Issue: Winter 2005
The Hearbeat of the Earth
Written by Sonja Horoshko
Photos by Heather Leavitt
ďMusic, to me, doesnít have genre. Itís what it is at the time. Itís like listening to a person speaking. Itís you and how it affects you, what you do with it. Itís a very beautiful experience. The more you listen, the more you listen, the more you listen. It isnít the genre itís you.Ē
Juantio Becenti is a composer. He clicks on selections from the music library on his Apple laptop screen, excerpting phrasing digressions he recently found while listening to the work of Bartok, Beethoven and Shostakovich.
ďThe example from each composer is not typical anything. Yet when I listen, itís clear what theyíre trying to communicate. They do it so effectively, very late in their careers at the time when they go introspective. I suppose they were on their own path, branched off, exploring their own self,Ē Becenti says.
Who better to empathize with another personís own path than Becenti? At age eleven he knew that his life work was to compose classically informed contemporary music. It was a rare and lonely epiphany. He had little access to a piano, no supportive academic environment, no symphony, manuscript library, musicians or nearby choral groups. How could he know? Where did he listen? How did he write without the basic structure, tools and architecture of the composerís art?
ďIt happened when I heard some classical music on radio when we went to town.Ē
The music engaged him intellectually and emotionally, so he ordered discs by mail, playing them on a boom box. As he studied the music, his desire to compose exploded, clarified. He began composing by hand, writing on manuscript paper, graphed and printed where he could get it, in a computer class.
ďI have boxes full of manuscripts I wrote when I was younger. Recently, Iíve not felt as productive [as then] because I donít have the handwritten manuscripts any longer. But then I realized that I do, itís just that I store them on the computer now.Ē
Support for Becentiís work was found in Cortez by 1997. Pianos became accessible and the solitude of studio space was offered. Two years later, his first string quartet was published as a computer-generated manuscript, using a recycled 1991 PC installed with a Finale composition program. The score was mailed to Michael Barrett in New York City, Director of the Moab Music Festival, who made it possible for Becentiís music to be played publicly for the first time.
When Becenti stood before the Moab Music Festival String Quartet that fall, his score open on the music stand, he was guest conducting his own composition, hearing his music for the first time outside himself. He was fifteen years old. The musicians asked him to clarify the original intent of the precise tempo. He thanked them for the question, replying simply that the tempo is, ďthe heartbeat of the earth.Ē
He acknowledges the heartbeat of the earth in all his compositions.
ďItís for that energy that I keep doing this. Itís my attempt to understand, through earnest work, that level of being human.Ē
The following year, The Arizona String Quartet recorded, Hane, Becentiís second string quartet, in Walden, Vermont, and his third string quartet premiered by invitation at the 53rd Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado in 2001. (see, Winds of Change, Autumn 2001, pp 22- 24.)
Today, Becenti writes with respect of that heartbeat on his laptop, a Powerbook G4. It goes everywhere with him, making it possible to compose, store and publish his work anywhere. The immediacy of editing and digital playback features helps him complete the work without the company of the musicians. But he is not conflicted by the dissimilarity of digital sound to instrumental sound. The musicians and instruments will bring life to the ďfundamental intent, the ideaĒ of the composition. Understanding that makes it possible to compose with any medium, any technology.
Becenti is a techno, mobile culture worker. Although he can write from anywhere today, he occasionally chooses the most humble, nourishing place, underscoring his belief that art equals real life, real relationship.
ď [At] my grandmotherís house out on the Navajo, I take my laptop or my sketchbook, and just walk and listen. Itís a necessity to go out into the open space. I learned to listen there . . . and to go about life with patience. I write to make connections, not only introspectively, but for communal purposes. Itís not enough to have it stored in my computerÖthe real part is working with real sound. Thatís the goal of itóbreathing life into the music.Ē
For a complete audio interview with Juantio Becenti discussing excerpts from Bartok, Beethoven and the Shostakovich and his full second string quartet, HANE, played by the Arizona String Quartet, please contact email@example.com or Sonja Horoshko at 970-565-0715.