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Interview with Gustavo Moretto (Alas)

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disquesplusqueréel View Drop Down
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    Posted: October 18 2022 at 01:42

Interview with Gustavo Moretto (Alas): The Pinta Tu Aldea years (by George Rossolatos)

GR: Can you describe and give us examples of how the abstract musical themes of Pinta Tu Aldea match their respective song titles? In other words, what sort of associations were made between text and music?

GM: The first composition in that album is called “A Nuestros Amigos” (“To Our Friends”). I thought of calling it “To Our Fans” but I found that idea to be too self-conscious and the word “fan” was not used that much in Spanish at that time.

The music was calculated to completely overwhelm the audience with raw power and energy at the very beginning of the concert. I still remember feeling somewhat embarrassed by the calculated purpose of that musical idea. Ironically, some followers today refer to that music as the best-ever by the group. I disagree. But it did its job.

The second one, “Pinta tu Aldea” (“Paint You Own Village”) was taken from a quote by Leo Tolstoy that famously said: “If you want to be universal start by painting your own village”. 

What I like about that name is that we musically “painted” Buenos Aires as it really was at that moment: a mix between tango (especially Astor Piazolla), jazz and progressive rock. Tango was a folkloric component of the music in Buenos Aires but most young people were listening to prog bands coming from Europe and the US, and many wonderful local ones. This city has always been, and is, very cosmopolitan in its outlook.

“La Caza del Mosquito” is a humorous musical moment. It translates to:  “The Mosquito Hunt” and it echoes the fast, wavy melody that keeps coming back in different harmonizations and orchestrations (like the final slow version with four flutes harmonizing the main theme).

Humor is something rare in music nowadays and even more in the 70’s (I’m not referring to lyrics but to the music itself). There are some wonderful humorous tangos from the 40’s and 50’s but it was not an element you would hear in the Prog Rock scene. The absurdity of the “lalala” screams we included in the recording of that tune just shows the freedom I felt when composing that album.

Since it was supposed to be a mosquito hunt, we included a barely audible slap that represents the demise of that mosquito.

Finally, the name “Silencios de Aguas Profundas” has, perhaps, the most absurd origin. I don’t remember if the tune had a name when we recorded it. It most certainly was not intended to be that name. The idea behind that composition was to contrast a very oneiric melody, charged with nostalgia, then followed by a highly active central section creating the strongest possible contrast. I wanted to reverse the fast-slow-fast format of many of my compositions and compose a slow-fast-slow structure.

What happened was that when the album was published there still wasn’t a name for that composition, so our EMI producer thought of a name that was descriptive of the impression it created on him. The translation of the name is something like: “Silences of the Deep Waters”. I cringed when I later saw that name but there was nothing I could do about it since I was already in the US occupied on very different musical landscapes.

GR: How did the transition from mega-group, filling entire stadiums between 1976 and 1978 to pursuing ‘normal’ jobs after you disbanded for the first time feel like? Was it a shock or a smooth transition? What did you do after disbanding? How did you fill the existential gap, since Alas was by that time a big part of your personal and social identity?

GM: Very insightful question. After dissolving Alas, I actually worked for the first time as a freelance musician. I was well known enough to play with excellent musicians like Ruben Rada (Uruguayan legend) and Alejandra Martin (great jazz singer). I eventually grew tired of the night- life those gigs required since performances with Alas were mostly at theatre-like schedules, whereas those freelance gigs went well into the night.

I also did not feel like the music I was playing was as satisfying as the one I composed myself. I do consider myself primarily a composer and my performing is just a medium for me to express my musical ideas. Being a freelance musician was not what I dreamed when I was a younger musician.

That explains why I got a Doctorate degree in classical composition from Columbia University (NY) a few years later.

GR: What was the response by the press when you disbanded?

GM: It is important to remember that at the moment of our separation we were under an internal war and progressive groups were considered insubordinate and suspicious.

There was a real buzz when I left the country. It was mentioned by several main newspapers and today it makes me feel truly sad that I may have contributed to a sense of hopelessness in the midst of what was happening.

GR: Was there a difference in your audiences’ reactions during live performances between the debut album and the more eclectic listening experience of Pinta Tu Aldea?

GM: Alas had always had very strong reactions from the audience. From the very beginning we knew we had a very enthusiastic group of fans. We grew so accustomed to the audience’s loud reactions that we were disappointed if we didn’t see people stand up and give an ovation at the end of tunes or concerts. At the end of a very important concert where we played with three famous bandoneon players, people walked out of the theatre singing a soccer chant that is used to expresses excitement and satisfaction. I did not notice a significant difference between the material in the first and second album because in our performances we mixed the material from both. The exception to that was when we started playing “A Nuestros Amigos” since that composition was my idea of grabbing the audience’s attention from the get-go. 

GR: Many musicians in mid-70s Argentina faced threats, persecution and exile from the oppressive regime that was ruling at that time.  Were you ever harassed by that regime and if yes in what ways? Sabotage, propaganda, strict controls over your social environment, interventions to your artistic vision?

GM: I didn’t personally face threats. More than once I came close to being killed by just being late at night with three other musicians inside a car, something the police and army were wary about because it could have been a guerrilla group.

Fear of being killed at random by a police officer was very serious, but it happened mostly to those that lived non-traditional lives. Many 9 to 5 life-style people never saw anything of what was happening. And denial was rampant.

GR: Alas retained their momentum and fandom many years after disbanding in the late 70s, while you have been regularly performing ever since. Can you share with us your recollections from some of your most memorable performances? How would you compare audiences’ reception between the 70s and later periods?

