(Interview conducted by Edgar Kogler)

Jose Maria Ciria has a wide artistic trajectory, whose beginnings go back to the seventies, Well known, among other aspects, for his work in the band Program@, he has participated in several avantgarde bands, and has shaped a very personal style. Apart from his work as an electronic composer, he also is a famous as a percussionist who has taken part in albums by well-known artists and bands, such as for example, Neuronium. His live performances constitute another important aspect in his career.

-How did you enter the world of music? When did you start playing and composing?
Ever since I can remember, I have always loved music. I don’t know why, when I was a teenager I chose the drums, maybe it was because of the famous drums solo by Iron Butterfly with their theme "In a gadda da vida", I don’t know; Since I had no instruments, I followed the music, drumming on anything I could, so when I had the first chance to get to know some musicians, I used to spend hours hanging around by their rehearsing premises, hearing them play. Since the drums player in their band didn’t go there much, one day I was offered to sit at their drums and play with them. I must have been 18 or 19 at the time, and from that moment on, I took learning to play seriously, I bought a primitive “method of drumming” book and taught myself to play, thus entering the world of music. Some time later I even attended lessons at the Barcelona Conservatoire of Music where I studied some years of solfa, harmony and percussion.

My skills as a composer were developed some time later. In all the bands I participated with, I used to like to contribute my ideas, be it in the compositions or the arrangements, yet I had never composed a theme until I was able to have my own studio and develop my skills with the piano or with the synthesizers.

- How did you begin your musical relationship with José Antonio López / Joseph Loibant, Carlos Guirao, Michel Huygen and the other musicians you have collaborated with?

Precisely in the first band I have just mentioned I met Carlos Guirao at the guitar, vocals and flute. Therefore, I have known him since the beginning and we have shared very important moments throughout different musical stages of our lives. In the beginning, we were together with the band for almost 2 years and later we would get together once again, in Programa. I met Michel Huygen firstly because Carlos was with the band Neuronium and we still were joined by a strong friendship, and secondly because they used to rehearse in the premises next door to ours. I used to play with a symphonic rock band called Magenta at the time (some time later I learned that there also is a British band with the same name.) We even got to compose a rock opera between bassist Pepe Rodriguez (music) and myself (lyrics). Amongst the musicians there also was a great keyboardist and accordeonist: Conrad Setó.

So when Michel Huygen and Carlos decided to include drums in the music by Neuronium, they called me so as to collaborate with them both in the LP "The Visitor" and in "Invisible Views".

With Carlos Guirao, I collaborated more intensively, in his solo album “Revelation” in the year 1982 in several themes, adding drums and percussion to his electronic compositions.

In those times Jordi Garcia re-founded Suck Electronic (the band where initially Michel Huygen also was)

And I was called to play the drums. We recorded an Lp with Edigsa titled "L'home reanimat". (the Revived Man)

Through Carlos I met J.Antonio López; I went to his studio several times and I was surprised to see the electronic devices he had.

-How would you summarize your musical career in the first stage of Programa (1980’s)? Can you review the events that were most imnportant for you during that period?

In the beginning Carlos Guirao called me to help him with the arrangements of his themes for the band Programa.

So we spend a long time together creating and rearranging his themes in  J.Antonio’s studio, and from there, our friendship grew. Besides the arrangements, I played some synthesizer parts and electronic drums in the LPs "Reunion de Amigos"(Friends’ Get-together) and "Acropolis". From this record on, I was asked to become a member of the band, so I joined them. This stage was interesting because we appeared on different TV programmes and also had some live performances. We also came to project the release of a CD, the three of us, which was to be called "Paris-Dakar", yet, due to different reasons it never came to be effectively released.

-What prompted you to reactivate the band Programa with Josep Loibant after years of silence?

We never lost our contact completely, and one day Joseph Loibant proposed me to reactivate Programa, I had already been composing new themes, yet they had little broadcast, so this was the chance to make them known.

