Michele Abondano on her piece “Cuerpos en Resonancia”

sandris murins
25 composers
Published in
13 min readApr 12, 2024

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Read my interview with Colombian composer Michele Abondano on her piece “Cuerpos en Resonancia”. “Cuerpos en Resonancia” is a piece by Colombian composer Michele Abondano. The composition was created as a part of a research project that took place during the workshop MusicMakers_HackLab ‘Maquinas que sintonizan’ (Mexico, 2015), which was organised by Laboratorio Arte Alameda, where Marco Donnarumma was the artist invited. Abondano says that this piece captures the hybrid between movement and sound, putting a dancer in the centre and developing the whole structure of the piece based on the body of the performer. Text version of interview was created by Armands Stefans Sargsuns.

What is the background of the piece?

This piece is a part of my research on the hybrid sound-movement. I was especially focused on capturing the sound of the body in movement from the experience of dance. It was during my master studies in Mexico. I had developed four pieces for this research trying to approach sound from different possibilities which included using different kinds of microphones, different kinds of setups for the stage and different collaborations, because these pieces were developed in collaboration with dancers and other sound artists.

This piece, specifically, was developed during a workshop at Laboratorio Arte Alameda in Mexico. We were invited to work together randomly like we were just attending the workshop and they organised groups, so that’s the challenge in the work. Everybody wanted to work with movement and body, but from different perspectives and trying to apply different kinds of technologies, understanding the consequences very differently. We had to put together all our ideas in a kind of coherent way in a very short time, but that was a great experience, because we were working well with Marco Donnarumma, a sound artist from Italy. We were able to build a low-cost version of certain microphones he was developing at that time that were thought to capture the sound of the muscles and the flow of blood.

For me this was an incredible step in the research, because I was trying to capture the sound of the body in movement and this was like going directly to the experience of the body, and that was fascinating for me. I cannot tell you to what extent the microphones were doing that from a scientific approach, but the point is that we were trying to isolate sound, because the microphones had a kind of silicon, let’s say cover, that was attached to the skin. I think it was a very different kind of situation, compared to other kinds of microphones, even contact microphones, because it was directed, and it was more flexible in the way that it was always there, in the movement itself of the body. For me this was the perspective, I wanted to capture the sound using these microphones, one in an arm and the other one in a leg. However, the other sound artists were interested in other kinds of approaches, so they used sensors to make a kind of organisation, using a kind of map according to the movement in the screen and using the pulse, the beating of the heart, so we get different approaches here for different purposes. It was a collective work in the sense that everybody was autonomous in what everybody was looking for.

Watch full interview:

What was the main concept of the piece?

Well, the concept was how to make sound from the body and the movement, it was like the concept coming from there. But our relationship and the point with bodies resonated, because everybody wanted something different and we needed to find, or build, a field in which we could create something coherent together, coming from just one body.

How many of you were in the group?

We were a group of three composers and one dancer in this particular piece. Other projects were different, but this project had three composers and one dancer. For me, the point was the sound itself, so I just captured the sound with the microphones. Jorge Zurita was using the pulse of the body to trigger a kind of text based notation score that was happening live. He selected according to the speed. The speed of the pulse was organised according to a rate in certain categories of words. The purpose of that was to give us instructions to process the sound. As I was capturing the sound, I was also being a performer of the electronics, not just amplifying this sound which was also an interest, but you need to look for it. In my case, I used a code to try to look for the specific frequency, the low frequency, and we used subwoofers to make it sound, because these kinds of frequencies are difficult to distinguish.

My participation was based on the sound that I captured from the dancer, so then instructions were thought to guide these kinds of processes. We didn’t have much time to develop the ideas, or we were not able to recognize the limits of this kind of approach in the sense that, for example, the kind of instructions were not so clear in terms of electronics or not so idiomatic in terms of being an electronic performer. It was very traditionally musical and that was kind of a conflict that was also very interesting: how do you approach that when you are working on a collaboration with different points of view, but you know very clearly what you want to do? That was great and we got a lot of things happening, because, for example, we had the opportunity to work with Alejandra Villa (dancer) during the development of the piece and we checked our codes, we were making measurements with the sensors and it was a different experience.

Then, at the moment of the concert, the performance, of course, was excited and the pulse of her cardiac rhythm was very fast, and it changed our experience completely, because the instructions were coming superfast as she was feeling. That was not something we were expecting, because we were mostly working with how her pulse was acting as a consequence of the movement itself, so it was something organically developed through the kind of movement she was doing. At that point it was a completely different experience because it involved that part of humanity that is also energy for the body movement.

