Liquid Voices

This is an interview in conversational format between two artists from the same city, in totally different moments in their personal careers and lives. The conversation is between Marcioz (25) and Jocy de Oliveira (85). Marcioz prepared thirteen questions and Jocy answered them.

Jocy de Oliveira is one of South America’s most renowned contemporary music composers. Working with opera, installations, multimedia pieces, theater, and even cinema, Jocy is a pioneer in working with mixed media, looking to rethink the conventional formats in opera. She was highly regarded by legends of the 20th century like Igor Stravinsky, Iannis Xenakis, and John Cage, whom she played with and for. She also exchanged many letters with Cage, available in her book, “Diálogo com Cartas.”1

Jocy has a long discography and career, which would need an article triple the size of this to cover. She was the first composer in Brazil to work with electronic music, in her iconic piece “Apague Meu Spot Light” (1961).2 Her work is critical, dense, and sophisticated, diving into many different political topics in a very confrontational manner. I often describe it as “musically unapologetic.” I see her work as very clear and complex, willing to defy and expand notions of music.

The voice who you are reading right now is from me, Marcioz. I was born in Curitiba,3 like Jocy, and also work in the field of innovative electronic music. I’m a big fan of Jocy’s work, and she’s quite an idol to me. I think, despite our very different sonic endeavors and/or sonic beliefs, we somehow have similar principles. I don’t like talking about myself and what I have “accomplished” because I don’t like the idea of functionalizing my “credibility.” What is most important for you to know is that I make music, and I try to use it to expand social signals. I deeply believe in the sophisticated and practical knowledge of lower-income people. I believe we only move forward when accepting race and colonization as the main factor of conversation. I believe the archive is more powerful than any GDP area and academic discourse. I believe time is cruel. 

Eu acredito é na rapaziada. 
Que segue em frente e segura o rojão. 
Eu ponho fé é na fé da moçada. 
Que não foge da fera e enfrenta o leão

 Gonzaguinha,4 “E Vamos à Luta” (1981)5

Suggested Listening

Marcioz: DE/COLONIAL WRITING$ (jovendeu$, 2020)

Marcioz: MULATO TRAGIDY (jovendeu$/Nurtured Ideas, 2019)

Jocy de Oliveira: A Música Século XX de Jocy (Discos Nada, 2021)

Jocy de Oliveira: Estórias para voz, instrumentos acústicos e eletrônicos (Soundohm, 2017)

MHi, Jocy. I wanted to begin this conversation by introducing myself to you as well as to those reading—I imagine you don’t know me yet. My name is Marcioz; I’m 25 years old; and, like you, I’m from Curitiba. I grew up in the Caiuá neighborhood, in CIC,6 near Fazendinha.7 I played a lot of soccer there before wanting to make music. I’m the son of a black ballerina who was godmother of the drumming section in samba school Embaixadores da Alegria8 and of a Polish violinist who used to play on XV de Novembro street. I’m a mulatto with kinky hair; I make experimental music and currently live in Berlin. My music is rather harsh, but I like it. (Can I show you a piece of mine?) There are even those who say it’s innovative. (Can you believe it?!) And I think that is why I’m here talking to you. I’m not sure whether you would like it, or what you would think of this “new” music, but above all I am a great fan of yours, and I think a lot about your work. I’m very impacted by your material, and it inspires me a lot to keep going. In the end, I think I’m only in the game because you, Arrigo Barnabé, and Waltel Branco endured. I wanted to ask you: How are you doing? How are things? How are you feeling today? Thank you a lot for making the time to talk to us.

JdOHello. This geographical question is very relative. We carry with us our origins, our life; mine was around the world. I lived in different countries, but I always think of Rio de Janeiro’s sea. Curitiba was incidental in my life. I was born in Aquibadan Street, in my great grandparents’ place, but I didn’t live there, and I don’t carry bonds besides the memory of the sad passage rite of my father’s and my grandmother’s death. They no longer lived there, but happened to be in Curitiba in those days of their deaths.

I like Berlin. I’ve been there many times and presented five of my operas, including the premiere of Kseni – Di Fremde at Berliner Festpiele.

