A. Crespo Beard, alumni of Musical Composition Degree full University School of Arts TAI, presents his artistic project next November in the Netherlands: chant V. It is a stage piece made in collaboration with the Slovenian visual artist living in Rotterdam Mateja Drev.
SONG V It is a double commission from the November Music and Flamenco Biënnale Nederland festivals and has the support of Fonds Podiumkunsten. This multidisciplinary piece in which electronic music, flamenco, video and performance, among others, enter the creative shaker, is, in the words of A.Crespo Barba “a kind of amalgamation where all our creative obsessions are mixed at the moment”. Crespo Barba has spent this summer for TAI to carry out an artistic residence focused on the project that he will develop this autumn in the Netherlands. We have chatted with him about his artistic career, memories of him as a student at TAI and about what it felt like to go back to school.
“Cántico V is a kind of amalgamation where all our creative obsessions are mixed at this moment”
What is your latest project, titled chant V?
If I had to define it from a formal point of view, I would say that it is essentially a scenic piece. In addition to the purely sound, the visual and the performative play a determining role in the evolution of the piece. It is a kind of amalgamation where all our artistic obsessions are mixed at the moment.
I have been working under the flamenco prism for quite some time and I wanted to explore it from other points of view that were not purely musical. That said, the project has been taking different trajectories since it began to take shape almost two years ago.
The fact of not having been able to present it in 2020 opened up the possibility of rethinking and recontextualizing it. At this point, neither Mateja (the other artist involved) nor I are certain what the final form of the work will be.
"The fact of not having been able to present it in 2020 opened up the possibility of rethinking and recontextualizing it"
The project raises a very interesting proposal: how we could transfer the proto-Flemish manifestations to the current ultra-technological reality, dominated by social networks, with constant interaction with new devices. Can you briefly anticipate how two times so far apart and different can be related?
They are related in content, only the format changes. The idea of chant V It's very simple: go to the origins of the genre in search of material to rethink it later using the codes and tools that we have today.
I can think of several examples in which direct bridges can be created between both worlds. To give you a specific one, one of the most evident proto-Flemish manifestations are the Byzantine liturgical chants from which many of those known as old saetas or cuarteleras will derive.
In a saeta, the collective idea of Christ or the Virgin Mary is not sung, but rather their image, their physicality. These icons do not differ so much from those of our current idols and how society relates to them. It could be said that all of us sing saetas to them at the blow of like.
"It could be said that all of us sing saetas at the stroke of a like"
Still, we like to think that we don't take these concepts too seriously. We've learned to give ourselves a pretty wide margin of artistic freedom and just try to experiment with the material we have in a pretty intuitive way. Where there are usually flamenco guitars, we put speakers and where there are usually polychrome images of saints, we put 3D animations. That being said, we are not discovering gunpowder. There are many examples of artists who are or have worked from this same approach.
A. Crespo Barba and his experience in TAI
You graduated in Contemporary Music Composition at TAI in 2017. What has your training at school meant? What would you highlight from those years and how have they helped you develop as an artist?
I think that all that I would highlight today are things that at the time I did not give so much value to. At school I learned a lot and it trained me very well from a purely technical point of view. However, seen with perspective, what is most present in me today has more to do with the extracurricular.
It often happens to me that, sometimes, I remember comments from teachers or situations outside the classroom with classmates that, although they did not have a great impact on me at the time, have had it years later.
My artistic convictions have changed substantially since I started studying at TAI in 2013, but I think the first spark of what it means to me to be a multidisciplinary artist was ignited in my last stage in school TAI.
With this I do not mean that the classes or projects were not important, but nowadays I see them more as necessary steps to take and that lose relevance over time. If I had the chance to go back to school, I would do it with a completely different mindset.
"I remember comments from teachers or situations outside the classroom with classmates that, although they did not have a great impact on me at the time, have had it years later"
In recent years you have a career full of projects and awards. you studied a master of Composition at Codarts, you attended classes and seminars with some of today's great musical talents and were awarded the Dutch Best New Composer Pitch award. Have these recognitions and training opened many doors for you in the world of music?
I think that, in that sense, what has really opened the doors for me has been the decision to settle in the Netherlands. Rotterdam has somehow put me “on the map”. It is a tremendously international city and thanks to this I have been lucky enough to be able to interact with a large number of artists and to be part of many very interesting projects. This has allowed me not only to work in the Netherlands, but also in Lithuania, Italy, the United Kingdom…
I must admit that I am not, at all, a fan of composition contests. Of course I like to win them, but I don't think they are a real recognition of the artists' work and, in my opinion, the format is usually quite unfair. The greatest recognition that the artists of my generation could have is that they call us to work without any need to go through that filter that is the composition contest. Since that is still rare, we have to adapt to what we have.
