Ars abscondita
(OtO 2013)

Article / interview by David Vélez

‘Ars abscondita’ is an interesting release by composer Joao Castro Pinto. It has plenty of narrative potential and the sounds present loads of detail and craft. This is a work where the influence of electroacoustic and concrete music-in the most academic sense- is strongly noticeable but that also presents moments where the sense of expression seems to be more free, incidental and organic. Even though I don’t consider myself a big advocate of electroacoustic music (because of the excessive exploitation of the formal gesture and the constraining and cliche-prone musical given structures) I feel that the mixture of electroacoustic and ‘experimental’ composition lines here is very fortunate.

Structure wise ‘Ars abscondita’ is a carefully built composition that pays attention to individual details but where a very coherent overall structure remains.

In order to know more about this work I contacted Joao Castro Pinto and asked him a few questions.

Q (DV). Is there a concept, idea or subject behind the release?

A (JCP). Yes, the album was composed in order to convey a main idea / concept.

Nowadays, many sound artists occupy themselves on representing aspects of the soundscape, preconizing phonographic approaches. It has turned almost into a sort of sonic fashion…

The idea of aurally depicting sonic environments can be interesting if the creative or artistic outlook on the soundscapes enhances, through the recording, processing and mixing stages, the listening experience, otherwise it results in a mimetic intent, towards which I cannot find any aesthetical interest. In an analogy with photography, a good picture does not result from the possibility of using a great camera, but on the creative singularity of the EYE of the photographer, which has an artistic sensitivity that is capable of enhancing certain aspects from the phenomenological continuum of the visual representation. This kind of positive segregation consists in an aesthetical act / decision, that results in an artistic point of view. The same situation is verifiable with aural related arts, meaning that it is not enough to possess a sound recorder, a mic and a computer to create an artistic sound work.

‘Ars abscondita’ represents an attempt for a non linear sound approach, in terms of the practical skills / processes that are employed in the electroacoustic sculpting of field recordings, for the main idea of the album is not to simply depict field recordings, sound events / actual soundscapes (as phonography does), but to depart from real field recordings & sampled references (objects / instruments) to the realm of the unknown, of the trans-contextual.

In practical terms, this means that the focus of the album is to recreate the denotative and connotative signs of the sound sources, reaching for an interplay where the semantic reference and its abstraction are presented simultaneously or sequenced, within mischievous or unclear boundaries.

Finally, the title means that the art of working with sounds is in fact, ontologically considered, hidden and mysterious, for its potentialities remain always open and to be realized, and the act of listening is also a form of creation.

Q. Do you think your approach was more formal or conceptual?

A. My approach was conceptual, although it dealt with formal aspects, namely those concerning the composition. ‘Ars abscondita’ can be considered to be included in the realm of soundscape composition, although I have decided to adopt a distinct approach to the context term (if one considers common classified soundscape compositions).

My main purpose, as stated, was not to represent real contexts, but to forge new and compelling sonic contexts which can propel the listener to an aesthetic interesting listening.

Q. Tell me about the making of these compositions

The pieces were composed in distinct times, but with the encompassing unity drive of the album.

I will not extensively describe all the processes and elements of the pieces, but sketch the main ideas behind each piece.

Effluvium is a piece that focus on exploring the water element in its diverse forms, presenting gestural movements within a scope that extends from dense sonic textures to micro subtle events, trying to imply the intrinsically rich potential of water samples. Field recordings were made through the use of various mics (condenser, contact and hydrophones) and extremely enhanced electroacoustic processes were used.

Chasm is an extended version of a one minute piece that was premiered on the planetary event “The End of The World” at the Streaming Museum, on 21.12.2012, in N.Y.C..
This piece was exclusively composed with recordings of water (recorded within several objects / surfaces) and kitchen appliances. The idea was to create an aural counterpart of a dramatic dive into the abyss, i.e., a kind of vortex trip into the unknown.

Interspersed Memories – on strings, murmurs and gongs, was composed with string sounds (piano, santur), tibetan bowls / hindu chimes and was premiered at the 19th Seoul International Computer Music Festival 2012. The main goal of this piece was to present an aural narrative where the same samples where used and presented in such a dramatic way, that instrumental samples resemble sonic environments and sonic environmental textures are created through the use of instrumental sounds. The idea of the boundaries of perception / identification of memories and sound images is here at stake.

Simulacra – on discrete movements & dense textures (version 0.1) is an extended & stereo reduction of an 8 channel piece, composed by the occasion of an invitation for a residency at the Electronic Music Studios of Leeds Metropolitan University (U.K.) in January 2013. This piece, which was based on recordings made in Portugal, Austria, Slovakia and in the U.K., had the main goal to present, as the name indicates, a simulated and extremely plastic sonic environment, which gained form as a sort of a canvas where sound objects fuse into sound events and vice versa, in utter non linearity, guiding the listener from gestural and morphological sonic transformations to outer forged soundscapes. Again, the creative interplay between the boundaries of real and abstracted references, is here extensively focused.

In regard of the release title Joao added:

The meaning of the title is : Ars = being the latin word for Art, the nominative case of the term Artem, which means both the practical skills that allow the artistic creation and the artistic products of art considered in themselves (a painting, a piece of music, a sculpture, etc…). Abscodita is the latin word for hidden, the nominative case of Absconditus, more concisely it expresses the connotations of unveiled, unclear or concealed.


In regard of the artwork title Joao added:

The words and letters on the front cover (and their structure) try figure graphically what is conveyed by the title of the album in a kind of enigmatic charade, for the combination of letters form words that display distinct meanings according to different reading directions, the idea is that the sonic meaning of the album is secluded and one should pay solid aural attention to discern the peculiarities of the sound narratives presented throughout the album. The rest of the pictures / representations are based in old medical sketches of the human body parts (brain, circular system, etc…) to convey the idea that this ART is not in the body, but beyond it.

The back cover of the album presents a little girl with headphones and a woman initiating the girl in the mysteries and delights of the ‘Ars abscondita’.

[Joao Castro Pinto courtesy of Triple Bath]

Joao Castro Pinto website
OtO website

David Vélez

David Vélez (PhD) is a Colombian sonic artist studying the acoustics of food, working in the intersection between sound ethnography and plant bioacoustics. His work oversteps the boundaries of installation art, field recordings, composition, performance and commensality exploring gardens, kitchens and open food markets as exhibition spaces. Vélez is interested in the strategic artistic possibility of sound and its invisible, immersive, unstable and fluctuating material, attrubutes shared with the nourishing transference of energy in food.