The first in a monthly series, Classical Guitar Augmented is special guitar-focussed newsletter from the Bangalore School of Music, by Poireinganba Thangjam. Each article focusses on one artiste who has impacted the language of contemporary classical guitar. It reads in two parts: an introduction to the artiste followed by an interview.
More about the series and an introduction to this edition here.
Artist Introduction: Carlé Costa, Argentina
For our first issue, I decided to write on Composer/Guitarist, Carlé Costa from Uruguay, Argentina and who currently lives in Berlin, Germany since 2006. I had also personally requested an interview with him and anticipated for hours for his reply to which he agreed heartily. Quoting the Classical Guitar Review, “Carlé Costa is internationally considered to be a unique and exquisite guitar performer. He is a poetic and innovative composer, and with his own particular style is renovating the guitar ́s language.” He has given recitals across the globe in Sweden, Switzerland, India, Bhutan, Peru, France & Germany to name a few where he performs his own compositions along with other masterpieces.
Carlé Costa was born in Uruguay in 1959, and grew up in Argentina. His studies of classical guitar started at the age of 13 years with the Italian teacher José Smirldo. He continued his studies in the National Conservatory of Music in Buenos Aires where he studied under Horacio Ceballos. Later he studied contemporary guitar with Miguel Angel Girollet, and also took classes in Composition, ElectroAcoustics, Music Analysis, Philosophy of Music and Chamber music, with Guillermo Graetzer, José Maranzano, Vadim von Struckhoff, Mario García Acevedo, Pedro Chiambaretta, Helmut Lachenmann and Ivo Malec.
Costa was a pioneer in interpreting and teaching contemporary avant-garde music. In 1986 he recorded his first album for the label Circe of Buenos Aires, with a selection of contemporary compositions (Brouwer, Tsilicas, Obrovská, Labrouve, Gervasoni and Costa). The recording was highly praised by both critics and contemporary music specialists. In his own compositions he developed and created extended techniques for the guitar and incorporated these techniques in his compositions.
Parallel to his artistic activities, Costa developed a treatise to communicate new concepts and spirituality in music, awaking the creativity of young musicians. He gave courses, seminars and masterclasses in conservatories and universities of Argentine, Peru, Chile, Sweden and Germany. He organized with others important guitarists the Campus of Contemporary Guitar (2002 to 2005) who inspired the documentation film of Javier de Silvio Guitarra Adentro. He created and gave the artistic direction of the International Guitar players Composers Festival in the Cordoba Northwest (2001 to 2005). Carlé Costa, with his compositional work, his quality to perform the guitar, and his unusual and deep vision about art, is considered at the moment one of the most important referents of the new generation of artists.
(Reference & partially edited from: Classical Guitar Review, Jan. 20, 2010)
In Conversation with Carlé Costa
with Poireinganba Thangjam (Len)
I have had earlier conversations with Mr. Carlé Costa personally in 2010 briefly and chatted online since 2012. To introduce, let me just write up my first chat with him back in early 2012 and then straight away get to the present interview – where I realised I had grabbed and scratched the skin of one of most philosophical, spiritual, emotional and poetic master musicians of our era; while he was meditating! A personal feeling for me that can be comparably retold as a spiral elevation with nervous injection. Carlé had the most innovative, philosophical mind that could relate music straight to your soul and keep you yearning for more. I wish this conversation could have been done eye to eye but straight away was impossible for me at this moment. I hope all growing musicians will get to learn from this conversation as I do and keep growing. Here’s how it began…
Len: Hello Sir, I listen to your Guitarra Elemental almost every day since I bought it at the Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival, 2010. The more I listen, the more I get deeper into your music. You have been the biggest inspiration in my love for guitar music and composition. Inipi has given me lots of courage with humility. I’m also in love with Corazon, horizonte frio, El Amor de la Nube y la Montana and practically every piece of music on the CD. Thank you, sir, for the beautiful music you create.