MJocy, when I was invited to talk to you, I kept thinking how interesting all of this is because Sound American is from the United States—from New York (so fancy!)—and we are from the same cities—both CWB and RJ.9 (I spent a lot of time in Rio as well; I think I’ve become partially carioca.10) What do you think about this meeting of ours? After all, a first-world institution was necessary so that we could meet; do you think this means something?

JdOI lived in New York for 20 years. The meeting could have happened there or in any other place. Besides, everything is mixed up in [the] virtual [world], nowadays.

MCan you tell me a little bit about your childhood in Curitiba? You left there pretty young. Is there something in the city that caught your attention at that time? I’ve seen some interviews with you, and it’s quite common for people to ask you strictly about your work, but I am curious about what you think of things.

JdOIt’s the first time someone asks me this much about the place I was born. Since this seems relevant to you, here it is:

We lived in Batel in a futurist house with Art Deco furniture, a very big yard, and a German Shepherd dog that belonged to my mother. One morning, out of jealousy of her, [it] bit my leg, leaving a scar. I was less than three years old when we moved to São Paulo, and there I was raised and studied. The scar remained.

MI was reading an interview you gave to Gazeta do Povo11 where you stated the following:
“In comparative terms, Curitiba is a city with much more potential than Florianópolis (SC), for example, which is smaller. But I’ve had events there and here, nothing,” laments the composer. “It’s a pity, no doubts [sic], but I don’t know the reasons. It’s a mystery.” (Gazeta do Povo, 2013)12
I found it curious because I went through a very similar situation. I’ve never had many opportunities in Curitiba, and that’s why I ended up leaving. My experience of recognition always came from outside of Brazil, particularly from Europe and the USA. People from other cities of Brazil—and from around the world—approach me and show interest, but in Curitiba not so much. Could you comment a little about your relation to Curitiba? Do you think this is symptomatic of the city or just a coincidence?

JdOYes, this reflects a provincial mentality. Many states in Brazil support and value their artists. Paraná, on the contrary, ignores.

MYou have said you feel very distant from your first LP, A Música Século XX de Jocy,13 and that your trajectory followed another direction. I also feel quite distant from my first official work; listening to it today feels like listening to a different person. Could you comment on this transition to the position you find yourself in as a vanguard composer, be it with mixed electroacoustic music, multimedia work, or opera? What advice would you give to a young composer who also decided to take a different path? Did you experience any stress from a possible public insistence in the “old” Jocy?

JdOIt wasn’t a transition. I believe we keep making the same thing, but we find different ways of expressing ourselves—sometimes more complex, sometimes simpler (which is quite difficult). But I can’t say I’ve changed radically, despite hopefully having matured, and therefore perfected, my creative process. In different stages of my life, my pieces were considered pioneers for different reasons. I always pursued invention instead of routine, and I continue in the same search. At the time of Música Século XX,14 I was twenty years old, and my destiny in music was already written as a pianist performing concerts as soloist of great orchestras in Europe, USA, and Brazil. In the Sixties, I played a lot of contemporary music and many composers wrote for me, such as Luciano Berio, Xenakis, Cage, Cláudio Santoro, in addition to having been two times soloist under Stravinsky’s conduction. At the same time, I was beginning to conceive an electronic drama Apague meu spot light (in partnership with Berio) that premiered in Rio and São Paulo’s city theaters during the VI Bienal de Arte, in 1961. The exceptional cast included Fernanda Montenegro, Sérgio Britto, Ítalo Rossi, and scenic direction of Gianni Ratto. This piece caused great impact, and it is still remembered as the first time electronic music was made in Brazil.

As for the Música Século XX vinyl, it was a unique event.

Advice? Follow your intuition and work hard.

MLooking from a distance, it seems there is a moment when you make a clear step of breaking up with “mpb.”15 I often think about the division proposed and accepted in large scale between “popular music” and “classical music.” Maybe it could be said that we classify “concert music” as the music played by an orchestra, perhaps with a visiting soloist, while “popular music” is any other music that have ever existed—a quick example would be that both jazz and techno are considered genres of popular music. I always wonder why Theodor Adorno was so eager to start this affirmation. Here in Germany, there are terms for two types of funding: Ernst Musik and Unterhaltungsmusik. The fund received depends directly on the category classified in the project. It’s funny that, in Brazil, “serious music” became “classical” and “light/entertainment music” became “popular music.” We even have the habit of saying poorer, “messier” things are “people’s” things, but the truth is that in “popular music” we know more about who plays, listens to, and funds the music. How do you see yourself in this division? It seems we made some progress in trying to abandon that, but the structure upon which it is built remains quite strong. How do you see Brazilian music within the vanguard spectrum?