It also was a chance to fully enter the world of synthesizers and get to know them in a more detailed manner thanks to the fantastic equipment that Joseph used to have and still has in his studio, and it also meant for me the discovery of the world of musical production.

When you have to create a professional product your requirements increase and you have to work further in the completion of the themes,arrangements, recording and masterization: You have to take a step further. This is positive because your knowledge increases and new solutions to problems that stop being such open to you.

-Tell us  about your activity composing soundtracks. How is your work different with them as compared to your work for your other albums?

Basically it differs in the fact that they usually are commissioned, and though I have musical freedom to create them, you always have to adapt to the idea of the director, the theme of the movie and the time it must last, usually a short one, among the different musical episodes. It is another way of treating music because as a general rule the music is subjected to the images. But it also is interesting because you have to adapt to a framework and to some given rules, and from this starting point only your imagination limits the margins of creativity.

-Are you more attracted to playing your music in live concerts or do you enjoy yourself more when recording it step by step in your studio?

Both experiences attract me. They are different and cannot be compared. Playing live with an audience is something that cannot be described, especially if there is a good chemistry with the audience and everything turns out fine. It is communicating with hundreds of people at the same time with a universal language, direct and deep. The enjoyment of composing in a studio and experimenting with the sounds and the devices also is very gratifying. You are alone with sound, an alchemist and a magician elaborating potions and magic sound formulae that can be fantastic, in the sense that when listening to them they can take you to astonishing, unknown worlds.

Surprise is one of the most important factors that you can find in the studio when composing; You don’t know how, the theme takes you along some paths that you had never imagined. Those moments are incredible because you are creating something new, and in the best of cases, something that didn’t exist before, a combination of sounds and timbres which is really different.

Playing live is a unique, irrepetible experience, with its good points and its mistakes, the direct emotion of the instant shaped into the music: There is no reverse way, it is like life itself. The straight arrow of time always points forward. On the other hand, in the studio you have the chance to choose, to reflectively create, which part I choose and which part I discard, shaping the path for each theme, and if necessary, stopping in the passages and ladscapes you keep finding.

-Which process do you usually follow in order to create a theme? Or is each case different? Which things inspire you or activate your creativity?

The procces is different for each theme. First, there is the sparkle that initiates it all, which can be very varied, from a rhythmic motive to a sequence of chords, a melody, a book, a quote that calls my attention, a concept, a photo, in  short, anything that awakens something, I don’t know what it is in my brain, yet which motivates me to continue, develop or further my way into this particular theme. There are also times when the music springs from something abstract, unconnected to the world, yet music is the most abstract, immaterial of existing arts.

Then there is the technical process which consists in orchestrating and arranging the themes: Despite using the term “technical”, it is by no means something mechanical, tedious, as it also has its creative part, sometimes full of surprises too.

I cannot imagine always following the same patterns, because it is boring and does not take you anywhere or,  well, yes, it does, it takes you to well trodden paths without interest precisely because they have already been explored by yourself or by others. This is why I like using new sound elements for each theme, as well as new structural elements too, because in them there lies surprise, the element I was referring to before.

Although I also have to say that in some occasions, the theme was already elaborated in my mind, and I only had to translate its melodies into the computer, as happened to me with some passages from my latest release "Mobilis in Mobili", a CD with a unitary concept as a homage to Jules Verne book:" 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".

-Do you consider yourself as musically attached to some specific musical trend or a particular label?

No. Not in a conscious, deliberate manner. I believe that we are all linked to our times, to the music we have heard and all the music preceding us. What I do does not come from a miysterious void with no connection whatsoever, on the contrary, it is the fruit of what has been previously heard and which I have liked, and which has excited me.

I like music, not a given style as many other people claim, who are fanatics of jazz and don’t like flamenco, or those who only listen to classical music, or only country, or blues or world music; I could name a band or several for each music label. Let’s not forget that labels used to crop up in shops when they wanted to order the music according to styles so as to sell it.

