lamberto coccioli

on music and beauty

Tag: Luciano Berio

Seminar on live electronics at the Royal Academy of Music

Philip Cashian, Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, kindly invited me to give a seminar to the students of his department. The title I chose for the talk today was “A new approach to composing music with live electronics”. I gave an overview of live electronics in practice, and the challenges and frustration that often accompany performances involving technology. Referring to my experience with Luciano Berio’s musical actions with live electronics (Outis, Cronaca del Luogo), I remarked on the sad absence of these seminal works from the repertoire today and outlined the challenged posed by technology in performing works created only 15-20 years ago. I went on presenting the philosophy of the Integra project and its role in developing the Integra Live software, with the intention to address the caducity and unfriendliness of live electronic systems developed using programming languages like Max.

Showing Integra Live in action I was able to demonstrate how the software and its different views tried to mimic the creative process and the workflow of a composer. From an initial exploratory, imaginative phase (Module View), to a more structured stage where events start being organised in time (Arrange View), to a rehearsal and finally performance phase (Live View), where things are fixed and the most important thing is reliability and control of every relevant aspect of the performance.

I hope I conveyed to the students my salient point: always ask yourself why you should use technology, and if you do, make sure it is borne out of your musical ideas, and is an integral part of your musical thinking. I enjoyed very much the interaction with them, they were curious and lively, and asked interesting questions, among others, about the future of Integra Live in a hypothetical post-coding world, and – this one more technical – about using MIDI notes to control partials in the various spectral modules of the software, highlighting the need for a built-in MIDI note to frequency converter in all spectral modules. At the end of the seminar Philip took a straw poll among the students and the overwhelming majority voted in favour of trying Integra Live in their own music. Not bad!

A role for contemporary music?

At the beginning of last summer György Ligeti left us. What struck me most, after the inevitable sorrow for the loss of another great musical mind, was the almost complete lack of notice given to his death outside the narrow world of so-called contemporary music.

Throughout the history of music there have been composers wishing to give their art a cultural status comparable to literature, or philosophy. In more recent times composers as diverse as Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez have made a considerable effort to raise the profile of musical thought, and bring it into the mainstream cultural debate.

There are inherent difficulties with these commendable attempts: intellectuals the world over are not, in general, well versed in music and compositional theory. This is obviously the result of a formative problem – music is not part of the standard education curriculum. More problems are posed by the special language – notation – that music uses, and its tenacious resistance to be apprehended and described by words alone. A good indicator of this situation is the negligible amount of citations and references to ‘contemporary music’ sources (the actual scores) and composers’ writings in essays on modern culture.

Lively, alert and informed people, interested in contemporary arts the world over, will know a lot about the latest movies, the latest books and essays, the latest exhibitions and even the latest plays, but very seldom they will know about or attend ‘contemporary music’ concerts. For them, music is a form of pleasure rather than an intellectual activity. In their experience the music space is already well stocked with the various declinations of pop, rock, jazz, world and urban music, or even with the museum of classical music.

In our eye-dominated world, where visual media condition to a large extent our perception of reality, music becomes naturally the soundtrack of our own existence – the constant background to other, more prepotent eye-driven events. This ancillary role is exactly what so-called contemporary music tries to fight against, advocating for music an autonomous status. In his 1995 article, Dei suoni e delle immagini (“Of Sounds and Images”), first read when the University of Siena awarded him the degree honoris causa, and later reworked as one of the Six Norton Lectures on Poetry ( Remembering the Future, Cambridge, Harvard University), Berio tries to defend the autonomy of the ear and its predominance on the eye.

