We put a lot of focus on artistic exchange all over the world and it is certainly one of the reasons why I started CMMAS 15 years ago. Composers, performers, musicologists, creative people come to work here for a few months or a few weeks, then they also teach, do performances and community work around the centre. These interactions help our own students a lot, too.
Rodrigo Sigal introduces us to the Centro Mexicano para la Música y las Artes Sonoras – CMMAS, a network for contemporary music in Morelia, Mexico. With concerts, festivals, courses, residencies and much more it takes a large part in the vibrant musical scene of Morelia. In the interview he speaks about the different programmes, technological development and the lacking support by the Mexican government.
Fifteen years ago you founded CMMAS. What were your initial intentions and how have they changed over the years?
When I first founded CMMAS in Morelia in 2005, the idea was to create a public institution with funding from the national government and the state government of Michoacán, which would provide other institutions, universities and research centres and artists in general with studio spaces and knowledge, with access to tools and materials, to our library and courses, but would also release CDs and publish journals.
We began by providing spaces to other music programmes in the city, like the conservatory, the state university and the national university. Over the years it became a studio space and eventually we had seven studios, where artists from Mexico and abroad could work, use our tools and even get grants. We also started our Acercamientos Sonoros, “sound gatherings”, where kids from underserved communities or schools could learn how technology works and how to use their own mobile tools as an expressive resource.
Eleven people currently work for CMMAS. How is the organisation structured and what are the main areas of work?
At the moment we are eleven, but this has changed over the years; there were times when we were only five or six, then there was a period where we were up to 38 people. The idea of CMMAS is very flexible. We continue with our main programme, but we have to adapt to the funding and programmes that change every year.
Our main area of work is in fostering creativity with our studio spaces. After that comes education: providing courses, graduate and postgraduate programmes with the national university and another private university, our diploma and our online services at CMMAS.com, where people can also take our courses. We also publish CDs, books and journals, in both digital and physical formats. Finally we have our own series of concerts every Friday, either virtual or in person, and every September we have the Visiones Sonoras festival, which has been running annually for 16 years now.
CMMAS has been releasing Ideas Sónicas, a biannual magazine on electroacoustic music, sound art, and technology with many acclaimed contributors, since 2008. Who do you wish to reach with this publication and how is it distributed?
We are currently finishing work on the new issue, which will mark thirteen years of our journal. Each issue is available for free online or can be ordered in print via our online shop. The articles are mainly written in Spanish, English and Portuguese and sometimes French. Each issue is put together by a different guest editor. The aim of Ideas Sónicas is to provide artists, universities and institutions in Latin America with sources of research and articles on music technology. We have had hundreds of different guest authors discussing everything from general issues on computer music and composition, to topics such as Caribbean electroacoustic music, drum and bass, and beat based music.
CMMAS has created a degree about technologies in interpretation and composition in collaboration with the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) Faculty of Music. What was your role in the process?
National University of Mexico UNAM, which is the biggest in Latin America as far as I know, decided to start a music technology programme in Morelia with us five years ago. Alongside running CMMAS, I am also a full time professor at the university. I created the content of this undergraduate programme, Music and Artistic Technology, with the help of other professors. Today we have students doing their Masters and PhDs based on this joint venture.
CMMAS also offers artist residency programmes. How many musicians and composers visit each year and what do you look for in applicants?
We have been offering residencies for years now. 2020 was of course a very atypical year, but we used to have 20 to 30 residencies every year, sometimes up to 50 with collectives or several artists working at the same time. We also used to have up to seven studios. Now we are down to three, due to the pandemic and the lack of funding. We have multichannel studios and also one studio with video facilities for artists to work on projects with a visual counterpart. You can find information on all the residencies, where they came from and what they worked on at CMMAS, in our archive.
The call for residencies is always open to everyone and can run from three weeks to a full year. People can just get in touch with us or apply via our website. Depending on funding, the application process might take a little longer at times. We have collaborations with the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Council, the Goethe Institute, the Japan Foundation, and many other institutions in the US, Argentina, Costa Rica, Chile and Ecuador, who send artists to CMMAS at least once or twice a year.
Can you tell us a bit about your city and the cultural life of Morelia? What role does CMMAS play in the local musical landscape?
A couple of years ago, the city of Morelia became an UNESCO Music City, because of the powerful musical culture here. It is a very vibrant place and in terms of music, maybe after Mexico City—which is just three hours away—one of the most interesting places in the country by far. Not only of course for contemporary music, but there are several universities, the La Rosa conservatory, which is the oldest music teaching institution in the continent, and at least five or six music festivals, including one of the biggest classical music festivals in Latin America, the Morelia Miguel Bernal Jiménez Music Festival, where I am also part of the programming committee, a guitar festival, an organ festival, and of course our Visiones Sonoras contemporary music and computer music festival. But there is a lot of traditional music, folk, popular music, jazz—so it is a very powerful music scene in Morelia.
Your organization puts a lot of focus on artistic exchange, on both a continental and an international level. What do you want CMMAS’s role in this to be?
We put a lot of focus on artistic exchange all over the world and it is certainly one of the reasons why I started CMMAS 15 years ago. Composers, performers, musicologists, creative people come to work here for a few months or a few weeks, then they also teach, do performances and community work around the centre. These interactions help our own students a lot. Artistic exchange through residencies creates connections and we have many success stories of students meeting composers here and going on to do their postgraduate degrees with them in other countries. Others create their own collectives here and present their work in a concert or a CD at the end of their stay.
There is a big difference between institutional culture (museums, orchestras) and independent culture (independent musicians, composers, etc.) in Germany. Do you also see this distinction? How do you experience the relationship between institutions and the independent scene?