Carlé: Dear Poireinganba Thangjam, thanks a lot really for your so touching words… you are blessing with such a sensibility and capacity to enjoy the music (and the world, for sure), with love and delicacy. It is an honor for me to have fans in that quality! Well, I hope to return there soon and continue sharing music and creativity!
(Watch Inipi performed by Carlé Costa on Youtube)
So after a few conversations and some failed plans of his return, I expressed my views on an informal interview of him for our little guitar article to which he most kindly agreed. Presented on deck right here is our communion.
Len: Can you describe a bit about your early years of life and guitar playing, your influences and surrounding environment that made you a guitarist (something more personal than the information I could read online)?
Carlé: I am not a guitarist, I am a musician, I am an artist (I worked and still I am working hard to be), and I love the guitar, as part of me and part of my body, a way for my conscience, and a path for joy. I don’t know really how the guitar came to me (or me to the guitar), (It) was an amount of “coincidences” and synchronisations. It seems like it was not part of the family plan, but the Universe made an incredible conspiracy to bring us together.
Len: How do you compose your music and from where do you draw your inspirations from?
Carlé: This is a too vast question, difficult to answer in a good word or even lineal. Some music came in a way, some others in other ways. You must discover your own way to achieve the incredible landscape of music, and accept it too. Some music are there, in your hands. Seems like its in the air around you. Some others comes to your mind, a little part of it, or sometimes like a whole remembrance, not the details, the whole atmosphere or colour or texture… like a dream, difficult to describe…. Then you try to catch it, and it is another thing … but even then, somehow it works … Nature is the master, then in the Observation of nature and its processes, the silence, the movements of each element, you can learn the important things of music … but it needs a kind of critic part of you to make a Balance between this Physical Learning, and the Intelligent part of you, who produce some parts to concepts and make some kind of “evaluations” of your learning and making … seems like a “negative” part (too much of this part can stop you and your creativity) … as all in life, it is a kind of Balance and Measure.
Len: How would you explain modern guitar music, in this case, your music as opposed to earlier guitar music? Or, if I put it another way, how would you explain the flow of your music to a young student who’s listening to you for the first time knowing it’s beautiful but couldn’t relate fully to it?
Carlé: Music speaks itself, and the synchrony you can establish has to do with your level of conscience, and of course your sensibility and freedom. Who can say “I am absolutely related fully” to some music? What does it mean? The understanding of music is not a lineal path to know it, is absolutely Multidimensional, and as the music itself, exceed the logical process and form: this dimension of the music, who is possible to “describe” as measurable patterns and systems. It is the more superficial aspect of a kind of organic, transcendent and complex being who take form in a perceptual and temporal process, take life, bring spiritual and intelligence movement to us, awake our conscience, and disappear again in another world… Then, my only advice could be: Be Free toListen, Don’t Judge in advance, Open your Ears and Soul, Open your Mind, and let the music take you. And if it invites you to splash again in, make it, once and once again. The way you listen is your way and identity… Then, be free and enjoy it.
Len: Who are your inspirations and influences?
Carlé: Very vast question too. But I will try an approach to an answer. There are many kind of inspirations and levels of inspirations. Some times are direct experiences (as rituals, or concerts, or exhibitions, or films), others are commissions, and you are inspired for the proposed instruments and possibilities…. Or the qualities of a performer. Dreams sometimes. Ideals. Or pain (as Grave por Gaza), political situations, or simply the sound who invite you to follow it, and discover new possibilities. Influences are so many as stars in the night… And each influence in the life (I spoke only about musical influences) is so important to build the present who immediately run to the next present….. But well, I can tell you some musicians who impressed me deeply, and are some kind of horizons who invite you to come: JS Bach, Heitor VillaLobos, Claude Debussy, Kryztof Penderewsky, Erik Satie, David Sylvian, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Hildegard von Bingen, Dmitri Shostakovich, Morton Feldman, Charlomagne Palestine, Guillaume de Machaut, WA Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Gyorgy Ligeti, George Harrison, Robert Fripp, Gustav Mahler, Alfred Schnittke, and more of course….
