While reading The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, a collection of anecdotes, biographies, and histories of 20th century classical composition, I searched in vain for any reference of the great Mexican composer Julián Carrillo. An odd omission as far as I am concerned, considering Carrillo’s unique and important contributions to this field. It seems very few music critics in the north look to the southern hemisphere when considering serious “classical” music. Heitor Villa-Lobos was barely mentioned, and Leo Brouwer and Manuel Maria Ponce never discussed at all! Most students of the classic guitar will recognize the last three composers, however, Julián Carrillo, one of the more innovative composers of the 20th century, is practically unknown outside of Mexico.
Born in 1875 in a small town in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, Julián Carrillo Trujillo studied music (violin), composition, and acoustics at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. During his studies he began developing an elaborate microtonal system of music which he called Sonido 13, a symbolic name to imply an expansion of the conventional equal temperament 12 tone system of music. He also impressed the then President of Mexico with his violin playing enough to be granted a scholarship to study abroad in Leipzig, Germany, where he studied with European maestros of violin, composition, and conducting, becoming a maestro of these things himself.
Upon his return to Mexico, Carrillo was appointed professor of composition at the National Conservatory of Music, a position he held until a few years later when the Mexican revolution heated up. Having been in the favor of the ousted government, he eventually ended up in New York City, having heard that there was a shortage of conductors due to the First World War. Apparently this was true as Carrillo became a working conductor, but also formed his own loose organization called The Symphony Orchestra of America, which performed new works, including his own, to considerable notoriety. In 1918 he was asked to return to Mexico to direct the National Symphony Orchestra there, which under his supervision was recognized as on par with the New York Philharmonic, according to Leopold Godowski. A few years later he was also appointed as director of the National Conservatory in Mexico City, where he promoted both old and new musical ideas.
Although Julián Carrillo had been working on his Sonido 13 microtonal system for some time, it was not until 1922 that he finished Preludio a Colón, his first piece utilizing tones smaller than a semitone. While retaining his official appointments he also formed an ensemble called Grupo Metropalitano, mainly with his students, to explore and promote his microtonal ideas. In 1926 he was invited to submit a microtonal piece to the League of Composers’ concert of modern music, which introduced his work to Leopold Stokowski, who quickly became a champion of Carrillo’s works. Stokowski then commissioned a Carrillo piece to be performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. During the premiere, Stokowski said this of Carrillo: ” Luckily for America, we do not have to look to European musicians for this revolution, since everything is owed to an Indian who descends from the children of the Continent”.
From 1930 to his death in 1965, Julián Carrillo perfected his Sonido 13 notation system (pubished as Sistema General de Escritura Musical, 1957), composed major and minor works using his system, had instruments built to accommodate the music, and traveled the world giving lectures and performances. His penultimate work, Misa de la Restauracion a S.S. Juan XXIII (Mass for Pope John XXIII), utilizing quarter and semitones, was published in 1962.
Most of the information from the above four paragraphs came from – Benjamin, Gerald R. “Julián Carrillo and Sonido Trece'” , Yearbook, Inter-American Institute for Musical Research, iii (1967). In the ’70s my family published a classic guitar magazine called Creative Guitar International, in which a fellow named John Scott Ford wrote a three part series (pt. 1, 2, 3) on Carrillo. John Scott Ford had a specially made guitar made with extra frets specifically to play some Carrillo microtonal pieces, one of which is the image at the beginning of this post.
Judging from the amount of videos and posts concerning Julián Carrillo these days, there appears to be a resurgence of interest in his works. I hope this is the case, and that critics like Alex Ross will get a chance to be exposed to this very unique and influential 20th century composer.
One of the highlights of my 2014 spring tour was visiting Reed and Sara Maxson in Yolo County, CA. We had a great time reading through scores of pieces Reed had composed or arranged, playing around on his musical sculptures, and of course catching up.
In 1975 Reed composed Three Pieces for guitar quartet, quintet or ensemble, for The Mock Family Guitarists, of which I was the youngest member. My family enjoyed performing Reed’s composition on our tours during the mid to late ’70s. More of Reed’s music, including Seven Pieces for flute and guitar, were also mainstays in the Mock household.
Those of us interested in innovative original music are delighted that Reed has been putting much of his music and scores online. From recreating hand-written scores in Finale, to digitizing cassette tape recordings 40 years old, anyone can now be exposed to Reed Maxson’s works, which have been a constant source of inspiration for me since I was five!
“…there’s an ecstatic mechanism in birds that makes them fly upwards in spite of worms.”
Today happens to be Mr. Ferlinghetti’s 95th birthday (the Allen Ginsberg blog has a great post on him today), so it seemed a good time to explain where the title came from, and wish Mr. Ferlinghetti a very happy birthday!!
Over the course of the last year or so I have worked on notating Reynosa, SpaceshipEarth, and Sweetbitter using the software Finale 2012b. With very constructive editorial suggestions from Reed Maxson (alas, not always taken), and some learning curves with the computer as well as music theory and the idiosyncrasies of the classic guitar notation system, I have finished scoring three out of the eight solos from my album ECSTATIC MECHANISM. I hope to add to this list when time allows.
