WITH J. ALEX DIAS
During this interview, I change seat, place myself in front of another artist and ask him the questions I wish people asked me. Today, I speak to Portuguese composer J. Alex Dias. The pianist has just surprised us with his latest project and takes some time to tell us about himself and his music.
João, tell us about yourself!
I am a composer and musicologist. I studied piano and composition privately, including with composer Pedro Santos Sequeira. Currently, I am concluding a Bachelor in Musicology (Music Theory, Analysis and History), which has allowed me to expand my knowledge about the various musical styles and genres, as well as to deepen my interest in modern, minimal and contemporary music — a preference that I try to reflect in my works.
Now tell us about your first release, Dangerous Journeys?
I started to develop the album Dangerous Journeys shortly after I finished my previous work “Walking without Faith”, which ranked as finalist at The Minimal Piano Series, Vol. 2 competition. This was a little more than a year ago, a period when I was still trying to overcome the sudden loss of my father. At that time, I regarded both the human mind and the natural world as sources of inspiration, and — in a certain way — making the music for the album was a coping mechanism during those troublesome moments.
How did you start composing your own music?
I started composing — and playing the piano — and teaching myself, when I was about thirteen years old. At that time, it was a sort of “golden age” and my first influences were the classical composers (Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven). But after starting my piano studies, my repertoire of influences expanded greatly; At fifteen, I discovered Schoenberg’s music and today, I think Schoenberg is the reason why I became a contemporary composer — his post-tonal languages fascinated me. My interest in minimalism and other contemporary genres came shortly after.
Why do you compose?
I compose to express what I cannot say with words. In that sense, composing is a way of self-expression, using a more profound language and capable of expressing my feelings when words are not enough. When I encounter an obstacle while composing, I usually cannot think of anything else until I solve the issue. And when I do, it is as if I discover the words that were always there — but I couldn’t articulate before. It can be an emotionally exhausting activity, but also quite rewarding!
Your music is strongly evocative — what is your approach to composition?
In general, I tend not to use a fixed method to compose, hence my approach depends on the work I am developing at that moment. In the case of Dangerous Journeys, I aimed at exploring a different perspective of the minimalist genre, while partially keeping the character already found in “Walking Without Faith”. In this album, I started by imagining a specific scenario for each piece and then I tried to portray it using suggestive motives and ideas, that could be perceived as gestures, or actions, within the scenario I was trying to portray.
What inspires you?
My inspirations sources vary, depending on the work I am developing at that moment. I think that a composer is someone who tries to get to the core of things, who needs to be sensitive to the world around, in order to find the beauty and the simplicity, but also the intricacy that hide within the smallest things as well as the bigger pictures. In my latest works, it has been the smallest and most simple things that have aroused my curiosity and inspired me.
The piano seems to be your instrument of choice — are you looking at composing for other instruments?
Although the piano is my main instrument, I am also interested in composing works for other solo instruments, as well as for ensembles that may — or may not — include the piano.
So after Dangerous Journeys what’s next?
I expect to release another album, more innovative and with a broader scope than Dangerous Journeys. Furthermore, I am working on some pieces which I would like to release — possibly as singles — during this year and I also intend to participate on a few more composition contests with some of those works.
Thanks very much João. Last one for the road — one book, one album, one film — tell us about your latest cultural pearls?
Book: I would say “The Catcher in the Rye”, by J. D. Salinger; film: “Stranger Than Fiction”, by Marc Foster and Zach Helm — it is funny and the story develops in an interesting way, although with the occasional awkwardness; album:” The Light Within” by John Luther Adams.
Bouncing on João’s words; John Luther Adams — yes! Read my review of Dangerous Journeys.