People and Processes

2nd July 2021

Features NMC Recordings

Jimena Maldonado, one of the six composers featured on Laura Sinnerton's new album 'Inner Voices', is also a photographer. We met with her and Laura to discuss Jimena's work combining the disciplines of photography and composition, how this informed her contribution to the album.

Inner Voices is an album of extraordinary new compositions for solo viola commissioned and performed by Irish violist Laura Sinnerton. Each track showcases striking and fresh approaches to composition for the viola by composers under the age of 35. Jimena's piece, Where there was wood is now water, is based on the photographic series ‘Water table’ by Anthony McCall, which consists of six photographs that have a clear linear developmental process.

"In January 2020 I was in Madrid for a few days and I went to an exhibition of Anthony McCall’s work," says Jimena. "He does these really big light installations, so that's what I was going there to see. But then, sort of hidden away from the rest, was this photographic series that I really loved. I looked at the series I immediately thought 'this is what I want to use for Laura's piece.' I started writing straight away!"

The first photograph in McCall's series (below) shows a table with 13 wooden beams on it. From the second photograph, a process of removing beams from the table begins. Every time a wooden beam is removed, a trace of water is left on the table. On each of the following images there are gradually fewer beams on the table, and therefore more water, until, in the last photograph, only water traces remain. 

Water table smaller

Anthony McCall. “Water Table”, 1972. Set of six vintage gelatin silver prints, each 30.5 c 38.1 cm. Courtesy the artist and Sprueth Magers Berlin and London.

In Jimena's piece this wood-to-water process is represented by layers of natural notes becoming harmonics. The piece begins only with natural notes and ends only with harmonics. Jimena divided the 13 wooden beams into five groups and composed five separate layers of music. Each group is represented by a layer of pre-recorded viola.

For Laura Sinnerton, a violist with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and voracious new music enthusiast, this way of working with images was unique. "What really captured me from the beginning of my workshops with Jimena and our discussion together was this instrinsic link between the photographs and the music. I think we all know works that are inspired by quite narrative pieces, that have real recognisable people, characters, animals, but these photographs of Mr McCall are slightly more abstract."

"I'm very used to working with images, and for me its about more than using them as inspiration," explains Jimena. "My work with composition and photography is so related – it effects the way I think of taking pictures as a photographer, and the way I think about interpreting images that I see. I see something and then I think about what it could mean musically."

At the core of Jimena's work is the crossing of boundaries between an object-based artform (photography) and time-based artform (music). "I like photographic series because they imply a process, and as a composer I work a lot with processes. Yes, it's abstract, but at the same time there's a beginning and an end," she explains. "One of my images – One to nine (below) – becomes more and more abstract until its basically non longer recognisable. That interests me a lot because it give me musical material immediately. The first problem when working with fixed image is that there's no time."

One to nine

Jimena Maldonado "One to nine", (2021, for the Bozzini Quartet)

Where there was wood is now water is a completely, traditionally notated piece, but Jimena is also interested in how images themselves can act as scores, and how this can effect the performer and audience. She explored this in her work Traversing Wires for open instrumentation (below).

Traversing wires

Jimena Maldonado, "Traversing Wires" (2019, for open instrumentation)

For Laura, the added element of working with images offered new context  that she found enriching: "I kept the series of photographs quite close while I was preparing Jimena's music. I think sometimes as instrumentalists, when we think about a composer having very specific processes, we assume there will be something mechanical and mathematical about it. But that is just not true, and it's certainly not true of Jimena's work – processes as there may be, there's a great sense of how it's very organic in its development. There's a warmth and there's a heart to it."

Jimena is interested in how the interweaving of photography in music can effect not only performers, but also audiences. "Let's be honest that often new music is quite inaccessible to many audiences, and that pains me. I would like for more and more people to listen to contemporary music. I think that working with images and giving audiences who are not necessarily used to listening to this music this sort of visual map, is really helpful."

Dual trio

Jimena Maldonado, "Dual Trio" (for the Fidelio Trio)

"I feel as an instrumentalist, having those conversations with composers about nuance, about direction, about interpretation, enables us to be more confident in what we're playing, " says Laura. "I think the more confident the performer is, the easier it is for an audience to connect with the music they are hearing. I think that is one of the ways we could make contemporary music more accessible and more appealing to audiences. If you've got instrumentalists who are fired up about playing it and not apologising for it. 

"I think working with composers is something that as instrumentalists we should feel a responsibility to do," Laura continues. "If we can nurture those relationships between composers and instrumentalists, that's great for the confidence of both parties but it will also make the audience experience so much more worthwhile, and that's only good for our industry. If we believe in music that is an artform that isn't a museum piece, I think all of us involved need to do our part in keeping it vital and alive."

Inner Voices is available from the NMC Shop and across all digital platforms now

Listen to Inner Voices

NMC's Discover platform is created in partnership with ISM Trust.

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