With loads of help from Alyce in design, layout, and production, I now have some newly printed scores of these three pieces! Much more info about each piece including an excerpt of both the audio and the notation can be found here.
In September 2013, composer/guitarist Julian Mock released ECSTATIC MECHANISM, a collection of 8 innovative compositions for solo nylon-stringed guitar. In April 2014 he will be presenting these works in small venues throughout New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, and California.
Born into a musical family, Julian Mock is a perpetual student of the guitar as an instrument as well as the sounds it can produce. Having played in classical, jazz, and improvisational ensembles on both electric and acoustic instruments, designing listenable études for practicing difficult maneuvers led him, somewhat inadvertently, to create new compositions for solo guitar. Exploring old and new techniques, tonalities, and rhythms, and combining textures and ideas from different eras and places, Mock creates intricate, innovative, polyphonic mosaics of sonic possibilities. Sound Travels, Mock’s 2002 album of solo compositions, was recorded on an acoustic steel stringed guitar. For the works on Ecstatic Mechanism, released in late 2013, he returned to his first instrument: the nylon stringed guitar. The compositions draw inspiration from Mock’s diverse musical background, weaving together elements of dissonance and melody, tradition and experimentation, ranging from minimal to complex in rhythm and texture.
MARCH 30 SUNDAY 11am: Java Joe’s Café, 906 Park Ave, Albuquerque, NM
MARCH 30 SUNDAY 6:30 – 7:30: Levitated Toy Factory, 700 Silver Ave. SW, Albuquerque, NM
Doors open at 6, Indoor picnic-style: BYO Cushion/chair, drink/snack
APRIL 1 TUESDAY 7pm: Cloud5Project, 1805 2nd St, Santa Fe, NM
APRIL 6 SUNDAY 5pm: Salon at Justice Snow’s, Aspen, CO
APRIL 10 THURSDAY 4pm: Tsunami Books, Eugene OR
APRIL 13 SUNDAY 2pm: Community Presbyterian Church 360 W. 7th St., Yachats, OR
APRIL 16 WEDNESDAY 5-7pm: Yachats Brewing Market Farmstore, 348 Hwy 101, Yachats, OR
Solo guitar and trio music with “Fiddling around Ruth” and Alyce Santoro
APRIL 18 FRIDAY 7pm: The Lofts at Mile Post 5, 900 NE 81st Ave. #302, Portland, OR
APRIL 20 SUNDAY 7pm: Open Mic at The Green Salmon 220 Hwy. 101, Yachats, OR
APRIL 27 SUNDAY: House Concert, Sausalito, CA
To listen to Julian’s music please visit: julianmock.com
5/14 addendum: Many thanks to everyone involved for helping to make this tour successful!
SpaceshipEarth, the first solo guitar piece on my newest album, Ecstatic Mechanism, was composed circa 2005. The idea came about while expanding on an earlier piece (titled Inner Mission on the Sound Travels album) rooted in old stride-piano-like folk patterns, the right hand thumb walking an alternating bass line while the fingers pick out the melody and harmony. The guitar tuning for SpaceshipEarth is a bit unusual – the 5th string is tuned to an F, and the 6th string is tuned to a D.
In 2006 while working on a video animation project with my partner Alyce Santoro, a conceptual artist, we discovered that this piece would make an ideal soundtrack. In the video, we demonstrate what happens when ice cream cones are glued together at their tips. Spoiler alert: they form a perfect sphere! The video is an ode to Buckminster Fuller, famed futurist and inventor of the geodesic dome. SpaceshipEarth is filled with a kind of optimistic momentum…form following function in ways that aspire to be efficient, elegant, and playful – qualities I associate with Buckminster Fuller. “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” is the title of one of his most famous books. This piece is named in honor of his vision for a world that works for all.
In the fall of 2012 I had begun notating my works for solo guitar, including SpaceshipEarth, when my un-backed-up-harddrive crashed. Fortunately, I had sent preview copies of a couple of pieces to family members. SpaceshipEarth was preserved, but only as a PDF, which could not be read by the version of the notation software I was using. Reed Maxson, a long-time friend who is an extraordinary composer, came to the rescue, offering to help by scanning the PDF back in to his version of the program. Since the scan didn’t transfer well, Reed took it upon himself to enter the missing notes “by hand”. During this process he felt inspired to add more notes, and then some more, and before he knew it, he had fully orchestrated the piece, adding more than 25 instruments, from timpani to piccolo. Upon listening for the first time to this newly-orchestrated version, I was completely stunned – what had started out as an unfortunate situation had turned into something wonderful in a way that I never would have considered.
After hearing the orchestrated composition, I wondered what would happen if we combined the solo guitar and orchestration. To this end Reed and I exchanged scores and audio files electronically until we were satisfied with this version of SpaceshipEarth.