Rui Penha: “no man is an island”

(Submitted by ISCM – PORTUGUESE SECTION)

Rui Penha, composer and performer of live electroacoustic music, was born in Porto, in 1981. He completed his PhD in Music (Composition) at the University of Aveiro, where he worked under João Pedro Oliveira. His music is regularly recorded and played in festivals and concert halls around Europe and North America, by musicians such as Arditti Quartet, Peter Evans, Remix Ensemble or the Gulbenkian Orchestra. He was a funder and curator of Digitópia (Casa da Música) and has a deep interest on music technology. His recent production includes interfaces for musical expression, sound spatialization software, interactive installations, musical robots, autonomous improvisers and educational software. He taught at several Portuguese Institutions (DeCA – UA, ESMAE – IPP, ESART – IPCB, ULP), and is currently an assistant professor at FEUP and researcher at INESC TEC.

“no man is an island“, for any wind instrument (improvising soloist) and spatialised electronics, was commissioned by Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos for their CARA Ano Zero concert. How could I compose a piece for solo instrument and spatialised electronics for such talented improvisers? Should I ignore their improvisational skills and write a fixed score? Should I try to incorporate their own language into my writing and risk the creation of a superficial hybrid? It would be easier if I improvised with them, but I knew that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to work closely for several days to make that work… But how could I cristalize my own part beforehand and still give ample space for the integration of different improvisatory languages? I composed “no man is an island” using only vocal sounds by Helena Caspurro – as the voice is a particularly versatile and basilar wind instrument — and build the piece on my relation to some of my main references, hoping that some of them are shared with the improvisers. “no man is an island” is the first verse of a poem by John Donne (1572-1631), the exact same one from which Ernest Hemingway famously took the last verse: “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were: Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Rui Penha: “no man is an island”
João Silva · trumpet
Recorded at the O’culto da Ajuda in Lisbon · December 14, 2019

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