Composer Interview with Edgar Barroso

We checked in with trans-disciplinary composer Edgar Barroso earlier this month leading up to his triple-disc debut on Ravello Records, and we’re pleased to share below his thoughts on the composing process, his influences, The National System of Art Creators of Mexico, open-source creation, and the trajectory of 21st-century music:

Your debut release, IMMERSION, ABSORPTION, CONNECTION, will be coming out October 9, 2015. For those unfamiliar with your work, where would be a good place to start?
I think that a good start is just confronting yourself with the material of the album. I am a big fan of music that explains itself. This album is a compilation of around 10 years of my work as a composer, therefore each piece is very different, it is a real journey of sound and philosophical changes along my relationship with sound. When a new listener confronts my work, is actually stepping in moving grounds held together by a constant search of abstract links between music and different areas of knowledge. Each piece has a relationship with another conceptual frame, phenomena or collaboration outside of music. I think that is an interesting aspect of this Immersion, Absorption and Connection, where diversity constructs unity.
Many of your compositions are based on a process of trans-disciplinary collaboration; can you explain briefly what this means and how it is beneficial?
Music is my apparatus to create a personal understanding of the world. Since I was a kid I was interested in many aspects of life, in music I found the “glue” to hold all my interests together. Through music I get the chance to learn about science, technology, philosophy, psychology, etc. Therefore, each piece of music becomes a window to collaboration and curiosity. I am very interested in the integration of knowledge and emotions that can be expressed through sound, not in a direct manner, but in a sense of thought and concatenation of different experiences. This array of concepts and emotions creates a peculiar energy that I translate into music scores. Also, I’m a big fan of collaboration. I love meeting new interesting and engaged people, and learn from them. I am deeply grateful to the people that share time with me to create. They humble me and remind me that the world is much more than a concert in a theater and that music composition is not exclusively a lonely act.
Which of the pieces on your album are results of trans-disciplinary collaboration?
All of them. In one way or another, each piece is the result of a collaborative process. This process could be displayed as a conceptualization of the piece, the material, the structure, the intention, the creative process, etc. As I mentioned before, my collaborators connect me with the world outside of music,and allow me to translate their inputs and contributions into scores that end up in some sort of sound expression. But for me it is not only about sound, is about the world and some fascinating aspects of it.
Would you please share a bit more about the process behind one or two of these pieces in particular?
For example, “Metamorphoseon” became alive thanks to a dear friend, Edyta Lehmann, who got me interested in Ovid’s Metamorphoseon. She explained to me the sequenzes, the poems, the potential of the theatrical aspects of each scene.  In “Sketches of Briefness”, the idea behind the piece was a collaboration with a painter who insisted that a sketch is the purest artistic expression, because is the “first impulse” without technique and refinement interfering with creativity.   
You were recently appointed to the 2015-2018 National System of Art Creators of Mexico, supported by the Secretariat of Public Education and the National Council for Culture and Arts; what sorts of work will you be doing as part of this appointment?
My project involved seven pieces that are based on scientific phenomena. The pieces range from instrumental, acousmatic multichannel pieces, live electronics and sound installations. This is a really great program where the Mexican Government basically commissions a series of pieces in a period of three years.
Many of the works on your album are inspired by Mexico; what is something you would like others to know about the country who may only know it through outside impressions?
Mexico is a country full of contrasts. It can be absolutely stunning and at the same time terrifying. Dualities such as violence-love and solidarity-indifference can be seen in a two block radio on a daily basis. I don’t think of myself as a nationalist, but rather as a composer who takes into account a very particular social context that has a great influence on my vision of the world. Mexico is a very energetic and chaotic country, we Mexicans or residents of Mexico learn how to find beauty on these circumstances and I think you can hear that in my music. I feel very comfortable dealing with high energy, violent, chaotic sounds.  My music is not about texture, is not about timbre, is not about being logic or steadily developing a sound material. It is more about portraying struggle, a sort of “muchness” that inhabits a limited space where different elements coincide and collide. If you go to Mexico City you will immediately understand this feeling. And of course, my roots will always be an important part of my identity, I’m just lucky that my origins are in Mexico, a country with such a rich culture and a deep sonic tradition.
Can you share a bit more info about the Open Source Creation Group and LET?