JdOThis “divisional” question of popular music and classical music is something that exists in the whole world. In France they go even further as to calling it musique serieuse, musique savant; musique classique versus musique populaire. In Germany there is also klassik muzik. In English, “classic” and “pop” music. But cases where things get crossed—more difficult to tag—do exist. I don’t really expect this division to be abandoned. Each day more we’re living in bubbles—tribes—few are the exceptions that cross different fields and exceed barriers.

MI guess I’m interested in the history of the history of music because it is very connected to what we believe to be innovation. Sometimes it seems to me that this narrative of gradual complexification of music, or even of “sonic spicing,” is full of little lies, of “scam,” of “gibberish”16 as my mom used to say. One time, I was watching an online talk of Salloma Salomão to IMS in the series 1922—Modernisms in Debate. He briefly commented about the Banda Linda ethnicity from Central Africa that makes “concrete music using flutes and horns.” As soon as I heard this, I began considering Schaeffer’s “discovery” to be slightly nonsense. When he made this parallel, I couldn’t help but thinking about Steve Reich’s “Clapping music,” about Semba, or even about flamenco and Fundo de Quintal17 group. This whole situation of being always them to tell what happened, and what will happen, makes me think about the ways music is being described. Sometimes I wonder if the whole thing of positioning oneself as the writer of everything isn’t what made atonalism and serialism happen. I question if it was a demand or a necessity or a feeling of “if it comes from these people, it’s not music, it isn’t taken into account.” I can’t help but ask: Who is writing the 21st century?
Jocy, what I want to know is: what is new in music to you? How do we know what is new? Who says something is new? Can new be my friends and myself as well? Will they let Mano Brown18 make it into history as an innovator? And DJ Gui da ZO?19 And Naná Vasconcelos?20 Are they going to allow in a guy that wrote an album named Africadeus?21

JdOI think invention is a lot like in science. We all contribute a little until someone suddenly finds a new path. In my case, for many years I’ve been focusing on an investigation in multiple fields—through music, theater, video, text, [and] installations—with the conviction that the sonic expression is inherent to all forms of life. [I’ve been] trying to reach an organic development of composition/performance with no borders between life and art.

In general, my work—the choice of the sonic material—encompasses elements from both my musical and my life experiences. That way, my impression of a sadhu (holy man) singing a raga to Shiva in a temple in Delhi is as important as the reminiscence of a Renaissance counterpoint, a cantilena, the use of sounds generated by computer, or the heritage of years and years playing Messiaen’s piano works and living his new notion of time.

This sonic tissue can be developed from multiple series: sound clouds in constant textural transformation, a tala, a European post-serial tradition, the Eastern non-periodicity, nature’s timelessness, chance, or our anthropophagic cultural roots. It’s the integration of all those elements with a view of the world shaped as more than thirty years of life in different countries, and of sharing with some of the 20th century’s masters.

Sometimes it can happen that music from other cultures—many of them deemed as “primitive cultures” in the West—are more innovative to our ears than just the formality inherited from Eurocentrism. The world isn’t only the Western Northern
hemisphere!

But I was lucky to have lived the discoveries from the late 1950s and 1960s up until the 1970s. At twenty years old, I had the opportunity of working and collaborating with Cage, Berio, Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Olivier Messiaen, Lukas Foss, and mainly Stravinsky.22 In those decades, I lived in the USA and Europe. They were extremely innovative and instigating years; for me, [they were] watersheds in the cultural and political fields. Even at that impactful time, the “vanguard” was already questioned—maybe vanguard only ever existed with Dadaism in the beginning of the 20th century.