It is telling that Berio identifies music theatre – opera – as the one area where music still has the power to be in control, generate the dramatic structure and influence all visual and narrative elements. Music theatre is inherently a ‘dirty’ playing field, where visual and musical elements merge and interact in unpredictable ways. As much as composers wish for music to be in control, planning carefully every element of the show, it will be almost impossible to avoid the predominance of the visual element. Berio’s wishful thinking is shattered against the hard facts of human perception and cultural conditioning. Moreover, opera is a team enterprise, where the composer is but one of the authors. Berio’s quarrels with directors and stage designers became proverbial, showing the difficulty of maintaining control – à la Wagner – over everything. Role specialisation in today’s theatre and the refinement of available technologies make it altogether impossible. It is also presumptuous to think that one person – the composer – can be at the same time the librettist, director and stage designer of his/her operas. Karlheinz Stockhausen’s own unsatisfactory results should rest my case.

But then, if even music theatre cannot be the vehicle of musical thought, what is left to us? Precious little, I’m afraid. We have to accept that the incomparable depth and richness found in contemporary musical thought is lost to the cultural debate, and belongs to the kind of esoteric endeavours that never go past the narrow confines of ‘contemporary music’ circles.

Persistence of ritual elements

Notes for a talk I gave during Birmingham Conservatoire’s Research Days in 2002.

Persistence of ritual elements in 20th century music. A composer’s view.

The ritual process in its various declinations, from tribal rites of passage to Greek tragedy, from religious ceremonies to the dynamics of social behaviour, is a powerful concept that can be applied to many seminal musical works of the last century. This paper aims to show briefly how the ritual dimension has been approached by composers, from Stravinsky to Berio, and how ritual elements are surprisingly attuned to many issues of today’s music.

* * *

We can talk of ritual in relation to music and performance on two levels:
1. The ritual aspect of a performance, the rite of the concert, so to speak. It’s the frame that allows the performance to take place, and the sequence of events is very much like a ritual process. The analogy with the classical sequence of a rite of passage, as first described by Arnold Van Gennep in his seminal work Les rites de passage (Paris, 1908), is telling: there’s a separation, with a threshold to cross – the concert space – that transforms a number of individuals into an audience, then a marginal phase, the actual performance, and eventually a reintegration, when, after applause and sharing of comments, the audience is disassembled, and becomes again a sum of individuals. The origin of the word entartainment – from the old French entretenir – to keep separated, relates with this need to create a marginal, liminal space for the performance. Liminal comes from the Latin limen, meaning boundary, threshold, limit, from where preliminary, liminary ande postliminary. To mimick even better the classical similarity with an actual rite, often we also have someone waving authoritatively a baton, as a high priest in charge of the ceremony. In the words of Joseph Kerman in Concerto Conversations, “the symphony concert remains one of the few arenas left for ritual interchange and display by the wealthy and powerful, and while this elite has grown and is growing exponentially, it has yet to invent alternative means of self-celebration”.

2. The second level is when the model of a ritual process, or elements of it, are used in a composition, and translate in the musical sphere the concepts and dynamics attached to human rituals. This is the way of looking at rituals in music that interests me most, and will be dealt with at some length. My aim is to show how employing ritual elements and models in music can amplify and unmask the connection with hidden archetypes, in the Jungian sense. This has two very concrete outcomes: it allows to bring to the surface profound similarities between very different musical styles and cultures, and gives unifying power to the music outside of the specific language being used. More importantly, it allows to bypass the issue of the language almost completely, and justifies the coherence of works that show apparently a rather confused stylistic approach – at least according to traditional language-based analysis tools.

As it has been shown by Stephen Walsh in his recent books devoted to Stravinsky, especially in The Music of Stravinsky (OUP 1988), the preoccupation with ritual elements is constant with the composer, and comes back and again like a red thread across all the different creative periods of his life. What is relevant to our main argument here is how the ritual approach enabled Stravinsky to channel the latent archetypal forces of Russian folklore into Modernist musical constructions: the ritual as a way to tame the wild and chaotic energy of nature and incorporate it into defined works of art, re-enacting a function of ritual common to most tribal societies.