I think it has been bad for music in general. If you truly like music, good music, you enjoy and get emotionally involved both with funky themes by Prince and with such different themes as those by Steely Dan or Joe Jackson, or the Fifth Symphony by Beethoven.

I like anything, ranging from those considered to be the Classics(Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Stravisnky, Varese, etc.); to jazz: (Coltrane, Miles Davis, Weather Report, Chik Corea); to symphonic rock (Genesis, Yes, King Crimson); to pop, to soul, to blues; in short, the list would be never-ending in fact.

Just to finish, if I had to name somne favourites it would be: Mozart, Stravinsky , King Crimson, Weather Report and Frank Zappa.

-Tell us about your creative process in the album Ylem.

It was my first solo CD, and a priori, as I was composing the themes, I did not have a global concept It was as the themes were being shaped that I decided to give it a total idea.

Each piece has its own universe and responds to different patterns for each motive that inspired it. The title reponds to the Greek name that a scientist gave to the beginning of the Big Bang, and consequently to the Universe, so most of the themes refer to motives from the universe, be it such concepts as The Paradox of Olbers; names of stars such as Wolf 359; star clusters such as the Magellan Cloud, where I made a double homage, in a sense, both to these galaxies that can only be seen from the southern hemisphere, and also to Magellan, the navigator who sailed around the Earth; or Dark Matter that is the most common, abundant matter in the universe, so to speak.

Others, like "Noa Noa", refer to the heavenly islands from the South Pacific that Paul Gauguin brought to his paintings and in his diary titled "Noa Noa", which means "very scented". Or "Fractal", which responds to those wondrous structures that contain the outer shape within them, thus the musical theme is repeated and transformed without ever losing its initial structure. I am very much interested in this concept of fractals, and I do not rule out the possibility that I will continue working with them in the future. In fact, the cover of the CD is a fractal image.

- Did composing your album Mobilis in Mobili respond to a global idea? Tell us about this release too, please.

In this case yes, it was so. As I have already mentioned, it responds to a unitary concept on the book “20,000 leagues under the sea" by Jules Verne.

The title reflects the motto that captain Nemo used on the objects he had, including the submarine Nautilus, and refers to motion within motion; The submarine, the particular world that Nemo had created within another world, The Earth, which in its turn also is in motion. Actually, in the beginning I had thought of calling it "Nautilus", yet due to the abundant use that has been done of this word I decided to name it "Mobilis in Mobili" because it was more suggestive and less used. And left "Nautilus Suite" as a subtitle.

Though the titles of the themes correspond to chapters in the book, I have not followed the novel step by step, I haven’t even re-read it; What I intended to do was a homage to the fascination that it had for me the first time I read it and try to transmit it in the form of music.

To tell you the truth, I don’t really know what the initial idea was for the project. I believe it was shaped at the same time as it was being composed. What I do know is how I elaborated it. I started from a theme I had already composed quite a long tine before, one I had not succeeded in finishing; it lasted for about 8 minutes, and from the moment I divided it into two separate themes the rest flowed easily enough.

There were some themes which turned out to be more complex to elaborate, like for example "Maelström", which lasts for about 20 minutes almost, and all the musical motives were completely new, but as a genberal rule the music flowed quite fast without getting stuck much in any given theme.

As an example, I played the oboe solo of the last theme in just one take and with almost no corrections.

I enjoyed myself a lot while composing it, and I hope all future listeners will enjoy themselves as much as I did when I created it.

- Which are the differences in focusses between your work in solo releases and works from the bands you are a member of, when it comes to composing?

Really, a priori there is no difference, neither in the way I focus the theme in the composition nor in the arrangements, nor in  the production. The only difference is the fact that when I am working for the different bands, the pattern to follow is already shaped.

Each band has its own personality, or at least so we believe, and we work in this direction with absolute freedom yet never losing track of our former trajectory, of course, also marked by us.

Thus, when I am composing themes for At-Mooss, the orientation is more experimental, and is based on abstract electronic sounds, more “avant-garde”, though I do not like the word because what today is  “avant-garde”, the day after tomorrow it already is history. Perhaps the word is “risky”; Using concepts, structures and sounds that take youb along new, different paths, unrelated to the world we call real: To assume the risk of exploring new paths.

