photos from john butcher and cepro music’s performance of fixations and the open road – mexico city, october 5th 2016

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John Butcher performing his composition Fixations and The Open Road with CEPRO Music in Mexico City, October 5th 2016

There’s a running quip in Mexico at the moment. If tragedy were to transpire, and Donald Trump won the presidency – those poor Americans. They’d be on the wrong side of the wall. I’ve been in the country for almost a year. There is truth to these words. We arrived in Mexico City in December, on what was intended to be a short stay – a momentary break from our lives, and in my case, a period to focus on writing without the drain of a 9-5. By the end of the first day, we knew it would be hard to leave. Unfolding before us was a city of profound beauty, culture, color, chaos, and sound.

 

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Roxana Mendoza of CEPRO Music, performing John Butcher’s Fixations and The Open Road. Mexico City, October 5th 2016

Over the last twenty years, (though not without struggle) I’ve led what can only be acknowledged as a lucky life. After leaving my parents rural home, I’ve lived in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and London, all before the suffocating grip of gentrification had taken hold. One of the great sadnesses of my life, has been watching the culture, wonderful people, and beauty of the cities I’ve loved, choked from them and sterilized, as they’re transformed into playgrounds for the super rich. My arrival in Mexico City sent me tumbling back to all the of the reasons why I had moved to a city in the first place – particularity of the New York I had known in my teenage years. Though not without its inevitable problems, this city should serve as a counterpoint and reminder of what has gone wrong in so much of the world, and what makes life such a wonderful thing. It is place of people and life, of beauty, history and culture – where music fills the streets and the arts are part of daily life, where even those condemned to the most abject poverty approach their lives with celebration and joy. An artisanal coffee is a far cry from that!

 

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Audience at John Butcher and CEPRO Music’s performance of Fixations and The Open Road. Mexico City, October 5th 2016

Shortly after arriving, we began to immerse ourselves in Mexico’s avant-garde music community, and form friendships within it. I found myself shocked – not only by its scale, diversity, ambition, and substantial audience, but by its character, and the fact that something like this could exist without the world beyond being aware of it. Of course avant-garde and experimental music is reasonably obscure. It rarely draws much attention, but those who count themselves members of its community are passionate and well informed. It’s small. Staying abreast of its international extensions is reasonably easy. Despite this, the remarkable sounds issuing from Mexico remain largely unknown – lost in one sided isolation. Practitioners and fans are well informed, possessing a wide reaching understanding of the history of the avant-garde practice, with its contemporary realities, forced into conjunction with cultural specificity, individual expression, and distilled in a land hidden from view. The results are remarkable and unique, operating with a mechanism of internal support with few parallels. No idiom is favored. Shows take place in a wide range of venues (from institution, to living room, and everywhere in between) almost nightly. Unlike most international contexts, generally operating with an even spit between recordings and concerts, there are almost no documents creeping from the city. It is live, and next to nothing else. On one evening you might encounter a group of individuals improvising under equal billing, and the next the same group coming together to help realize the score of a friend. There are few prominent names or inflated egos. It is a world of collective support. Those looking to draw attention to themselves, or find personal gain, are usually viewed with suspicion, if not outright disdain. The music comes first.

 

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Juan Garcia of CEPRO Music, performing John Butcher’s Fixations and The Open Road. Mexico City, October 5th 2016

One of the first people we met was contrabass player named Juan Garcia. We soon learned that he was a member of Centro de Experimentación y Producción de Música (CEPRO Music) – a state funded orchestra for the performance of avant-garde music, both historic and new. I was amazed. Such things are rare anywhere in the world. That Mexico was willing to assert and support the value of this music, proved how little the world beyond its borders knew. Shortly after meeting Juan, he mentioned that CEPRO was performing works by Iannis Xenakis and György Ligeti at Palacio de Bellas Artes – a stunning Art Deco / Art Nouveau (it took so long to build because of the Mexican Revolution, that it spans both styles) interdisciplinary arts center. I was thrilled. Not only are works by two of my favorite composers rare to see in any circumstances, but at a ticket cost of roughly $1, it put the rest of the world to shame. I rushed down on the day with excited glee, only to be met by a nodding finger at the ticket desk. It had been sold out for hours. I was crushed. Then it stuck me. In all the years I had attended classical music performances of Twentieth Century works, I couldn’t remember a single one being sold out – certainly not at a venue of this scale. Something was going on in Mexico, that wasn’t happening anywhere else. There was a substantial audience for challenging sounds.

 

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CEPRO Music, performing John Butcher’s Fixations and The Open Road. Mexico City, October 5th 2016

Over the time I’ve been in Mexico City, I’ve been photographing its experimental and avant-garde music scene – while learning as much as I can about its current realizations and history. The plan has always been to write about both at length, attempting to draw it into the light and help bring it the attention it deserves. One of the first things you learn about Mexico, is that things move slow. It’s hard to nail down a time to talk to people. What in other places might take a few days to arrange, might take a year. For this reason, my ambitions have been slow to progress.

 

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John Butcher performing his composition Fixations and The Open Road with CEPRO Music in Mexico City, October 5th 2016

Last week, the English legend of Free-Improvisation, John Butcher arrived to develop and perform a new work with CEPRO Music. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to begin alerting the outside world of what’s happening here. I’m a huge fan of Butcher. I’ve seen him play dozens of times, and in my view, almost no one brings what he does. He is a remarkable and singular artist and player. The performance of Fixations and The Open Road took place at Laboratorio Arte Alameda, a stunning converted 16th century church and monastery, with acoustics like a dream (roughly a full five seconds of decay). It was overwhelming, clocking in at two hours of carefully articulated structure and outright sonic assault. It was unlike anything I have ever heard from Butcher in the past – with performers and audience drifting among each other in a tangled knot. It was an astounding work, and a triumph for its composer – the results of which I am not soon to forget. It was directed by José Luis Castillo, and performed by John Butcher, Diego Morabito, Rolando Cantu, Diego Cajas, Luis Mora, Ventsislav Spirov, Jeffery Rogers, Orlando Aguilar, Juan Gabriel Hernandez, Gonzalo Gutierrez, Rafael Machado, Carlos Lot, Carla Benitez, Leonardo Chavez, Alena Stryuchkova, Roxana Mendoza, and Juan Jose Garcia.

These are some of the photos I took over the course of the performance. Though far from capturing the experience, I hope you enjoy them, and that they offer a window into the wonderful world of CEPRO Music, and manage to hint at the incredible things happening in Mexico City today.

-Bradford Bailey

 

 

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The annotated score for John Butcher’s Fixations and The Open Road

 

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One thought on “photos from john butcher and cepro music’s performance of fixations and the open road – mexico city, october 5th 2016

  1. What a great article. Brought back good memories for me. I’m from London but I lived and worked in DF for a couple of years (2006-7, and 2012-13), and I was always fascinated by its energy. I felt like I was stumbling upon and discovering new places every day. Sadly, being caught up in work meant I never knew about CEPRO when I was there but it’s really interesting to read about these sounds coming from DF

    Like

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