Nuria AndorràThe beating of the earth

Interviews 11.02.2022

A contemporary percussionist and exceptional improviser, Nuria Andorrà has been searching for her own language ever since she was a child and discovered with amazement the vital and energetic sound universe that percussion opened up in her body. "I feel the vibration in my stomach," she says at one point in the interview. Artistic director of the MontMusic festival and percussion teacher at the Reus Conservatory, Nuria Andorrà is interested in the interdisciplinary, where body, image and sound come together to offer a singular and untransmissible emotion. Recently awarded the Alicia Prize by the Catalan Academy of Music 2021, she is considered one of the best improvisers in Europe today. Nuria Andorrà has also collaborated with artists such as Carles Santos, Hector Parra, Fred Frith and Joëlle Léandre, among others. 

As a child you were not amazed by the piano, but by percussion.
I was a restless child and when I discovered percussion, a whole world opened up for me.

With time, did you understand this first emotion before the world of percussion?
I think I was touched by the most original essence. I felt the vibration in my stomach. It filled me up. Before the arrival of other instruments, I imagine that in the beginning there was percussion, that human beings started to beat and sing, before anything else, right?

Yes, there is something atavistic and telluric about percussion. Looking at the present, would you say that there is a boom in the world of percussion led by women?
Maybe, it's possible, although I think we're going backwards, there's a regression. I look at music student classes and I think that today there should be parity, but I don't see it. 

So you don't think we can talk about a current movement?
It's perhaps a pendulum movement. There is no study or analysis, but I have the feeling, yes, that there are not enough models.

You are an artist, percussionist, teacher, researcher and even festival director. How do all these facets intertwine? What unites them?
Some facets are militant and all are intertwined. For example, I see pedagogy as an egalitarian transmission of knowledge. I do not believe in the authoritarian role of the teacher. In fact, for me it is a vital anchor and that is why I teach in an academy. Research is a dialogue of enrichment with other artists, because in the contemporary environment there is a lot of room for research. An artist like me aims to go on stage and surround herself with other musicians who are as competent or more competent than I am, seeking interrelation and interdisciplinarity to create the same emotion, the same feeling.

You teach contemporary improvisation. But how do you teach it?
There is already a language based on structures or on the resistance of the material, with its philosophy on when to intervene and when not to, etc. In addition, there are a series of elements which come into play during improvisation, such as listening, for example. In addition, there are a series of elements that come into play during improvisation, such as listening, for example. In fact, listening is rarely taught, yet there is a tendency to over-teach the score. We don't offer the student the resources that would allow him to self-regulate and be his own guide. In improvisation, it is important to develop listening, interaction with others and knowing how to react in real time on stage.   

Like a conversation?
It is indeed a conversation, in which a creative process develops, a shaking that spreads. We start talking about spring and end up reflecting on the body. Moreover, being in real time on stage, it requires the audience to participate and be attentive to what is happening, to listen and discover where the violin melody will move, when it will merge with the percussion, etc. A dialogue full of nuances in which, for example, the percussion does not only accompany but also creates the melody. 

Would you say that there is a lack of listening culture for contemporary music?
Yes, there is a lack of listening, and we are light years away from being able to get it, especially if you look at our music programmes compared to those of other countries. We need a lot of education. Contemporary music invites you to make an effort and you will be rewarded, but the institutions do not support it, and this kind of music needs this support. 

How would you evaluate the current scene in Spain, Catalonia and Barcelona?
I would just say that in France and Germany they are on a different level.

And festivals like Mixtur or LEM?
It's very interesting, but there is a lack of economic and institutional support. I run an improvisation festival, MontMusic, and I notice that my European colleagues have better support. Here, we start from scratch and add a bit of militancy. LEM and NOA do a great job, but they complain about the same weaknesses. LEM has been a success. Little by little I think we will reach a higher level. 

What are you working on at the moment?
an interdisciplinary piece, with a sound structure on stage, based on interaction and improvisation. We are very excited and are waiting to see what happens. I am also working on NU.Aa video work in which I process in real time the percussive sounds of stones and ceramics and especially the cowbells of my grandfather, who was a shepherd. I find the original sounds of my childhood. In fact, the bells still smell of lamb! In between these projects, I am continuing my improvisation concerts. In June, I will present for the first time in public in Barcelona at the Mercat del Flors, Constelacionesthe play for which I received the Alicia prize.

How would you define your style, your creative universe?
I don't know, that's a very difficult question to answer. I prefer that you listen and put the labels. But maybe my music is looking for extremes, both dynamic and energetic, power and fragility of sound, I like to interact and communicate in real time on stage, with fixed structures, but also open.  

What criteria do you use to choose a certain instrument or sound?
I try to listen to myself and find out what I need to do to evolve as an artist, what I need to study to improve. In ConstelacionesI worked with the emotions of each scene and the rhythm-energy that I wanted to find in the whole piece. Once I had these, I focused on the timing of the scene, asking myself what crescendo it requires, what fragility the piece demands, while finding enough strength to move forward, making the delicate interact with the energetic. For NU.AAs it was during the confinement, I felt the need to go back to my origins, to know why I dedicated myself to percussion. So I looked for the sounds that resonated in me as a child, that enveloped me. I think of the night, of the first dreams of my childhood, of the ceramics in the house that produced sounds, of the stones that come from the earth. From all this I was able to extract matter, to understand what it offers me.

Are you looking for diversity?
Yes, because I don't limit myself to one sound. Percussion encompasses a world that is present in all cultures. For example, I travel to discover percussion in India or Turkey.

What do you think of the voice as an instrument? It has its own resonance?
I like it very much, yes. It's an instrument that attracts me and I have a lot of respect for it.

How did you experience the pandemic?
It was contradictory. On the one hand, I had more time to create Constelaciones. The pandemic forced me to stop, which is very important. But with the pandemic, you have to adapt to very uncertain circumstances that we all experience or suffer from. In the music world, for example, I mean whether a musician tests positive or not, I think about cancelling concerts at the last minute, etc. In a way, the pandemic is stunting growth, even though I feel it is growing.  

Txema Seglers

Photos © Jordi Plana
Photo © Ziga Koritnik


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