How do we identify the ritualised elements in Stravinsky’s music? Some of his works are evident recreations of existing rituals – like Les Noces (The Wedding), and many others deal with – for example – fertility rituals or sacrifices under many different covers: Rite of Spring, of course, then Oedipus Rex, Persephone, Orpheus, etc. In other works where the ritualised element is not explicit, it is to be found in the character of the music. Let’s see how we can define this character, and how it has been subsequently employed by other composers working in the same direction.

There are a number of characteristics that belong to the “ritual” field:

Static, frozen
Incantation – Apotheosis
Universalising, unity of action

Every one of this terms extends in very interesting directions, and could be used to write a cross-section history of music in recent years. The idea of non-expressive, for example, is about using ritualised expression, i.e. objective, against the subjectivity of Romanticism, but of course as Stravinsky himself said, not less moving because of that, on the other hand probably more moving (see the Symphonies of Wind Instruments). Stravinsky’s search for a mechanical production of sounds – especially in relation to The Wedding – is well known. Interestingly enough, the purposefully non-expressive white voice, without vibrato, is a characteristic of a number of African initiation rites.

The use of frames: we have seen at the beginning of this conversation how the ritual process involves the definition of a separated space, where the rite can take place. The framing devices that we find in works like Renard, The Wedding, Oedipus Rex, Persephone, by using a narrator, situate the story in a suspended space-time, and underline the ritual character of the action. The work becomes a ritual act, the re-enactment of a ritual drama. The frame creates distance. The connection with the parallel research of Meyerhold in the theatre, with the Theatre of Masks, is rather important, and this goes straight to Grotowski.

One of the most powerful compositional devices to confer on music a ritualised character is of course the use of repeating melodic, harmonic and rhythmic cells. Of special importance is the substitution of harmonic syntax with shifting harmonic fields. When we talk of harmonic fields we talk of static, non functional sets of pitches, that instead of obeying the rules of organic and dynamic growth, are layered and shifted, like planes in a Cubist painting, to give an idea. The internal movement of the fields can be extremely agitated, frenzied, but the overall impression is of a static landscape, since development happens by shifts of position and juxtaposition between different elements, rather than transformation.

The perfect example of this kind of ritualised music is the incantation effect, the kind of trance-like, multi-layered endless circular motion so characteristic of many Stravinskian endings, from the Symphony of Psalms to the Requiem Canticles, from the “Cantique” – 3rd of the Three Pieces for String quartet to the Symphony in C, Apollon Musagète, etc. The effect is of a frozen landscape slowly turning on itself. In his fundamental book Musique et transe Jean Rouget shows how the incantation music of many trance-inducing rituals in tribal societies follow the same patterns. It’s an easy step from here to contemporary techno in its various declinations of ritual, ambient, trance, and so on.

The need for ritual and popular music
In rave parties the dj becomes a shaman, the master of ceremonies, while the venue, usually a warehouse, becomes a church. Rave as TAZ, Temporary Autonomous Zone, identical concept to the liminal phase of the ritual process according to Victor Turner.
Rave as a “trance device”, where the individual drowns in the collective rite, losing the sense of self. In the dichotomy figure/background, the figure fades away, the background becomes important. The big techno revolution is in this layering of sounds, and in the loss of the melody/accompaniment model of pop music. Background as a surface on which anything can be projected, where any sound objects can be layered freely. The background is the ritual dimension itself, the static element that allows the rite to set in.
The electric body, vibrating and pulsating with the music. The Dionysian principle in its basic form.

Repetitive is an adjective that of course can be used for what has been called Minimalist music.

