Edes Prize winner explores contrasts in Xilitla, Mexico

Composer, performer and multimedia artist Francisco Castillo Trigueros, PhD’13, refers to his winning proposal for the 2015 Claire Rosen & Samuel Edes Prize for Emerging Artists as a song cycle that will depict the town of Xilitla in the mountainous Huasteca region of Mexico.

The annual $30,000 prize will allow Castillo Trigueros to pursue his vision, which will in fact be a transmedia take on the form, incorporating electronically processed field recordings, live performance by the Fonema Consort and visuals ranging from the documentary to the fully abstract.

“The text of the songs is going to be a combination of quotations that we’re going to get from interviews [with] locals and my own writings,” he explains. “The interviews are going to serve a couple of purposes. One is just to get an idea of what this place is for the locals, but two, actually as source material for the songs.”

His field recordings will stand on their own as sonic representations of Xilitla and the surrounding area, from the nearby Convent of St. Augustine to the Cave of Swallows, a 1,100-foot-deep, open chasm filled with birds. “Now it’s full of eco-tourists,” Castillo Trigueros remarks.

He says he hopes to treat the recordings as source material that can be converted into musical passages. “Let’s say the bells in the convent are transcribed and used as melody, in the flute or even in the voice.”

The Music Emerges from the Place

In the public imagination, Xilitla is generally synonymous with Las Pozas, “a surrealist sculpture garden by [British poet] Edward James,” which Castillo Trigueros visited as a tourist when he was about 15. “This very interesting garden lives in this town that is quite different, this completely concrete-made town. It’s not a wealthy town at all.”

Las Pozas is a dreamscape of a garden, planted with the intent of its structures, including its rounded functionless buttresses, to become overgrown as quickly as possible—an artificial ruin. It’s the work of a cultural outsider, and also a work meant to look like it’s unstuck from time, and maybe even not of this world. Castillo Trigueros was struck by “the shocking contrast between this kind of utopia created by this European artist, [as] compared to the much rougher reality that Xilitla is, the actual town.”

“To me,” Castillo Trigueros reflects, “these contrasts that we’re discussing in this town—and that we’re going to be observing in this town, and sharing—are actually commonplace. I feel like the town is a synthesis of Mexico, which is a country where you can have a nightmare within a dream.

“I don’t want to observe it in a way that’s, like, tourist,” Castillo Trigueros explains. “I don’t want to do the same thing that I’m criticizing,” namely what James did, imposing an outsiders’ view onto Xilitla. “I guess a little bit, my ideal version of this piece is that all of the music emerges from the place,” he explains. “The piece will be my piece. There’s no doubt that in the end it’s going to be my observation. But I am going to make a huge effort to make sure that that observation is as informed as possible.”

A Transformative Effect

“An important criterion for the Edes Prize is the potential for the artist’s project to have a transformative effect on his or her own work, as well as that of the arts at large,” explains Anthony Cheung, assistant professor of music and an Edes Prize jury member. “Xilitla promises to engage with the medium of electro-acoustic and intermedia composition, for which Francisco already has had much recognition.”

“It’s an immense honor to get a prize like this, and it’s a huge privilege.” Castillo Trigueros reflects. “In order for young artists to be able to tackle ambitious projects that will actually help them grow and help their voice grow, you need to have generous grants, generous prizes. All of a sudden, next year, I can actually dedicate myself to composing one piece,” he continues. “All of a sudden, you have this possibility of turning to what your goal in life is, which is just to write music, or to make art.”

“He [Castillo Trigueros] has a masterful and natural way with combining recorded and digitally processed sounds with acoustic ensembles, and already has collaborated with filmmakers in the past to create multimedia experiences that are intertwined and multi-layered,” Cheung notes, adding that he was excited to see those skills being applied to a subject so clearly personal to the artist.

“I have pieces that have relationships with Mexico, but this will actually be this thing about Mexico, which is very meaningful to me,” Castillo Trigueros agrees, “and I just would not be able to do it without this kind of support.”