GRAFFITI [just forms]

António Pinho Vargas (1951)

Ref. ava070083

GRAFFITI [just forms]

For large orchestra
( perc. pf.hp.-
Duration: 25 '

Comissioned by: Teatro Nacional de São Carlos
First performance: Orq. Sinfónica Portuguesa, dir. LOTHAR KÖNIGS,
Março 2006, Grande Auditório do CCB

Notes on Graffiti [just forms]

Everybody knows what is meant by graffiti. There are many different kinds of graffiti, but they all have at least two characteristics in common: first, they are inscriptions on walls; secondly, they are illegal. To that extent they are all a manifestation of the desire to stand as an artistic statement outside the institution of art; furthermore, being anonymous, they also share a collective authorship.



The similarities and differences of graffiti styles provided my initial metaphor and also the starting point for this piece: the fact that, when writing a score, every composer inevitably also creates a form.


Several consequences derive from this: first of all, the seven different graffiti that make up this work all have similar aspects; secondly, the same material(s) reappear at different points but, at the same time, each one constitutes a form in itself and is simultaneously part of the overall global form. A third consequence flows from my desire to use what could be called ‘poor’ materials (along the lines of arte povera) – for instance, one or two chords not especially remarkable in themselves.


My purely private usage of the notion of the ‘musical object’ can be understood in two ways in this work: first, as a consciousness of the historicity of musical materials; and secondly, as the field of possibilities opened up by a chord, a particular melody, a rhythmic idea, or an abstract set of notes outside any concrete context. These possibilities are all the more extensive the more distant their position is in relation to the two postulates from which I’ve attempted to derive my aesthetic critique: (1) the postulate that says that only post-serial procedures and their derivates can assure the production of the New; and the opposite position, (2) the postulate that says that only a return to tonality can ensure that music retreats from the dead end into which the first postulate has led it. Following Foucault, I think the New is not what we are but is rather that in relation to which we are becoming. When I say that I formulate a little theory for each piece, I am attempting to emphasise that each musical piece is just a musical piece – that is to say, that its potential to transform reality is limited – but as a result it produces the openness to contingency, to the undefined, to the unstable, that I search for in the act of composing, in the act of shaping form.


In the case of Graffiti, the starting point was just one chord. Just as the graffiti found in many different cities turn out to have surprising similarities, my diverse figures make use of this single basic chord, not in order to provide thematic unity but rather to function as a figural base from which to derive new drawings. Each drawing, each ‘form-in-the-process-of-becoming’, can emphasise similarities or differences, continuities or interruptions. Today a chord can be understood as an entity with a potential that goes far beyond simple transposition, tonal modulation or arithmetical intervallic permutation. If it does not change in time, for instance, it creates a sense of turning in upon itself, creating a tension very different to the ruffling of aristocratic feathers caused by a surprising modulation in the eighteenth century. If it does change, then it can change in the direction of elements derived from it, but, through radical mutations of timbre, of tempi, of register, these elements can present themselves in a new light as ‘something other’. The composer’s hand that draws a continuous horizontal line or a large dynamic curve can also, in the same way, trace an abrupt interruption of such continuities.


António Pinho Vargas


(English version revised by Max Paddison)