Tom Moore Interviews Frederick Carrilho

Botafogo, 24 October, 2007

TM: Letís talk about the influences of adolescence, the family, the
musical environment. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

FC: I was born in Pen·polis, a city in the interior of the state of Sao
Paulo, but when I was a month old, we moved to Sao Paulo, where I lived until
the age of sixteen. Then I moved to a city near Campinas, named Indaiatuba.
My mother is a musician, a pianist, and my grandfather was the pastor of a
Baptist church, and played sax at the church. From a very early age, three,
four, five years old, I was used to seeing my grandfather and my mother
playing at church. At about five or six, my parents started me on guitar

My father had lots of sets of records, of instrumental and orchestral
music, and when I was by myself at home, I would listen to them. Since I
didnít have much to do, I would turn on the enormous Victrola (78rpm), and
put something on. I got to know music by Handel, other composers from the
Baroque, classic and romantic.

TM: What year was this?

FC: 1976, 1977.

TM: A period by which 78s were already old-fashioned.

FC: A bit. The Victrola played at both 78 and 33, but the disc were old
ones that played at 78.

So I started guitar, and entered a conservatory at age 11, and went
through to the end of the course. When I graduated I dedicated myself to
performance, and for the next ten years that was my focus. Another
interesting thing is that my first experience in composing was at age 12. I
was listening to an aria from Messiah by Handel, and made a sort of
variation/arrangement. I started to dedicate myself to composition at about
age 23, 24, with music for guitar, and then for groups including guitar.

TM: Letís talk a little about the church. Musical experience at church
often plays an important part in the development of a musician. What was the
music at your church like? Was it more like American gospel? Was it more

FC: There is a musical style which you find in the more traditional
churches ñ Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist. They have their own
repertoire in their hymnals, which is primarily music from the late
nineteenth century, and still is very important. This is something which I
heard a lot of. I was born during a transitional period for church music. In
the sixties you had the revolution with the Beatles and rock and roll, and
this is something which made its way into the churches, whether in Brazil or
elsewhere. So church music began to be made based on these influences, which
were not the traditional sources. Traditional church music in the smaller
churches was done with piano or organ, and the congregation singing. In
larger churches there was an orchestra which accompanied the congregation.
Parallel with this there were songs which were more popular. So you had a mix
of more traditional church music with music from the sixties, a situation
which continues until today.

TM: What sort of music were you listening to as an adolescent? Even a
composer who is working in the area of classical music often listened to
rock, progressive rock, jazz, Chick Corea, John McLaughlinÖ.

FC: Exactly. Since I was born in the seventies, in addition to my
fatherís discs which I listened to, I used to listen to the music which was
playing on the radio at the time in the seventies. What made an impression
when I was an adolescent in the early eighties was Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin,
Queen, Pink Floyd, music which had quite an influence on me, and continues to
have an influence. In terms of jazz, there was John McLaughlin ñ I used to
listen to a lot of his records, including the trio which he had with Paco de
Lucia and Al Di Meola. This made a great impression on me after I started to
study guitar. This was around í83, í84. Before this there was the
Mahavishnu Orchestra, which I heard somewhat later, since I would have been
too young at the time. This music is part of my vocabulary ñ itís in my

TM: When you studied guitar what type of literature were you working

FC: The traditional repertory. Bach suites, which are part of the study of
every guitarist. Sor, Giuliani. And later music from the twentieth century
ñ Leo Brouwer, Villa-Lobos, of course, since all Brazilian guitarists play
Villa-Lobos. Then I became interested in more experimental music for
classical guitar, composers like Berio, various others.

TM: Did you have classes in popular music and jazz at the same time?

FC: I was listening to this music, but did not have formal instruction in
it. Brazilian harmony was also something that was present, since you listen
to bossa nova, and get very familiar with it, and in studying harmony you
want to know how harmony works in bossa nova. And there are connections
between bossa nova and jazz, so I didnít study formally, but tried to study
these other styles on my own.

TM: You did your baccalaureate work at the conservatory in Sao Paulo?

FC: Yes, in guitar. I studied with Professor Enrique Pinto, maestro Abel
Rocha, and with the conductor Naomi Munakata. Maestro Abel was the director
of the symphonic band of the state of Sao Paulo. Maestrina Naomi was the
director of the chorus of USESP, and Enrique was one of the most important
figures for the guitar in Brazil.

