The heart beats even in the abyss: Interview with violinist and composer Aloma Ruiz Boada

A few weeks ago, Catalan violinist and composer Aloma Ruiz Boada released her debut album as a solo musician. “Septem Verba”, which deals with the seven last words of Jesus on the cross, is an impressive work and stands out from the many Strings and Loops releases of the last decades. If one wanted to sum up its qualities very succinctly, then one could perhaps say that here the emotionally touching and the aesthetic expanse, of which the listener can feel abandoned to his own exploration, are held in an almost perfect balance. “Septem Verba” opens up a heterotopic space in which listeners can ritually recreate the experience of abandonment, pain, but also of a determined letting go. In the following interview, we talk with the artist not only about these topics but also about her many other activities in the context of theatre and various music groups, some of which are well-known.

German Version

Just a couple of days ago, you released your solo album Septem Verba after contributing to various ensembles and bands in the past years. Is this work under your own direction a new experience for you or did play solo before?

I’d worked on projects before where I was the only musician and composer, but that was when I was in theatre and dance companies. “Septem Verba” is my solo debut.

What can you tell us about the initial years of your career as a violinist and composer? It’s known that you played for theat companies for quite some years…

I graduated as a violinist from the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya in 2008. Since then I’ve played in symphony and chamber orchestras, both as tutti and soloist, as well as in smaller ensembles such as string quartets and piano and violin duos.
Although my training was predominantly in classical and contemporary music, I’ve always been interested in other styles and other facets beyond performing.
In 2003 I embarked on several projects with the theatre director Xavier Martínez Soler, whose theatre is alternative and contemporary, always exploring new languages and very interesting and inspiring performing arts perspectives. Although I wasn’t the only musician, this was my first inroad into creating musical pieces or sound environments and as a member of a performing arts company. Working with Xavi was also my first experience of an experimental language beyond the classical style.
In 2015, I started working with the amazing and innovative dancer and contemporary dance choreographer Eulàlia Bergadà Serra. Her projects gave me the chance to develop my creative composing further, especially when I started using loop and effects pedals.
At that time I was also in the Cal Teatre Company, which does children’s and family shows based on an exploratory and reflective view of the imaginary world of children. Thanks to them I found a connection to a more innocent, naive creative side.

You also play in experimental music groups like Current 93 for some years now. Is this band context also something you did from the beginning, or did it happen more incidentally?

Before I started playing with Current 93 in 2012, I’d already got into more experimental language with Xavi Martinez Soler, as well as more folk-style jams. It was a combination that enriched me in this type of music, but Current 93 was the first band per se with this style.

How long did the ideas and the music of Septem Verba take to develop and ripen up to it’s final stage?

I’ve been passionate about it for years and had been considering doing something on the Septem Verba, the Seven Last Words that Jesus said on the cross, but it was in 2018 when I decided to start the conceptual, emotional and sound research that led to the album. I gradually started delving into what each of the Seven Words said to me, reinterpreting them and taking ownership of them through a soul that would run through them.
To take all these experiences and emotions to the musical level, in addition to the effect pedals I already had, I started exploring music programming and computing with midi controllers and loopers, which gave me more freedom and creative options. It took me quite a long time to get to grips with these new tools. By March 2020, I had a lot of it under my belt and when lockdown and the pandemic finally permitted, I was able to finalise all the tracks and do the recording and mixing.
Not long after that I gave it all to Demian Recio for him to master it. He’s a brilliant musician with immense experience and it was a very smooth process.
After that, we started working with Raúl and Eva from the record label Grabaciones Sentimentales, who supported me and gave me a lot of help with managing and releasing the album, as well as being the link to Hidden Track Records for the legal and other aspects.
Eva *Grace* Galdón was one of the first people I gave the music to once I’d finished it. She can translate her entire whole of wisdom and mysticism into language with a perfect style for Septem Verba, so I suggested she work with me on this project with a text inspired by each track. The outcome is seven extraordinary literary gems that have come out of her relationship with Septem Verba.
At that time in 2020 I also started the whole album artwork process with Gerardo Masanti, a multifaceted and highly creative artist with a huge command of the plastic arts. I told him my idea to draw on several sources of inspiration. One was the colour spectrum of tiger eye and lapis lazuli stones. These minerals were really important to me at one point in my life, and I was also interested in the duality of the characteristic tones of each stone: blue/brown and heaven/earth. The second was stained glass windows in churches to build the artwork around. This is an architectural feature that fascinates me, and I like the concept of stained glass windows as the entry point of God’s light to illuminate the darkness; God’s message through light. Within the meaning of Septem Verba I saw them as the original fragments of a jewel that have been shattered into a thousand pieces by a hard impact. These shards were gathered up and put together again to create a new piece, paralleling death and resurrection. It was a real quest that Gerardo managed to culminate with a great work of art.

