Agustín Castilla-Ávila’s “True Love is Not a Flower”
Agustín Castilla-Ávila’s music often sets into motion something that I’ve come to think of as instrumental theater. Two electric guitars are suspended, embracing each other, with the player stimulating the intermeshing strings. That piece is entitled, “Something Like a Hug”.
In “Rondo”, for the Cygnus Ensemble, with violin, viola, guitar, and cello, the players pass the instruments around; each player’s 10,000 hours rub off on the others in a despecialization process.
I want to mention some remarkable harmonies in C-Á’s Hazm setting.
“True Love is Not a Flower” is rare in C-Á’s output in that it is all 12 Equal Divisions of the Octave. He is very often exploring microtones, often 36EDO.
One might reverse engineer the piece—
— set a guitar scordatura – low to high A# - G# - D - G# - B - E
—stake out some piano harmonics and prepared notes that enlarge the guitar’s pitch field.
The piece stays close to this scordatura, with piano extensions. The piano enlarges what the guitar establishes. The voice surprises harmonically.
A# - G# - D - G# - B - E
The guitar scordatura stakes out a pitch field. The scordatura is an octotonic subset. It is extended in the voice and instruments narrowly, but precisely so as to create harmonic breaks.
This octotonic subset—
G# A# B C# D
Contends with this whole tone subset—
Ab Bb C D
This is a very dynamic relationship. And even more striking is the [ B A# F# ] in m. 63. I think of [ B A# F# ] is the brightest shiniest three note chord. It pops out – foregrounds, like magenta over grey.
The piece is grounded in the guitar scordatura, with the voice wrestling the pitch field into discrete contending harmonic worlds.
And in addition, there is C-Á’s instrumental theater, especially with the guitar’s imitation of high piano notes.
Harmony is vast, particularly when microtones are involved, and C-Á is very much involved with exploring microtones. Perhaps this is a bit like shortwave radio as a source of wave forms, which are infinite. C-Á culls from the infinite through musical instruments and their limitations.
In the Hazm setting we see how this works very clearly.
William Anderson is a guitarist and composer and an advisor to the Roger Shapiro Fund.