On the other hand, with Programa I use more recognisable structures and so happens with sound; I allow for more real acoustic sounds associated to tangible instruments such as guitars, drums, pianos, and obviously synthesizers.

- Do you believe that in comparison with electronic keyboard instruments the field of electronic percussion is underused by many musicians? What do you think electronic drums contribute to you in comparison with the conventional variety?

Yes of course, most composers limit themselves to uisng already created patterns, whether because they have deficiencies in their percussive work or due to simple convenience; Though using already existing patterns is by no means pejorative, as long as you use them in a creative, original mannner, not just the way they reach you. For example, overlaying different patterns with different times: binary with ternary, just to mention a possible combination, or any other occurring to you, in this way you can get very suggestive polirhythms.

Electronic percussion contributes a first advantage on the acoustic variety, which is the range of sounds from different parts of the world that I have within reach of my ears with just pressing a button or downloading the corresponding sample. It shortens my workload, as even if I already have a collection of acoustic percussion that I could use, I would have to record them using mikes. Yet it also has a negative aspect, since the instruments played with your hands or the drumsticks are more expressive (if well played, naturally).

What I never doubt about is when it comes  to playing live, for me, acoustic percussion is the most suitable kind.

-Do you feel in favour of any given kind of synthesis or any particular brand of synthesizers? Do you think there are “antagonistic” techniques, as for instance is said about analogic and digital, which turn out to be difficult to merge because they correspond to different ways of understanding the electronically created  music, or maybe any given technique depends on the musician utilizing it?

I do not feel partial to any given kind of synthesizers, except for those that are suitable enough for the production I am doing in any given moment. Each one has its pros and cons, and you must know how to make maximum use of the advantages in each one.

They are not difficult to merge because they are not different techniques but rather different ways of creating sound.

If you have a wide range of colours, your palette will be wealthier: And if you have a great variety of synthesizers, whether digital or analogic or virtual, it will be easier to reach the goal you want to reach, and likewise, it will be faster to do so; you won’t have to use your time creating the adequate sound, you’ll just have to look for it in your equipment. For some years analogic was regarded with contempt, yet now it seems it has made a comeback; and it doesn’t surprise me because analogic sounds have a warmth and an expressivity that so far digital sounds have not reached yet. However, I believe that we must not forget the core of the matter, which is music itself; the result is what matters. Whether the resulting composition moves the listeners or not, independently from the way it has been played, with the hand palms, a drum or a state-of-the-art synthesizer.

- Can you comment something about the projects you are involved in as well as your plans for the immediate future?

When I finish an album, I am already thinking of the next one. Luckily, I do not lack this which is called inspiration; what I lack is time. Right now I am working on several fronts at the same time. On the one hand, I have finished the music for a short called "Hoax", by a young director who soon will have his work on the movie theatres (Perhaps when these lines are published he will already have premiered it). As I was saying, I am already preparing new themes for the next CD by At-Mooss, where I will include new sounds from the new synthesizers I have lately purchased, such as the Andromeda A6, a powerful Analogic synthesizer.

I have also almost finished some themes, with a different style from what I have done so far, and at this stage I am not that sure about how to include them in any given project. I will surely wait till I have my CD finished and then I will decide how to release it all.

On the other hand, I am working in a project where the themes are devoted to places I have visited and which have impressed me. In each track I want to reflect  something of the essence of the place, so to speak, including more world sounds of each particular place, and merge it all with electronic and avant-garde sounds. I am making some tests, and at the moment I like the results so far. This is nothing new, I simply want to explore something that I had already started with the theme "El Laberinto del Minotauro" from the CD "Phoenix" by Programa, in more detail.

And I also have some themes where I would like to explore the world of dance. Music as a creator of motion. In short, I have no lack of projects and ideas, as you can see.

At-Mooss Records


Previous Page (Articles/News)