5 Questions to Arturo O’Farrill (composer) about Mending Wall

Composer and pianist Arturo O’Farrill has contributed a new piece entitled SOMETHING TO DECLARE? (yeah, fuck your wall) to PRISM Quartet’s upcoming program “Mending Wall,” which will make its world premiere run on March 21-23 in Pennsylvania and New York. O’Farrill is founder of the Latin Jazz Alliance and an instructor at the Manhattan School of Music and the School of Jazz at the New School. Also featuring works by Martin Bresnick, Juri Seo, and George Lewis, “Mending Wall” is “a fully staged concert exploring the meaning of walls in our world.” O’Farrill reflects on SOMETHING TO DECLARE? (yeah, fuck your wall) and the role of borders in our lives below.

Has your thinking about the border changed in the time between your earlier project Fandango at the Wall and the new SOMETHING TO DECLARE? (yeah, fuck your wall)?

My thinking evolves every day on this topic. The simple reality of the need to differentiate between peoples is not the same thing as the need to control movement or commerce between peoples that are geographically conjoined. More than ever, it seems to me that the wall is a blanket statement of racism, fear, and stupidity by a puppet regime and an idiot president installed to keep U.S. corporate coffers filled at the expense of human lives.

Arturo O'Farrill and PRISM Quartet workshop SOMETHING TO DECLARE? (yeah, fuck your wall) with Stage Director and Set Designer Jorinde Keesmaat

Arturo O’Farrill and PRISM Quartet workshop SOMETHING TO DECLARE? (yeah, fuck your wall) with Stage Director and Set Designer Jorinde Keesmaat

What role did Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s “Freefalling Toward a Borderless Future” play in the process of composing SOMETHING TO DECLARE? (yeah, fuck your wall)?

I find the poem very musical, and while I hate to admit thievery, the rhythms of some of the verses directly show up in the opening rhythmic statements of the composition. The implications of the poem as revealing a borderless world also suggested that the musical language of the piece be borderless, moving freely between classical notation, improvisation, and Son Jarocho.

What did you bring from Son Jarocho to the saxophone quartet?

The rhythmic interplay of the Jaranas (the guitarlike instruments traditionally used in Son Jarocho) I replicated in sections of the piece. The contrapuntal layering and horizontal design of this music is also deeply embedded in my piece.

PRISM Quartet--Photo by Ara Howrani

PRISM Quartet–Photo by Ara Howrani

How do you think performances of your music addressing the border wall that take place at Roulette and Bryn Mawr will differ from performances at the border between Tijuana and San Diego in terms of their reception and impact?

The existence of walls in the music/art world are heinous examples of what the physical barriers attempt to be. Elitism in fringe art and academia is a construct as profound as mesh and chicken wire. The presence of fear and hatred in the hearts and minds of so many of us, whether acknowledged or not, whether implanted by the fascist regime or not, is more real than any physical barrier that can be constructed. It is the same in Pennsylvania as it is in Brooklyn as it is in San Diego/Tijuana.

Do you have further plans to explore the issue of the border in your music?

Until the socio-economic terrorism of income inequality is addressed, until the greed of unbridled capitalists is dismantled (whether through revolution or the simple climate death it has spawned), it will be one part of my life obligation to report on. Until the reality that we have the resources so every human being on earth can be fed, clothed, educated, and set free, my work will on some level be about borders.