José Maceda

José Maceda’s "Ugnayan"

José Maceda’s "Ugnayan". Courtesy Fridman Gallery, NYC.

José Maceda (1917-2004) was an ethnomusicologist-turned-composer who emerged from the context of 20th-century avant-garde music, although he was unlike anyone else in the field. He studied French piano repertoire with Alfred Cortot at École Normale de Musique de Paris before World War II. He brushed shoulders with the greats: he visited Edgard Varèse at his SoHo apartment, was presumably introduced to musique concrète with Pierre Schaeffer at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, and befriended the French-Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, absorbing the golden age of the Western avant-garde. But despite his proximity to the elite, he was eventually drawn to the indigenous music, or so-called village music, of his country—music that had been performed in people’s lives as ceremony or ritual for thousands of years. In his fieldwork as an ethnomusicologist, he rigorously documented South East and East Asian musical practices and folkways. By the time he composed his first piece in 1963, he was already 46 years old. For the remainder of his life, Maceda dreamt of creating a new model of Asian music, working steadily until his passing in 2004. Excerpted from Aki Onda at