The sound itself was captured by the microphones from her body, that’s the sound, Pedro was just using Arduino to try to translate this pulse to certain measurements and triggering the instructions for us to follow, for us to transform the sound in order to give musical qualities to this source of sound. The other composer (Rafael Quezada) was working with his own voice. That’s another layer, because he was using the same microphones attached to his throat here (externally, of course) and he was making a vocal performance.

How long was the piece?

It was indeterminate. We didn’t want to structure it in any sense. It was just an improvisation in this sense, we just followed each other. The dancer was reacting to the sound and that movement created another kind of sound, so processing it was like this continuous feedback. For this performance, it was around 10 minutes. It was very organically coherent with the kind of event, because we were not the only performance that day, so I think 10 minutes was reasonable at that moment. But we never stated the duration, because it’s not a score of a structured piece, it was just a part of the experiment or a part of the experimental approach. Pedro wanted the material, the sound, to achieve certain qualities from a very musical perspective. I emphasise that, because he was using metaphors like “brilliant” or “granulate”, but he also used something like “counterpoint”.

How much was Marco Donnarumma involved in the creation of the piece?

Marco was the person who taught the workshop, but the other composers involved were Pedro and Rafael. Pedro was the one who was working with the instructions and this kind of visual score that depended on the pulse. I guess it was also another kind of plane to analyse the displacement of the body, but according to the screen. I think that the selection of each instruction was like he got four points in the screen A, B, C, D the four planes of the division of the screen. According to the position of the body in this frame, each of the four points had different qualities in these instructions, for example, instructions of time, instructions of quality of the sound. I’m not very sure about how he organised it, but I remember as a performer that this was my experience trying to follow the score. If the dancer was mainly in a part of this Cartesian plane and captured on the screen–because this part was the visual, the camera–, we were receiving the same kind of instructions all the time. The speed of the change of the instruction was the pulse. She was controlling the kind of interactions that we could have with the sound with her body. But it was kind of ideal in a sense, because it was almost impossible for us to respond to all the instructions at that speed and we had to make decisions on our own.

What was the main message of the piece?

I don’t approach my pieces from that place. For me, it was very much about timbre. I was working on timbre and trying to understand the interaction of sound-movement, how timbre is a dynamic experience and my research was based on the impact of movement and that hybrid: movement is sound, but sound has movement. It was about this cycle, that was my main point.

I think that the workshop in general, like we were working with Marco from the idea of taking sound from the body, that was the other layer of the research. This experience is not instrumentally performative. We were not working with instruments or the body performing instruments, but the body in movement. There were other performances that day that were so much more theatrical in a sense and less in the practice of dance. We were working with a dancer, so her movement was very much from the dance perspective, but that was the core of the interactions that we were developing.

What was the sensorial experience you wanted to create for the audience?

I don’t think about that. I think it was so much more my own research on sound and I was trying to understand it. I share it and people can understand whatever they want. I want them to listen, for example, to appreciate, maybe. It was very evident, because the visual impact of the dancer with all the microphones attached is strong and you get a perspective. You can decide what’s happening.

But I don’t want to impose my thoughts and my research on the people who are listening, because I think it is so much more interesting if free will guides that and your own interests and the coincidences. It’s different when you are working on the same thing, or you are thinking the same, and you say, “Oh, I have been working on that,” or if it is a surprise for you: “I’ve never had this experience before and it’s attractive”, so generally I try not to.

Was the piece divided in sections?

Most of the time I work with these kinds of structural points, but for this piece, no, we didn’t. I think it was because there were so many people working on it and I think that we just relied on the dancer, because it was her decision when to stop. It was her construction. It was amazing for me to put the performers from the body, the dancers, in front. I also worked with a stage performer in another piece, and I think it is a challenge for them to be responsible for guiding the sound. When they recognize themselves like the sources of sound, it is amazing how they transform the way they move and how they interact with their space. I think that for us, it was important in this case to give her space for the development of the performance as she considered it necessary.

What technology did you use?

As I mentioned before, the microphones were developed like a low cost version of the Xth sense microphones. I don’t remember the brand, but it’s something developed by Marco Donnarumma specifically, with the purpose of capturing the sound of muscles and the blood flow. That’s in terms of microphones.

For me, it was part of my research to address different kinds of microphones, because that is very different in the kind of timbral experience you create, because if you capture something that is so specific and internal, your experience with the sound is like that. It is different when you capture sound with ambient microphones and you also have the space and things happening in the space, or contact that are more about the friction. Every kind of microphone was determinant in the kind of qualities I could work with, that was very important for me. In this piece–these microphones.

