Curated by Roc Jiménez de Cisneros
The first instalment of the monographic dedicated to Pelayo Fernández Arrizabalaga features interviews with Cristina Casanova and Sergi Jordà.
Pelayo Fernández Arrizabalaga (Laredo, 1949) grew up loving and soaking up the jazz standards popularised by Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. Up to a point, we could actually say that his music career is unquestionably linked to jazz; but hardly to that which is “standard”. Inside and outside the genre, this musician—born in Cantabria in northern Spain and based in Switzerland—has gone to great lengths to turn a thousand and one conventions (structural, harmonic, compositional, methodological) on their heads, both in his solo work and in numerous group projects from the early eighties onwards. This transgressive streak has often gone hand in hand with another of the great vectors that cuts across all of his sound work: the idea of collage.
Clónicos, the group with a mutating line-up that he formed in Madrid in 1984 with Markus Breuss, is the perfect embodiment of this cut-out-and-paste ideal, of the extreme mix of ideas and sounds that we still associate with Pelayo today. The group, which took Frank Zappa, John Zorn and other illustrious dissidents as possible points of departure, left its mark in the European underground of the time, not just with its curious superimposition of sounds, which jumped from free jazz to pop to electronic music to free improvisation in the course of a single track, but also thanks to an attitude that broke away from the seriousness that supposedly went with all things experimental. It was precisely in that unusual workshop of underground avant-garde that the combination of wind instruments (saxophone and clarinet), electronica and the use of a turntable as an instrument took on meaning for Arrizabalaga, eventually becoming his own particular triple modus operandi.
By the early nineties, his experience in the electronic music studio at the Conservatory of Basel under Thomas Kessler helped to definitively lay the foundations for a compositional style in which sense of humour is still a constant, not in a gratuitous way but through an inertia that is almost innate and, very often, as a healthy antidote to the inflexibility of his environment: the same humour that is already present in songs by the Clónicos (look no further than “Kakabulistán” with unwitting vocals by king Juan Carlos I of Bourbon) continues in Arrizabalaga’s electroacoustic work in Spain immediately before and of course after his training in Switzerland, challenging the conventions of the academy, as shown in pieces like his “Adagio with Chicken” for violinist, cellist, sampler and fryer (with chicken). This innately ironic spirit exists side by side with a certain synaesthesia that is sought-after rather than natural, but nevertheless present at different levels in his work. His “cross-modal integration” may be the fruit of his broad experience in the plastic arts, rather than the result of the anomalous workings of his fusiform turn: “yeah, if only…” he says with a smile on playing on his lips. His expressive graphic scores, the extremely theatrical performances of the Clónicos and the omnipresence of collage as a creative technique all correspond to a way of seeing the world based on intuition more than formulas, a creative method that replaces clinical analysis with (pre)sentiment or, as regular collaborator since the days of FMOL Trio Cristina Casanova says, “the enthusiasm of a little boy”.
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