José Martínez: Music from things that shouldn’t be together, but are


José Martínez is an Austin-based percussionist and a composer whose main musical interest is, as he describes it, “the idiosyncratic synthesis of timbral examination, Latin American vernacular music and technology.”

For Martínez, technology is an artistic tool, and the music he creates often occupies a liminal place between electronic and acoustic.

Recently, Martínez composed the score for “Misread Signs,” a three-channel video installation by artist Yuliya Lanina on view at Grayduck Gallery. And his multimedia piece “39 Inside,” was featured at the University of Texas’ Cohen New Works Festival.

[su_pullquote]New Music Mixer, 5 to 7 p.m. May 21. Composer conversation at 6 p.m. Friends & Allies Brewing, 979 Springdale Road. Free; $1 off pints[/su_pullquote]

Martínez is the featured composer at the New Music Mixer on May 21. The free, casual monthly event, produced by KMFA 89.5 and co-sponsored by Sightlines, features emerging composers in conversation about their work.

Recipient of numerous awards, Martínez has written for noted ensembles such as Alarm Will Sound, Spanish ensemble Taller Sonoro and Grammy Award-winning quartet Third Coast Percussion, among others.

Martínez holds a degree from Universidad Nacional de Colombia in both percussion and composition, and a master’s in composition at the University of Missouri. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in composition at University of Texas Butler School of Music.

Sightlines: You were born and raised in Colombia, but as you’ve said in previous interviews, when you were growing up, you avoided Colombian popular music. Why?
José Martínez: It’s the typical syndrome of missing something once you don’t have it close to you. I was bombarded and over exposed to this traditional music and at that time, I wasn’t to fond of it. I was more interesting in finding what was happening in other areas of the music in the world. That made me explore classical music, jazz, heavy metal, and others.

Also, being a drummer always made me lean towards the more rhythmic and percussive side of music, that always kept me in that side of the rock influence. Once I moved away, many questions were asked, and the traditional and popular music that I had rejected, became a part of what have helped to develop as a musician and performer.

S: Here in the U.S., or now that you’re away from Latin America, do you feel more pressure to have your music reflect your Colombian/Latino heritage?
JM: I wouldn’t call it pressure, I would call it contribution or an act of sharing. For many, Latin America is this colorful and exotic land that has been told in fantastic stories (i.e. magical realism), or that people see in photos and videos on social media. But that’s only one side of the story.

Latin American heritage is one that comes with struggle but overall, persistence. I am happy to share in my music both aspects of that heritage. My music is populated with reinterpretations of ideas from one style onto another — things that shouldn’t be together are put against each other and react.

How would you define your own musical style and how might we hear your influences in your music?
JM: I like to think of myself as being able to jump around multiple music genres. I like to use whatever I have at hand whether tonal, atonal, beat oriented, experimental. I take what I need. In my music you can hear salsa music in many places, but also influence from Latin American literature, as well as modern approaches to orchestral instruments. For example, to me the Fania All Stars is equally important than Boulez, et al. And yes, they belong to two different worlds, but I belong to both of them.

What are you working on and what do you have coming up next? Do you have dream project you hope to compose someday?
Right now, I am revising a recent multimedia piece that was recently performed during the Cohen New Works Festival at UT. The piece is titled “39 Inside” and deals with the complicated topic of undocumented migration across the U.S.-Mexico border. The piece tells an imagined story of an actual event that happened in San Antonio during the summer of 2017 when a truck was found with 39 undocumented migrants inside. It’s a collaboration for chamber ensemble, electronics, video, and dance.

The dream project is a one-man solo show that I am currently working on that will feature me as composer, performer, and programmer. This one-hour long show looks to put together music with Afro-Caribbean influences, technology, dance, and contemporary music.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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