Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I did not study music, but the very basics. I don’t write what I want to do. I am an empiric, intuitive composer. If I have an idea about how I would like the piece to sound, I begin with a kind of skeleton first, maybe for a piece like “Orinoco”. I can draw on paper an ascending line, a waving one, then some letters and signs. After a while, I do not know what it means. Sometimes I see in my mind the music moving. It helps. I record a channel. Then I usually think about what sound will be best for the second channel (many times, I already have the idea while I record the first part). The process of immersion is guided by the music, or by an inner direction. I need complete concentration, isolation. I’m not able to explain how it works. Sometimes it comes as an impulse, sometimes like a trance.
I have a personal notation that is very rudimentary. C (do) is P, p; D (re) is D, d; G (sol) is N, n, and so on. Almost never do I write on a pentagram. I underscore, include arrows and other symbols. If the piece is too long, I have some trouble if I do not remember parts of it. Then the process complicates. And the result will depend on the degree of concentration and intuition. I am not always able to explain the process or path I followed.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I dedicated myself to experimenting with sounds and making electronic music alone in my small home studio, and now sometimes with an outdated computer. It is to me important to be able to concentrate and to be completely alone.
In 1967-69, I was part of a group of students at the Universidad de Oriente, UDO. Guitar, battery, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and piano. It was an excellent experience. We played bossa nova, jazz, movie themes, pop music, a bit of Venezuelan music. I like to be part of an ensemble. It helps to have discipline, to not deviate from the rhythm and it’s wonderful when it all flows well. The director was really good. We did not play music composed by us, but when playing jazz, you have some freedom to improvise. When I was working at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC), I belonged to a small musical group of three people for a short time, and it was a great experience. I am in touch with Latin American women musicians who have been working for years making experimental, electroacoustic, and electronic music. We have been talking about working on musical projects, and I know we will do great things together.
If there is a possibility, I would like to make arrangements for some of my songs, like “Orinoco”, “Mariposas acuáticas”, “Estudio para una sinfonia ucraniana” and others, to be played by a symphonic orchestra and electronic instruments (could be a small one, hopefully including a variety of instruments, among them harp, bandura, typical instruments from Latin America, Asia, Africa…any instrument from anywhere, some common objects). I understand that it is a dream.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
My creative activities in visual arts and music relate to the world outside and inside me. I tend to believe in what Jung called the collective unconscious, but also in the individual characteristics: personality, inclinations, phobias, etc. My work relates to any part of the world, and to imaginary worlds, to my family, and events in my life. Inspired by different musical expressions, by the sounds found in nature. Our ancestors used to make music with rudimentary instruments. Animals also react to music and, in general, to certain sounds. Unless a person is too depressed, it is natural to love to listen to music.
I read an article in Mental Floss that said some interesting things like, Classical music and heavy metal fans are very similar psychologically, music trigger the nucleus accumbens in the brain, whicih is associated with dopamine, playing lullabies to premature babies helped them grow stronger and healthier quicker, and that music decreases anxiety and assists immune system function. In 2012, a study found that while cyclists pedalled in time to music, they needed seven percent less oxygen than cyclists who pedalled to silence.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
When you listen to some types of music, some regions of the brain can get activated. Memories, places, feelings, are again making you cheerful, depressed, angry, lonely, etc. Does music contribute to understanding these questions about the big topics in life? I feel that it describes or revives processes. Maybe a long time has passed since you had some experiences, maybe as a child. Now you could understand things that were not clear before. Or things are still an enigma. Why do minor tones make people feel sad or even depressed?
I cannot stand listening to certain music that reminds me of terrible events, and love listening to music related to happy times. When I feel sad or want to express pain related to things, like war, death, suffering, I play music that I “compose” or improvise, with minor tunes. It does not make me feel better. But it is not easy to express some feelings with words, and music helps.
