Meet percussionist/electronic performer Fernando Rocha, Visiting Scholar at the McIntire Department of Music
by Christopher Luna
During the academic year of 2015-2016, the McIntire Department of Music is hosting Fernando Rocha as a Visiting Scholar among its body of faculty and collaborators. Currently Professor of Percussion at Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Brazil, Fernando Rocha received his doctoral degree from McGill University, where he presented a dissertation on “Works for percussion and computer-based live electronics: aspects of performance with technology”.
One of the germinal projects of Fernando Rocha during his visit in the current academic year will be the creation and performance of a full length solo concert, which will feature works for percussion, electronics and video resulting from collaboration with faculty (among them Judith Shatin and Matthew Burtner) and students from the McIntire Department of Music.
Fernando introduced his musical, artistic and technological ideas to the music community at UVa during a colloquium in September. There, he talked about his background in jazz, the impact of John Cage in his musical conception, the role of improvisation in his music, his view of his compositional practice as a creation of systems for improvisation, and the proximity of percussion and electronics as fertile grounds for sound exploration. He also demonstrated novel electronic percussion instruments that he has created, such as the “Hyper-Kalimba”, in which he electronically processes the instrument that consists of a wooden board with attached staggered metal tines, played by holding the instrument in the hands and plucking the tines with the thumbs. Finally, he emphasized his interest in collaboration.
The contemporary repertoire of Brazil and major composers plays a substantial role in Fernando’s musical endeavors. He is the artistic director of Sonante 21, featuring works by Sílvio Ferraz, Carlos Stasi, Luciano Berio, Brian Ferneyhough, Magnus Lindberg, Steve Reich and George Crumb, among other composers. Fernando is also an experienced electronic musician. He decided to incorporate the knowledge of electronics to his percussion expertise more than a decade ago “during the Encuentro de Compositores Latinoamericanos (Latin American Composers Series). I got to premiere several pieces, among them one by Sergio Freire, a Brazilian composer. He was finishing his doctoral degree in Switzerland and he couldn’t come. He sent me the score. I learned all the notes for the big percussion setup –timpani, cymbals, snare drum, etc. I was ready to play the percussion part, but I never rehearsed with the electronics. The guy that was doing the electronics was from Sao Paulo and he arrived the day of the concert. It was a festival with several concerts going on, so we had a soundcheck of 20 min, which were basically enough for me to set up my instruments (laughs). The performance was a big disaster. The electronic performer didn’t know my part, I didn’t know his. There was a lot of feedback, it was awful (laughs)! The concert was reviewed in the Computer Music Journal, which wasn’t bad for me as the percussionist, but the electronics were criticized. So after that I thought: ‘If I want to play a repertoire with electronics I need to know something about it (...). I need to be able to setup everything I should to rehearse. If you rehearse a lot of electronics that also informs the percussion playing’”.
Speaking about his piece for the “Hyper-Kalimba”, Rocha mentions there are two kinds of improvisation involved: “one is completely free; the other one in which I always start and end in the same way. It is not a piece, it is what I call a ‘system to improvise’. The electronics, in Max MSP, are following a system that responds to my improvisation in Kalimba".
Improvisation is an important aspect of Fernando’s compositional work, he states: “I usually feel like I have successfully improvised when I don’t think about it. On the other hand, when I predispose my playing with plans like ‘now I will do this, then I will do that’, it usually doesn’t work. Another thing is learning to listen and play at the same time. I play a percussion and cello duo with my wife. We practice listening by defining sections in an improvisation, such as ‘sparse section’, ‘dark section’, ‘light section’, etc. One person has to be able to listen when the other person has moved from the ‘sparse section’ to the ‘dark section’, for example”.
Fernando Rocha will perform on Friday, February 5th, 2016 in Old Cabell Hall. For more information about the concert visit music.virginia.edu/rocha-recital . More information about Mr. Rocha can be found at http://www.fernandorocha.info/. He can be contacted by e-mailing fernandorocha@Virginia.edu
Christopher Luna is a 1st year PhD student in Composition and Computer Technologies. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org