"With the composition of FREC, Agustí Fernández and I considered the possibility of creating a large-scale piano form that crosses the boundaries between the pianistic tradition of the European contemporary music and the world of improvised music, post-free jazz and non-Western musical traditions. We decided to work together in such a way that Agustí's musicality becomes a main compositional force, and my compositional thought is transformed literally into a "body of sound". This vast and extreme pianistic building of sound will form a kind of acoustic cosmogony in the form of a "piano-human" boucle or loop, making it difficult to distinguish between the human and the instrument, between living form and inert matter. Finally all becomes a Universe of sound conformed by the same, unique, and indivisible matter."
According to its composer Hèctor Parra, FREC is a kind of universal music: “An elementary vibration of nature, crystallised into a 50-minute pianistic evolution of sound.” Due to receive its world premiere at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on Sunday 17 November, FREC, part of Parra’s contribution as the festival’s Composer in Residence, is a immensely complex and ambitious piece for piano, one demanding absolute concentration in its performer and rewarding it in its audience. Yet its origins are as simple as its title, a word as onomatopoeic in Catalan as its equivalent in English, as Parra explains – “FREC means ‘friction’, and it has some human sense: friction of skin, of hands.”
The hands in question belong to Majorcan pianist Agustí Fernández, who developed FREC with Parra and who will perform it at the festival. FREC is very much a collaboration between the pair, one combining the intricate vision of Barcelona-born, Paris-based Parra with Fernández’s improvisational and technical skills. Having known Parra for some time, Fernández contacted him around three years ago, with the suggestion that, despite seemingly occupying different musical realms, they should work together.
“We have different approaches to music: he’s a composer and I’m an improviser, mostly,” Fernández explains. “But the feeling we have when we listen to each other’s music is of a sonic world where a lot of the parts are the same. The sounds are like brothers and sisters.”
Parra agrees: “Agustí had listened to some pieces and thought that some elements of language were common to both of us. For example, exploring the transformation of timbre and noisy aspects of sound to their limits. He asked me to collaborate, so we began to meet with a piano between us. It has been like a baby learning to speak, in a very intuitive way. I played something; he played. He showed his techniques of improvisation upon the strings, which are really amazing. He can do all kinds of sounds – the piano really sounds electronic in his hands.”
A piece started to take shape. “Agustí’s musicality became the main compositional force. So my idea was not to try to impose my musical ideas but to try to feed myself from his amazing languages and pianistic elements. And then we became a symbiotic being. I used his small gestures, the special things he does with the piano as a compositional tool.”
Instead of conventional notation, FREC’s score consists of 25 pages of Parra’s drawings, each a detailed choreography for Fernández’s actions. “These sketches are the result of the working process with Agustí. They represent the maximum amount of information he is able to retain in his head without reading a score,” Parra says.
With multiple layers, the drawings confront Fernández with a formidable interpretive task. “Hèctor likes complexity,” the pianist smiles. “So every colour on the score is a layer of information of something that he would like me to do. Sometimes I am dealing with six or seven layers at the same time. He is looking for the final mix of sounds, but producing these sounds is not easy, I can tell you!”
Formed of four sections without breaks, as well as two mainly improvised cadenzas, FREC sees Fernández move through a range of ways to interact with the piano, starting with a simple woodblock sound that is echoed by his vocalisations, before using metal objects and a glove customised with a variety of textured materials to build an increasingly rich world of vibration. “The techniques he’s using and how he’s interacting with the strings are incredible,” says Parra. “There are some moments where he’s moving in four or five dimensions on the piano. For example, in the three spatial dimensions he’s making strange hand movements, interacting with the low piano strings and producing harmonics, whilst with the other hand he’s playing the same pitches on the keyboard in a very soft way, using the pedals and the woodblock. It’s a sound synthesis.”
He continues, “It’s notated in such a way that allows free improvisation and musicality inside. It’s connotative, not denotative, let’s say. And it’s multiparametric and multidimensional. It’s a natural creation from an initial movement of a small woodblock in Agustí’s hand. The sound of this vibration, which can be compared to the vibration of electrons in the atom, the basic waves of nature, little by little this vibration is developed and interacts with the piano and its strings, it rebounds and in this way a complex being is formed. The main story of the piece is a pianistic insight into the inner core of the vibrational nature of reality.”
Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 2013
released March 24, 2020
Recorded January 25, 2014 at Arts Santa Mònica, Barcelona, Spain
Recording, mixing and mastering engineer: Ferran Conangla
Video: Lucas Caraba
Liner notes: Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
Photos: Ferran Conangla
Graphic design: Enric Jardí
Produced by Agustí Fernández for Sirulita Records
FREC was a commission from the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival to Hèctor Parra and it was premiered at the Phipps Hall on November 17, 2013, produced by hcmf and supported by the Institut Ramon Llull and Diaphonique.