Music around Millares

Music around Millares. A conversation between Elena Sorokina and Arturo Tamayo

What was Manolo Millares’s relationship to the experimental music of his time? There are a number of clues pointing to an answer. The soundtrack to his short film – or documentary, as he called it – Millares 1970 features music by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, pioneers of the musique concrète that emerged in Paris in 1948. Using raw recorded sounds captured on tape and manipulated to form sound structures, musique concrete revolutionized how sound was thought about in the 20th century. The film reveals both Millares’s interest in and deep understanding of the composers’ groundbreaking work and his ability to establish a dialogue between the revolutionary sampling of their compositions and his artistic thought.

The experimental music and performance art group Zaj, formed in 1964, also provides an indication. Millares briefly collaborated with this multidisciplinary group whose members included composer Juan Hidalgo. Lastly there is the Carta de El Paso (1957 1960), a publication Millares co-edited with other members of the El Paso group. It published a lengthy and involved text on music after the 1950s by José Luis de Delás, an extraordinary Spanish avant-garde composer who spent most of his life living and working in Germany. Investigating this information, we decided to speak to Arturo Tamayo about Millares’s musicality and the music he was exposed to and perhaps influenced by.

Elena Sorokina: The text appeared in the Carta de El Paso in 1959. It was one of the last texts to be published and also one of the longest. Today the Carta de El Paso is like a wonderful time capsule of postwar “modernity,” beginning with human spaceflight and its consequences and ending with this panegyric to the experimental music of the 1950s by José Luis de Delás discussing the work of Luigi Nono, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Olivier Messiaen, among others. I wouldn’t have expected to find such a text on music in the Carta de El Paso.

Arturo Tamayo: I was very impressed by the knowledge and precision of formulation shown by José Luis de Delás in his article and at this time! Let us not forget that he is talking about trends and movements that were happening then, without the clarity in vision that time can give us.

José Luis de Delás is one of the most important composers of his generation and more importantly an individual able to follow his own path without being lured by siren songs. He is also possessed of a great humanistic sophistication and an out-of-the-ordinary artistic sensibility. His music continues to fascinate me as it did the first time I heard it and I admire his timbrical fantasy and formal rigour. During the period of his life spent in Barcelona he had intense contact with Antoni Tàpies and Modest Cuixart; I could say that he introduced them to the musical phenomenon. Later José Luis left for Cologne, where he still currently lives, and there he actively participated in developing what could today be defined as the “musical avant-garde” of the 20th century.

It has always been maintained that José Luis’ aesthetic was perpetually influenced by literature and philosophy, which is absolutely true. But I have always found a pictorial gesture in his music that doubtless comes from his contact with painting. I would like to point out, incidentally, that José Luis has also made a number of paintings and drawings in which you can see the influence of abstract painting. The memory of how Sylvano Bussotti, following a performance of José Luis’ “Textos,” began to analyse it as a sound painting has always stuck with me. His remarks were fascinating.

ES: The short film – or documentary– Millares 1970 opens with credits to Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, who are widely recognised today as two of the most remarkable composers of the 20th century, the inventors of musique concrète and to a large extent of what is today known as sampling. Their music is an essential part of Millares’s cinematic reflection. What does this music represent for you and your understanding of Millares?

AT: Firstly there is the surprise at recognizing the music. I can’t pinpoint exactly which work it is, but it is familiar to my ear – it’s a work I have heard. Alternately I am impressed at the level of performance they achieved at that time: tape editing was not as simple then as it is today. But above all I am struck by the great musical quality of the composition, and I say this with full knowledge since François Bayle (another of the pioneers of musique concrète) once told me in conversation that “Schaeffer always had a guilty conscience about composing music without having studied it.” Perhaps it was so, but Schaeffer had the ability to “think in music,” to express himself musically, or rather to order his sound thinking in a musical way.

I find it very interesting to see how Manolo Millares sought to work on his material “musically,” albeit in a rather elementary way following the rhythm of musical events. When he punctures holes in the material before him (I think it’s paper), it gives you the impression that he is sculpting the sound.

There is a film which shows Xenakis (who also worked assiduously at the studio Schaeffer ran) recording a sound he makes by rubbing a sheet of paper. I think that Millares would have been very interested in Xenakis’s music, but his work was little known in Spain at that time. Let us not forget that artistic communication was not as simple (or as lacking in hierarchy) as it is today. When I conduct works by Iannis Xenakis or Edgar Varèse, for exemple, I have the feeling that I am sculpting sound.

What deeply impresses me about Manolo Millares is how he sought his musical (extra- pictorial, you could say) references not by contemplating a more or less distant and accommodating past but by looking ahead towards a future less certain than uncertain – a great lesson for present generations and not only of painters.