TM: I am more familiar with the scene in Rio. What is the situation with
the conservatory in Sao Paulo? Is it conservative? Does it follow the French

FC: In Sao Paulo they are a little more diversified in the sense that each
discipline has its own methodology. For guitar, for example, you have
something which is more traditional. The pianists also have something based
on the romantic school. Theory tends to be traditional. We used the
Schoenberg treatise on harmony, from the first part of the twentieth century,
and counterpoint from the same period.

TM: You studied performance at the undergraduate level. Were you already

FC: Between the age of twenty and twenty-five I was already composing a
little, but since I was very focused on performance there was less time for
composition. Gradually I spent more time on composition. I studied with
various composers, Achille Picchi, Raul do Valle, Jose Augusto Mannis.

TM: You are presently finishing a masters in composition.

FC: At Unicamp in Campinas.

TM: Do you have models or anti-models for composition in the program at
Campinas, composers who are ones to emulate (or avoid)?

FC: There is not a specific list of composers to study, but some
suggestions. A professor may suggest a work to listen to, and later to study.
In terms of my training, I donít like the word ìeclecticî, but it is
appropriate in this case. From the traditional composers that everyone knows,
from the Baroque, or even from the Renaissance ñ Palestrina, Gesualdo, John
Dowland, Bach, HandelÖ.in the twentieth century there was a huge number of
composers in the second half of the century. In the first half, there are
certain composers which are more often peopleís favorites ñ Stravinsky,
Debussy, Ravel, and others who are more experimental ñ Berg, Webern,

From the second half of the century I had more freedom of choice, having
to do with my personal taste, so I got to know composers like Xenakis,
Penderecki, Ligeti, figures whose music I enjoy listening to and studying.
And there are composers from other genres ñ Frank Zappa, who I paid a
certain homage to in my piece. Could you tell?

And other exceptional composers ñ it is hard to make a list. There are
Russian composers, Polish composers, Hungarian composers, who are very
important. Schnittke, who very much attracted my attention. Friedrich Cerha,
another exceptional composer. These are composers who are not yet part of the
academic lists, but are on the same level as other important composers.

TM: Your piece at the Bienal [Profus„o 5 ñ Toccata] was
received very well. The integration, mixture, anthropophagy of influences
from popular music and classical music was very interesting, and extremely
well-done. Too often you hear compositions with influences from popular music
which are not very well-digested, which remain as a sort of objet trouvÈ,
where the popular music is alien to the rest of the style. In your work, it
was impossible to say where one style ended and the other began. Please say a
little about the structure, the motives, the rhythmic references.

FC: Integration was one of my principal objectives in the piece, fusing
various elements. You have a classical way of thinking, with influences from
other musical styles. You have the influence of rock, which is clear, and the
influence of Brazilian rhythm. Itís difficult for a composer to speak about
his own work, but the principal motive is the quintuplet. Although the piece
is impregnated with the influence of rock, at the same time it has elements
of the rhythm of bossa nova [snaps fingers, and pronounces the typical
cross-rhythms for the guitar style of Joao Gilberto]. The instrumentation
highlights the rock elements, the drum-set, for example. At the same time,
you have bossa-nova elements. At the end, the references are explicit, with
the tambourine and the cuica. They are there at the beginning, simply to
introduce the instruments.

TM: The first time the cuica appeared I thought ìMy God, someone is
singing on stage!î since the sound was so low. Usually you hear it in its
higher register.

FC: A voice was not a possibility. I talked with the musicians and chose
the cuica.

TM: Letís explore the presence of Frank Zappa in this piece.

FC: Frank Zappa is someone who is an inspiration not just through his
music, but through his musical ideology, a music that is free from styles and

TM: Sometimes a composer creates a structure which is not easily perceived
by the listeners ñ the direction of the piece, what the piece wants, where
it wants to go. In this piece the direction was clear.

FC: The piece is a toccata, so it explores the virtuosity of the
instrumentalists. The first part presents the principal elements, with the
rhythm which everyone plays together, and the second part is more soloistic
with marimba playing the same motive, but with variations beginning to

TM: Is this work part of a series? Does the five come from a series, or
from the quintuplets?

FC: Good question. It comes from the quintuplets, and from the other four
ideas which are the pillars of the music ñ rhythm, instrumentation,
timbres, layers. The name is related to the use of the elements, but I could
imagine a series ñ 5.1, 5.2, 5.3Ö..

TM: Letís talk about your other works. What are your favorite
combinations? What direction do you see your work heading?

