"Projects as games": An interview with composer Tomás Gueglio-Saccone

If you've been to Spektral concert, you've no doubt bumped in to composer Tomás Gueglio-Saccone (you should really watch where you're going, Bumpy McStumbleton). Tomás has been a friend and advocate since the earliest days of the quartet, and we are happy to be gently funneling his Decals II into your ears on June 12th. Tomás has a few things to say on the subject of said funneling:

 Tomás...composing...beachside in Piriapolis, Uruguay

Tomás...composing...beachside in Piriapolis, Uruguay

Doyle: You are one of those wonderful composers that seems to attend every new music concert in Chicago. How does filling your head with all this music affect your own writing, or does it?

TomásIt definitely does. Chicago is home to a substantial number of composers and groups that I am a fan of. Listening to their doings enrich the way in which I think of what I do. They expand the world of the possible, so to speak. Any given week there are a handful of shows that I either attend to or that I am quite disappointed to have to miss. I believe this to be true for most of us in the Chicago new music scene.

DA: What did you set out to say or explore, when you began writing Decals II for us?

TGSI wanted to write something that would explore as much of Spektral’s expressive range as possible. Other than that, I don’t remember having a specific prompt or project when I begun drafting for Decals II. If anything, it started as most of my recent projects start: as a game trying to setup some kind of self-sufficient musical narrative. This game usually involves choosing a few elements (durations, pitches, motives…) and spinning them through simple permutational strategies. 

It is after the piece is finished that I sometimes connect the work with a larger aesthetic project or to some autobiographical feature. This usually happens as I free-associate trying to find something worthwhile to be mentioned in a program note.

DA: One of the things we love about your music is the intermingling of traditional melody/harmony, and new music techniques. How are these two elements talking to each other in this piece?

TGSThanks! Yes. That intermingling that you mention has increasingly become a recurrent feature in my music and Decals II is a quite drastic enactment of it. In the score I ask the quartet to play different motives in the piece recurring to performance habits of some particular style. This feature is extended to other parameters beyond the, so to speak,  “playback preset”. The treatment of pitch, rhythm and timbre is also imported from diverging but specific compositional practices. Regarding traditional melody and harmony, I find pleasure in toying with the referential energy sonorities of common practice music bring to the table. They provide an expressive point of reference with which to interact.

DA: I know you're a little cagey in talking about it, but you recently became a father. Is it safe to assume that it is essentially impossible to not have your daughter somewhere in the lines when you compose these days, even if the piece is not about/for her?

TGSYou are right. I am cagey about it. And it might be for that very reason that I have been composing exclusively lullabies for the past two years.

DA: When you're at a premiere of a piece (or in this case, a second performance), what's going through your head? It's ok to say, "I hope the violist hits that high F#..."

TGS: I tend to worry about pacing. And also that the piece has the aura that I imagined it would have.

DA: What music is getting you all lit up these days?

TGSI am a bit embarrassed to say that I haven’t been listening to much music for pleasure lately (besides the live performances mentioned in your first question). For a large portion of this year I was teaching and working on my dissertation at the same time. That combo seemed to have affected my ability to be lit up by some newly discovered music. During this labor-intensive time, my listening of music was quite utilitarian i.e. mood regulation (Paco de Lucia playing solo and William Byrd masses were on heavy rotation in my Spotify). I am really looking forward to the summer so I can catch up with some overdue listening enjoyment.

DA: And finally, what is your most embarrassing boating/jet-ski/surfing/boogie-boarding-related story?

TGSI can’t remember a particular one. I am just consistently awkward around large bodies of water.