"I'd do it again."
 
On the 13th June 2021, 10pm (BST) at 53.4849° N, 2.2296° W, percussionist Darren Gallacher "did what [he] did" in a recorded performance of Óscar Escudero & Belenish Moreno-Gil's '[HOC]'... or did he?
 
How can anyone with any sense of security - geolocation services, calendar records or other forms of documentation - pinpoint any exact moment in time and space, when space-time and its quanta have always been fluctuating around/through us with cosmological anxiety at the fallibility of the present moment? These are the sorts of questions that Granada-based composer-duo Óscar Escudero & Belenish Moreno-Gil flirt with on a daily basis, both personally and in their work. After the launch of our specially-commissioned video-performance of '[HOC]' performed by Manchester-based percussionist Darren Gallacher as part of our fortnightly theme 'The New Anxiety', VIRTUALLYREALITY's artistic director Michael Brailey spoke to Óscar Escudero & Belenish Moreno-Gil about the systems they work in; systems of digitality/virtuality, language, capital, the (Classical) music industry, and how on Earth they can hope to take a breather from it all.

'[HOC]' by Óscar Escudero & Belenish Moreno-Gil. Performed by Darren Gallacher, recorded 13th June 2021 at Hallé St. Michael's (Manchester) as part of VIRTUALLYREALITY SS21: The Long Triumph.

 

 

"We have a common goal with Facebook: engagement."

- Óscar Escudero & Belenish Moreno-Gil

 

[MB] I wanted to start by just asking how you are doing? I don’t ask this in a superficial way, rather because I find that navigating systems brought about by digitality or virtuality - something that crops up a lot in your work - can really take a lot of energy. I wonder if you experience any form of anxiety or if you find thinking/writing about/within these systems takes an emotional toll?

[ÓE & BM-G] From our individual experience we feel a constant tension with the need to create new, overabundant and multi-dimensional portraits of ourselves everywhere. We feel that FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is an old trauma of Millennials. FONBS (Fear of Not Becoming Spam) is the new state of play. We wickedly accept our existence as a constant generation of (ir)relevant products and this can only be accepted as the "long triumph" of capitalist logics one could not have imagined 100 years ago.

 

We believe that virtuality generates friction with our environment because we like to inhabit the physical world and we believe in the need to have physical agora spaces with our families, friends and colleagues.  For us the dichotomy between the real and the not-real disappeared a long time ago and our identities are now more fluid than ever, but that does not mean that we have a demand for physicality in our lives. During the pandemic, we have been aware of the demand for virtual presence and we are really exhausted.  

 

Living all this and rethinking through our art about all these issues can sometimes be painful as you question many of your daily and even intimate actions. That also responds to the disappearance of another former antagonistic combo: the online vs the offline. 

[MB] What do you do to combat this? Where do you find your sense of presence amidst all this pinpointing and locating and reconstructing, or where would you recommend others find it?

 

[ÓE & BM-G] We need to be quite proactive in regenerating a sensory awareness that is in danger of atrophying. The homogenization of experience through the interfaces of big digital platforms and the progressive algorithmization of life are fundamental critical pillars of our work, but also of our lives. We claim the right to learn by making mistakes, not to eat in the most highly rated restaurants when visiting a new city but to discover them by chance. We claim the right to understand emotions in a plural and complex way, that your sadness or your joy are not completely equivalent and interchangeable with ours. 


As artists, it is very important for us to use all possible humanistic, dialectical and technical tools in order to actively penetrate and adulterate our spam society. We want our works to share the same quality of seduction that interfaces possess. Online trash often looks quite nice and that's why we spend a lot of time polishing the scenic aspects as much as possible to camouflage the artwork among the rest of the content which, although it may contain a delivered aesthetic charge, is not intended to exert a resistance to the medium. Hence, we have a common goal with Facebook: engagement. However, it is not an objective in itself but a platform to resignificate spaces and communities, the sense of borders or the eroticism of touching a strange skin with its own history and its own desires.

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Behind-the-scenes of the video-shoot for '[HOC]' by Óscar Escudero + Belenish Moreno-Gil, performed by Darren Gallacher. Recorded 13th June 2021 as part of VIRTUALLYREALITY SS21: The Long Triumph at Hallé St. Michael's, Manchester. Photo by Brad Ingham.

 

 

We use text as a medium, the same as video, sound and performers’ corporeality, to access a reality, which coexists and fricts with the most widespread ways of verbalizing our experience."

- Óscar Escudero & Belenish Moreno-Gil

[MB] On one hand, language can’t explain everything. On another hand, you use a lot of text in your work. How do you deal with this predicament of language as a (finite) system?

 

[ÓE & BM-G] Ludwig Wittgenstein ends his Tractatus Philosophicus with the famous statement "whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent", but this should not be taken as a repressive sentence but as a wake-up call for responsibility for the kinds of material an artist chooses. The word for us is a 100% performative entity. Therefore, the research on languages and their characteristics as artificial systems is one of our main obsessions. Furthermore, the understanding of text as a dialectical image inside a purely representational world gives us the opportunity to create trans-personal roles, which are displayed in realities that are, on the one hand, liquid, and on the other hand, very well contoured by the use of strong grammar frames. 