FC: I donít know yet. I canít classify my work as being freely atonal,
or experimental. Integrating these styles is still something quite new for
me. In my pieces for guitar I do not make much use of atonality,
experimentation with sounds, spaceÖmy language is one which I could
classify as freely tonal. In the area of guitar I have a direction. If I am
using a steel-string guitar or an electric guitar my music is already more

I think a composer today has to be able to work in different languages,
not because the market demands this, but because if you donít you will be
limited, restricted to one area.

For contemporary music ensembles I use a different language than I do when
writing for guitar.

A teacher of mine once said that a good composer has to be able to write
in C major, with conjunct motion, a traditional melody, or a piece for
orchestral with complex elements. I write and compose in various styles ñ I
donít have a specific language yet, though I hope to.

TM: Letís talk about brasilidade. The early concerts of this
yearís Bienal seem to be lacking the presence of Brazil. One of the works
seemed to be American in style, but in general the presence of national
elements in classical works is something which differentiates Brazilian music
from that which is produced in Europe, for example. How do you think about
this question?

FC: Today this question is much more important for me. As a performer, my
training was very traditional. I spent many years paying attention to music
from outside Brazil, music which is held to be ìgoodî music.

TM: Canonical music.

FC: There is always a certain negative stigma attached to music from
Brazil. Today I pay much more attention to Brazilian rhythm and harmony, to
music that arose from within Brazil, as a fusion of various different
cultures. This music is something unique. It is present in my work. I see
that even in compositions which I wrote without thinking about this detail,
from ten years ago, it was already present. I was thinking about classical
harmony, but using chords with ninths. Syncopated rhythms were also present.
The piece for two guitars already was integrating these things, although on
an unconscious level, in order to give structure and variety to the work,
with a more Brazilian rhythm in one section, and more Spanish idioms
elsewhere, with rasgueado, etc.

TM: How does a piece get started for you? Is it a concept, a structure, a

FC: Good ideas come ñ I donít know if there has been a scientific
study about this- when I am taking a shower. Seriously! When I am going to
sleep as well ñ I put my head down on the pillow, and as I am traveling,
thinking, before I fall asleep, my level of concentration and relaxation
allows certain ideas to come out. This piece – Profus„o ñ

I donít want to mystify it, but I would get up in the middle of the
night and work on it for a couple of hours on the computer. I compose
directly at the computer. I would be singing the passage, and begin to
improvise on the passage, and I would get up and get it down. This went on
for quite some time, since I spent six months working on the piece, the first
half of 2007. But the principal motive, the quintuplet, came to me during a
barbecue. After various beers, I was talking with a friend who is a drummer.
We were listening to music ñ Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple ñ he is
a drummer who plays music that is more popular. I began to improvise, playing
around, and I liked the idea. And at the next barbecue, and the next, and the
next, the idea was always there. I was always playing around with this
motive. I wrote it down, and it turned into the piece.

TM: Nice!

FC: Usually that is how it works. You get to the moment where you think
ìI have to work on the next projectî. Sometime I have difficulty in
deciding on the instrumentation which I am going to use. If I think about
writing for soloist and orchestra, the work involved is enormous, so itís
easy to feel a little lazy. But musical ideas appear more spontaneously. I
always try to have respect for this question of intuition. It is always
present. You can be very preoccupied with the formal question, the structure,
the number of measures, unityÖI try to let my intuition control the unity
of the piece. I sing and sing the whole piece, the various sections. If I
donít sense that it is tiring, then it is OK.

An important detail ñ this piece is supposed to be a little quicker
[than the performance heard at the 2007 Bienal]. As it is very difficult, it
ended up going a little more slowly. I commented to my friends that it was a
little long in some passages, but in fact it is shorter, since it was
supposed to go faster.

I like intuition, blood, emotion, energy, things that are part of
Brazilian music, and I think that a Brazilian canít let this go to

TM: What future projects do you have?

FC: Making a bunch of childrenÖ.buying a house on the beachÖ..

I want to continue composing. Yesterday I was talking about the piece I
want to write for the next Bienal. There are other projects for guitar, for
electric guitarÖ.I am thinking about putting together a instrumental trio
or quartet with electric guitar, with those influences that we talked about,
John McLaughlin, these great guitaristsÖ..There are various projects which
I have begun but which are not completed.

One of them is for symphonic band. I have sketches, but I am waiting for
the piece to mature. I worked for four months on the piece for band, but I
have put it aside for more than a year. I think it is crucial for a composer
to have a perception of when the music is really ready. The response to this
piece for the Bienal [Profus„o] has allowed me to see more clearly
the things I can explore which are inside me.

image_description=Frederick Carrilho
product_title=Above: Frederick Carrilho