Composer Profile: Felipe Otondo

Felipe Otondo

Website | Soundcloud

Felipe studied acoustics in Chile where he started composing and performing music for experimental theatre developing several performance projects with actors and musicians. In 1999 he moved to Denmark to do post-graduate studies in sound perception at Aalborg University focusing on spatial sound and timbre perception. He studied composition at the Carl Nielsen Academy with the Anders Brødsgaard where he composed and premiered various compositions and took part in several interdisciplinary projects with visual artist. In 2005 he pursued his composition studies at the University of York in England with Ambrose Field and Roger Marsh focusing in electroacoustic composition and music theatre. His music has been widely played in festivals across Europe, North and South America, as well as in Australia. He composed the music for the BAFTA-award winning radio drama The glassman in collaboration with Neil Sorrell and has received awards and prizes in composition competitions in Austria, Bulgaria, Brazil, Czech Republic, France, Italy and Russia. Felipe is currently a lecturer at Universidad Austral in Chile and his music is released by the British label Sargasso


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer? 

My earliest musical memories relate to various types of popular music that one would hear over the radio in Chile in the ’70s during the dictatorship. Most of it was music from various Spanish-speaking countries and a few Italian and French songs. There was also some mainstream rock and pop from America and Europe. Later, in the mid-eighties, there was a cultural opening in Chile and several Argentinian and Chilean bands became very popular among youngsters like me. That period was important for me because I started listening to Latin-American bands and contemporary classic music, which was difficult to obtain in those years. Looking back, I believe that those years gave me an awareness of the importance of music with an honest message and also introduced me to new sounds and structures of contemporary music coming from America and Europe.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time?

There have been many composers that have been very important in my own work. Frank Zappa and King Crimson were very important in the early years mentioned above. Later Cage, Penderecki, Xenakis, Stockhausen and various European electronic music composers like Permegiani, Smalley and Ferrari. In recent years, I have been less interested in contemporary music and electroacoustic music and more attracted to composers that work on the fringes of popular and contemporary music like Brian Eno and Harold Budd.

After years attending concerts with tiny audiences at universities and modern music festivals in Denmark and England, I started to wonder if there was something wrong with contemporary and electroacoustic music, which fails to connect with audiences and also complacent composers that do not seem to care much about it. I believe today there are more interesting things happening outside academia and concert halls than inside institutions.


Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process?  What other technology, if any, do you use?

Like most people, my compositional process depends on my personal circumstances and income. I tend to work on my music whenever I have spare time and the drive to compose. There have been periods when I was able to make a living in jobs related to composition, but in most periods of my life I have worked at night and over weekends. I tend to use a computer to compose nowadays, but when I started composing I used diagrams and scores. Regarding technology, I try, if possible, to use the minimum amount of commercial software. I do not like to depend on software companies’ agendas and fashions. Nowadays I use Logic as a sequencer and Max/MPS with Metasynth to generate sounds and rhythms. 

Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip.

The idea behind my recent work Night Study No. 1 stems from a poem by Roberto Bolaño describing a night motorcycle journey across the Mexican desert: 

Our bike is the colour of the night.

Our bike is a black donkey dawning

Through lands of Curiosity.

                                                    (Roberto Bolaño)

The piece explores the nocturnal sonic landscape of urban and rural locations and is structured as a sonic journey exploring real and abstract soundscapes linked to various stages of an endless imaginary trip. The work was composed mostly using environmental recordings captured in various urban and rural locations and synthesized timbral and rhythmic material generated using gamelan sounds. 

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