Emilio Yanez Ruiz, composer and percussionist from Mexico City
Emilio Yáñez Ruíz
ResearcherRachel Beckles Willson
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A composer and percussionist from Mexico City, Emilio Yáñez Ruíz moved to Manchester to study composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he is in his second year of BMus. He is focused mainly on developing a compositional voice in fusion music, which allows him to combine the multiple percussion instruments he plays, and develop music for his own unique band.
Studying in Manchester, and arriving (later)
Thanks to Covid-19, when Emilio began his undergraduate studies, he had to attend classes remotely, from his home in Mexico City. The challenges he faced were not limited to the constraints of online learning, but also included a 6-hour time difference.
“It was finally the dream coming true. Studying abroad. But guess what, you cannot go … So, I took it as a challenge, and took it as a way of learning about myself. And now I'm grateful for the experience, because I learned about my composition process. And really, everything was up to me, right. So, I had to go to bed at 4pm to be able to wake up at midnight, have my breakfast at midnight, and then attend classes at 3am, 4am. So, I realised that I was waiting for something to change, I was waiting to be in another place, I was waiting to be in this great school, when really the only thing I needed to do was … getting myself to do the work, to compose, to try out things.
And I got in touch with the cycles of life, like reflecting about them, the cycles of the day, the cycles of the moon, the sun and the moon. Because I was living in a different time. I was looking at them through my window, the moon rising like the sun. So, I was like, ‘okay, this is telling me something’. And, by going to bed at four, I also learned how to sleep, how to rest. Because before that as a teenager, and as a young adult, I thought I was... I didn't understand how a dream cycle work, or how sleep cycles work. And I thought I could just go to bed at 3am and wake up at 7. And the next night, go to bed at 9 and wake up at 11 in the morning. So, I was all over the place. But then I had to have a regular cycle of sleep. And I started resting and I started waking up without an alarm at midnight. That was a good experience. Yeah. So, I took it as a challenge rather than an obstacle. And I took it as an opportunity to get to know myself better. So, I learned from it.”
New learning experiences and composing experiences in Manchester
In Mexico City Emilio worked with musicians who did not read music well, so as a composer he introduced musicians to his music by letting them hear it, and then try to play it for him. It meant he had to cover many bases, and progress was slow. In Manchester, at the RNCM, he found himself in a very different situation, in which notation was crucial, and very helpful.
“Composition allows me to, to create full round ideas. So, I develop the narrative, the message or the story that I want to tell. I decide the instruments, the sound that I want to have. I can create the aesthetic… the full round idea. But then I needed someone to play it, someone to perform it, to record it. And that was difficult back in Mexico. I knew a few instrumentalists, but none of them was professionally trained. They struggled reading music. And I was just, I was trying to do everything myself with a MIDI keyboard and playing the percussion, playing the trumpet, recording stuff on my own. So, I was doing lots of things on my own. And that was hard.
Coming to England... now I find it is amazing to have great players that, if the music is well written on the page, they can play right away. Yeah, the music exists, and it really is alive when somebody plays it. Before that, it's just the idea of the music. So, I think that I was living in the world of ideas before. And now I'm finally hearing the music alive. And that's great.
Ever since, I've got better at writing scores, making them neat. And to actually learn how does the music that I play, and the music that I imagine, look like in the page. Because before that, I wouldn't transcribe my own music. As I told you, whenever I played it with someone else, I just needed to play it or sing it and then people would catch it up. But now I need to see how the music looks like on the paper. So I've learned about that.”
Emilio’s arrival and initial acclimatization was particular to times of Covid-19. Exiting from his secluded home in Mexico City, he found himself in a new social and technological world where everyone was out and about, but he himself could barely even buy groceries.
“I travelled in pandemic times. So not the easiest, I guess. Because my family was able to isolate and work from home, we were really paranoid about the whole thing, about the pandemic. So, when I travelled here, I was wearing a double mask in the aeroplane. And every time someone coughed, I was freaking out, and I was like, ‘Oh no, this is it. This is it.’
