Javier Alvarez/Mexico

A puro chanfle (2006) 8’30”

The children play ball outside. The dog barks, oblivious of the iguana which crawls a few feet away. Dazzled by the tropical heat, my eyes seem to roll inside my head and, as I hear the constant bouncing of the football, I try to keep awake and hold my attention to the Chivas vs. Pumas game on TV which is now coming to a close. But the sounds of the melting afternoon give way to a strange mix in my head: I dream of goals and chanting, grains of memories which turn like footballs soaring across the horizon.


In the words of composer John Adams, “The music of Javier Alvarez reveals influences of popular cultures that go beyond the borders of our own time and place.” Alvarez is probably the best internationally known Mexican composer of his generation and is renowned for his electro acoustic music, although many of the instrumental works in his prolific oeuvre combine the intricacies of computer music with diverse instruments and influences from around the world.

Born in Mexico, he studied clarinet and composition before moving to the United States in 1980 and then to Great Britain, where he attended the Royal College of Music and the City University in London. Among his works with electronic elements is Asi el acero (1987), which offers an intriguing mix of a Caribbean steel pan and electronically generated rhythmic patterns. His Mannam (1992), winner of the 1993 Prix Ars Electronica, takes its inspiration from the other side of the globe and the ancient Korean zither, kayagum. Here, Alvarez blends and juxtaposes elements of Korean music with materials and performance techniques drawn from the Mexican folk harp.

A number of Alvarez’s works incorporate sonic elements from Latin American music, like the mambo. In Mambo a la Braque (1991), he creates an electro acoustic collage of musical segments drawn from Cuban mambo composer Dámaso Perez Prado’s “Caballo Negro” (Black Horse). On a larger scale, Alvarez’s Papalotl (1987), for piano and electroacoustic sounds, makes reference to the wider world of dance through its use of a vast amount of rhythmic patterns in a carefully synchronized duet between pianist and tape. The resulting toccata won its composer the 1987 ICEM Prize in France as well as awards from the Bourges International Festival and Austria’s Prix Ars Electronica.

In 1993 Alvarez was awarded a fellowship by the Mexican Endowment for the Arts and Culture which he held until 1999. He has also received the Mendelssohn Scholarship, the Lionel Robbins Award and a Gemini Fellowship. Alvarez lives in England, where he is active as a freelance composer and animateur. He has been Chairperson for Sonic Arts Network and Artistic Director of the Society for the Promotion of New Music, and he has taught composition and computer music technology at the Royal College of Music, the Guildhall School of Music, and the Malmö Music Academy in Sweden. Alvarez’s music has won performances from, amongst others, Lontano, the Los Angeles Philarmonic New Music Group, Music Projects London, L’Itinéraire, the London Sinfonietta, and the Chicago Symphony New Music Ensemble. He is currently working on composition projects which include works for the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, for Ictus Ensemble in Belgium and for the Orchestre Nationale de France. He is currently Head of the Musical Arts Department at the Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatan in Mexico. ©Beth Levy 2005

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