I was working with SuperCollider. My whole research was done with this software, because I’m not a coder. I cannot consider myself a coder or I don’t think that I would be able to create a code from zero in a performance. However, something great that I have discovered is that there’s a huge community of open source material, because you’ve got people sharing, so you can construct. For me the experience was to work with people who share their own codes and I was taking their roots and also the manual: the help part of the software in a way that you can construct from the basics. I got my particular synths for every specific process that I want to use, so I set up my codes, like a reverb, and I know how to alter or change a particular parameter. That’s the way I work.

Pedro was working with Arduino. He was also using Processing, a software that is used specifically for visual communication with Arduino. But he was not working with sound directly. For him, it was the camera that was connected to this software to have the four planes, the x-y plane, to capture and classify the movement in instructions. He’s got the technology to attach it (sensor) and capture the pulse. Rafael was working with his own voice, so also with the same microphones I was using. He was also using SuperCollider as he was processing his own voice as the second performer.

Watch the “Cuerpos en Resonancia”:

Can you imagine the performance only with you and the dancer?

Yes, I had experiences like that. That is very interesting, because I try to develop the concept from different perspectives. In one of my pieces I started with an electronic composition like acousmatic music, fixed media electronics, and she’s dancing with that. Then, I started to amplify the sound and then the electronics disappeared and it’s only her own sound amplified and processed. That’s the process that I presented in that piece.

Last year I had the opportunity to work with Indira Montoya who is also a performer from Argentina and we did it only with the sound. We used these microphones and contact microphones. The sound was just so demanding, because it puts a lot of responsibility on the performer as a sonic producer, you know, like a source of sound: ‘If I don’t move there’s no sound, if I don’t generate something’, and it is also this expectation, because these pieces are experimental in the sense that I want to see how it grows, but we don’t have anything, like a pact behind. It’s just letting it be, letting it create the sonic experience and the timbral transformations from what’s happening and it demands a lot of energy focusing on the present.

How did the collaboration with others shape the piece?

In a very determinate way, because you need to deal with the desires of another person. Maybe for me directly the score was not giving me freedom to process the sound in the way that I wanted. At the same time some instructions were so open or so not appliable to what we were doing that I used that as a freedom to make my own choices. But I think it is also necessary to have these kinds of experiences, especially when you are doing research. Not only the artistic value of the piece, but also you are trying to answer questions and you want to understand this kind of conflict of interests that can also be transformed into opportunities to deepen your thinking. Well, these are the conditions that I am going to resonate with. I think that the title was very addressed from this perspective of the necessity to find a way to make it. I think that it was great to have the experience of the performer with her fast pulse, because it made us start the piece from another point and another reality, making the score very impossible for us to create, so that was a challenge.

What would you suggest to other composers who have never worked with body microphones or never participated in research projects like these, but would like to try?

There are options there. I think that something I have been able to recognize is that technology has two faces. One is that you think that you need to spend a lot of money to have quality, and it could be right. If you have the best technology devices, you are going to have really great quality in the kind of sound you capture and how you can process it, that’s the reality. But, then, the other one is how you as an artist are in a position to make your place and also your statement, so how you work with the limitations when low cost technology is your only possibility. Also, things that you can create at home, like building your own microphones.

But the access to free software is super important for me. It’s like the ethics in teaching and, also, a social way and commitment to do things, because we want to share our knowledge, increasing and contributing to what humanity is and how we understand each other. I think that this has been a really great tool to do quality things without putting everything you’ve got just to have access to a software and work with quality. I think it is something that you need to think about from a political perspective, but there are ways to do it and I would encourage people to create those spaces, based on their own needs and possibilities.

Photo:

Source: screenshot from Vimeo video

Michele Abondano (b. 1981, Colombia) is composer, experimental performer and researcher. Her work has been developed in the areas of instrumental music for soloist, chamber music, ensemble and orchestra, as well as electroacoustic music, including acousmatic compositions, experimental performances with live electronics, collaborations with dance, soundscapes, and installations. Her main interest is to explore timbre, especially, its multidimensional and dynamic condition. She has been a fellow of the Stiftung Künstlerdorf Schöppingen as well as a winner of the Ibermúsicas Prize of Composition and Premiere of Work, and the Grant for the Creation of Contemporary Music awarded by the Colombian Ministry of Culture. Her electronic music has been programmed at international events such as SONIC MATTER Festival, Festival En Tiempo Real, OUA Electroacoustic Music Festival, and Audiograft Festival. Her instrumental works have been performed by soloists and ensembles including Collective Lovemusic, Aleksandra Demowska-Madejska, Riot Ensemble, SUONO MOBILE argentina, Sylvia Hinz, Kommas Ensemble, New Mexico Contemporary Ensemble, Rebekah Heller, and Ensemble New Babylon. Abondano was awarded a PhD in Composition at the University of Leeds. Her works are published by Babel SCORE

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