Music teacher’s new compositions receive award, grant and world premieres

April 15, 2022

Gabriel Jose Bolanosassistant professor of composition in the School of Music, Dance and Theater at Arizona State University, recently received a scholarship and award, and two of her commissioned works have premiered internationally.

Bolanos is an American-Nicaraguan composer of solo, chamber, orchestral and electroacoustic music.

Gabriel Jose Bolanos
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He recently received a $5,000 prize Grant from the Arizona Commission on Research and Development in the Arts create a computer program designed to aid in the composition and performance of polytemporal music. He will use the new software to compose, rehearse and create a new 30-minute piece for a percussion quartet.

The one-year grant allows Bolaños to study different characteristics of polytemporal music – music made up of different simultaneous tempos or different rates of acceleration or deceleration that are all independent of each other.

“This type of musical composition can be very complex, both in terms of mathematics and coordination between performers,” Bolaños said. “The software is intended to make it easier to compose and perform this type of music – to give composers tools to hear these complexities and to give performers tools to interpret them at a live concert. I will be using also the software to write a percussion quartet.

Bolaños said the new piece will be performed by a newly formed quartet made up of Michael Compitelloassistant percussion teacher, and Simone Mancuso, associate professor of percussion in the School of Music, Dance and Drama, as well as Douglas Nottingham, professor of percussion at Glendale Community College, and Brett Reed, director of the percussion program at Paradise Valley Community College. The premiere scheduled for November will also showcase the software he created.

Software, video tutorials, recorded composition and sheet music will be uploaded with free access for others.

“Creating this type of music takes a lot of time to develop and explore due to the complexity of the research and programming aspects,” Bolaños said. “This grant is a perfect opportunity to take the time needed for research and then do the creative side with the amazing faculty performers we have at ASU.”

Bolaños has stated that he has been exploring polytemporal music indirectly for several years in some of his compositions.

He recently collaborated with the ASU Symphony Orchestra and ASU Wind Ensemble on video scores in which notation scrolled across the screen and students performed it as it scrolled. A score used the same strategy Disney had used in the early animations, with the same music scrolling across the screen at different speeds. The scores were recorded and then mixed. The complete work exists on an interactive online platform where the public can also mix and match the pieces in real time.

A world premiere of one of his new musical compositions, “Pixel streamfor violin, video and electronics, took place in Lugo, Spain, in Interactive History Museum of Lugo. The work was commissioned by the Spanish violinist Roberto Alonso Trillospanish set Vertixe Sonora and Hong Kong Baptist University.

The year-long collaborative project explored various new intersections between music and technology. Bolaños was one of four composers commissioned to write new pieces for solo violin with electronics.

“Pixel Streams” is a multimedia composition that combines images, video, live violin and electronics. These are five different pixelated images or videos that become less and less pixelated as the piece progresses, so that the audience gradually recognizes the underlying image of the video. There is also an analogous musical process of gradual depixelization: each video has a corresponding musical “flow” that starts out very abstract and gradually becomes clearer.

Bolaños has also created software that allows the performer to switch between the different streams at will and spend as much or as little time at each stage and on each of the videos as they wish.

“With technology, things are often predetermined and fixed, and the performer doesn’t have a lot of freedom,” Bolaños said. “In this case, it’s like improvisation in terms of the shape of the piece, because the performer chooses how they navigate this little ecosystem.”

He describes the piece as an interesting balance between freedom and constraint, but also between the instrumental writing, the electronic part and the video interacting to create a more immersive experience. He said the video was an orchestration of sound and made it better.

Bolaños’ second commissioned world premiere was in Genoa, Italy, for his work “Nosotros hemos puesto los Muertos” for bass flute, violin, cello, double bass and amplification.

The piece was commissioned by Eutopia set as part of a call for scores around a protest theme in music.

The piece includes fragments of a Nicaraguan folk tune used during the Sandinista Revolution that has become a symbol of freedom. Bolaños said he later twisted the fragment in various ways that represented the country’s anguish as Sandinista leaders grew increasingly violent and authoritarian.

He said the piece begins quietly, almost inaudibly, with delicate airy sounds, and gradually builds to an almost unbearably loud crescendo.

“The piece is meant to represent that kind of pressure that I felt personally, like the unraveling of the political situation in my home country, Nicaragua, where things are untenable and the government (suppresses) the freedom of expression, protests and other things by force,” Bolaños said.

Bolaños received the Suzanne and Lee Ettelson Composer Award 2022 for work.

“I am honored to receive the award for my work ‘Nosotros hemos puesto los muertos’,” Bolaños said. “This work is dedicated to all the victims who suffered at the hands of Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, including the more than 300 Nicaraguans who were murdered by Ortega and Murillo following the 2018 protests, and the dozens of political prisoners who have been imprisoned for standing up to his regime.”

The work will be carried out by ninth planet in their 2022-23 season.

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