Archipelago Sierpinski: Ungar/Comala for Prepared Ensemble

Camilo Mendez (Composer), Yovanny Betancourt (Conductor)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


Ungar / Comala (“Premio Estímulos” Grant, Mincultura 2019) by Camilo Méndez
Structurally, the work is part of a cycle inspired by the Sierpinski triangle, a fractal of exact self-similarity: an equilateral triangle subdivided into smaller equilateral triangles, in the same way that a great archipelago is formed by smaller ones in an infinite process of replication.

The movements of the work are islands of the archipelago in the composer’s metaphor. The title of each work in the cycle brings together a real or fictional place and the name of a writer. These combinations of places and authors express decisions of the composer, but the literary texts referenced in them are not present in the works, and thus create a dynamic of being/not being.

The order of performance of the islands is free and decided by the performers. As there are one hundred twenty possible basic combinations without repetitions of five given elements, one hundred twenty possible versions of this five-movement work exist. And that number can grow, since certain simultaneities and other fragmentations are possible, as in the triangle.

The character of the creative process is playful, in the most human sense of the term, since it is based on the freedom that rule-bound games offer. As with the presence/absence paradox of the literary texts, dual paradoxes appear at other levels.

At the level of structure: each movement is an island, each archipelago has several movements. As mentioned above, the order of their performance depends on the decisions of the players or the conductor. But the movements exist and do not exist. When the work is played, the transition from one island to another, that is, from one movement to another, should not be perceived; the work must present a continuum without separations, as if chance were creating bridges.

At the level of timbre: the work’s conception is centered on the creation of its own primary sources. Subverting its historically rooted instrumentation, the work’s instruments (flute, bass clarinet, violin, viola, and cello) are “prepared.” Each one is thereby transformed into “another” instrument with its own language and its own wide repertoire of playing techniques.

The resulting instruments are characterized by their heterogenous timbres. There work also features percussion – entrusted to quasi-quotidian objects coming into contact with the surfaces of the instruments – which introduces another wide repertoire of sonorities.

That richness of colors is developed with within a framework of unity. Even though the combinations are complex in their details, the composer deliberately controls events so that the whole gives the impression of convergence and of exploration of subtle nuance and relatively slow transformations, so that the spatial element of sonic planes evolves calmly and the timbres of the percussion blend without tension with the other instruments. The effect is one of sonic waves resulting from the meticulous and tidy treatment of its parts. Listening might even lead the listener to imagine that the composition could have had an electroacoustic conception.

This is a work created by its own specific conditions of language and form, whose value is increased by the rediscovery of time as a dimension of memory and forgetting. The listener is a traveler, a pilgrim that travels unsurely on an unknown path, subjected to the laws of the universe, and to music as an instrument of experience and knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherColombian Ministry of Culture
Media of outputOther
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2019
EventConcierto Musica Contemporanea - Auditorio Rogelio Salmona, Manizales, Colombia
Duration: 4 Dec 2019 → …

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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