The two souls of Laura Farré Rozada

Interviews 15.06.2021

Laura Farré Rozada has two souls: mathematics and music. A pioneer in the field, this young pianist born in 1990, who is beginning to make a name for herself in the world of contemporary music, has developed her own method to simplify the process of memorising works. She has also just released "Nimbus", published by the Seed Music label, an album in which she pays tribute to Olivier Messiaen and to the music of the 20th and 21st centuries. "Nimbus' delves into the creative possibilities of water as a source of inspiration and features works by Fukijura, Jodlowski, Ravel, Takemitsu and Zhao, among others. With this work, the young pianist follows in the footsteps of her previous album "The French Reverie".  

You specialise in 20th and 21st century repertoire. You are a pianist and mathematician. In fact, you have devised a new method based on mathematics to simplify the memorization process and not go back to the score. What does this method consist of?
As I combined a career in mathematics with piano, I realised that the most effective process for memorising a piece of music was not necessarily linear, but rather related to the ability to develop a mental map of the piece and resolve those points where complexity sometimes had to be simplified in stages. I also noticed that, very often, the problem-solving strategies I had learned in maths class were also useful in dealing with the problems I encountered when learning a piece of music. So over time I developed my own method of memorising, which enabled me to memorise music with more confidence and musicality. 

Yes. This method consists of staggering the process of learning and memorising a piece in different levels of difficulty, so that the brain always feels comfortable with the level and volume of complexity it is working with.

Your research highlights the relationship between mathematics and music. How close are they?
Mathematics is the foundation on which music is built in physical and theoretical terms. Music, in short, is intentionally manipulated sound. These manipulations, whether of notes, rhythm, dynamics, articulation or instrument, for example, can always be justified from a mathematical point of view. And finally, in my opinion, music responds to the same paradox as mathematics: are they invented or discovered?

It's a good question.
Mathematics, on the one hand, allows us to process music at a cognitive level. All the mathematical calculations behind these manipulations of sound we do unconsciously, but they could be transcribed into formulas, and they have a rational soundness. We start to become aware of this complexity when we try to program computers to be able to do cognitive tasks, or simply to process sound.

What if we think about mathematics and creation? For example, various composers have been inspired by mathematics in their creations. I'm thinking of Milton Babbit or Debussy. And also Steve Reich.
Also, because mathematics has been used to create music, either from scratch or by propagating musical ideas that stimulate the creation of the musical work. And although its application has become more explicit and well-known in the 20th century and today, mathematics has been used to compose music for centuries. In fact, one of the aims of my PhD is to use mathematics to conceptualise music from a rational perspective. A perspective that has not been adopted until now, to deal with the challenge of memorization for classical and contemporary musicians.

You have been invited to speak at several universities. What is the relationship between fractals, the famous butterfly effect and music? Can you explain it to us?
Fractals are a concrete application of symmetry in music. In other words, they are infinitely repeating patterns. They have made it possible to explain many unknown phenomena in nature, such as the shape of clouds or waves in the sea. The discovery of fractals and their properties has led to improvements in technology. For example, antennas use fractal geometry to maximise their surface area. On the other hand, the butterfly effect is a phenomenon related to fractals and chaos theory, which is why it is so difficult to forecast the weather.

In this sense, and to be more precise, in what way can mathematics be applied to the composition of a work?
It depends on how it is used. In my opinion, mathematics should always be a tool and not an end in itself. For centuries, mathematics has been used to organise music, to give it structure and coherence, and to generate variety from the same idea. However, when we listen to music, we are not aware of the mathematics behind a musical composition. This is a good sign, because it means that mathematics has been used as a tool to enrich the music. But, when the aim in itself is to use mathematics to generate excessively complex music, but leaving out the musical component, that is when I believe that the whole meaning of the artwork is lost.

His latest work, "Nimbus", is a tribute to Olivier Messiaen. The album includes works by international composers such as Jodlowski, Chin, Takemitsu, Guix, Ravel,Thorvaldsdóttir, Fujikura and Zhao. What were you looking for with this album? How did the gestation of this work go?
"Nimbus" is the second conceptual part of my first album "The French Reverie" (2018). As soon as my first album was released, I saw very clearly that this project would have a continuity, and I knew right away what the concept behind it and its main works would be. Despite this, I took the time to reflect and finish sketching out the album's repertoire, because for me, the gestation of an album is a pivotal moment between a process of artistic growth and a process of artistic dissemination.

