Up-Close Encounter with Angel Rada15 January, 2020
This is a recent conversation with Angel Rada, the Venezuelan wizard of Tropical Sounds from Space, celebrating the release of Tropical Cosmic Sounds from Space, a new compilation on El Palmas Music collecting together music Rada made in the 1980s.
Rada, a passionate and relentless musician, and a true pioneer of electronic music in his country, Venezuela, reveals some extraordinary insights from his career in this interview, talking about the philosophy and mysticism behind his music.
As an artist interested in concept and sound, your music changes over time, and yet, you always remain an avant-garde pioneer. What key events in your career have pushed you to evolve?
Is hard to conceptualize myself, but I can try and summarize my answer in some precise events. At 13 I started my musical training with my uncle, Gustavo Requiz Fernández, chorus conductor of the Caracas Cathedral, I was admitted to the National Music School José Angel Lamas. I studied theory and piano, but later I decided to move to Germany in order to study electroacoustic music at Lübeck University. The Moog Modular caused me such an impression. I also started to study Chemical Engineering and later I happily obtained the doctoral degree in both of them. I think I got involved in some fortuitous events. The first one, meeting with Klaus Schulze, he was still a Tangerine Dream member at that time. We clicked immediately because he was very interested in the Tropics. He knew the Moog Modular very well so I went to his apartment and saw his equipment. I asked him to teach me about oscillators, voltage controllers and filter techniques. He invited me to Cologne to a Cosmic and Electronic Rock University festival organized by students. I went there and he introduced me to Edgard Frosse and Kraftwerk in a little celebration at the Kling Klang Studios. I also had the opportunity to meet Ash Rra Temple and be aware of the “Berlin School” and the “Dusseldorf School”, two conceptual music terms new to me. This was the beginning of my first stage which I call “Technological”, a fusion of psychedelia and technology. But being in contact with science students at the Faculty of Engineering was also a key influence on me on a conceptual level. I began to be aware that, in the universe, nothing is standing still, everything changes from one state to another and every object is formed by moving atoms interchanging electrons. My perception evolved to a second stage focused on the relationship between Quantum Physics and Buddhism, indicated by Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics, for example.
How do you compose? Do you use any particular instrument to rapidly lie down your ideas or is it about a more contemplative process?
In a third stage of my creation, I came to the conclusion that electronic music was cold and purely technological, but music, as you can see, was already more than that to me. The sound of the rings of planet Saturn, picked up by the Cassini satellite tells us that the Universe has it own sounds, as Isao Tomita has captured in his albums. I considered that music could be the sonic language of the Universe, and many of its sounds proceeded from the observation of a particular environment. As a composer, this new magical world was necessary, so I thought about creating a concept of ethnicity and sound, which I called Ethnosonics, involving musical instruments, some of them ancestral. So, with a sampler, one of my main digital tools since then, I captured indigenous instruments to recreate them or to create new ones. Ethnosonics is a scientific and artistic concept, it could include archaeology, paleontology, quantum physics, spirituality, psychology, psychiatry and I can surely say that it has split the timeline of my work, a definitive departure from electronic music.
I compose on different media, it can be with software such as Supercollider where I use algorithmic formula language. I also use Sonic Pi on a Raspberry Pi computer, sometimes I use Propellerheads Reason, Ableton Live, Ardor, etc., I also use Finale and Sibelius where I only write musical notes, I do not write the melody, but the harmonic base, the melody is the last thing done. The sound selection is more complex since I do not use presets, I create them and I have a large library of sounds created by me, many of them are ancient instruments recovered through sampling. I do not rehearse every day only 3 times a week, and I compose twice, after I walk observing the architecture that surrounds me which I decompose into geometric figures to create the rhythmic pattern that I wish to integrate. Sometimes, I begin from the melody if this is a composition of two or more melodic conversations.
Which synthesizer or instrument has given you the most sense of freedom to express what you had in mind and why?
