Inti Figgis-Vizueta "Paper Music

Inti would you first share a little bit about who you are and what you do?

I’m a non-binary latinx composer, from Washington, D.C., starting my M.M at Boston Conservatory this coming fall. As a composer, I seek to create works that destabilize structural aspects of elitism and classism present in classical music. My works empower audiences by deconstructing the established hierarchies, often explicitly tied to performance spaces, that divide composer, performer, and listener through community-based, interactive works. Other than process based music, I focus on tape music as a medium through the combination of pre-recorded ambient sounds and small amounts of musical material.


For those that know nothing about music composition, what do you want to them to grasp about this piece?


The history of classical music is racist, classist, homophobic, and colonialist. Only in the last 50 years have composers outside the paradigm of white cishet male gained any traction within the musical world. The work of Pauline Oliveros, an activist composer of experimental music who passed away in late 2016, is seminal in the expansion of performance and musical philosophy with “Deep Listening”, defined as “an aesthetic based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation. This aesthetic is designed to inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations”. Paper Music engages directly with this tradition, by creating creating accessible and interactive music for all levels of musician. The piece utilizes the sounds created from utensil on medium, be it pencil on paper, chalk on board, crayon on cardboard, etc. and different shapes to create a texture of various rhythms, timbres, and pulses. Especially accessible to children and untrained adults, Paper Music directly illustrates basic concepts of rhythm, organized sound, and participation in music making. Such pieces and exercises promote growth and expansion of auditory understanding and active listening, a natural stepping stone for the more abstract expressions of new music and an equalizing of education and appreciation.


There seems to an emphasis on the individual participant’s autonomy and agency in this piece. What was your process and direction when it came to creating Paper Music? What were the most prominent intentions behind it?


Paper Music was born out of a struggle to integrate my ethics, as an activist and queer person of color, with my musical practice. Generally, the relationship between composer and performer is hierarchical and disempowering. In classical music especially, the role of interpretive artist has been relegated as implicitly less important than creative artist. The practice has an unsettling parallel with how traditional valuation systems upheld societal patriarchy and institutional racism. Paper Music is my first radical exploration into a deconstruction and liberating compositional practice. Through its shift of focus from traditional instrumental expression to more sound and pulse based and its communal creation and interacting, the piece works to empower and authentically subvert socialized conceptions of musical creation and value.


What are the challenges and rewards of being a composer? As well as being a part of such a unique and historical creative community?


Being a composer is difficult. Having an artistic practice so tied to academic institutions restricts creativity. With the demographic of composers being so white male heavy, there is little space for authentic exploration of one’s own culture without self-fetishization. Learning how to analyse and listen to music in a western context integrates that lens into the way I perceive music, a detriment to authentically engaging with non-western music. Despite those structural elements that perpetuate oppression and exclusion, it can’t be said that the composition community isn’t open to new and radical ideas. While institutions and organizations are most often conservative and only favor a handful of mainstream composers, the new music community seems to actively seek fresh voices and perspectives. As such, I reject hegemonic classical values and prioritize  liberated voices, which bring the most life and energy to new music.