And the intention?
The intention of "Nimbus", like that of "The French Reverie” is to open a friendly door to contemporary music, to all those who do not know or have never felt attracted to this repertoire. There is an educational component behind it. But it is also an album for those who are already fans of this music and who want to discover new works, because behind the album there is a work of research of new repertoires and a very developed logic. The concept of "Nimbus" is water, which is the thread I use to link all the works together, and which articulates a great diversity of musical aesthetics and forms that water can adopt as an artistic format.

Drizzle Draft composed with Josep Maria Guix

So I understand that your first album, "The French Reverie", forms a whole with "Nimbus".
Both albums are inspired by the same philosophy. The two albums and their repertoires are linked, yes, and the union of the two completes this tribute to Olivier Messiaen. It is the macro-structure that gives meaning to the whole project, and that justifies this choice of works and not others. In the specific case of "The French Reverie", my idea was to make the French repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries known, and that this should be done in the form of a dream, in which the influences of other European composers are mixed. An underlying crossbreeding of cultures. On the other hand, 'Nimbus' goes a step further and focuses on the influence of French music in Asia, mainly. A culture which, in France, was considered exotic, but which, at the same time, contributed to Europeanisation. And it is this reflection that I think emerges from the album, since all the composers present were trained in Europe, and knew how to merge this training with their roots.

You said earlier that the two albums aim to bring contemporary music closer to people who don't know it. In this sense, do you think that new technologies can contribute to this and make contemporary music more known?
I don't think that new technologies are of any use in this task, unless there is a pedagogical component behind them. After the Second World War, people took refuge in mathematics to make a tabula rasa of the previous musical tradition, and generate new music. In this case, the 'technology' that mathematics brought to music did not contribute to its dissemination, on the contrary, since elitism was favoured over pedagogy. Although this is an anecdotal parallelism, the message I want to convey is that new technologies will not do anything by themselves, but will depend on the use we make of them. And in my opinion, in order to popularise contemporary music, it has to be explained. And of course, new technologies can help to facilitate this process.

How do you see the contemporary music scene?
I think it's a scene that is not very self-critical and where there is a lot of noise. And by noise I mean mediocre writers. In the case of the piano, there are few composers who know how to write well for the instrument, and who have interesting ideas to tell through their music. There are also some really fascinating composers, but it is often difficult to discover them because they are not always the most popular. Nevertheless, I think this is the essence of contemporary music. Our generation is responsible for finding the geniuses of today so that they can be heard tomorrow, and with my projects I try to add my grain of sand to this task.

Which performers are you interested in?
One of the contemporary performers who fascinates me most is flutist Claire Chase, whom I have had the privilege of meeting. She is extraordinarily versatile, has helped to expand the contemporary flute repertoire, having commissioned many works for her instrument, and exerts an incredible magnetism in her concerts. Chase has collaborated on numerous occasions with Tyshawn Sorey, who is another musician I have had the pleasure of working with. Sorey opened up a world for me in the area of free improvisation, and although it's not my usual facet, for me it was a before and after in that area.

How are you coping with the pandemic and the confinements, has it affected your work, and will the planned concerts take place?
In the short term, the pandemic has been a constant stress, as I have had to constantly change my schedule and work planning. But in the long term, it gave me the opportunity to work on my second album, "Nimbus", which I had been thinking about for a long time. To be able to devote my heart and soul to such a project for a relatively long period of time, because of the confinement, was a great artistic opportunity, despite the difficulties. And considering the fatal consequences of the pandemic, despite all the adversities, I feel lucky.

One last question: what are your expectations for Nimbus, and how do you want the audience to approach the piece?
I would like to be able to perform "Nimbus" in as many places and to as many different audiences as possible. And as I did with "The French Reverie", to be able to perform it in all the countries of origin of the composers I perform. For me, this is the second part of the recording project, that the work should go on tour, and that during the tour there should be an exchange. A diffusion of the composers' music in countries where they are totally unknown.

"Nimbus" is receiving good reviews and its educational aspect of bringing contemporary music closer is very interesting.
I think that Nimbus is an album that leaves no one indifferent. I would like everyone who listens to it to do so out of curiosity, to be surprised. Let them listen actively and ask themselves what impact this music has on them. For me, the reflections that "Nimbus" can provoke in the public are the greatest reward.

Interview by Txema Seglers.

Photo © Sílvia Poch


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