Listening Piece I or Faithfulness To Failure


In January 2013, Chilean composer Santiago Astaburuaga composed Pieza de Escucha I. Guitarrist Jon Mantxi came upon the piece (only he knows how) in June 2016. In July 2016 he asked Fernando Ulzión to play it with him. The plan was cut short by the summer. The piece was freed. A second attempt in September seemed like it might succeed. Guitarist and saxophonist met, and after hardly having read, deciphered, analysed or talked about it, without having studied it or done pretty much anything with it, they began to play it, without understanding it at all, or knowing what they were doing at all, or having any idea how far they would get with it.

In January 2013, Chilean composer Santiago Astaburuaga composed Pieza de Escucha I. This was the first of a series of five pieces he composed over a year, the “main year” of his postgraduate studies at the Escuela Nacional de Música, Universidad Nacional Autónoma, México. His thesis for a Masters in Music in Composition, 165 pages long and written in 2014, was the product of his analysis of the creation of these pieces. 

Jon Mantxi and Fernando Ulzión picked up on Pieza de Escucha I, and after a brief conversation to agree on a minimum, basic communication process and functional arrangement, they began to feel their way forward with the piece. It comprises a small palette of sounds and rules. Eight parts, six minutes long each, limited to seven multiphonics, eleven noises, eight high-pitched sounds and small parts of “listening-action” within twelve pairs of actions. A restricted language, which the musicians treat as the birth of a clumsy, stuttering language. It hardly utters, hardly sounds, can hardly be understood, hardly communicates. The musicians gradually agreed on the limited palette of sounds (which may even have seemed too large to them) until they completed it. They have the morphemes, which played in time make up the musical phrases of the piece. But they don’t understand the meaning of them, or the rules behind them, or the meaning of their order. They obey the composition of the piece to the best of their ability, but they interpret it like illiterates reading Sanskrit. The piece needs two musicians and the two musicians use the piece to play. There is a relationship between musicians and composition which may not be ideal, but is a relationship even so.

The piece will be interpreted in its entirety (around 50 minutes) on Thursday 22 December at Bulegoa (Bilbao). The piece will come to an end, and failure is a possibility, for musicians and audience. But everything that makes up a musical evening will be there: a composition which obeys a set of musical rules composed by a composer played by musicians with instruments before an audience at a venue set up for the interpretation of a piece composed by composer played by musicians with instruments before a listening audience. 


Jon Mantxi uses guitar improvisation as the basis of his practice. His solo work began in 2010, alongside his group work with Gora Japon, but has become more consistent since 2015 when he moved from the electric to the acoustic guitar and began to play regular concerts. He likes clichés and the physical aspect of guitar playing, and also enjoys playing with space and the specific situation each moment provides. He also likes to consider listener’s expectations, theatre, and casting doubt on musical virtuosity. He has played solo at Festival Zarata Fest (Bilbao) , Espacio Tangente (Burgos), Centro Huarte (Huarte, Navarra), Bizkaia Aretoa UPV-EHU (Bilbao), Festival Arto Artian (Azkoitia), Club Larraskitu (Bilbao), Azkuna Zentroa (Bilbao), Katakrak (Pamplona), Espacio Zas! (Vitoria), and other venues.

Mantxi has played with Karidadeko Benta, Gora Japon and Billy Bao; and has also played in several different improvisation-based groups such as Mattin & Quartet, Konbo Secreo, Zetangauz; and impromptu groups for particular concerts. 

Fernando Ulzión (Bilbao, 1975), who is trained/maimed as a saxophonist, began his career in music just seven years ago. His debut in 2009 was with the installation It’s tricky with visual artist Juan López Díez, presented at Ex Machina music festival with impromptu group Ñu Kids On The Mem with Sergio Llanos and Naiara Anasagasti (Bakelite duo). He returned to silence until 2012, when he brought out Ulzión (Grabaciones Redilar), a cement-covered CD which was recorded in one square metre of his living room in the flat he shares with his partner and four-year old son. In July 2013 he joined up with several of the members of Villapellejos to set up the povera rock group Los Plomos, who have played intermittently in locations such as Cerdigo, Cantabria. In November 2013, Ulzión joined M.A.G. Ensemble, directed by Miguel A. García (Xedh) with Lorea Argarate, Ibon RG, Myriam Petralanda, Mikel Vegas and Unai “Piñas”. The group presented a piece at Sala Bilborock in MEM Festival. In May 2014, he played Concierto 2000, by Oier Iruretagoiena and Loty Negarti, with Jon Mantxi, Ibon RG and the two composers. In 2014, he joined western electric pop music group La Hora del Primate (made up of members of groups such as Münsterland, Los Paniks, Inserta, RoscaChapa, Cápsula…) and recorded a single with them. In spring 2014, the urban chamber music group El Palomar, was formed as part of Zarata Fest, with Álvaro Brutus Matilla (Karpenter), Txemi Artigas (Villapellejos), Alberto López (Billy Bao) and Miguel A. García. The group first played at the Madrid edition of the festival. In 2015, Ulzión started ultrajazz band Orbain Unit with two drummers, Iker Arrazola (Akauzaste) and Joxean Rivas (Killerkume), guitarrist Mikel Vega (Killerkume) and bass player Txemi Artigas. That year, the group played at Zarata Fest, and in 2016 they brought out Repentino Records’ first reference, Suiseki. In 2016, Fernando Ulzión began his solo world tour with a single concert at Sala Sarean, Bilbao, with guitarrist Jon Mantxi. He played Qualksums, by Miguel A. García, with María Seco, Matías Riquelme, Mikel Vega, Myriam Petralanda and Mayi Martiarena at Larraskito Klub. 

Fernando Ulzión is not a musician. He is a non-musician. He is not an instrumentalist. He uses instruments. The noble nature of the alto saxophone, the contrabass saxophone. It is ignoble. Metal. Flesh. Blowing. Saliva. The tradition of music. The tradition of sound. There is no career. Almost. Noise. Almost. Nothing. Almost.

Santiago Astaburuaga, Composer of Pieza de Escucha I (Santiago de Chile, 1980).
 Composer, interpreter and researcher. From 2000 to 2012 he played bass and composed for MediaBanda, Yonhosago, Akinetón Retard, Klaine Trío and Proyecto Ensamble. Since 2010, he has been a member of the & collective, whose work focuses on the creation and interpretation of experimental scores and the translation and publication of texts. Astaburuaga has directed music workshops with autistic children and youth in Chile (2011) and Mexico (2014-2015). From 2012 to 2014 he studied for a Masters in Composition at the UNAM, Mexico DF, and is currently doing PhD research at the same university.