Miguel Ángel Santaella
Composer & Conductor          

the blog 

A sort of preface. A statement.

As musicians, we are living in interesting times. Beyond the current worldwide lockdown situation we’re into thanks to this new pandemic, it is true that things in music have been evolving from a craftsmanship activity mostly valued only when needed, to something so democratised (mass technology and global dissemination) that has diminished its intrinsic social value already earned some time ago, while the entertainment industry around it has risen worldwide as an identifiable commodity. 
It is within this frame that I’ve decided to create a very personal, organic project: music to be listened to, and not designed to be seen (as a video clip), aiming to defy preconceived categories and taking advantage of those technologic developments democratically available to everyone in order to make art, for the purest sake of it. 

Too many things have inspired me through the years I’m composing to write music: feelings, sensations, memories, texts, images, folklore, religion, harmonies... All these are still part of those thing that I want to say as an artist, and after a hard exploration on how could I better express them in music, I wanted to give it a try to my own voice. Raw. Processed. Distorted. Reversed. The voice as instrument, as heard nowadays, musically thinking ahead on time. 

And, for this first instalment, the music will show my findings on how to deal with improvised music running in parallel with strictly notated music, something that I’ve found lately not to be easily understood, even today by some well educated and experienced vocalists raised and working on different locations of the decade world. I’ve noticed that this happens because the performer usually goes throughout the labels we commonly use to define music genres to imitate or, in the best scenario, generate, some improvised vocal music, instead of trying to go free minded and looking for their own language, with their own craftsmanship. Just to be clear, these are not the final findings, they’re just the mere beginning of a long cognitive trail I’m walking right now. 

Regarding the technological possibilities of isolated recording, it is pivotal to think on the role of orchestrating the music (more accurately, the role of voicing the music) beyond the usual lead-accompaniment roles. Even more, when thinking on voicing, the similitude of voice tones being the same vocalist doing all the work through the project, will lead to foreseeable challenges and creative solutions: some of them were solved through performance techniques, some others were solved through advanced audio processing, all working together at the same pace. Moreover, not every voicing heard on this project has been subject of notation, thus enabling me as a performer to think vertically on real time while improvising horizontally, looking for an alternate way to orchestrate the melody, the groove.

All original tunes were either created for the project or were born by a similar project that didn’t went through with other singers. They are all dealing with some specific perceptions I’ve had about places, cinematic experiences, feelings and fond memories. Every tune has an effect on my inner self and tried to make them audible for you to understand them. However, be advised that all of them are partly composed or improvised, creating a group of diverse soundscapes, even on a single track, based on all the things I’ve wrote above.

Along with the original tunes, there are two versions of well-known tunes, one taken from the American songbook, with a lot of wonderful versions already over there. This arrangement was first notated and its middle section is vocally improvised while including notated virtual instruments, being the only track to include sounds not produced by the mouth or the body. The second tune with folk flavour comes from Venezuela, my motherland, and it has a lot of references of what I’ve done prior to this project but it has been totally conceived in front of the mic, totally improvised from head to toe with not a single note written for it. It was my first experience doing it and it opened a whole new window on my musical craftsmanship, that’s why it has been included on this release. 

As you can see, I’m not looking forward to have a multi-platinum sales or getting mega famous streaming numbers for releasing this corpus of music, no. What I’m looking forward is to raise the eyebrows (hopefully for good) of those who wanted to listen music. But not every kind of music: music that dares, with groove, with exploration, with anima, with synesthetic stimulus for those who lend their ears and time to carefully listen to this. 

If you cannot avoid to give this music a label prior to listen to it, I would kindly suggest you to use that of vocal jazz music. For me, however, it’s just music, my music. And I love how it sounds, I love where it goes. Hope you (not everyone, just you) would love it too.

I'm a blessed man, and I'm really thankful for that.


Having the chance to decide in life, my choices have been always guided by a quest of a balance between gains and losses, following an evolutionary path, and being always happy during the ride, and satisfied at the end of it with a personal sense of freedom in mind. 