I had to isolate for 10 days in a hotel. So, I felt like, yes, I was here, but yet another step before actually experiencing living abroad... It was [also] hard to adjust to the contactless payment sanitary measures... doing everything on your phone, because my phone wasn't the best back then. And I didn't have a SIM card. I thought, I mean, I bought one. But it wasn't working. So, I could not pay. I could not order stuff. So I was in a hotel, trying to get food and trying to get some groceries. And it was a little bit hard.
And then when I finally got out, there were no waiters. It was [necessary to] scan the QR code and order your food. And I couldn't. I couldn't just order my food and pay for it!
My friends received me here ... Some friends that I've only met through WhatsApp and Zoom. And they were relaxed. They weren't paranoid about the pandemic!“
Following on from his new sensitivity to the cycles of life, Emilio enjoys the natural environment of the city, and the sense of community he has with fellow students.
“I like going to parks. Just sitting on the grass. The grass in England is great. That's something that shocked me. We don't have grass like this one in Mexico. The grass in Mexico is different is it's always more dusty or more earthy. Here it's fluffy and it's like a carpet … perhaps it's because it rains so much.
The daytime works different here. So … in summertime, the sun goes down at like 9pm. And then there's even a point in the year where it's the midnight and there's still some sun right there. I've never seen that. That was shocking, but shocking ‘good’ for me, that was impressive. So again, I was connecting to the cycles of the day, but in a different way now. And then the same thing at night, because I've spent this whole year here, so I spent the winter here as well. And then the sun going down at 4pm. It's the total opposite. So, it's been good to see the seasons of the year clearly. I relate to them. And I like to think about nature teaching us something and showing us the way. So, seeing the trees losing their leaves, and then blooming again, it teaches us about detachment. That was just amazing for me. Because it felt like the cycle was real. The seasons were real, were clear. The seasons in Mexico are not so clear. Because we're tropical. So, we, even in winter, it may be cold in the morning, but at midday it will be sunny it will be warm, and the trees keep their leaves. So that's been nice.
Luckily, I haven't had any problem like, in the neighbourhood or ... I know that people have been mugged, but I haven't. That's good for me. I feel safe. Instead of walking, I liketo cycle a lot. I cycle everywhere.
My community is mainly RNCM's community. So, they're... I feel welcome. I feel good. I feel like I have something to bring to that community. And I would like to know more people, keep expanding my community. Now I've met some people from Manchester Uni, and from Metropolitan University. So, slowly making my way into knowing different circles.”
Listening to music from around the world, composing fusion at the RNCM
Although Emilio is a conservatoire student, he is encouraged to composed the music that makes sense to him rather than follow a particular canonical tradition. It means he draws on his wide-ranging listening in his own work, and shapes the ‘classical’ opportunities of his course in the ways he wishes.
“I have different playlists… I have my meditation playlist and I guess that’s my favourite one. Because it’s the one I can listen, doing different things like, I use it for writing my essays. I use it for meditation properly. I can use it to cook, I can use it to cycle, I can use it to walk around. So that one is my favourite. And what is in there? In my meditation playlist there's ambient, slow ambient electronic music, bansuri flute which is one of my favourite instruments, singing bowls (I play singing bowls), mantras like the Shanti mantra, Chaitanya mantra. I just love it. It brings me peace. It brings me calmness.
And then in the world music side, I love Afrobeat. I play Afrobeat. I compose Afrobeat. So, Afrobeat like... Fela Kuti, Antibalas, Tony Allen, Seun Kuti, the Soul Jazz Orchestra. So, different types of Afrobeat. The Afrobeat that relates more to jazz and to improvisation (just instrumental), but then also Afrobeat that has words and singing, and protest singing, of course! Then Indian Classical Music, and flamenco – Tomatito, Paco de Lucía. I play flamenco cajón. I like jazz, but I don't like the word jazz as well... So, we could call it black American music, social music, or the different ways of calling it but I have my jazz playlist.
