Name: María Lipkau
Occupation: Cellist, Improviser
Musical Recommendations: Carlos Alegre (violinist and member of the band Carlos Marks), Toto Merino (bass player and frontman of the band Kali Yuga).
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences?
When I was 7 years old, my mother started taking me to music school, and I started with the cello from the beginning. For many years, I only studied classical music. Then, when I was about 19, I met Julio Estrada, a Mexican composer who was influenced by Xenakis and other composers, and I also met saxophonist Remi Alvarez. I started studying with both, I became a member of their workshops and they became my major influences to dedicate myself to improvisation and experimental music.
For most artists, originality is first 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?
More than a process of imitation, for me it has been a long process of trial and error, which probably hasn’t ended yet. The weekly improv sessions at Jazzorca, the venue run by multi-instrumentalist German Bringas, played an important role. There weren’t many (or almost no other) improvising cellists near me who I could imitate, and back then the Internet was not such a big tool to improve the knowledge flow; there was some information but it was all dispersed, YouTube had not been created yet… So we only had a few saxophonists, guitarists, a couple bass players with good groove, and they were the people I was playing with and learning from.
Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results – and possibly even your own performance?
It is an instrument that does not need to be amplified or any electrical power. Sometimes I work with effects, but they are something added; the effects and processing are not the instrument, they’re just qualities of the instrument itself, which is made out of wood and has its own resonance box; it is autonomous, and beautiful in itself. It is also very fragile; when something hits it or something happens to it, it hurts me too. Rubbing the string has its own qualities, it's very significant in terms of color and texture, which allows you to improvise in a direction that looks for the internal nature of sound.
Many artists feel as though, at some point, certain people gave them the ”permission to do certain things”. How was that for you – in which way did the work of particular artists before you “allow” you to take decisions which were vital for your creative development?
I’ve never felt like I needed anyone’s permission. If there are any limits, they are placed on me by my instrument. Basically, anything short of breaking it into little pieces is possible for me.
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
There are some things I’ve always wanted to do and I still haven’t achieved, like playing viola da gamba (buying the instrument here is the main problem). For now, my efforts are focused on recording a solo EP and finding a setup which allows me to play multiple instruments.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
Even though I have never composed, I see improvisation as an instantaneous composition where you need to make decisions similar to what you’d do if you were writing a piece, but in real time and onstage.
Composer Julio Estrada once said in a lecture that he had worked with great musicians, but when they were asked to improvise they didn’t know what to do. This remark was a huge provocation for me to dedicate myself to this.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
For me, the space is the most unstable element of these three. It does not matter if you’re playing in an abandoned factory or a concert hall. With my music, my intention is for people to close their eyes and be transported to the inner zones which pushed me to do what I do. Sound is a multidimensional element with infinite possibilities for exploration, and performance is the catharsis through which we are granted access to these spaces.