As the title “Septem Verba” suggests, the pieces strongly refer to the crucifixion of Christ, and most track titles consist of verses from the Gospel of Luke reporting this episode. Was there a certain impulse that lead you to explore this sujet in your music?

Although I’m not religious, the Seven Last Words that Jesus said just before he died move me deeply.
For me, these words symbolise the height of the human feeling of suffering and vulnerability as they were said by the person who felt himself to be the Son of God. Abandonment, pain, sadness, disappointment, loneliness at its peak. There is no limit beyond this if you think that God, as your father and you as the Messiah, has abandoned you after sacrificing yourself for him wholly and utterly.
I really wanted to work on these feelings and explore them through music.
I was also very interested in the idea of sacrifice as an act of surrender to faith and hope from this chapter of the Bible, where accepting suffering is an inherent part of the process of sacrifice.

Is the album conceived as a kind of cycle? The bell-like sounds in the first and last piece perhaps imply something like a threshold through which one enters and exits a certain experiential space…If you agree with this, what kind of experience can this heterotopic space provide (for you and for the listeners)?

For me this album symbolises the sacrifice of death and resurrection in a journey through the seven tracks on the album. It’s a ritual carried out by a soul who is dying, exhausted, sad, abandoned, tired, who delves into and faces up to this human suffering and pain, becoming its actual essence, and who surrenders to faith and hope to come back as a more mature, wiser Being who can face, accept and reconcile with suffering and pain. The whole process of sacrifice becomes healing as an inherent lesson of life. That is why each track contains something that represents the heartbeat, life, living. The heart beats even in the abyss.
In this context, the bells represent death, the voice of God. It is announced and introduced in the first track (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?) as the beginning of the ritual, in a dialogue between the bells/God/death and the violin, where the soul’s voice is broken by suffering. Towards the middle of the journey, on track lV (I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise), while the sacrificed soul is caressing Paradise with her heart, savouring the light, the peace, wanting to be in this place forever… suddenly, like a breath of cold air, suffering hits her again, sending her plummeting into the abyss. The bells start ringing, like a knife stabbing his heart to remind him of impending death. After three bells, the violin, the voice of the soul, with a degree of anger and helplessness, repeatedly asks God, “Why? Why does the suffering go on? (this motif is further developed in track VI).  By the last track (Into your hands I commit my spirit), the bells are announcing that the time has come, the time has come to surrender to death, to God, this time in a dialogue with the violin. Finally, alone, the soul, whose voice is hoarse and broken by what she has been through, surrenders to God, at the last breath of suffering.
So rather than a cycle, I see it more as a cathartic ritual, a space that you come out of changed from when you went in.

Whereas your main instrument is the violin, there’s also a lot of effects, mixing and perhaps other electronic details on the album. Did working with Demian Recio leave a strong effect on this? How was your cooperation on the pieces?

Demian Recio is a musician I truly admire. Electronic and acoustic sounds replete with feeling, delicacy and strength together with lyrics of pure poetry create a unique and wonderful musical personality. Influences like Demian’s music are in my creative imagination when I’m investigating and creating my own particular language.
When I had the final mix of all the tracks, I gave it to Demian for his feedback because I really value his track record as a musician and producer of his own albums like Ô Paradis and others. We mainly worked on the overall volume of the mix of each track, because with my classical influences, the volume threshold between the lowest and loudest level was too wide. I wanted the final result to sound as close as possible to the original I’d given him because throughout the process of creating, recording, producing and mixing that I did, I was obsessive in the search for the specific sound of each voice, each layer, each element and sound plane in every moment. With his experience and magic, Demian was able to adjust the volumes and keep the original sound, even to enhance it.

How for instance did the sound of a very electronic piece like “Pater dimitte illus…” develop?

On this track (Father, forgive them, they know not what they do), although Jesus said these very compassionate words about the people who were judging, torturing, mistreating and jeering him on the way to and during the crucifixion, the soul who undergoes the ritual carried out during the album feels deep anger and rage towards human beings, towards their potential capacity to cause pain and suffering in others. She feels the need to get all this rage out, to be the rage itself and vomit herself to the last drop by screaming the crazy final melody based on the Dies Irae motif. She is spitting out rage to reconcile herself with the human being. With herself.
In this context, track V needed more aggressive, explosive and violent sounds than the other tracks on the album. With the electric violin I was experimenting with pedals for various types of distortion, overdive and delay, both for the plucking and the final melody. With the Ableton programme, the bass line that features from the beginning also has the search for a more distorted and aggressive sound behind it, and together with the beat holds the more rhythmically accelerated, more furious breathing and beating of the heart.