One of the ritual elements that have been more successful in 20th century music is the non-narrative plot, the circular closed action, often inspired by a classical myth, and re-enacted as a ritual drama over and over again. And indeed, the perfect territory for the investigation of non-narrative techniques, is the music theatre and the opera. Writing for the opera the composer interested in a ritual approach is faced with the possibility of merging into one the two aspects that I outlined at the beginning: the ritual of the performance can indeed become the performance of a ritual. This is because in operas we can see in action both the external ritual of the performance, and the ritual nature of the opera itself. The example of Wagner’s Parsifal shows how tempting it is to think of opera as a kind of sacred performance, a religious celebration.
It comes then as no surprise that composers have looked at the non-narrative examples of ritual structures, from Greek tragedy to Japanese No theatre, as a way to overcome the stale narrative formulas of 19th century opera. If we take two works as different as Luciano Berio’s Outis, premiered in Milan on 1996, and performed again in Milan and Paris in 1999, and Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus, we see how in both of them the composers used the same story, or rather the same mythical, symbolic sequence of events, and repeated it over and over again, seeing it from different angles, in the best tradition of Levi Strauss’ structural anthropology. In Outis – meaning “no one” in Greek, and inspired by Ulysses – the same series of symbolic events is repeated five times (initially it should have been six times), always starting with the same event, the death of the father. Another work by Berio that fits the description of a ritual drama is Passaggio (1961), on a text by Edoardo Sanguineti, a real modern example of a passion play.

Berio defines all his works written for the theatre as “musical actions”. The term has not really been employed widely, but he insists on using it. For Berio a musical action is a theatrical action that is generated and determined by the music. Music in control, so to speak, like in Wagner’s operas. In truth, there’s not much action to speak of in any of his operas. Without a story, and a story projected onto the music – as Kerman says – opera becomes a lyrical form , a ritual form, a plain entertainment form, or any combination of the three, but it loses its status as a dramatic form.

I became interested in rituals while working on my opera Magma in the mid-90s. I know that the ritual approach can be misleading for its immensity. The risk is always present of falling prey of the globality of the ritual approach. Think about the following; the indo-european root for the word is ar-, from which the following words also derive:

Ornate, Adorn

It is a powerful cluster of concepts, but too open. In fact, a lot of things can be interpreted as a ritual process, and it is very important to maintain an alert critical mind when dealing with rituals. An example of this is the work of the social anthropologist Victor Turner. He started from the basic triadic sequence of separation, margin, reintegration – as postulated by Arnold Van Gennep – and used it to define the very nature of social interaction, social crisis, social change. Following his personal experience with the Ndembe population in Africa, Turner saw how social dynamics in time of crisis in the life of the village were not “free”, but rather followed a determined sequence of situations that reflected a ritual process. By focusing his attention on the marginal – the liminal phase of the ritual process Turner has been able to show how the reshuffling and reordering of society values during the liminal phase is the most creative time in the history of a society. This is a powerful intuition that can be extremely useful for composers, because it allows them to look at historical events or human behaviour with a deeper knowledge of the common model that they follow. A model that can be reinterpreted and translated into music, and still preserve some of its archetypal energy.

© 2002 Lamberto Coccioli

Opera e No television documentary

In 1995 Luciano Berio was going to be 70. I asked him if, to his knowledge, RAI (the Italian National Television Network) had planned any kind of anniversary present, in the form of a documentary or concert broadcasting. Having received a negative answer, I decided to embark in a rather adventurous journey, writing a project for a documentary on Berio and the creative process. Three years and many difficulties later the final result was eventually released.

A lot of research work went into the planning and writing of the documentary, especially in the early stages, when the theme of the creative process was still the core of the documentary. Working closely with the composer, I defined a subtle dramatic structure where the path from inspiration to performed work is intertwined with various parallel processes: from draft to finished drawing, from stone to sculpture, from raw sound to melodic line. Sadly, for political and budgetary reasons what had started as a very ambitious project had to be trimmed down more and more, until the original idea was almost unrecognizable. What remains is an interesting but very high-brow portrait of a man and his music through his words, those of some of his influential friends, and the images of his opera Outis.