MDo you think it’s possible for us to dictate a narrative about ourselves? About our music? Our way of being? Our food?
You talked in an interview about how the ones bringing attention and making a kind of rescue of your work (whether through mentioning it or studying it) are “the techno people.” I thought it was cool when you mentioned that because the community of experimental electronic music in Brazil has been taking control of its own narratives lately. I feel like we need to review a lot of stuff, but mainly we need to begin to study, to give us access to ourselves. When I discovered your work, it reminded me a lot of the shock I felt when I found out about Luís Gama23 or José do Patrocínio24 or Olly Wilson.25 It even looks like a hidden history, a counterproposal stuck in the throat.
Your work has always resonated and survived really well against the ephemeral and the passing of time. But now it seems as if there’s a different look and narrative about it; I feel that people are rescuing and finding themselves in it. I think that, little by little, your name is going through a personification process, almost like an accentuation in the timeline of music. How do you feel about that?

JdOI don’t know. You all see this from outside; you are capable of formulating this narrative. I immerse; I work and don’t think much about what it is that will survive. But it makes me glad that some have this perception and anticipate such dimension.

MJocy, your oeuvre is full of moments that catch my attention for having an “unapologetic” character. For me, it looks as if it is clear what you want to say in a piece while working on it. Nenhuma Mulher Civilizada Faria Isso26 or Inori à prostituta sagrada27 immediately come to mind. How did you deal—and how do you deal—with the audience expectations in these moments?

JdOI don’t worry about the market, about the public. I managed to trail a long path with no concessions, and I wish to remain like so.

As for the segments of Kseni – A estrangeira or Inori à prostituta sagrada, they are multimedia operas. For decades, I have explored the timelessness of myths in my multimedia operas. I search for a moment of poetic intuition, a moment of true complicity between artists and audience, a moment in which our perception of time and space expands and dives into our interior. Absorbing time in its unstructured essence becomes one of the primordial issues in my music.

This leads me to work with the timeless vision of myths in matriarchal societies from classical antiquity such as the “holy prostitute” from fairy tales, the “Diva” as the character deemed to die or the victim in conventional operas. In Kseni – A estrangeira, I bring back the myth of Medea, transported to contemporaneity as a transgressor woman—discriminated [against], heroic—and all those myths connected to the woman figure and their values, [are] contained in excerpts of my texts to many of my multimedia operas.

MI once heard you mention that a woman researcher was compiling your work and advocating that your discography/oeuvre should be studied in a non-linear way. Can you comment on that? I sometimes think that, despite the way the clock ticks, we are much less linear than we think.

JdOYes, there is a research in that sense, of approaching my oeuvre as a stellar constellation where it all integrates, interconnects, and follows simultaneous paths; where there isn’t preoccupation about linearity. Since the beginning, I’ve never had this preoccupation in my works—approaching intuitive time or the circular form with no beginning or end or the quantic time state, if I may put it like that.

MThroughout your trajectory, you have experimented a lot with the possibilities that “mixed media” has to offer. A few months ago, I was commissioned to write a piece for a festival and the question wasn’t if it would have a visual aspect to it, but rather which it would be. Nowadays, the means of media consumption are somehow undetachable from some sort of visual experience. What was your understanding of “mixed arts” in the past century in comparison to now?

JdOYes, we live in a visual-oriented society where listening is being lost, but I don’t think the artist needs to be guided by the market’s demand. If your artistic conception demands multimediality, that’s what you should do; if not, I see no reason to.

MJocy, you told us you are currently working in a new cinematic opera. Can you tell us a bit about your creative process and how this one is different from the first pieces you released?

JdOOnce more, it regards the search for an intersemiosis between music and other art forms; better said, a multimediality in the molds of my successful and internationally awarded cinematic opera Liquid Voices – A história de Mathilda Segalescu, produced in 2017 at SESC in São Paulo and filmed as a feature film in the ruins of Cassino da Urca in Rio; exhibited and awarded in cinema festivals in London, Nice, Madrid, Antwerp, Warsaw, Israel, New York, and Santiago.

My new cinematic opera, also a feature film, entitled Realejo de vida e morte,28 shows the solitude of two characters in magical-realism scenes in the desolated landscape of a planet in the process of extinction. I have finished the script and the music, but the work is only beginning. I hope to release it in 2023.

MI think a lot about my youth as a double-edged sword. On one hand, I feel enthusiasm and anger to explore in my work. On the other, I feel like a genuine ignorant who needs to see so much more before affirming anything. Is there something you know now that you would implement in your creative process from when you were 25 years old?

JdOI don’t think so. Life is living each moment; we know that wanting to be Faust doesn’t work.

