Name: Francisco del Pino
Current Release: Decir on New Amsterdam
Recommendations: Victoria Cóccaro’s long poem “El mar”, a meditation on the passing of time that is at once heavy and light, nostalgic and ecstatic at the beauty of things. / Juan Ravioli’s “Noviembre”, three minutes of pure bliss and a perfect snapshot of a Buenos Aires Sunday.
If you enjoyed this interview with Francisco del Pino and want to know more, visit his website www.franciscodelpino.com
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Music came to me from my mother, who was a folk-dance teacher without formal music training but who somehow knew a bit of everything: guitar, piano, basic theory, etc. I remember asking her to teach me how to read sheet music even before attempting to learn an instrument, which is unusual—for some reason, right from the start I was curious to understand how music worked. So, I guess it was that same curiosity for music’s nuts and bolts that eventually drew me to composition.
I started to write stuff down in my early teens, shortly after learning my first guitar chops, but I didn’t see myself as a composer at that time. Also, I have always been quite shy, so the idea of being the face of any project felt too intimidating. Later, when I started playing in bands I got to work with great songwriters, so I channeled my creativity into arranging, building soundscapes etc, striving to both define the sound and remain in the background. As a player, I always took more of an arrangement approach, I wasn’t very into guitar solos and that stuff. I took my first real composition lesson at age 23, and only then I looked back and realized I had long been thinking as a composer without acknowledging it.
When I was a child my mother had done another seminal thing, which was to buy me my first Beatles record. I remember this fondly because it wasn’t like she was into that music herself or anything—she just knew it was important for me to know it. I’ve been obsessed with the Beatles all my life and I think that in my work, if only as an ideal, I’m usually seeking the intimacy and immediacy with the listener that a good song establishes. As I got into classical music I was very drawn towards formalism and process-driven structures, yet many of my still most cherished influences are tied to the song format.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I suspect that developing true originality is a lifelong endeavor, so most likely I’m still chasing it. Composing is hard, and not everything one writes is up to what one wanted to write in the first place, so seeking creative fulfillment is to me more important than seeking uniqueness. One thing that happened to me in the beginning was that, as I got more into working with notation, I gradually repressed my performer side, and for some time I even stopped playing altogether. So, part of my development has had to do with finding my way back to that primordial voice. I guess the growing path as a composer involves learning to trust one’s inner light.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I cannot escape my roots, but also I try not to be too conscious of them as that can be more paralyzing than inspiring. I recognize a certain identity mark in the fact that my work is very melody-centered, which I suspect has to do with my coming from a song-oriented performance background. Hockets are another musical device I'm particularly fond of, not only because of my interest in early counterpoint, but also because of their strong presence in some indigenous folk genres from the Argentinian northwest and their implying of the necessity for the presence of a partner—the notion that one cannot be complete without an ‘other’.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
One of the biggest challenges was to overcome the fear of having a somewhat eclectic catalogue of works. I’ve always had diverse musical interests, and as I was starting out I would touch on different ideas and techniques, and I couldn’t shake this shameful feeling of ‘not having a style’. Why the academy instills in young students the idea that they must have a style, I’ll never know… as if writing a solid piece weren’t difficult already! Anyway—I had to teach myself to embrace that natural eclecticism and be patient: with time, it becomes easier to identify a common thread throughout one’s different musical selves. I guess it’s just time doing its work.
Time is a variable only seldom discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?
When I write I try to imagine the time of the listening experience. We don’t listen to music measuring its chronometric duration—we inhabit that duration through a sonic experience, an experience that has the capability of modifying our perception of how time passes. Some of my pieces have been described as creating a sense of place, and that is an idea I like: the notion of composing as the act of shaping a cavity or territory that the listener occupies for a certain amount of time.
I also like to think in what ways time interfaces with the composition process beyond the dimension of ‘musical’ time. The length of the gestation period of a piece, for instance, can have deep impact on the actual music, because our brain thinks and decides differently in different time frames. So beyond the obvious question of working more or less, or with more or less detail, there is in every piece a sort of mark that the writing process’s length imprints. The idea of experimenting with that a bit seems interesting to me.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I was tempted to write that I can’t separate them. But, of the many ways one can think musically, there is a purely abstract dimension that I find very inspiring and beautiful—like thinking solely in numbers and proportions, which means composing before there’s any sound. That is why music is such a heavenly gift I guess… the fact that it can be so many different and beautiful things.
One way in which sound has for me taken on compositional qualities is the choice of specific performers for certain projects. For my song cycle Decir, for instance, I recruited a group of classically trained musicians who are also active in the vernacular music scene. All of them have one foot in the classical world and one foot in Argentinian folk, Brazilian folk, tango or indie rock. This helped me shape ideas with a very concrete sound quality in mind, so much so that the resulting composition is inseparable from my knowing of how things would sound like while I was writing.