Opera e no: l’altro Ulisse di Luciano Berio (Opera and Not: Luciano Berio’s Other Ulysses) is a 60-minute documentary film on Luciano Berio and the creation of his opera Outis, premiered at La Scala Theatre in Milan in October 1996. Co-authored by the film director Piero Berengo-Gardin and myself, the documentary intends to give a fresh approach to musical creation and the production process of a new “musical action”, as Berio himself defines his works for the stage. Excerpts from rehearsals at La Scala are juxtaposed with dialogues with Berio and interviews with some of his close “creative” friends: Umberto Eco; Edoardo Sanguineti, the Italian poet, and librettist of many works by the composer; Dario Del Corno, co-writer with Berio of Outis’ libretto; Daniele Del Giudice, the Italian writer; Renzo Piano, the world-famous architect.

Aimed at demystifying the elite status of contemporary music – especially considering television audiences – the documentary tries to place the subject of music creation in a wider arena of concepts and meanings. Musical thought becomes thus another important element of the current cultural debate, and fecund ideas are shared and interchanged between music, literature and architecture.

Produced by RAITre, Third Channel of RAI, the Italian National Broadcasting Corporation, Opera e No was first broadcast in February 1998, and subsequently broadcast on various occasions. The documentary has been selected by the International Competition Classique en images in Paris for its 1998 edition.

Carnegie Hall lecture

Notes for a talk I gave on works by Berio and Maderna.

Pre-concert Lecture, The Luciano Berio – Tempo Reale Workshop
Carnegie Hall, New York, October 1997

The three compositions that are going to be played tonight are of a very different nature. A new work for two soloists and orchestra, Alternatim, a short piece for small instrumental ensemble, Serenata per un satellite; and Ofanim, a long composition for two children’s choirs, a female voice, two instrumental groups and live electronics. Those of you who are used to come to this hall will notice the differences: we don’t want to show off the technology, but you will nonetheless see a certain number of loudspeakers all around the place, plus a – quite well hidden, I must say – mixing desk in the parquet. I will explain to you in a short while what is the purpose of those devices.

Tonight we will take part, in fact, in three different musical experiences: one – listening to Serenata per un satellite by Bruno Maderna – where the musical gestures are fixed, and repeated at leisure by the performers. Another – Alternatim by Luciano Berio – where two solo instruments – a clarinet and a viola, generate the orchestral landscape from their melodies and figurations, amplifying and giving more resonance and greater scope to their solo discourse. And a third – Ofanim, again by Berio – where technology is employed to amplify and clarify the complex texture of sounds, and to place the bold musical gestures of the score in a completely new acoustical scenario.

Why am I talking of gestures, of musical gestures? This is a very important point, and one that I’d like to stress, because it’s very close to the heart of Luciano Berio’s musical thought. When an instrument plays, or a voice sings, it makes gestures. The physical act that translates the written page in sounds is heavy with meaning for us, and a deep knowledge of the meaning of a musical gesture is necessary if we want to control it, to master the rhetoric of the instrumental tradition without being mastered by it. Luciano Berio has always been well aware of the powerful meaning of our musical tradition, be it western classical, folk, ethnic, and knows how to cope with it, and how to use it for his artistic purposes. This is why so often his music reaches the audience with great, immediate force, without compromising a rich and complex musical language. It really works on two layers, one of strong communication through the subtle control of every possible musical gesture, the other of a composite musical fabric where both instrumental and formal experiments are carried out in depth. In other words, an abstract approach and a concrete one meet in a multi-layered musical experience.

This in part is true of the work of Bruno Maderna too, whose Serenata per un satellite, in the version realised by Paul Roberts, will be played tonight.
Serenade – it’s a rather uncommon term for a composition of contemporary music, especially in the Fifties, when the titles were more like Structures, Mutations, Kontrapunkte, very hard titles in a way, for a music who didn’t want to compromise with the emotions, and, for that matter, with the past. In fact, Berio too wrote a Serenade, during the Fifties, and Maderna too, before writing the one we’ll listen to tonight. Maderna wrote many Serenatas during his life, four, and the last one, called Juilliard Serenade was composed for the famous New York music school in 1971.