GM: I think that Alas was remembered by our fans and was a reference for a new generation of musicians in Argentina. Having said that, I don’t think Alas kept the momentum it had during the 70’s or was present in people’s minds through the 80’s and 90’s. When international references about Alas first appeared during the early 2,000’s I was totally surprized, never expecting to hear about the group again.

GR: Can you give us a timeline with major milestones about your musical undertakings from the early 80s until today? How did you engage with music, allegedly a major part of your lives?

GM: Most people don’t know that I became interested in the composition of classical music. I studied for a bachelor’s degree at the New England Conservatory and went on to earn full scholarships at Berkley University of California and Columbia University in New York. I chose Columbia University since it was in New York. Those were very intense years of my total immersion in the language of contemporary 20th century music. I went on to earn a Guggenheim Scholarship and had my works performed in various cities and venues in the US.

I also formed a Septet and a Quartet. With the last formation I recorded an album called “Yo Me Acuerdo Buenos Aires” that is available on the web.

GR: Have you been keeping track of the neo-prog scene and more recent genres such as prog metal? Any bands that you like in particular?

GM: Not really. My incursion on the prog scene was the result of the ability I got from that period to mix music from different styles. Jazz, classical music, tango were my sources of interest and inspiration. Musicians like Hermeto Pascoal and Egberto Gismonty were always important references for me.

GR: In retrospect, how does it feel like having been actively involved in some of the most important acts of the Argentinean scene such as Alas, Alma Y Vida, Anacrusa, Materia Gris and having collaborated with some of its most renowned musicians and composers?

GM: I can look back now and feel proud to have been a protagonist in one of the most interesting periods of music in the 20th century. I’m particularly proud for not overusing stylistic traits from that period giving my music a chance to remain relevant after all this time.

GR: Given that prog music is making a spectacular comeback, would you consider reuniting even for one show? Have you received any invitations for playing in any of Europe’s or America’s major prog festivals? Or you feel more comfortable with acoustic performances in more lo-fi venues?

GM: Alas could only exist with an absolute dedication and very hard work. It took everything we had when we were in our twenties and it would take the same, if not more, at this stage of our lives. It’s just not realistic to expect that kind of effort when each of us is busy with many things in life.

GR: What are your impressions from the recent re-release of Pinta Tu Aldea by PQR-Disques plusqueréel, at last with a normal back cover?

GM: We are proud and happily surprised to see our album coming back to life. You guys have made an outstanding job at re-releasing our vinyl version of what was always a vinyl conception of our work. We are very grateful.

GR: Many 70s bands have been reuniting recently, to reclaim their laurels, but also produce new material. Is this something you might consider, especially now that 2 of the main members of the original line-up live nearby in Buenos Aires? Even as an unfulfilled plan, how would you approach prog nowdays? What would you do differently, being situated in a compositional milieu that is dominated by computers and infinite editing possibilities? Can you give us examples from the production of your 70s albums where you faced significant difficulties in attaining the desired result, and how these would not have been present if you were recording them today?

GM: We had the chance of doing just that when we reunited in 2003 to 2005 in an acoustic version of the music. It was an awesome experience and it did justice to the reputation we had as a band.

GR: How would you respond to those who wish to sever any ties with the past and reinvent the musical wheel, thus forcing important artists into obliteration?

GM: Every artist should feel free to pursue his/her own vision of the past and the future. Freedom of thought and journey is what makes an artist special.

GR: Buenos Aires has always been a metropolitan city, and a haven of cultural production. What sort of cultural influences, across the arts spectrum, were instrumental for you in the selection and inscription into your audio and textual output?

GM: My mother was a pianist and composer of contemporary 20th century music. Jazz was and is very important in Buenos Aires. Rock became a kind of local folklore with the first groups singing in Spanish and the boom of the 70’s. Buenos Aires is a very cosmopolitan city that has always been motivated by the best music and art coming from the rest of the world.

GR: Do you believe that terms like ‘rock nacional’ are pertinent in an increasingly globalized milieu where artforms like K-POP or J-POP target local output to international audiences? Could such a positioning route be envisaged for, say, AR-prog?   

GM: Absolutely. Argentinean rock bands have become the voice of the country, transcending the dedicated, specialized audiences that used to be the early followers of that music.

Edited by disquesplusqueréel - October 18 2022 at 01:48
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moshkito View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2022 at 04:14

A very nice interview that showed the ability and knowledge of this artist and his "trip" through various places and time, to get this far. His wide view of things and consequent understanding is excellent and something that is rare to find in musicians that come to understand their work in regard to themselves, as opposed to the "fans" and any other idea.

One of the things that some American folks can not exactly relate to is how in many places around the world, the artists, writers, painters, and musicians end up being "the voice of the people" through their art, even if, at the time, they did not exactly mean to do just that. It still became a strong voice and hearing him talk about the fear and that maniacal way that the conquistadores still rule Latin America, is something that a lot of people around the world do not quite see. In other places in this world, that element, or segment of society is completely taken out, and very visible in film, and music from many other places.

I, myself, am a writer, and I tend to follow my inner instincts, and it does not have a rhyme or a reason, or any ideas ... it just is ... and has a life of its own. I often say that I merely translate that movie as fast as I can to show it ... and yeah, ... embarrassing to me in funny ways when someone asks me if this is about this or that or some societal comment or other. At times, I don't even know how to respond ... it's like you are taking the value of your inner sight out of the equation ... it's a part of you in some way I suppose but not in some kind of reflection that is pointed to mean ... some kind of idea that it isn't.

One can only hope that this gentleman can continue putting together more material ... that album seems to be really nice, and I would love to hear more of it. 

Edited by moshkito - October 22 2022 at 10:25
Music is not just for listening ... it is for LIVING ... you got to feel it to know what's it about! Not being told!
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