 

Text is a simulation for us, the opposite of what a listener in 1775 was getting when listening to the words “Credo in unum deum Patrem omnipotentem” in a musicalized mass. The role of the standard Latin mass was assumed to be a statement, countless times repeated and amplified by the means of music. We use text as a medium, the same as video, sound and performers’ corporeality, to access a reality, which coexists and fricts with the most widespread ways of verbalizing our experience. 

Last but not least, we love to play with it as a strong tool of power. When we use the English language in our pieces, for example, we consciously think about the civilizational processes linked to it and the ways it can be “hammered” by accents, mistakes and misunderstandings in non-English speaking countries. Nevertheless, we are also really pleased with the subtle strokes Darren Gallacher gave to [HOC] in the version commissioned by VIRTUALLYREALITY.

[MB] For VIRTUALLYREALITY to organise this performance of [HOC], we had to purchase the score from your own publishing house (BELOS Editions) and pay an editor to create the personalised video for Darren Gallacher. When I write it out like that, it sounds obvious, but this is not such a popular financial model for other New Music composers. A lot of composers make their scores/materials/time available for free. What has working within this model made you consider?

 

[ÓE & BM-G] The reasons are simple but not necessarily obvious. Firstly, when we began to explore the idea of the work as a platform, it was clear to us that we had to mimic the formal processes of these structures, including the economic ones. The identification of the performer as user was a fundamental feature of the totalising critical project we wanted to undertake, which would affect each and every element of the production of the works. For this to happen, it had to include the concept of membership. In other words, performers were to pay a fee and literally access the works physically and virtually and receive something in return.

 

We must say that the consequences of this for our artistic research have been of great value. On the one hand, many typical behaviours of the consumer society have permeated the artistic outcomes of the works, leading to intense negotiations in the administration of the public and private spheres of the performers. On the other, we have identified that the process of purchasing has empowered the performers' willingness to be immersed into the co-creation of a non-transferable product, which establishes its playing field in a non-place between their instruments, the stage, their bodies and their online identities. The performative space of the performers therefore expands and we would dare say that Lachenmann would be proud of this transit from musique concrète instrumentale to musique concrète personnelle.


The second point has to do with our method of survival. After finishing our studies and especially after the premiere of our production [Subnormal Europe], we have decided to devote ourselves entirely to composition as a duo of creators. We need a great deal of time to achieve the levels of research and critical depth during the composition process that we desire. Time means, of course, money, and the production of new customised versions of the pieces is one of our main sources of income. This doesn't mean that we don't like teaching (we both have some private students) or that we don’t consider that we would love to be part of a long-term pedagogical project that addresses the tools needed to be up-to-date performers and composers for the times we live in.

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Behind-the-scenes of the video-shoot for '[HOC]' by Óscar Escudero + Belenish Moreno-Gil, performed by Darren Gallacher. Recorded 13th June 2021 as part of VIRTUALLYREALITY SS21: The Long Triumph at Hallé St. Michael's, Manchester. Photo by Brad Ingham.

[MB] You're referencing probably the most obvious system, perhaps the elephant in the room - the Classical music industry. Your careers seem to firmly exist within this sphere, but your work seems to reckon with it as well. Is this industry a material for you to compose with, not only within?

 

[ÓE & BM-G] Yes, indeed. The music industry - and with it, the structures of education - are in our creative sights because the role we play in society depends on them. We are equally critical of positions that explicitly or implicitly advocate inbreeding, as well as macro-marketing campaigns that perpetuate the image of (often  male) genius. Access to the production of critical contemporary art is a fundamental right in a democratic society and an opportunity to cultivate those values that make us live together and respect diversity.

 

However, we are aware that we are a bit eccentric in the world of classical tradition. In our works we ask performers to give us access to their public and private biographies in order to use this data as performative material or to record themselves reacting to other ensembles' recordings of works from the classical repertoire. We also encourage them to recount the traumatic experiences of their musical career and to make them an important part of the content of the work, as in [BIO], the new piece for piano+ that we will premiere next November in a co-production between the ZKM Karlsruhe and the SWR Experimentalstudio. The advantage of using the music industry as a subject is that the instrumentalists' lives are quite absorbed by it, and that is an asset we cannot afford to waste.

[MB] Your collaborative practice is also something quite novel for the Contemporary Music world. What does working together enable you to achieve that you couldn’t on your own?

 

[ÓE & BM-G] We believe that it is time to turn the page and to accept teamwork as a win-win situation, as well as to accept individual limitations in the fields of knowledge. In Contemporary Western Music today, we are still dragging the inertia of the nineteenth-century solo artist profile. Even in openly transdisciplinary and collaborative projects we tend to draw hierarchies that are often neither real nor fair.

 

Our most satisfying experiences on an artistic and human level have been the fruit of the work of a group of people who have had their own space for decision making, even though we were in charge of artistic direction and had the greatest responsibilities on a creative level. That is why, even in small-scale chamber projects, we ask the performers to be involved in important decisions, since their interpretative choices will have deeper consequences on their personas than a convincing or insufficient instrumental performance.


This can be extrapolated to our working process when we have to work alone at home. We both bring different knowledge and backgrounds and take the risks of composing together, even if this is a dangerous task as a couple :-)

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'[HOC]' by Óscar Escudero & Belenish Moreno-Gil, performed by Darren Gallacher, is now available to watch as part of our fortnightly theme 'The New Anxiety'.

Óscar Escudero & Belenish Moreno-Gil. Photo by Christian Damiano.