics of this project is, of course, the relationship between language and music. Now I would ask you, how you generally consider the relationship between language and music? Because naming and sounding are so different modes of expressing yourself. And it’s the same for the perception. It’s always quite difficult to follow those two different paths of different modes of perception. So in short: What’s your thinking about the relationship between language and music?
GRP: For me, it’s just the same! I don’t know if there is a border, sometimes it’s just like a thin line. And in the two extremes you would have pure text and then you would have pure music and everything in between can be. But it’s difficult actually just to have pure text. I think it doesn’t exist. It’s something very abstract. Or pure music. I’m always dealing with the places in between. For instance, I don’t know…, should I read some of the text? If I just say like: »She was lovely, was she was lovely, was lovely. Was lovely. Was she was lovely. Was she was lovely. Was she lovely. Was lovely. Was she was lovely. Was lovely. Was lovely. Was. Was. Was.«… I don’t know. Is this text or music?
MZ: I see. Let me now ask you about your music. I’ve seen several YouTube videos with your compositions for different settings, for ensemble, orchestra, for voices, for instrumentalists, and for electronic representation. How does your music manifest itself in this piece in terms of sound? Besides the voices, what sources of sound are involved with your piece?
GRP: So basically in this case, there’s a huge presence of electronics because I wanted to establish a strong beat and strong bass line that symbolizes the dispersing of time and also to give some bass and some force to this set. And that’s why I recorded them and then later on I processed everything. So some of the landscapes that appear are just there and they also make reference to memories or to something that is there while on stage they are just walking. But at the same time we hear them. And I like to use this a lot in my compositions, to play with this absence and presence on stage, and absence and presence of music and sound. And I think it results in something a bit like magic, like you don’t see the trick but it still works.
MZ: And is it fixed media or is it generated by live electronics?
GRP: So here everything will be produced before and very specifically composed. I usually find myself hyper-composing everything and this piece, it’s so composed because all the steps and movements that they do, we kind of decided them together. So it’s like everything that will happen on stage it’s pretty pre-composed.
MZ: How is the relationship between live electronics and the parts of the two singers and your speaking part? Are you working with click tracks or is it relating rather freely?
GRP: They just know the tape and they will just go by heart and be on the specific point on top of the electronics.
MZ: And what about the sound sources that you are using for the fixed media part:. Did you use existing music or have you generated all of it yourself on the computer? Is it concrete material or is it electronic sounds? How would you describe your music and its sources acoustically?
GRP: So in this case, I generated everything. It’s mostly some electronics, some beats, some synthesizers, some bass that I also recorded. And then it’s their voices that we recorded. And then later on I filtered it and so on. And it results in kind of an experimental techno atmosphere that gives some kind of power in my opinion, and also contributes to the lyrics of their voices. So there are these different moments like: Okay, now we are on the beat and then we are really next to it. And now we are floating and just being inside, being hacked by all these voices that are around us.
MZ: My impression was that it’s a mixture of some electronica music and also pop music elements. But I also had to think of Robert Ashley’s video operas somehow. What about the stylistics of your music? Are you interested in creating a very strong way of personal stylistics, or are you always looking for new ways to create sound for each project?
GRP: I try to find the best way for the project to express itself. So I think: what does it need here? What force can I mobilize for this specific idea to make it more uplifting? I don’t think I am interested in just seeking a stylistic way, but of course it’s there because in the end it’s just me, no?
MZ: So it’s just something of a byproduct of your work so to say. As I have read your piece, it gives me the impression of dealing with basic aspects of social life: meeting someone by chance, getting acquainted, developing compassion and falling in love, being caught by repetitive and additive routines of everyday life, and finally missing and escaping each other even by tragically dropping dead in the end. So there is lots and lots of everyday experiences involved, somehow a kind of tragedy of human life in a nutshell, I would say. Would you like this interpretation? Of course it’s free to each one to respond in his own way. My question is now how you personally deal with these very difficult times that we are living in? How strong are you interested in creating relationships between your everyday experience and your artistic work?
GRP: So yeah, I like this interpretation that you mentioned. It is one of my favorite things to just deal with my day to day things because I feel there’s so much behind it. There’s everything behind these routines and these daily problems that we encounter. And yes, life and death appear, but not in a tragical way or in a drama way, just like as one more thing that happens and it’s around us and sometimes even to the point that–in a humorous way, in a light way–that it gives another shift to the situation that we have now. And this is what I am usually doing because I would find it pretentious for me to point to this as a very »deep« topic in a »deep« way because: I am not the expert. No. I can just add this vision that suddenly gives another shift to the thing at hand, and that already changes a lot.
MZ: Thank you very much. Finally, I would like to ask you for some very short statement of maybe one minute duration about the project that would be able to arise the interests and to encourage the audience not to miss this event, this concert and your piece. Would that be fine with you?
GRP: My piece is called Treppenhaus, and it will be performed by Daniel Gloger and Truike van der Poel, and it’s kind of a representation of life in an airy and fluid way. And there will be like a gigantic set of stairs, which consists of two blocks making like two pyramids where they will be just walking and meeting each other during this piece and: Who knows what will happen?