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
• 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)
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.
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.
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.
JdOYes, this reflects a provincial mentality. Many states in Brazil support and value their artists. Paraná, on the contrary, ignores.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
JdOI don’t think so. Life is living each moment; we know that wanting to be Faust doesn’t work.
JdOPleasure was all mine; I wish you success in your trajectory throughout this world.
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.”