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Interview with French-Argentine composer Oscar Strasnoy

sound recently co-commissioned a new work from French-Argentine composer Oscar Strasnoy with Red Note Ensemble and Donaueschinger Musiktage. Red Note Ensemble will join forces with leading violist Garth Knox to perform the UK premiere of this new work D’amore for viola d’amour at soundfestival later this year.

We spoke to Oscar about his experience as a composer and his new work. 

Read on to find out more.

Q: How did you get into composing? Was there a particular inspiration?

A: The virus was already in the family: two composers — an aunt and an uncle, also a violist (my father) and the omnipresence of music in the house, many instruments and many records.

Q: What is the piece of music you are proud of most?

A: I'm more of an embarrassed type than of a proud one. However, I can mention some titles that meant a change in my way of thinking: Incognito (1992), Hochzeitsvorbereitungen (2000), The End (2006), Cachafaz (2010), Kuleshov (2017).

Q: You are writing a new work to be performed at this year’s soundfestival. Can you tell us a bit about that and the inspiration behind it?

A: It’s a kind of formal experiment: several pieces written independently, then sectioned and interwoven by a quasi-cinematographic montage. An inspiration? I can mention a film of great formal virtuosity: Short Cuts by Robert Altman — and, of course, my dear friend Garth Knox. He introduced me to this strange instrument, both archaic and modern, for which I had already written a first work thirteen years ago, Fabula. 

Q: How would you respond to someone who asked you 'I don't know how to listen to new music, why should I be interested in that'?

A: No one knows how to listen to music, either new or old. What people think they “understand” are the combinations of sounds that are familiar to them and what they think they don’t understand are the combinations they have never heard before, and since human beings are naturally petrified by novelty, they prefer to say that they don’t understand before giving in to curiosity. Funnily enough, for a trained ear, Ligeti is much easier to understand than, let’s say, the latest Beethoven, just to name two equivalent maestri from different eras.
Anyway, there are as many ways to listen as there are human ears. No explanation can be unique and unbeatable. From the moment that one admits a multitude of possible points of view, one lives much more relaxed. Somebody who wants to understand everything in a univocal way lives in anxiety, develops paranoia and ends up in bigotry. Nothing more dangerous than people with easy explanations.

Q: What advice would you pass on to aspiring composers?

A: Pay more attention to time than to sound. Time is the physical dimension that music sublimates (through rhythm, form and montage); sound is nothing more than an instrument for exploring time. Sound fetishism is a materialistic dead end.
Otherwise: learn a foreign language - because composing is like writing in a foreign language that you are constantly trying to improve.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Oscar Strasnoy visit his website: http://oscarstrasnoy.info/

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