MI wanted to thank you again for your time. It was a great honor being able to ask you these questions. It was very sincere.

JdOPleasure was all mine; I wish you success in your trajectory throughout this world.

Translator’s Notes

1Published in Brazil by SESI-SP, 2014. Also published in France, under the title Dialogues avec mes lettres by Honoré Champion, 2015.

2Translated as “switch off my spotlight,” this iconic multimedia work by Jocy de Oliveira is regarded as the first time electronic music was ever made in Brazil. Without access to the technology involved in creating such music, Jocy had the collaboration of Italian great Luciano Berio, who would mail tapes he worked on to Jocy, directly from the Studio di Fonologia Musicale in Milan.

3Capital of Paraná state, South region of Brazil. 

4Brazilian singer-songwriter, son of legend Luiz Gonzaga, regarded as “the king of baião.” 

5Free translation: “What I do believe in is the gang / That keeps moving forward and holding it together / My faith is in the youth’s faith / who don’t run from the beast and face the lion.”

6Abbreviation for “Industrial City of Curitiba,” the biggest neighborhood in Curitiba where the city’s industrial district is located. 

7Another neighborhood in Curitiba; its name translates as “little farm.”

8Translating as “Ambassadors of Joy.”

9“CWB” is the technical abbreviation for Curitiba’s airport, adopted as an equivalent to the city’s name. “RJ” is the geopolitical abbreviation for Rio de Janeiro’s state. 

10“Carioca” refers to those born in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

11Renowned newspaper from Curitiba. 

12Gazeta do Povo, September 20th, 2013. Available at: https://www.gazetadopovo.com.br/caderno-g/jocy-de-oliveira-traz-opera-a-curitiba-cfg0exes23dsm5gucucgpdnwu/

13Jocy de Oliveira’s record debut at 23 years old, A Música Século XX de Jocy was released by Litoral Records, in 1959.

14Ipsis litteris as Jocy referred to the LP. 

15Abbreviation for “música popular brasileira,” meaning “Brazilian popular music,” designation for what became one of Brazil’s most important music genres of the 20th century. Despite its generic character, the abbreviation gained some specificity overtime and it is still widely applied to this day.

16Originally a popular saying, literally translated as: “talk to make the bull asleep.”

17Roughly translating as “backyard group,” Fundo de Quintal is a traditional Samba band from Rio de Janeiro, formed in the late 1970s and still in activity.

18One of the most important names in Brazilian rap music, Mano Brown is leader of the iconic rap group Racionais MC.

19DJ in the carioca funk music scene.

20Legendary Brazilian percussionist, Naná Vasconcelos (1944–2016) had a stellar career, accumulating collaborations with names such as Egberto Gismonti, Milton Nascimento, Pat Metheny, B.B. King, and David Byrne, among many others.

21Naná’s solo debut, from 1971; the record title translates as “Africagod.”

22Jocy’s book, Diálogo com cartas, compiles 120 letters written to her by some of these prominent creators of the 20th century—Prêmio Jabuti de Literatura 2015, also published in France by Honoré Champion under the title Dialogue avec mes lettres.

23Luís Gama (1830–1882) was a Brazilian lawyer, poet, journalist and regarded as the major abolitionist in Brazil. Gama was one of the few black intellectuals in a time Brazil was yet to abolish slavery, having been a slave himself throughout his youth. Slavery was officially abolished in 1888, six years after Gama died of diabetes.

24Black Brazilian pharmacist, journalist, and writer. José do Patrocínio (1853–1905) was co-founder of the Brazilian Abolitionist Society, along with Joaquim Nabuco (1849–1910), and wrote the “Manifest of the Abolitionist Confederation of Rio de Janeiro” (1883), among many other works.

25Olly Wilson (1937–2018) was a black American composer and instrumentalist, renowned in the contemporary music scene. Wilson was responsible for the first ever conservatory program in electronic music, at Oberlin Conservatory.

26Segment 4 from Jocy’s opera Kseni – a estrangeira (2003–2006); its title translates as “no civilized woman would do that.”

27Jocy’s third opera, from 1993, it is the first work of a trilogy approaching questions of the feminine. In this one, Jocy explores the mythological figure of the “sacred prostitute.”

28Translating as: “Barrel organ of life and death.”