“Composer of master craft with true clarity and purity of vision” – this is one of the many descriptions of the music of composer and guitarist Dušan Bogdanović. However, his music was perhaps most precisely defined by himself: as the creation of alternative musical worlds.

These can be ricercars based on African rhythms, folkloric themes in a jazz style or polyphonic Byzantine music. While such synthesis of various musical elements prevents placing Bogdanović in specific “drawers”, he gives fresh air in contemporary art music scene in Serbia and abroad in a very special way.

Improvisation has always been his main “trump” when composing, although, as he says, writing music to lyrics is easier – because there is a given structure. Such was the case with the poetry of the English poet Ted Hughes (“Crow”), the Chilean Gabriela Mistral (“Suavidades”, “La Medianoche”), as well as Vasko Popa – whether it was an English translation or the original lyrics (“Mala kutija”).

At the beginning of October, together with colleagues and friends, he held an author’s evening at the Guarnerius Art Centre (October 9), which was the occasion for a conversation about music and life in Europe and America, filled with diverse musical experiences.

Along with a classical education, you listened to jazz, rock as well as traditional music. How important were the musicians you collaborated with for the development of your creativity, and improvisation in playing?

– I played the electric guitar and I did a lot of what today would be called ethno jazz. With Miroslav Tadić, Milčo Levi, an exceptional Bulgarian pianist and composer, Charlie Haden… I recorded albums with them and it was more of an improvisational period, which is still going on, only now I don’t have as many partners with whom I improvise. In classical music it is far more problematic. Because, in fact, in ethnic music there is a lot of improvisation or there are some forms that vary. So ethnomusicology has always been interesting to me.

How did you become interested in our folklore?

– I have to admit, I was not very interested in Serbian music while I lived here. It was much more interesting for me to listen to jazz, Indian music, Ravi Shankar, African music… I actually came back to this local music much later and more under the influence of Los Angeles, where I lived since the beginning of the nineties. I had a distance, so then I looked at our “Balkan” music from a more objective perspective, as one of ethnic music. When I say the Balkans, I mean southern Serbia, North Macedonia, Bulgaria – that’s the most interesting to me. Primarily because the metric is interesting. Kolo dance tunes from Šumadija are still not particularly interesting to me.

In what way does knowledge of different musical genres and diverse musical cultures ennoble us and provide breadth in our experience of the world itself?

– It is as if they are various aspects of a human being, but we still cannot assemble that human being as a whole. I see that some distribution is non-stop, alienation in various different aesthetic directions. I think a man is all that. On some horizontal plane – all these new worlds have opened up. Let’s say, pygmy a capella music which is fantastic. Or Georgian vocal music, with their yodeling… I see ethnic music as a kind of medicine. Unlike the avant-garde, which went into great intellectualism and social-psychological alienation, ethnic music always seemed to me to be a source of life, liveliness, and creativity.

Ivana Ljubinković

(Read the full version of the interview in Serbian on the ClassicAll website)