Centuries before computers even existed, we already had what we now call music technology. Technology in the musical sphere is nothing more than the application of technical knowledge to the development of the expressive capacity of sound. Throughout history, music technology has included organological science as well as perfecting musical notation. We should remember that music is not only an auditory phenomenon but also a visual phenomenon. Musicians make music not only by listening but also by looking at either another musician playing, notes on a sheet music, or the screen of a computer while trying to interact with software.
Whether it's a laptop or a couple of maracas as instrument, the truth is that music technology depends a lot on its visual representation in two dimensions. It is precisely this dependency that has caught Manuel Alejandro Rangel’s attention for several years. And that is why, in the following pages, the Venezuelan maraquero, guitarist, and composer presents to the world his unique response to this concern. It is a method that breaks down and represents in visual form the performance practice of Venezuelan maracas following a system that is autochthonous to the technique of the instrument, a realm that is usually transmitted by oral tradition and not in writing. Through this new method, Manuel Rangel synthesizes an instrumental practice that, at its surface, seems to be an arcane mosaic of rhythmic gestures, to turn it into a sequence of relatively simple - but very precise - movements that are governed by a totally logical choreography.
Let´s be clear: this method is the creation of a sensitive musician who lives in the world of the maraquero and possesses the logical mind of an engineer. Only an individual with these characteristics is able to figure out that the so-called "maracas" is not ONE instrument but they are actually TWO instruments that are made to play independent rhythms intertwined in continuous counterpoint. This is how Manuel Rangel understood that the notation of this counterpoint must obey its organological reality, making the bigram essential as a practical and highly idiomatic option to writing the seemingly complex gestures of the maracas.
By allowing independence to each one of the two gourds that make up the maracas and, at the same time, consolidating in only five movements and several links the understanding of the broad gestural repertoire of the contemporary marquero, the author gives us what could be considered the theory behind the Venezuelan maracas' idiom. Through this gift, the author makes us aware of the existence of a grammar that has always substantiated this idiom.
Just as Guido de Arezzo promoted music technology in the 11th century by teaching a simple method of solfegging songs like never before, ten centuries later Manuel Rangel also boosts musical technology by teaching us a simple method of writing and interpreting unpublished compositions that require maracas in their instrumental templates.
It is precisely through a contemporary composition involving the maracas as protagonists that I ended up minimally involved in this 21st Century advancement of music technology.
Thanks to the fact that Manuel Rangel faced the challenge of deciphering the solo part of my concerto for maracas and orchestra, I find myself today writing the foreword to this method that I am sure will help to reconcile the musical vision of the contemporary composer and the endogenous technique of Venezuelan maracas.
I feel very fortunate to be able to live through this process and to realize that technological advances throughout the
history of music did not happen as a result of artistic whim, but rather as a response to deficiencies
or interpretative needs.
Finally, it is important to mention that I trust that readers will not interpret this method as a call to put the music notation shackles on a language that has existed perfectly well as an oral tradition. Rather, it is my hope that this method is interpreted as an option to free the language of the maracas from the limitations that the strictly auditory world imposes upon it, adding another dimension through which interpreters, musicologists, and composers can approach this language in a way that is more intimate and dare I say more authentic.
PhD, Ricardo Lorenz Abreu
Composer, multiple award-winning musician.
Head of Musical Composition Dept. at Michigan State University