Confidence and spaces for emerging artists to realistically access the professional world are still a pending issue in many countries, especially in Spain. I have been very lucky that the November Music and Flamenco Biënnale Nederland festivals (both Dutch) blindly trusted the proposal of chant V From the beginning. I am very grateful to them, because it is something that does not always happen.
“What has really opened doors for me has been the decision to settle in the Netherlands. Rotterdam has somehow put me 'on the map'”
Create from flamenco
Flamenco is a core part of your career. What is it that made you become so strongly attached to this style?
Curiously, my interest in exploring flamenco in my proposals began when I was still studying at TAI, in 2017. I always like to point out that I do not consider myself a flamenco artist, but rather an artist who uses flamenco (in a fairly free way) to develop his discourse. Let's say that I don't work flamenco, but from flamenco.
I'm passionate about many things about flamenco, but at the point where I am now I would say that what would stand out the most is what happens, not so much in the current genre, but on its margins. It is in what surrounds him where the greatest friction and points of experimentation occur. Ultimately, I am interested in the extra-musical.
Flamenco is a bastard art, in the good sense of the word. It has many fathers and mothers and its history continues to be distorted, commodified and tortured. It went from being a completely tavern music and reviled in its beginnings to being instrumentalized by the Franco regime as a "Spain brand".
All these facts have left a very particular mark on its nature and that is why it is an incredibly malleable art. Because, apart from music, it can be dance, painting, cinema, performance, literature, political discourse... and a very long etcetera.
It has the quality of infecting what it touches. Having said that, in my opinion flamenco in the last 30 years has become, with few exceptions, a predictable and rigid art form. For this reason, we have made the decision to go back in time to its origins, when everything was yet to be codified and there was freedom to experiment and create.
Even so, I would also like to say that I am a great amateur. I have to admit that I am quite a particular case because my greatest admiration for flamenco as a listener comes from the sing and not of the flamenco guitar. I don't usually listen a lot touch and the guitarists that I like are not usually the typical ones. I am more of Perico el del Lunar than of Paco de Lucía!
"It is in what surrounds flamenco where the greatest friction and points of experimentation take place. I am definitely interested in the extra-musical"
Cantico V is a multidisciplinary piece that incorporates electronic music, video and performance. How are all these disciplines integrated into the project?
As I mentioned in the previous question. Flamenco has that ability to inoculate its essence into other arts in a practically unheard of way.
We are not pioneers in making these translations. The director Val del Omar has already taken elements of flamenco, such as his patterns, for some of his most important creations (for example, Fire in Castile); there is the figure of Ocaña, activist and member of the CNT who, during the 70s, sowed the first seed of what is considered queer flamingo with their performances and interventions; the group Los Voluble has been mixing flamenco with electronic music for more than 20 years; there is a wide range of names that have attempted this “train crash” with greater or lesser success, as Enrique Morente said.
It is very easy for me to integrate them with each other. Flamenco has so many edges that the possibilities are almost endless. We work the video from various points of view, from the rhythm and from the iconography; space, from flemish architecture; the sound, from the statism of some sing… All of this, as I said at the beginning, under our own interests and our influences, which go far beyond flamenco per se.
Return to TAI
What does it mean for you to have returned to TAI with Cántico V four years after you graduated?
It makes me very happy. I keep a very nice memory of my years in TAI and being back in school means a lot. Although it's been a long time, I still have some friends who are still part of the staff.
We have already been in contact with TAI last year to be able to do the residency, but due to the COVID crisis it had to be cancelled. When we proposed her again this year, she was received with open arms, that is, I can only have good words. I hope this is the first of many collaborations with the school and that we can keep in touch for many years to come.
“I keep a very nice memory of my years in TAI"
From your training and professional experience, what would you recommend to a young musician who is considering dedicating himself to this discipline?
I don't consider myself in a position to give much advice as my career has just taken off, but from my own experience I would tell you to trust your intuitions. For me they are everything and it has been thanks to believing in myself and in my proposals (despite the adversities) that I have gradually managed to gain a foothold in the professional world.
Young artists are in possession of the future of art and we can decide how we want it to be. Therefore, even when there are situations in which it is difficult to see a future for what you want to propose, I think it is important to feel that responsibility for change and always give yourself another last chance.
To this I would add something that my teachers told me when I was studying at TAI and that at the time I did not understand very well, but that, nevertheless, has turned out to be a great truth: that they wait and be patient, because everything comes.
"For me, intuitions are everything and it has been thanks to believing in myself and in my proposals (despite the adversities) that I have gradually managed to gain a foothold in the professional world"