Ferran Fages: “I base myself on working hypotheses which are often open questions”

Marked by an interest in minimalist and austere approaches, Catalan guitarist, composer and improviser Ferran Fages’ music decontextualizes the relationship between soft acoustic and bold electronic sounds. His interest in resonance and interpretive gestures serve him as a support in the search for the elasticity of sound. From Grey To Blue is his debut composed
work for solo piano. Ten questions and ten answers about writing music for solo piano, his early composed music influences and present working methods, his new project with trio TRUSS that we released earlier this year, and about his trilogy composed for guitar and sine waves between 2015 and 2018.


– From Grey To Blue is clearly not an ordinary recording in your oeuvre. Here we can experience Ferran Fages as a composer as opposed to Ferran Fages the improviser or performer. From Grey To Blue is your first long format composition for solo piano, performed by Lluïsa Espigolé. Can you tell us about the background of the project, starting from the initial idea that led to the realization of the piece eventually?

Ferran Fages: “From Grey To Blue is not my first written work, but it is definitely the first one for piano, and I might not have written it if I hadn’t met Lluïsa Espigolé. We started by working from intervallic and melodic material with an extreme, delicate slowness, looking at how this material interrelated with a fluctuating tempo related to the resonance of the instrument itself. The performer accompanies the sounds and these condition the space between each one. Lluïsa’s complicity was a key factor during the writing process.”

– Lluïsa Espigolé comes from a solid academic and classical background with all her activities. How you two meet, what made you decide to work with her, and how would you define your work together in terms of a composer-performer relationship?

Ferran Fages: “I’ve known Lluïsa Espigolé since 2016, thanks to a workshop that she gave on prepared piano and the interpretation of John Cage’s Sonatas And Interludes. Lluïsa is a point of reference in Spain in the world of contemporary music; she is much in demand as a performer, and she is full of curiosity and open to many different kinds of repertory. When I met her and explained what I was interested in, it was very easy to establish a close working relationship in which the straightforward binomial composer-performer was broken down. I was absolutely sure that I wanted to do a first work for piano with her as the performer. During the process of creation, we commented on certain key aspects, such as the indeterminacy of the work, and the tempo of each section.”

Photo: Lluïsa Espigolé

– Could you say how and when you first got involved with contemporary composed music? Do your early influences have an effect on the composing technique you used for From Grey To Blue?

Ferran Fages: “I never felt attracted by the idea of composing until, at the start of the year 2000, I had two revelatory experiences in a short space of time: I listened to Triadic Memories by Morton Feldman on CD and went to a live concert by Alvin Lucier in which he played Navigations For Strings. From that moment on, my life took a different turn. I think it is true that the above-mentioned influences are present in my work and always will be inasmuch as they were my gateways to the discovery of another way of making and listening to music. I am not so sure if those above-mentioned influences shape the work so much, but rather the framework in which it can be placed.”

– I have not seen the score of From Grey To Blue before. Could you tell me about how the composition is structured, and how much freedom the interpreter is given in the interpretation of the score?

Ferran Fages: “The piece is divided into three parts which reflect, basically, the three moments at which I was working on the piece. At first, I had planned on doing a short, fifteen minute piece. Once that was completed, I felt the need to continue working on it. At that time I didn’t know if the new material was going to be for a new piece, but my intuition told me to keep on working on the same material. The last part appeared as a natural way of concluding the process. The performer is essential when it comes to giving shape and meaning to the sequence of notes, as well as creating a dialogue with the length and breadth of the notes. There are no indications of tempo, and the piece is open to multiple interpretations.”

– Most probably the very first thought that came to my mind while listening to the piece for the first time was a Feldmanesque pointillism in its spacious and dreamlike environment. What is your reaction to the Feldman comparison here? Is it legit, or do you have objections to it?

Ferran Fages: “Feldman’s influences, or traces of him, are clearly there. In my case this doesn’t bother me, as he is an obvious and important point of reference. What I do find is that this term is often very easily used to label a certain type of piece. I would say that From Grey To Blue has more to do with approaches that are post-Cage or Wandelweiser, to cite just two. But perhaps it is not me who should be thinking about these terms.”

– On the inside cover of the release you present a very short quotation by Catalan author Carles Camps Mundó. It reads: ‘Barely anything: deformities of silence’. How does your composition reflect on this sentence; or how does this sentence reflect on your composition?