It is interesting to quote what Berio himself said on the subject of Serenade: “In the Fifties the composers were deeply involved with the search for structural references and a new serial order; the face of music was always grouchy. Bruno Maderna’s Serenata and mine were the first to come out after the war. They seem to me the first examples in which serial music becomes more relaxed and shows a less severe aspect.”

It was a sign that something had changed in the music of those years, something that gave way to a happier, less abstract approach to composition. These words portray both men, really, and allow us to understand one of the strong elements always present in Berio’s music: its lack of ideological “partis pris”, of prejudices of every sort. Music according to Berio and Maderna too (he was an enfant prodige, conducting his first concert at 8 and playing the violin at La Scala when he was 7 years old) can only be approached taking into proper account the fact that it has to be performed, and listened to. Too abstract an approach, too scientific, simply will not work. In music, more so than in any other art form, the abstract and the practical meet together.

In music the concrete is the idea, and vice versa. In the musical experience there’s always a drama hidden beneath the surface. The players, through their musical gestures, convey to the audience the ideas of the composer, adding a theatrical dimension to the music – that is to say, the performance. Not to be aware of this, as a composer, can impoverish, deplete the music of a fundamental dimension, that will always be there, even if the composer ignores it.

Going back to our serenades, it is clear then that such an old-fashioned title was a kind of provocation against the clichés of new music. Maderna was well aware of this. He was a witty man, as Serenata per un satellite shows. The idea of the piece is to have a set of different musical phrases or figures, that are to be played in any order, together, or divided by small groups, or one instrument at a time. There is complete freedom in the construction of the piece then, but the notes cannot be changed. This is typical of Maderna’s approach to what is called aleatoric technique in music, a technique that John Cage used intensively during his whole life. Maderna always wrote down the notes and the freedom he left the performers was always confined to the order of the events, their duration, or their superimposition.

Serenata per un satellite is also really a conductor’s game, a piece that Pierre Boulez would have liked. There are a number of musical figures that can be played freely by any instrument – ad libitum, as it were – and the conductor is a bit like the co-ordinator of this musical traffic, starting and stopping the players. The phrases to be played are all presented in a beautiful manuscript page written by Maderna himself, where they all interweave and bend in every direction. The interplay of these lines makes up the piece, a witty and intelligent musical joke, that in the hands of good and inspired performers like tonight’s can become a small masterwork full of humour.

Alternatim refers in its title to a technique of medieval music, commonly found in European tradition until the XVth century. Guillaume Dufay, among many others, employed it in its motet written for the opening of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The technique consisted in alternating polyphony and monody, soloists and organ. Here we have two solo players, a viola and a clarinet, and an orchestra with strings, brass and winds, but no percussion. Two questions jump to the mind immediately: the first – how this work relates with the tradition of the concerto, or double concerto to be precise, and what is the relationship between the two soloists and the orchestra?

The answer to the first question lies in the very nature of the classical concerto – seen as a display of instrumental virtuosity and intelligence, and always very homogeneous in its nature. As Berio himself says, there is no longer a way to establish homogeneity of meaning between one or more soloists and a mass of musicians of different density or nature – such as existed in Baroque, Classical, and Romantic concertos, when the “individual” and the “mass” could practically say the same thing despite their completely different densities and acoustic characters. Today the relationship between soloist and orchestra is a problem that must ever be solved anew, and the word concerto can be taken only as a metaphor.

These are bold statements, and not everybody will agree with them. Well, it is indeed possible to write a concerto today, but the composer has to take into account that the reassuring unity of the classical concerto is lost forever. The answer given to this dilemma by Berio is to make the soloist or the soloists – as it is the case in Alternatim – the starting point of the work, from where originates the whole musical journey. In other words, the musical lines played by the soloists engender, create in a way the musical functions of the whole orchestra.