“The Theory of Musical Equilibration is the first to create a psychological paradigm which explains the emotional effects of music. It breaks down musical sequences into one of their most essential components ― harmony ― and directly uses this material as the basis of its argument. Harmony is essentially music in its concentrated form, since within a single moment it can reflect melodic and other musical processes which otherwise can only be depicted over a given interval of time. The psychology of harmony is the psychology of musical feelings… the emotional character of musical harmonies cannot only be systematically deconstructed, but plausibly justified and empirically demonstrated.” (Daniela and Bernd Willimek, 2011). There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
The curiosity and dedication to finding relationships between music and physics go back to the ancient Greeks. But rudimentary instruments have been found to exist in the late Paleolithic. Physics permeates the language we use to describe music. Theory of Musical Equilibration is an explanation to what I have witnessed and felt, an example of how important the connections are between music and science.
“The late musicologist Jonathan Kramer started his book The Time of Music with the observation that small children play with blocks and toys to learn the fundamental concepts of space; by contrast, by singing and clapping, they play with music to learn about time”. We need a very large amount of scientific data to design or compose the music or a tapestry of music that is effective for an individual when wanting to obtain the best results for a neurologic disorder, an emotional situation, or other cases. Being all of us different, there is no one solution for all. For decades, groups of scientists tried to build a realistic computer model that could describe consciousness.
Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff long ago devised a hypothesis about consciousness that considers microtubules in neurons. And in these microtubules, quantum processes linked to consciousness would develop. This postulate has been criticized and considered to be “a poor model of brain physiology”. In April 2022, experimental results were presented at The Science of Consciousness Conference and they suggest quantum phenomena inside the microtubules. All the extremely complicated processes that take place in the brain when we hear or make music, are being studied with sophisticated tools, huge computers, but still much work has to be done to understand these and many more processes.
The neocortex is thought to be the most recently evolved part of our brains, and the one involved in some of our higher-order functions, like cognition and sensory perception. We can easily remember many songs, music pieces. But most of us cannot remember many poems. Although music is considered a language, it has a different quality if we compare it with the language that we employ to talk. The regions of the brain that are involved and the neuronal/synaptic, and all the complex neurological intricate processes which take place, are somehow different. All this is important when talking about a functional, rational, scientific approach to music.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
When making a great cup of coffee, it may be an almost mechanical action, also an art. Through music, we can express a plethora of emotions, feelings, make people want to dance, or listen quietly, or inspire them to do things, heal, etc. We are more creative when composing music and our brain uses different regions. Also, we can be creative in the kitchen, planting in a garden, designing things, decorating, doing many more things that can be considered artistic. But music is a distinctive endeavour. Of course, we can be “composing” music in our head, while doing other things.
“One of the higher functions that a human brain can engage with is the performance of music” (Bernard Bendok) Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
As explained here: “Brain cells, known as sensory neurons, transmit the sound information to various areas of the brain, including the thalamus, temporal lobe, and auditory cortex” experts say. “These are known as the auditory pathways.”
Neurosciences can explain partly what happens once the brain processes the sounds. Considering Amusia and its different manifestations, we can understand that there is an immense range of possibilities regarding how and what we listen to. Most deaf people cannot imagine what exactly is sound. Then, how we perceive music deals with the individual characteristics of the brain. We have a complex sensory system, which is very delicate, and easy to be damaged by sounds that are too loud and other causes. Every one of us has a different way of perceiving sounds.
Biophysical and biochemical explanations about how we can listen do not seem to deal with the emotions and sensations we experience when listening to music. According to Jonathan Powles, “Music is a tool for grasping the order and sense between what has happened in the past, what is happening now, and what will happen in the future”.
Dongho Kwak et al.: “Rhythm is one of the fundamental properties of music and is also an essential feature of biological life. The ‘synchronization of multiple rhythms’ is vital in living organisms, and rhythmicity as a parameter is underexplored. The human body is full of different rhythms, such as heart rate and breathing rhythms. If certain rhythms in the human body become irregular, it can be an indication of more severe health problems, for example, abnormal respiration rhythms”. These are more aspects to take into consideration when composing music for healing and other purposes.