I like a type of electronic dance music that includes eastern sounds. So, again, flutes and some drums. It relates to psy-trance, but it's less violent ... psychedelic trance. It's less violent than that. So, if I were to, say, an album, it will be Adham Shaikh-Fusion. It's got a drive… it's for dancing. But it's got the Asian and Eastern sounds in it. So, yeah, it doesn't have an actual genre. Categorized as ‘world music’, but it's some sort of electronic dance music.
And then I also listen to classical music, contemporary music. But now, that's also one thing I've learned at RNCM. People, in the master classes, they keep saying ‘do the music you love and find the musical voice that you like, because if you commit to that, your love for it will come across to the people’. So, I do like contemporary chamber music. But I like the fusion and the jazz and the world music more.
So, the composition opportunities that the school of composition provides are wind ensemble, string quartet, percussion quartet, symphony orchestra, etc. Now, I could write music that is fusion, jazzy music for those ensembles. But yeah, I have to find my own players to play the music that I really want to be writing. They do offer, for example, a big band option. And I wrote for big band this year, and I'm submitting that big band piece in my portfolio. So that's nice.”
Writing music for the future
Emilio has to seek out the players himself for the music that he really wants to write, so setting up and developing his own band is a central project at the moment. This is to be a vehicle for communicating what he feels music can do for us, as humans.
“I’ve been playing with the band that I put together with my friend, Alejandro Urbina Díaz, the bass player. It's an ambitious project, we are a 14 piece band. So, we have rhythm section, which is the two guitars, bass guitar, keyboards, drums and percussion, me on the percussion. And we have a string quartet and a brass section there with saxophones, flute and trumpet. And that brass section needs to go bigger, in my opinion. And with that band, I play the fusion stuff. We've done our first performance finally, on one thing called Lab-Week at RNCM. The purpose of the Lab-Week is to dare to do something new. So, I had this tune with ohm chanting. It's called The Om Ritual. And it's an Afrobeat. But it starts as the meditation. So, I made the lead sheet for them. And I told them, ‘let's do this’. The show went very well. And then Alejandro, and the guitar player, Maria, Maria Rocha, they both composed some stuff. And we played it there. It was good.
Now that I managed to come to England, I feel like dreams can come true. So, aspirations, even if they take long, with hard work and with commitment they can happen. I would like to keep composing for, for this fusion band. And maybe it doesn't have to be one single band… now that I have this experience of professional musicians playing the music, they don't have to be just one single band playing the music all the time. As long as I compose it well, and as long as I put myself to make all the parts, there will be someone to play it.
So, I want to keep composing for this sort of ensemble, which is kind of rock, kind of jazz, kind of Afrobeat. With which message? – that's the whole thing. Part of my composition journey has been exploring the human experience, the, the introspection of the inner self, meditation, and … the connection with other people, right, so I believe that people have the capacity and have the potential to realise who they are. And try to give that to the world and build a better society. So that's high hopes for humanity, right there. So, I would like my music to reflect that. I would like and I am creating music that connects emotionally, that brings joy. Or maybe not only joy, there are certain pieces that bring this sense of pain, because there is pain around the world as well. So, I like to connect with emotions, and to transmit emotions. And to awaken this idea of, we are living in this world, it's up to us what we do with it. And, even if there is a path that's been shown, for a long time, and there's people enriched with that path being followed, maybe it's not the best for everyone. But the only way to find it, is by asking questions to oneself. So that's the music I'm trying to compose. Music that makes people think about their lives, about why are they living. And what will they do with that life, to connect with other people, right, and to feel the joy of existing.”
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Emilio Yanez Ruiz, composer and percussionist from Mexico City
Emilio Yáñez Ruíz
ResearcherRachel Beckles Willson
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