The above quotation from the eminent Paracelsian author –which has inspired several artists such as Anselm Kiefer– illustrates the first great drawing in his famous treatise Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris metaphysica, physica atque technica Historia. This image intertwines the macrocosm of the whole Universe with the microcosm of the intellectual human activity, represented by the artes liberales. Avoiding mystical and superstitious connotations from Fludd’s discourse, this holistic conception of the World and its human insertion could fit indeed in Hèctor Parra’s (Barcelona, 1976) creative attitude.
The vast crucible of Parra’s musical and extra-musical influences welcomes apparently incommensurable dimensions, such as the titanic forces linked to the physics of black holes or the frail microstructure of crystal chemistry. Nevertheless, his wide variety of compositional stimuli are unitarily polarized or oriented from a humanistic point of view. On the one hand, this attitude concurs with the idea of wholeness as conceived by the magnificent physicist David Bohm. On the other hand, his fascination towards nature and emotions reflects a deep aesthetic research, which tries to bring out the fragile and contingent condition of the human being. In short, Parra’s music mirrors a holistic but brittle sight of reality, where art and science could be the main keys to enable men and women to escape from a truly fragmented and hazy context that cuts off a genuine experience of reality.
The two non-musical arts that have primarily impressed Parra’s way of composing are painting and literature. The poetry of Paul Celan and Marina Tsvetaeva has deeply impacted his soul: Strette (2003, for voice, video and electronics) and Stimmen (2008, for soprano, violin and piano) exploit the texts of the first one, who is also implicitly present in Mineral Life (2010, for percussion). More recently, his close collaboration with Marie NDiaye is allowing him to explore human frailty in a renovated way, as reflected in Moins qu’un souffle, à peine un movement de l’air (2012, for flute and ensemble) or in his impending scenic project Te craindre en ton absence (2013, for actress, electronics and ensemble), to be premiered in Paris in 2014. Moreover, visual arts have accompanied Parra’s life course from his youth, as he also learnt to paint. Consequence in composition is evident: he has hammered out several computer music tools to be able to transfer some visual rhythms and colour contrasts –mainly inspired by Paul Cézanne’s techniques– into varied musical patterns, and he has likewise conceived some pieces from scrutinizing a pictorial masterpiece. For example, “Cos de matèria" – Antoni Tàpies in memoriam (2012, for piano) honours the homonymous work of the celebrated Catalan painter.
Apart from the pictorial and literary models, Parra’s way of thinking music is intimately embedded in a complex array of recent scientific readings. Science feeds indeed his imagination in several ways: stimulating the research of novel and unexpected musical forms, breaking down many conservative prejudices that bound fictitiously the limits of a “permitted type of sound” in music, and rendering plasticity to his personal strategies to conceive and categorize original sound material and gesture. Physics appears in this context –mainly the contemporary studies which goes from Einstein’s theories to the conjectured String Theory– as the very first impulse to rethink composition from a scientific-oriented metaphor. This influence is distilled in fact in the choice of many of his titles, sometimes evoking an accurate concept in sciences, as it happens in Stress Tensor (2009-2001, for six musicians). In other cases, the scientific reference adopts a more poetic appellation: for example, a tactile utopia embraces the event horizon of black holes in Caressant l’horizon (2011, for small orchestra). Physics has even adopted a dramatic condition in his career, being part of Hypermusic Prologue (2008-09, for two singers, electronics and ensemble) with libretto of the magnificent mathematician-physicist Lisa Randall. On the other hand, Biology fits in his artistic jardin privé as the best science to interweave nature and human being. Evolution as a contingent process able to give birth to a species that has aesthetic sensibility from a mineral origin has been a fruitful analogy to consider compositional strategies in pieces such as Early Life (2010), for oboe, piano and string trio) or his Piano Sonata (2010).
In summary, Parra’s artistic project is crossed by a myriad of cultural and scientific references, but converging in a common goal: to lead the auditor in a aesthetic voyage which claims to touch and to enlarge his cognitive capacities of hearing, and understanding sound as a subtle metaphor which could express the totality of the surrounding reality.
José L. Besada (2013)