Ferran Fages: “In every composition that I create, I base myself on several working hypotheses which are often open questions that help me to understand the creative process I am working on. I use drawings, diagrams, an odd quote, or a longer piece of text. The quote from Carles Camps Mundó is one of many that I have underlined in his books. Yes, I confess to underlining books, but I use pencil. In this case ‘deformities of silence’ kept me company at the time I was writing. It was my conceptual tool for mesuring distances between notes; a fairly inclusive definition in which the silence of the audible world and its representation on paper can both cohabit and interrelate.”

– As From Grey To Blue is your second release on Inexhaustible Editions, we have to mention at least the first one too, Todos los animales se reúnen en un gran gemido, with trio TRUSS that came out earlier this year. The group has a highly irregular instrumentation with recorders, clavichord and yourself on acoustic guitar and feedback system. Can you reveal what the tool ‘feedback system’ means here, and what your overall composing method looked like with trio TRUSS?

Ferran Fages: “TRUSS is a trio formed by Alejandro Rojas-Marco, Bárbara Sela and myself. Our field of action is improvisation and composition. In that first published work, the music is improvised. Our work method is based on the application of extended techniques and on working in a way which is more to do with timbre and gesture rather than with melody. One aspect of this is that the instrumental dynamics are very weak and while recording in the studio we could barely hear what the others were doing. It was when the time came to select and mix that we became aware of the richness and the instrumental details. It should be pointed out that we did not use headphones for the recording. This decision was the key to obtaining the sound and the style that can be heard on the recording. The ‘feedback system’ to which you refer is a small device which combines an amplifier, an expression pedal, a compressor, a contact microphone, and a transducer. Neither the transducer nor the microphone are stuck onto the instrument and the palette of possible sounds is quite broad, as the guitar can become a microphone or an enlarged speaker, as required.”

Photo: Lluïsa Espigolé

– TRUSS member Bárbara Sela, with her recorders and flutes, also comes from an academic and classical background. How did your collaboration start and develop with her?

Ferran Fages: “I met Bárbara Sela thanks to my friendship and collaboration with the pianist-clavichordist Alejandro Rojas-Marcos. He is a very active figure in the field of improvisation and highly experimental proposals in Jerez de la Frontera, in Southern Spain. The two of them had worked together earlier. A series of coincidences made it possible for us to meet up, play together live and record together. Bárbara has a long trajectory in the field of Baroque and early music and has recently been rethinking her instrument and the music that she wishes to make. The world of improvisation has given her space to search for what she is looking for. This is a first-time collaboration which I hope will prove fruitful.”

– You had visual artworks, namely simple-lined drawings, that I feel to be highly associated with the music of TRUSS. These drawings are presented on the packaging of the album Todos los animales se reúnen en un gran gemido, and you have referred to these drawings as ‘lines that became music’. Are these associative connections, or something even deeper?

Ferran Fages: “That is a good question, I don’t know! Aside from making music, I also do other activities which inevitably become interrelated; drawing is one of them. When I make music, I write or draw, working with concrete concepts which are often based on the idea of a series. In this way, I open up a range of possibilities in which a single point of view tends to disappear. I suppose that’s also got to do with the way I handle guitar improvisation. When working from this perspective, a more horizontal path of dialogue appears in which the field of action is more suitable for accepting different registers from the same instrument rather than building up a single narrative discourse.”

– And finally: at the end of 2018 you released two remarkable solo recordings, Un Lloc Entre Dos Records on Another Timbre and Detuning Series For Guitar on Edition Wandelweiser. As far as I know, these two works are parts of a trilogy you composed for guitar and sine waves between 2015 and 2018. Can we expect the third instalment also out in the future?

Ferran Fages: “A third instalment already exists, although so far there has been a live presentation and I am not sure if it is necessary to document it with a recording. I work on projects which are often ambitious and long-term. This is how I like to focus on the the work of composing. Maybe what was initially planned as a trilogy will, in the end, appear as two different works for the public at large. But yes, let’s talk about the third instalment. Its title is WHAT MIGHT OCCUR (Rereadings of Triadic Memories by Morton Feldman for acoustic guitar and sinewaves) (2015-17). Maybe because of what I have already mentioned up to this point, I can only tell you that I would like to revise this work over the next few years and then give it a definitive closure. It is the only thing I can say I am absolutely sure of. There are ambitious projects which are more interesting to take on and then work on regularly, not so much as to achieve a final result but rather because of everything that the process offers and allows to unfold. So one consequence is to work on shorter, more concise projects that are linked to this larger one. Maybe it will be necessary to wait ten years to revise this work. Right now I am revising my first compositions for guitar, written in 2003-2004. And I feel that, unfortunately, that is what a creator does: advance, destroy, and retain, as much as possible, the minimum that is essential.”

László Juhász
November 2020
(Catalan-English translation by Matthew Tree)