Celso Loureiro Chaves


To compose music based on a book is a common proposition, less so if the book belongs to the visual arts rather than to literature. A Point to the South (2011) by Brazilian artist is a book written in invented signs, laser- printed onto twelve wood matrixes. Its single copy is housed in the rare book room of Biblioteca Pública in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It is a Ramuzian book in the sense that – as in L’histoire du Soldat (1918) – it requires no reading skills to be read (“c’est un livre… on n’a qu’à l’ouvrir…”).

At the invitation of the artist, I set to music one of the pages of the book, and this paper is the chronicle of a compositional process incited by an external (visual) source. Its purpose is to emphasize also how the music came to inform the printed page with new levels of meaning, with subtler interactions between the visual and the audial and, conversely, between music and the printed page.

In its double investigation, this paper charts (1) the internal coherence of the music, taking as its methodological object the three genetic documents of the composition – two pages of music score and the annotated page of the book; and (2) the web of cross-references between music and text, taking as methodological objects the book as impetus for the composition (Reynolds, 2007), and the music as an amplification of the text, in a “dynamic of creativity and transformation” (Donin, 2015).

In the piano piece A Point to the South, coherence is guaranteed by an epistemic principle, the gradual elaboration in texture and range of a ten-chord series, each chord morphing into the next with no harmonic or voice-leading considerations. This compositional principle represents a peculiar reading of the text, and the music is distributed hapharzadly throughout the two pages of the music score.

In its notational chaos, the music reflects back to the invented signs of the printed page. It clarifies how the sequence of signs, at first distributed evenly on the page, becomes more agitated in a mounting clustering of signs. The ten-chord structuring of the music provides the key for the interpretation of the printed page, even more so in its final instants, when each invented sign finds its explanation in pitch aggregates from which only the resonance of a Bach chorale is allowed to escape.

The methodological inquiry on the three genetic documents of A Point to the South reveals a circuitous compositional process, from the construction of the score to the discovery, through music, of the key to the invented signs of the text. This paper concludes that an external object that serves as impetus for a music composition may be in itself construed by the music, allowing for the interspersing of two diverse creative processes. In the present study, this Möbius-like entanglement imparts the motionless page with the fluency of time, and imparts the music an almost divinatory power over the text.


Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Holds a DMA degree in composition from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA, and a BA degree in architecture from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. He is a professor of music composition and music history at the Instituto de Artes of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul. His main research interests are genetic criticism and the compositional process. He has written extensively on the pedagogy of music composition and on Brazilian popular music. One of his recent essays on Antonio Carlos Jobim was published in 2017 (Matita Pere.! A Study in Genesis. In: Maestro Soberano, L. Bachini, ed. Editora UFMG). His violin concerto Museum of Useless Things was premiered by Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Orquestra in 2018.