There is not any specific synthesizer, each one of them has its own features and different qualities, every instrument gives me freedom to create, it only depends on the musician’s capabilities and his knowledge of the synthesizer, which is not easy. One must study electroacoustic and electronics at the University. I’ve seen people trying to replicate the sound of a violin or another natural and accessible instrument, this is a terrible mistake. Synthesizers are modern instruments, created to generate new sounds, sounds that no natural instrument can do. You must have respect for an instrument of infinite possibilities, the only limitation is the musician’s knowledge. Therefore, the freedom one could have in order to express through music is not conditioned by the instrument but by the knowledge, the experience of our art, our mystic dimension around what we want to express, our study discipline. I considered synthesizers as the most powerful tool to express the song of my soul, the particularity of the universe in its different tones and nuances. Modular synthesizers give me freedom to create, it only depends on the knowledge and technique control.
Do you find something in common among your admirers?
People of all kinds have enjoyed my music through the years, but mostly people interested in technology. I’ve been seeing kids with parents coming to my shows lately, but is because of their parents. They follow me in social networks and I keep in touch with them always in a friendly way, they always get a response from me, they talk to me about their lives and ask me about my music… I also had admirers in bands, I’ve been a professional supporter of Zapato 3, Resistencia, Desorden Público, among others. Celebrities like Mecano attended my concerts in Caracas when they were active and touring, also other artists like Duncan Dhu, Neuronium (Michel Huygen is a good friend of mine).
You belong to a unique generation of researchers in a totally new kind of music. What did you have in common with your colleagues and what differentiated you?
Yes, I am from that generation that began with serious electronic music. Klaus Schulze was my teacher in Germany and Stomu Yamasta in Japan, I had training at Moog Inc. by Robert Moog, Yamaha, Korg and Roland granted me some knowledge in additive synthesis and FM, I was trained with Buchla, ARP Co. and Euro rack.
I have some similar elements with Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk, Kitaro and Jean Michel Jarre, but lately, ethnosonics is made only with my elements so they differentiate me from everyone. Considering that my work is more melodic and warmer like the tropics, ethnosonics has more humanity that the German Krautrock. Now my music happens to be more pleasant and understandable, maybe this is why people understand my first albums. The most subtle difference with my generation is my spiritual and scientific mix, which also affects my definition of music. Like unfrozen architecture, my music needs spaces to express itself, depending on the reverberation and acoustics my music integrates the universe into the expression.
About your current work, what are you focused on at the moment, do you still research ethnosonic impressions or are we in a new phase of Rada?
You can listen to my last album Aeroblues in Concert at Bandcamp, in which I return to Kraut Rock School. I also continue experimenting with ethnosonics but I combine it with algorithm encoded music. The concept is directed to the alter ego and its effects on man and the evolution of spirituality away from ancient concepts of religions making it more scientific. There are guitars performed by the famous guitarist Eliah and virtual guitars that provide new atmospheres. The compilation produced by the label El Palmas Music will also be released, and this compilation contains songs from my first albums, my krautrock era.
From your first records, philosophy and science seem to be present. What motivates you to explore different territories in music, for example, modifying instrument tuning, or using music scales from other traditions?
I learned about the quarter tone with Ravi Shankar. Since then, in my compositions I always integrate some oriental techniques, musical instruments or harmonies.
Ethnosonics does not exclude any technique created by mankind if it has transcended in time. There is no complete musician if he does not know all musical techniques, African, Caribbean, folk or contemporary, using only one technique is limiting. I think ethnosonics is a fusion of musical techniques from different latitudes, ready to be used according to what I want to expose, and I use suggestive titles that serve as a hyperrealistic metaphor for the idiosyncrasies and customs of a specific different than Western civilization. It can be said that ethnosonics is a compendium of different techniques from different places, the music of humanity in a hyperrealistic and sometimes even surrealistic way.
Many musical techniques are stored in my albums and I try to never repeat. I do not listen to my previous albums to avoid influencing and repeating myself, I have not reached any ceiling, since the search for musical harmony is infinite.
In our life journey, ego usually sabotages ourselves. Have you managed to detect something in your creative process you have had to overcome?