The Open Source Creation Group started as a bunch of friends that met every Tuesday at 7pm to share ideas at Harvard during my PhD studies. They were very open meetings where we invited people from many fields of knowledge to share their research and interests on a weekly basis. I’ve learned so much from this meetings. We simply thought of creativity as something to be share and construct in a similar fashion as the Open Source software philosophy. So we “shared our brains” for others to use them. These meetings really had an impact on my music and my life. Since then, I decided that music was not only about sound or concerts, music -as Luigi Nono pointed out- is also about thought. These meetings inspired me to go beyond the traditional academic music setting into a broader understanding of music creation. I decided to apply music thought to other fields of knowledge, being those entrepreneurship, social innovation and education. The open source creation group gave me the courage to live a transdisciplinary life, an open script where life and music fusion into a discovery journey shared by wonderful people.
My training in music makes me think most things in music. I apply counterpoint principles in discovering how to create a community of social entrepreneurs; I structure education programs in terms of “form”, and I apply contemporary music process to create self regulated systems that can deal with complexity and multifactorial-polyphonic events. To give you an example, I am right now at my office at the School of Government of Tecnológico de Monterrey, where I am in charge of LET (Laboratory for Entrepreneurship and Transformation), so I’m a composer working in a Government Schools applying music theories to public entrepreneurship. How crazy is that. I also use music as a way to create social activism promoting citizen participation and transdisciplinary collaboration to create new ways of fighting poverty, infant violence and social segregation.  
Whenever someone asks my wife about what do I do for a living, she smiles, looks for me and says: can you explain Edgar, because I still don’t understand.
We enjoyed having clarinetist Matthias Mueller performing live on the SABRe Sensor Augmented Bass Clarinet at the 2014 PARMA Music Festival, so it was great to hear that you would be involved in composing for SABRe as well. What can you tell us about your role in this project?
Matthias Mueller is amazing. He is not only an exceptional clarinetist, but an exceptional human being. The piece that I am writing for Matthias is called “Zamak” and is part of the project that I mentioned before about pieces related to science and music. The challenge to write for SABRe, is not to simply write a piece for bass clarinet and electronics, but to really treat the instrument for what it is, a new dynamic and extended instrument from the beginning. Therefore the notation in the score  already includes most of SABRe’s sensors and possibilities. For me it was so important to portrait the “polyphonic possibilities” of SABRe, the piece will have a visual and a sonic aspect as well as preserving the sound of Matthias. This range of possibilities are making the piece very demanding in terms of the complexity of “simultaneous voices”, fortunately I think Matthias is the ideal artist to deal with this sort of challenges, you know how energetic and dynamic he is. For me, the challenge is to write a piece that is only playable with SABRe and is conceived -from the beginning- for this wonderful new instrument. But also, not only to focus on the technical aspects of it, but rather in the artistic and aesthetic possibilities it provides within an ocean of vast possibilities.
It’s amazing to see how advances in technology have affected music in recent decades, both in its creation and in the way people listen; what do you think the world of music might be like 100 years from now?
I think music creation will become more and more collaborative. One possibility that we can see already is that we will start to see more and more collaborative music.  The future will hold the first massive collaborations between thousands of composers, professional and otherwise, to build endless pieces of music. People will consume music in a much more multisensorial manner using all senses and stimulating specific areas of the brain. Music will also be more important in educational systems because my hope is that we understand how important is for human creativity and well being. Obviously I have no idea how music will be in 100 years, but I am optimistic.  I see a more sonic future, with more and better music that we have now, and a future human beings that understands how music is so essential to people: I believe that music will be more present in medicine, theaters, schools, universities, governments, cities, etc. The future will be full of sound.
What impressions would you like listeners to take away after having heard your music?
I don’t have any “expected” reaction or impression from my listeners. I am thankful and humbled that they choose to listen my music; there is so much great music out there, that is a real honor and privilege to have someone listening what I do. I hope they find my struggle, my limitations, my search and my joy in the act of music making. I love writing music, this is, again, the only way I make sense of our world.

We’re all looking forward to IMMERSION, ABSORPTION, CONNECTION – in the meantime, you can read all about Edgar Barroso’s upcoming release and hear audio samples at

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