ES: Millares was also in touch with the composer Juan Hidalgo of the Zaj group, founded in 1964 in Madrid. Inspired by John Cage, the group developed happening and performance practices and focused on composition as a process. Millares collaborated with the group for a short period. What were Hidalgo’s musical interests at the time, and what might he have shared with Millares?

AT: For me, Juan Hidalgo is one of the most important artists Spain has produced in the last century – and I haven’t said composer because Juan Hidalgo’s oeuvre goes beyond the expressive limits of the different artistic disciplines. His compositions are among the most important of what we could define as the “historical avant-garde” of the post-World War Two era.

Juan was one of the first, if not the first, to introduce modernity to Spain’s music. His was a very similar path to the one taken by José Luis de Delás, even if they started from different premises and traditions despite belonging to the same generation. José Luis is a few months younger than Juan (the emphasis is mine), and both are far removed from any commitment, be it social, political or artistic.

Juan Hidalgo was a student of Bruno Maderna and was thus able to experience the wonderful adventure of Darmstadt and the new reorganization of musical language. He worked with Pierre Schaeffer in the Groupe de Recherches Musicales in Paris where he wrote “Étude de stage,” which is the first Spanish electroacoustic composition. Later he met John Cage and became his student (I don’t know whether to say disciple or adherent).

For Juan the contact with Cage meant liberation and finding himself again – and I formulate it in this way because his contact with Cage enabled Juan to discover and develop a very important facet of his personality that had not previously surfaced despite existing within him. I think that this is the source of his strong attraction to Dadaism and especially to the work of Marcel Duchamp, his contact with Wolf Vostell, with the Fluxus group.

When Juan and Walter created Zaj, we collectively attended all of the concerts we could. Their proposals profoundly influenced the mentality of our generation. It was a sort of “march through the institutions” that began then and for some of us has not yet ended.

I know that Juan met and had contact with Manolo Millares. Both were from the Canary Islands and held aesthetic positions that were not very far apart (although Juan’s music never had the Expressionist character of some of Millares’s paintings).

Although Juan doesn’t remember now – or doesn’t want to remember (here the famous “I have a horror of remembrance!” from Claudel’s The Satin Slipper comes into play) – from who else but Juan Hidalgo could Manolo Millares’s interest in Schaeffer’s music have come?

ES: How do you see Millares’s work? I am curious to know more about your personal perception of his paintings.

AT: Interestingly, my first contact with the art produced by the El Paso group was not through Manolo Millares but Antonio Saura. I will explain: as a Christmas present, I had asked my parents to buy me a vinyl record with Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite and Anton Webern’s Five Pieces for String Quartet, op. 5 and Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, op. 9 recorded by the Juilliard String Quartet. The artwork that had been used for the cover was El grito (I think it was no. 7) by Antonio Saura. Naturally, I associated this painting very closely with Central European Expressionism. It’s obvious that when I discovered Millares’s painting some time later, I immediately connected it with Expressionism. It was later that I began to observe and understand the Constructivist aspect of his painting and later still his abstraction through a gesture strongly influenced, in my opinion, by improvisation. It is very curious to note how many of the trends shown in Millares’s painting are reflected in a later evolution of the contemporary composers (of the period) in Spain: I would not go so far as to say that Manolo Millares was the forerunner of some trends that were later reflected in musical compositions in Spain in the 1960s, but I think that there was in fact at least a strong interaction.

Arturo Tamayo studied at the Conservatory of Music in Madrid and the Universidad Computense. He obtained his Diploma in Orchestral Conducting at the Higher School of Music in Freiburg with the highest qualifications. From 1978 to 1998 he was a professor on the interpretation of twentieth-century music course at Freiburg’s School of Music. He has to his credit the world premieres of such important composers as Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Franco Donatoni, Sylvano Bussotti, Friedrich Cerha, José Luis Delás, Giacinto Scelsi, Mauricio Klaus Huber, Brian Ferneyhough and Wolfgang Rihm. He has also collaborated with soloists like Plácido Domingo, Teresa Berganza, Jessie Norman, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Alicia de Larrocha, Aldo Ciccolini, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Vladimir Repin, Christian Tertzlaff and Tabea Zimmermann, and has been a regular guest at such major European festivals as the Salzburger Festpiele, Luzerner Festpiele, Wien Modern, the Venice Biennale and the Holland Festival. He has conducted the most important European orchestras, as well as almost all the Spanish ones.

As an opera conductor he has performed in many major theatres with an interesting and varied repertoire ranging from Mozart to Bellini and with premieres of Rihm, Ohana, Bussotti and Huber.

His discography has won numerous international awards including several Diapasons d’or and the Amadeus Annual Award in 2006. Of late he has been awarded the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis for his recordings of the works of Iannis Xenakis. He is an Academician of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Granada. He also won the 2002 Spanish National Music Prize.


Published in Millares. Building bridges, not walls. Barcelona, 2017. Mayoral. p 80.