Ego does not affect creation, it affects artist’s behavior, he could become infatuated, pretentious and selfish and that will affect his career. On the other hand, humility is the most powerful and sustainable tool before fame and to improve its creations. I do not not include ego in my work, since I work alone and I do not care about fame. In fact, I hate promoting myself or doing interviews unless they ask me about things like this. The musician must have a lot of human quality, be honest and sincere with his audience, truthful in his musical compositions.
Catastrophic events have stopped me from continuing with projects, 2 of them were earthquakes and the Tragedy of Vargas, floods and landslides collapsed my house and I lost my all my instruments and studio. It took me a long time to reacquire them and find a new home. However, you take advantage of those events or the terror that they generate, and compose about them as I did in “Pánico a Las 5” and “Mar de la Tristeza”. I’m struggling right now with the events happening in my country, a pseudo system inspired in Marxist communism where hyperinflation has reached unthinkable limits. We’re a population that suffers from learned helplessness and does not fight. Venezuela has become a no man’s land, with millions emigrating to other countries.
After such painful experiences throughout your life, do you think that life influences art?
Everything could be an inspiration for the serious musician when committed, everything is a potential influence to him or her psychologically and emotionally and this is noticeable in every career. Beethoven, Chopin were not intimidated before the tragic events they lived: wars, exiles, famine and poverty… and yet we have access to a precious legacy of compositions, virtuosity and rich textures. We can transform pain into rich melodies, wonderful harmonies if we know how to read our feelings before these events. In the song “América! ¡Cristo Mío!” from my album The Golden Flame I express with the piano and strings the pain of the Americas, the suffering and disorientation of the Latin-American people, the calamities caused by the big corporations, the corrupt regimes and the famine. In the Amazonia Rain I try to express the disaster that occurs in the Amazon. In Maderas Biosonicas I expose my feelings about the life of the Yanomamas indigenous people (‘the children of the moon’), and tried to channel their sorrow using their own voices when they are in magical rituals. I used a tree from a scientific investigation around the ancient KiyaYukuri and turned it into sound curls called BIOLOOPS. Everything can be a muse and it will always be that way.
Your work tools have also evolved. Do you miss anything from the analog world or are you are now fully into DAWs and VSTs?
I’ve never abandoned analog synthesizers, but now I also use digital ones but they must be modular, that is the only condition, but it is a fact for me that it is impossible to maintain physical synthesizers for the reasons expressed earlier in this interview. I use DAW software such as Cubase, Cakewalk, Reason, Reaper, LMMS, Pro Tools, Ableton, FL Studio, and so on, depending on the features I want. I have thousands of VST synthesizers. I have a mixer console with 8 channels, small, solid and easy to transport.
Would you rescue anything from analog and digital worlds?
The modular synthesizers Moog, Arp 2600, Korg Trident, Synclavier, Solina and the Mellotron, although I use them in virtual form thanks to Arturia. For the rest nothing is salvageable since the digital ones do not have transcendence like the analogical ones.
Anything that worries you about music nowadays?
A terrible thing is happening in popular music nowadays: it is decadent, and this is damaging to the serious and academic musicians. Greedy producers, craving for the vile metal have destroyed the culturally rich musical history of the countries, radios promote vulgarity and filthy language, diminishing women by portraying them as a sexual tool. Commercial music has become a precarious disclosure of a pseudo-culture that despises quality and musical technique, aesthetics of melody and harmony.
In my opinion, we are in the middle of an obscurantist era of music, but it will pass, like other trends. I laugh when a DJ tells me he makes minimal electronic music. I would love to ask if he has studied minimalist art in painting and sculpture, if he has studied ephemeral art. The real electronic music was based on ideas from Bauhaus and Dadaism, it carries a huge culture about minimalism, rock and electronics. Musicians are able to assemble their own synthesizers, to create their own rhythms and sounds.
El Palmas Music will also release a compilation of Rada’s works from his first period (Cosmic Electronic Music with a particular ‘Latin’ Kraut touch) in February 2020.
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