There is, of course, a difference between institutional and independent culture, because orchestras or museums belong to the state. CMMAS is different, because we are a public institution but also receive private funding. In that sense we are a link between public institutions funded by the government and independent artists that don’t have access to technical or other assistance. CMMAS is like a research centre that allows artists to make this connection between both ‘cultures’.
Our position between the institutions and the independent scene is always tough and we struggle. But we’ve been working hard in trying to get festivals going and provide local, national, and international artists from the independent scene the opportunity to participate in our concerts. That also means that they curate their own concerts—we just give them the equipment, technical support, and sometimes funding for accommodation and travel expenses. We never get involved as curators ourselves. Of course, some people, including myself, may not always like the result, but that doesn’t matter. What we get out of it is a community that is interested in presenting what they are doing, and getting involved.
You recently launched a new programme called CMMAS+. Is this programme your approach to continuing your work during the pandemic?
We have been running our very successful summer diploma for the past seven years. Artists, mainly from Latin America, sometimes from the US and Canada, were invited to take part in very intensive courses for a few weeks between June and August, concluding with a concert.
Of course, during the pandemic people are not travelling anymore, so we decided to move everything online. We launched CMMAS+, an online system, where people can present their results, have one-to-one classes with their teachers and much more. We developed courses especially for CMMAS+ in collaboration with professors and present a new course every month, with 15 more already lined up. Everything is being translated into English, alongside Spanish, so that people from all over the world can get a subscription. We will continue to develop CMMAS+ in order to offer tools to artists who can’t access this information anywhere else. Everything is also a lot cheaper online, so it will allow us to generate some income and to continue accomplishing our mission.
How else has the pandemic affected your work?
The pandemic has affected us in many ways. The facilities have been empty for months, we have just switched to working from home, and we have had to close a couple of studios. But the biggest problem we’ve been struggling with is not receiving our public funding for 2020. We are adapting for 2021 with CMMAS+ and other initiatives with the university to be able to keep working on a more project-based system, without people coming to the studios every day. Whenever in-person work is possible again, hopefully by March or April, we will reopen our studios.
Have you had any government aid to offset the restrictions caused by the Corona crisis? If so, what kind of assistance have you been given and how well is it working?
No, on the contrary! The Mexican government decided to cut all the funding for centres like ours. Instead of giving us support to be able to keep working, we’ve lost 100% of our funding for 2020 and 2021. They have just told us that the money for 2020 is cancelled, which is already too late at the end of the year, and that we won’t have any funding for 2021 either. They have decided to put all of the money to other things. Culture in Mexico during the Corona pandemic and in general has been a nightmare and there has been zero support as well as a lot of bad decisions. CMMAS is actually struggling quite a lot.
Which artistic perspectives and issues do you think will occupy art and culture professionals over the coming years?
The main point is we will have to adapt. I think the first semester next year is part of a survival process. As soon as we are able to do things in-person again, students will return to our studios, professors will teach and present concerts and hopefully everything is going to return to how it was with grants from other countries and artists. But we are not going to go back to the same process. We will have to adapt with our hybrid programme of people working from home, cutting expenses and being much more efficient in the use of the little money we can get. It’s going to be a very, very big change, but hopefully also a good opportunity for us to update our way of working. Our festival in September will be hybrid as well, and our concerts and courses, what our students, artists and general audience need from us, is going to move online. In that sense it is also a good move.
What formats and potentials have you seen emerging from the current situation that might point to how we will work in the future?
As I was saying, there will be hybrid formats. All of our new books are published for free as E-books and we are moving our journal online as well. But what we get from the artists is also increasingly digital. We have already had a couple of proposals for next year from artists working remotely, who need CMMAS to generate content with high-quality production and streaming possibilities. So we envision a way to support artists on the technical side, through teaching, streaming, and monetizing their work on our own platform CMMAS.com. We are working hard, and hopefully that effort is going to pay off in the next few months.
From your perspective, what might the art and culture scene look like in a post-Corona society? What do you hope it will look like and how do we get there?
It’s similar to the previous question but more long term. I think places like ours have to adapt, because bricks-and-mortar spaces are going to be less relevant. If we want to keep CMMAS as a public institution, I need to be very efficient in terms of working remotely and providing artists and students as well as the general audience with content that is completely unique. In that sense, the Corona pandemic is pushing us towards being more creative with our content: unique teaching, that is not just normal Youtube content, unique courses, with our technical staff providing assistance for artists all over the world, and unique online concerts that you can listen to with multichannel systems, maybe even 3D virtual reality concerts that actually get the audience involved and engaged. The Internet is so crowded nowadays, everyone has so many options and concerts to choose from, that we have to provide something completely relevant and unique. Maybe it won’t be that often, not every week, but a concert every month that is completely unmissable—that is what we are aiming for and what our work should look like post-Corona in my perspective.
Finally, I would like to thank you for this opportunity! I’m very, very happy to be able to take part in this interview. Promoting what we do in a journal like this and reaching multiple spaces around the world is something that could really, really help CMMAS into next year!
karlheinz #24 special | contemporary music networks
Still we keep the distance, wear masks and stay in isolation – almost everywhere in the world. Also #24 of our karlheinz remains digital and the empty event-calendar screams “Stay at home”. How can we keep building connections, get closer and bridge the gap? In this issue we try to broaden our perspective by reaching out to different initiatives of contemporary music around the world: Morelia, Ljubljana, Saint Petersburg, Auckland. In elaborate interviews we share their views on experimental music, the independent scene and the current situation – across the distance.