Julio Estrada: Mexico’s Musical Mad Scientist

Julio Estrada, the 74 year-old music historian, theorist and composer from Mexico City has a reputation for being a widely diverse pioneer in the world of modern music. Apart from being one of Mexico’s few living composers of art music, he is credited for writing several books and developing unique music software. I personally like to describe characters like Estrada as “musicians for the modern world” and this blog will explore what the music from this kind of mind sounds like.
Grasping Estrada’s music become much easier when you take a step back and look at his other work. His software development lends many clues to what kinds of sounds Estrada was interested in creating with his music. “Eua’oolin” was an idea created by Estrada to be able to electronically edit pitch resolutions to an extreme degree. Altering pitches by 1/3 to 1/8 tones was made possible thanks to “eua’oolin.” Obviously, these kinds of changes to pitch is not something we deal with on almost any basis when discussing traditional western harmony. Knowing this you can probably guess that Estrada was interested in sounds that stretch the typical boundaries heard within typical art music.
Much of Estrada’s work is highly experimental and completely atonal in nature. To take a closer look at his sounds, I chose a rather early work of Estrada’s as an introduction that is a bit easier on the ears. Estrada’s 1960 Suite for piano is the composer’s earliest notable work and is only 2 minutes long. However, Estrada manages to clearly demonstrate his sonic interests in this short amount of time. The work is in an “ABA” type of form with the main focus point placed the “B” section. The opening “A” section is a fast and energetic dance-like passage lasting only about 30 seconds. It is primarily tonal in nature with the counterpoint embellishing the main melody instead of shying away from it. The “B” section is rather oddly formed into three small sections that contrast greatly from the “A” part. The small portions within the “B” section are mostly atonal and project the feeling of music created using pitch class sets. Other music by Estrada that I have observed so far project the type of tonal structure found in this “B” section. The second “A” section marks the return of the opening march-like theme which sounds, sonically, at least, exactly the same as the first “A” section.
Estrada’s music dives much deeper into experimental realms after he writes this first piano piece. I find Suite, however, to be a perfect representation of what Estrada’s work is all about and ultimately what can be expected from his later works.

-Nathan Black

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