Len: Now, this is just a thought running on my mind while you mentioned Robert Fripp and your composition “Im Reich des King Crimson”, I can’t help but relate Frippertonics and your avant-garde compositions where you took a classical guitar in its common standard and lifted it so high beyond it’s limitations in your own style and without electronic effects. What did you ask yourself on “how” to make that happen?
Carlé: I very much like the style and development of Robert Fripp along his life, how he experiments in different directions (not only Frippertronics), and how (it) is possible to see the “musical identity” or “musical body” of his way to play, a kind of organic mix of geometrical designs (very physical in the guitar) and a sensible heart. In the case of the Fripppertronics, I like very much the essential of minimalistic music, the way to oppose statism and changes, and it was (Frippertronics) one of the first musical style I heard in this way (and Brian Eno, whom I forgot to mention before, so inspiring for me along his musical life…till the present). Perhaps today I am not so in synchrony with this part of Fripp ́s music, but I am really thankful I listened to it in those moments of my life. It was very provocative and inspiring.
Len: In 5 Haikus (2009), I felt a touch of Toru Takemitsu. Was he an influence here as you’re dealing with a Japanese core?
Carlé: Not really. Zen art was a more close influence, especially drawings. And the elegant and deep acceptance of emptiness in this art/philosophy…
(Watch Yûgen (4 Haikus for guitar) performed by Carlé Costa on Youtube)
Len: I wouldn’t want to discuss Zen for the present moment because there’ll be too much again on the plate. So, we’ll just go on to the next set of my questions then? You also composed a minimalist piece for piano called Visiones sobre la nueve Rocas early in 1989. Do you compose for other instruments too?
Carlé: Yes. I composed (a commissioned work for a contemporary festival) a duo for Guitar and Harp. Another commission of the last year was for Recorder and Voice. I composed for Voice and Guitar. And now I have a commission for a String Orchestra piece.
(Watch Visiones sobre la nueve Rocas on Youtube)
Len: That’s wonderful! I hope we could listen to it very soon. So bringing these instruments together and the guitar too, what are your thoughts on the necessities of playing together (duos, trios etc… and different instrumentations)
Carlé: Strange question. I am a composer not only a guitarist. And always, other instruments and their literature and ways to connect with musical language was and is a permanent inspiration. It makes wider the ways to think of the guitar language too, to extended the possibilities of the guitar. But use for the imagination, the range of possibilities of another instrument is so natural as it is to breathe.
Len: If you could refer it for technicality and ideological improvement of young performers?
Carlé: Playing with more people is very important, because we are social beings too. First of all, to work about rhythm together, then the different functions in a musical texture. But more deeply, to move together, to breath together, to balance our understanding as one mind: more and more becomes a spiritual experience, simple and transcendent activity. In the case of playing with more instruments, there are simple challenges that are very interesting for a guitar performer: not to ask for a more discreet way of playing of the other instruments, but to grow up the power of the sound of the guitar (without using amplification), elaborating a technique to be in the level of other traditional instruments. Learn from these instruments the natural way as they speak music, the articulations, the kind of use of energy, the way they said “lines” (melodies), the way they attack chords, the impulses, the sustains, and more… This is a way of enlightenment and enrichment in musicality. You mentioned “ideology”. This is a very risky word, especially in the field of music. And I think all is ideological in some way, but more transcendent than a simple concept or idea. But if you feel always that you are the more important musician in an ensemble, and always you want to be the “prima donna” … well, this is a symbol of your immense Ego and your ideology, of course, is that of a capitalistic and selfish mind and you’ll have nothing to do with playing in an ensemble (written music or improvised): Here nobody is more important than another, each function is important and must be played with all the respect and soul. Even, of course, the accompaniment, it is a very complex and subtle art to do. In the case of improvised music, it is very important to understand when you lead or when you must follow, or sustain others … is ONE being and not a summitry of “ones” or this must be to play together.
