In Praise of Multilingualism

Being multilingual is not just about competency in different languages, but about the everyday understanding of things and phenomena in a manifold way. It’s about the different cultural connotations things have in different contexts, about finding adequate communication styles to suit the circumstances, and the skill to navigate these multiplicities. This is not so much the result of studying languages, but –as I’m sure other migrants like myself can attest– a long and sometimes painful process of trial and error.

I’ve found that this experience has greatly influenced my approach to music creation. Be it between the abstraction of imagination and its concrete representation; between operations in the frequency domain and the symbolic domain of Western notation; between the speculative side of compositional techniques and their practical realisation in rehearsal; between spontaneity and structure, etc; it’s never just a simple translation. It is, rather, about understanding of and thriving on the multifaceted nature of all these aspects of music making. It is about navigating that fertile field composed of multiple, interrelated ways of understanding sound, which allow us to comprehend it as musical material in all its richness.

As I see it, communicating –and by extension thinking– multilingually involves the same kind of mental disposition I observe when composing. It is ultimately about the depth in perspective that you gain by venturing beyond the comfort zone of your mother tongue.

© Pedro Alvarez, 2017

Image: sketch of a new piece I’m currently working on,
kindly commissioned by DecibelNewMusic