Becoming a music craftsman is a matter of a logical choice for me, and working with voices was a result of the balance between the isolated creative art of composing and the social need to be involved in goal-oriented activities. 

In the meantime, there is a multitude of noises everyday surrounding us on normal life, ripping out the value of sound in our civilization in spite for a increasingly rise to the visual impact of art, media and entertainment and advertising industry just to call up your attention for a couple more seconds than usual, for whatever the reason could be. This trend, coupled with another one that considers all artistic expression have to become producers of a single-homogenized, automated sort of multifaceted piece of 'art' as holders of the concept of future, has made us know how to distill out what we receive from our ears to what we actually listen, and sometimes the result of this individual process is not quite artistically relevant, even in the ears of the regular people.

I'm a person of this era, though. But for me, rather than treat you with something vacuous but visually appealing futile elements, I'd like to challenge you with these invisible air particles agitated with the sound I create, design, write, conduct and produce in musical form in every corner of your life, on a screen, a subway train, an open air space, an auditorium, your headphones, whenever you allow me to submerge you, only with sound. (no additives needed).

In short, I'm an unconventional guy, and I'm freaking proud of being it!

I'm a voice lover.


When I choose to be a craftsman of music, some years ago by now, I went to train myself as a choral composer, arranger and conductor, because my senses loved the sound and textures that voices singing together brings to the creative mind, and my kind-of-elusive personality needed and thanked the goal-oriented, social-enriching and always stimulating activity of singing in a dedicated group of souls.

Spending a lot of money in buying music during my whole life since I can buy something, I’ve found that the jazz music literature for choir and vocal groups has been stocked for a long time now between two specific boundaries: a barbershop-like closed harmony sound and be-bop reminiscence of pop tunes, thus reducing its evolution path to a advanced performing and recording techniques to sound as close as possible to Pop or Fusion Rock (instrumental) groups with a high level of visual attention (as a reminder of the industrial origin of entertainment music), rather than exploiting their own resources and capabilities, either as creatives and as performers (being both separate entities or not).

I believe that this is not the only way to evolve the vocal jazz composition, conceptualizing this term as jazz composed for choirs and/or vocal groups, not including the so-called marketing label. And I believe that because when you listen to any contemporary jazz record nowadays you’ll find a conscious explorative interaction between different compositional elements ranging from aboriginal sounds to virtual techniques as looping and sequencing and uses of synthesized music, alongside with improvisational material and more. So the point here is, why the vocal jazz music is still stocked on that comfortable zone?

My compositional style has been evolving towards giving a possible answer to this problem on the last twelve or so years, (because it is a problem, as the art could not be static): in this aspect, the use of linear composing, contemporary elements, folk elements from the world over and a special consciousness about the unique use of grouped voices doing music together, which is definitely not related to any American or European standard of a cappella performance, and that’s something I’m really digging into, hoping to get a more glocal approach of the vocal jazz sound rather to a remake, transcription or reharmonization of standard tunes or original compositions.

There is also another step to consider on this paper: the way to communicate this music. If we all agree that I’m referring to conceptual music (not industrial), then we’re talking about art music, labelling it with the genre of your preference. Then, and following this thread, I believe that art music nowadays has to be preserved beyond the concert stage, and recordings are still the most important way to do it, as it captures the ‘perfect’ performance environment, or the most accurate version of a tune. This has been done since the very beginning of jazz as a genre, and other musical greats such as Glenn Gould and Gene Purling (to name just a few) also have contributed to their own vision of recorded art music. In this terms, I’m also applying this thoughts, beginning with my recent arrangement of The Huron Carol, expressly written and recorded by Caffeine, my own dutch vocal group on it’s first EP On Xmas (Vocomotion Records, 2015). This arrangement, being simple at first, was written for 13 voices, so each of the singers recorded two different lines each, except the bass (myself) having three lines to sing.

In short, I envision a new vocal jazz literature written in and for this century, conceived as a piece of art music and using the possibilities of recording techniques, even from the very conceptual sketches of it. But this is just developing. More is now in the making.