Len: What’s your own practice approach and how do you balance your Time between composition, practice of your pieces and other pieces as well?
Carlé: Well this is different for each person. I think is very important to know the own limits and difficulties, and each one must work hard in this direction … because just there lay an important treasure, a source of new possibilities. But to balance the time when you are not only a performer it is not easy … and the dance I think is to go in one direction and then in the other, and try to connect both too (I like very much to play, but to compose too, and to improvise, and to teach too. I think I need this areas are always parallels… But photography and to paint too… and Tai Chi Chuan) … because now, what is important to practice? Only the technical skills? Or our way to listen? Or to watch? Or how to move? Or our creativity? Our understanding of what we are playing (own or from another)? I think it is a spiral of searching ourselves and our bests in all directions, searching the integrations of all this dimensions … to build us as artists …. Because I think this is the real dimension of True Art: The Spirit (and not the aesthetic, which is only a kind of temporal and relative concept).
Len: I understand, and right now I’m in awe over your words. It totally makes sense and I could relate the ideas of Jiddu Krishnamurti, the philosopher who said so in different terms while on the topic of the balancing of time among confusion. Now, I’m almost through with my questions too. What I’d like to ask you now is: What gives you Balance for your Creativity?
Carlé: To contemplate the world, to respect myself, and to move on for a better world for all people. When I am not (emerged) enough in silence to really Listen, I am not in balance, (it) is a signal… then I try to respect myself and fall till I get back my sensibility, and continue…
Len: Could you describe briefly the inner experience of a composer/ performer?
Carlé: I think not, it is not possible to describe… how to describe what you do when you breath? It is a natural and integrative movement that brings you energy and life.
Len: That summarises it totally, I guess. By the way, what do you think of small project like Classical Guitar Augmented? What suggestions/advice would you like to give me to expand it?
Carlé: I don’t know the details about your project Classical Guitar Augmented, the area of work, the goals; the only thing I know from you is that it is a kind of Blog/Interview Newsletter. The title sounds good, suggest a kind of “development” for the classical guitar… a purpose! “Augmented” is a word you must fulfil with new concepts, “New Blood”, with a musical horizon more farther than the classical guitar but, “from” the classical guitar. Make it a passage through the classical guitar just like a crystal to let the light pass off and bring new visions about the light itself. Then again, new visions about the crystal to understand itself: to expand (augmented?) its self conscience. (My use of light is a metaphor of music, sound, ideas, silence and the soul)
Len: Thank you so much for your suggestions and it’s very much true I’m writing this for as a Guitar Newsletter for The Bangalore School of Music. Now as a closure for this ceremony of words with you, what would you like to add?
Carlé: I’m concerned about the behaviour of guitarists and the risk when the instrument is too centred in it’s belly button and superficial things like never ending discussing about techniques, too focused in decadent literatures, for example. I would want the purpose to be consequent with Music through the guitar, that is, to understand the nature of this beautiful instrument and its wonderful possibilities but in a more subtle and deep way to use it for musical ART (with another consistence in the sound, other articulation fancy, more colourful and powerful too). Not reducing more to this fantastic gift to a mediocre imitation of guitarists before your time. Playing the same music always can be a waste of time in your own life and for the audience too who relates to just specific instruments are uncultivated and are similar to drug addicts who listens to the same music in the same way – a perverse virtualisation of a vital activity and grow up in a fictitious or vague art. Ignorance will kill us if we make nothing. My best regards.
Len: I’ll keep thinking about this interview contemplating it for a while exploring myself through it. Thank you very much for your valuable time and sharing precious jewels of ideas for the article. It’s a treasure trove for all artists and I hope they grab whatever they can from this conversation just as I did. Thank you.
Founder & Chief Editor,
CLASSICAL GUITAR AUGMENTED
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