José Vicente Asuar

Resident archivist Jack Dangers dusts down a scarce release from Chilean composer José Vicente Asuar

José Vicente Asuar’s records are virtually impossible to find and ‘Así Habló El Computador’ was the last of his I didn’t have. After 20 years of searching, I recently found a copy on a website in Chile. I do wonder whether the guy selling it had found a boxful somewhere, because the vinyl is perfect, but the sleeve is like Dead Sea Scroll parchment that’s been eaten by cockroaches.

Asuar was a classical musician. He was also a skilled electronics engineer and he designed both the synth and the computer software used on this record. In 1958, he built the first electronic music studio in Latin America, where he created his electroacoustic composition, ‘Variaciones Espectrales’. The following year, he moved to Germany and established an electronic music studio in the city of Karlsruhe and later he put together another studio in Venezuela. In the 1970s, he started developing a computer system he called COMDASUAR and this album is a demonstration of what it was capable of.

Asuar’s work was usually serious, but ‘Así Habló El Computador’ is quite light and poppy. Side A is all happy Moog, jolly-time stuff. It’s a cross between Radiophonic electronica and the Moog albums of the early 1970s. These, however, aren’t electronic cover versions of classical tunes like his 1973 album ‘El Computador Virtuoso: Música Hecha Con Computador Y Sintetizador Electrónico’. They’re all original compositions.

On Side B, Asuar introduces and explains his electronic music making system. The synth itself looks a bit like an ARP 2600, but with a built-in computer keyboard. There are no levels or zero-to-10 scales to be seen, just switches and really odd-looking connectors on a panel of brushed aluminium.

Not many people in electronic music composition had the expertise to make their own synthesiser and write their own music software. Asuar was a very clever man, and if the sequencing (and everything else on here) was running from the computer, he nailed it a good couple of years before computers were incorporated into music production in Europe or the US.

In 2011, the Chilean label Pueblo Nuevo released a three-CD set, ‘Obra Electroacústica’, which collects together most of his electronic music, including ‘Variaciones Espectrales’, but there’s nothing on it from this album. I expect the music wasn’t considered serious enough to be featured. Unfortunately, the CD is almost as hard to track down as his vinyl releases.

José Vicente Asuar died in January 2017, aged 83, just a few weeks after having donated his scores to the National Library of Chile.

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