Electronic Compositions for the Andes (1967-2006) by Edgar Valcárcel

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Edgar Valcárcel | Electronic Compositions for the Andes (1967-2006)
Buh Records (12″/DL)

Edgar Valcárcel (1932-2010) was one of those rare Peruvian orchestral and chamber music composers from an era that also saw fellow avant garde craftsmen like César Bolaños, Leopoldo La Rosa, and Francisco Pulgar Vidal. Electronic Compositions for the Andes (1967-2006) is like a quick guide to his work which covers four stealthy compositions over those four decades, with a primary focus on the latter 1960’s.

The first piece, Invención (1967), is just over five minutes in length, for magnetic tape and recorded at the Columbia–Princeton Electronic Music Center (NY). It starts off quite sparsely, with a singular blurt and then near silence, until what is emitted moves from left to right channels, resembling some sort of cosmic metaphysical transformation. It’s pure science fiction, collapsing in on itself. The sound is is icy, like shards of broken glass being strewn about and them beamed into tiny capsules via laser beam. It instantly conveys something of the cinema of the time, that and there seems to be an embedded tropical nature in these soundbytes that are nearly off-screen. 

Zampoña Sónica (1968-2006) for processed native instruments and magnetic tape was recorded in 2006 (from an electronic track recorded in 1968 and also revised in 1976). The imbalance between tradition and directional whitenoise does not seem the obvious choice, however, Valcárcel seems to use the opportunity to sculpt something that veers from, and uses, the sonic markers of his heritage. A bit more harsh than the first composition, yet with a similar set of harder-edged noises, most definitely aided and abetted by sweet rhythms – which contradict the central nervous system of the work quite curiously. As I listen to this there seems to be a conundrum at play, perhaps the fear of losing one’s traditions and culture to the adversity, disruption and shift of technology and innovation. Their is an undeniable equatorial sensibility here, but perhaps one also at risk.

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THE B-SIDE: As we flip the record, the harmonic piano (by alcides lanza) drives the front end of Flor de Sancayo II: Retablo (1976). Subtitled Flower of Sancayo II: Altarpiece this work also incorporates his use of magnetic tape, recorded in 1992. The piano player is most definitely at center stage, divining the ivories as a tickle of trotting tape reels off to the side. There is no competition between the two dissonant sound elements here, in fact they seem to find company in a slight mimicry, even in the soft spots in the glorious composition for piano. Though the piece becomes more complex as the tape begins to gravitate towards the granular/volcanic.

The Camerata Vocale Orfeo chant away at a distance as Canto coral a Túpac Amaru II (1968) opens up. This is the original recording, digital remastered in 2006 for choir, magnetic tape and lights – and by the sound of it one would imagine this was quite a psychedelic event! In fact it sounds like stampede of factions rallying for a fight, like cowboys vs. indians, but this soon dissipates, and fluctuates. You can almost hear a pin drop, the intensity is up, and this could easily have been a sample from much cinema of the era, but most effective is when the collective shrieks in unison like thickly animated ghosts. The intermittent percussion wonderfully helps gauge some of the breaks in the haunted goings-on and by the end it sounds as though they are universally engaged in some form of anthemic finale, bells ringing out in the city square and the mostly reserved wiggly roar of Valcárcel‘s endless tape machine. A dizzying fantasy about the independence rebellion of José Gabriel Túpac Amaru.

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