Did you also draw influence from other works of (liturgical and other) music that dealt with this particular subject?

I often listen to orthodox chants and they’ve probably influenced me in building and finding spirituality through melodies connected to a pedal point, which are emblematic of some of these chants. Arias from opera, a genre so dear to me, may also have been present in the search for lyricism in the melodies of the violin, the voice of the soul.

You used two other musical sources as parts of the compositions. As the chorale “Vexilla Regis” also refers to the motif of the Cross, the aria from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera Samson y Delilah originates in a different biblical context. Do you see the connection more on an aesthetic level?

I’d done other work mixing my music with samplers from choirs and voices and I had really liked it, so I wanted to continue experimenting with this idea on this album.
I thought the Gregorian chant “Vexilla Regis” was conceptually and aesthetically interesting as part of track I, as a dialogue with the other sounds and melodies, since it refers to the Cross of Jesus as a female choir, and to reinforce the sacred and intimate sonority that is characteristic of this track.
With regard to the aria “Mon coeur s’ouvre á ta voix”, from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah opera, I put it in track III partly because it is one of my favourite pieces. For a long time I listened to it over and over kind of obsessively. It’s very precious to me and I wanted it to be part of this project in some way. Also, this aria really fitted in to the background of this track. Sitio (I thirst), the word that Jesus said on the cross when he was thirsty. Instead of water, the Romans gave him a sponge soaked in vinegar to sting the wounds in his mouth. This symbolises the thirst/desire that Jesus had for his death and consequent resurrection, the thirst/desire for the end of suffering. In parallel, Delilah tries to seduce and make Samson fall in love with her with this aria, to reveals the secret of his strength. In this game of seduction Delilah uses song to beg Samson to love her, to answer her call of love. Desire for love, thirst for love. Sitio. The sacrificed soul of the Septem Verba album is thirsty for love, thirsty for death and resurrection, thirsty for healing, a thirst that had so far only been met with vinegar.

Are there any ideas for performing Septem Verba in a live context? What would be your favorite place / context to bring this music on stage?

I’m currently looking for venues where I can play Septem Verba live. For me it’s important to perform Septem Verba because it’s the live expression of the ritual that the album stems from. Being able to experience the Septem Verba ritual live is the continuation and culmination of the process so far.
I have in mind spaces where silence accompanies music. Ideally, I would like to perform it in churches, but they’re not the only places I am looking at.

As you said, you preferred to play in in groups with other musicians or in a theatre context in the past. Was recording a solo album a challenge for you?

Launching my solo career has been a real challenge. It was quite daunting to face a blank canvas for the first time but my fierce need to do it drove me on step after step. The record label Grabaciones Sentimentales’ proposal to release my album with them was also a big part in taking on this challenge, with the enthusiasm that it could be materialised in some way. They believed in me from the outset and thanks to them this album has seen the light.

Do you see a direct effect of these group experiences on your approach as a solo musician?

I get a great deal out of playing, creating, sharing the stage with other artists. Being in contact with other energies enriches and unites. Every group artistic project shapes me as a person and musician. Over the years you develop your own inner language, including by interacting with other artists. The quest for your personal inner sound; discovering tools like loop and effect pedals; corporality, space and movement, above all in the dance and theatre projects I was involved in, are architectural features through time that are present in your musical creations. All these experiences stirred my need to explore my own language with total freedom, to create from my inspirations, my intuitions, my structures, connecting even more deeply to my most intimate essence. It was a solitude, introspection and intimacy that I really needed.

I think that your contribution to Current 93′s newest album and the recent concerts is very fruitful. What is the most inspiring thing in working with David and the other musicians?

The Current 93 family is amazing, on the human, emotional, artistic, musical and poetic levels. Belonging to it and experiencing all this fills me with joy. And in the magical atmosphere created with all of them, everything flows when it comes to doing my bit and building melodies with the violin, soaking up all the beauty that radiates from the Current 93 family.

I hope that you plan to go on with your solo work. What are the next steps on your schedule?

Firstly, to look for concerts and be able to experience Septem Verba live many times and in many places. In parallel I really want to continue investigating and looking for sounds and emotions with my beloved violin and all the accoutrements of pedalboards, loops, midis and so on, so I’m already thinking about the next album. It may take a while to finish but the seed has been planted.

Fotos © Dani Álvarez and Eva Grace Galdón

Interview: Uwe Schneider

Aloma Ruiz Boada @ Grabaciones Sentimentales | Discogs | Youtube | Spotify