The choice of the clarinet and the viola is a telling one: they are the real chameleons of the orchestra, and better than other instruments can act as a link between different instrumental families. Like many contemporary composers Berio has never been interested in instrumental families like the ones we find on the orchestration textbooks, but has always explored what we can call the sound families, the families that underline analogies between instruments that are normally very far one from the other. The clarinet and the viola are probably the most useful instruments for an exploration of sound families, given their different registers and their not too specific or confined sound. Think of a violin, or a piano, or even an oboe, and you’ll see how difficult it is to find similarities in other instruments of other families. It is possible, yes, but the viola and clarinet have many more choices for interacting with other members of the orchestra.

As I said before, the lines played by the soloists are the starting point of the piece. We could define those lines as melodies, but the term “line” is less charged with meaning, and probably explains better their role in generating different musical events for the orchestra. We could think of the line as a kind of complex melody – and a melody is rich and interesting when it implies many different musical functions.

Let’s consider Bach’s music for solo cello, solo violin or solo flute, as an example. In those works, a melody implies always a strong polyphonic texture, as the instrument jumps from one register to the other, carrying on different independent lines and at the same time merging them into a single one. On the other hand, think of the importance of the theme during the Classical and Romantic era. A musical theme shaped and ordered all the material of a sonata or a symphony movement. Melody in classical music has always hidden many powerful functions affecting all the elements of composition. That is why a melody written today needs to have the same range of different musical functions.

In Alternatim one of the basic areas of investigation is the relationship between the soloists and the orchestra, that is to say how a monodic line transforms itself into a polyphonic texture, into a complex musical fabric. If we take a quick look at the other works written by Berio for solo instruments and orchestra we always find out different solutions to this challenging problem. I’ll point out two examples: the series of the Chemins, where the original Sequenza for solo instrument is transcribed, projected, in the orchestral field, and the radical solution of Coro, where there are forty voices and forty instruments, and every single instrument is coupled with a different singer. In Alternatim we have this beautiful melodic line, that starts with a series of leaps of a fourth, both perfect fourth and augmented fourth, an interval that comes back all the time in the course of the work. Why this insistence?

The historical importance of the interval of fourth cannot be understated: it is like a bridge that links the oldest European music, the music of the Middle Ages, with the music of the beginning of our century, primarily Debussy and Schoenberg, but also Stravinsky, and Scrjabin. In between we have the supremacy of the classical tonal language, based on the interval of a third, like in a major or minor chord of the scale. The relationship with musical history in Berio is never an innocent one: if he chooses to work with certain elements it is because he wants to bring to the surface their hidden power, and make them react with other – rather different musical objects. In a way this is an approach very dear to another great composer of our century, Igor Stravinsky, but Berio extends the scope of this musical investigation further and reaches new territories.

This initial melodic line is an ever-present element of Alternatim, and comes back always different, but always recognisable. This gives me the opportunity to spend a few words over the fertile idea of redundancy in music, an idea that I’m sure Berio has spent some time investigating. The repetition, the coming back of the same element is a very strong feature of music of all times, and a fundamental way for communicating musical ideas. It has all to do with perception, and the way we listen to music. Contemporary composers shunned for a long time the very idea of repeating whatever. Without repetition, though, there can be no comprehension. This is especially true of a music that is not written using the tonal language, that powerful – still powerful – tool for giving the ear guidance. Redundancy, repetition of the same musical element, be it a line, a series of chords, a rhythmic pattern, becomes a way for helping the listener grasp the musical thought of a composer.

At the beginning of this discussion I mentioned the machines in the hall. I will now explain to you why we have filled Carnegie Hall with these big, black loudspeakers, and what is their purpose. But let me first say a word on the relation between technology and music. Music made with electro-acoustic machines and devices has been around now for more than forty years, and Berio himself, as he said to those of you that were taking part in the workshop this afternoon, started writing electronic music during the Fifties. Yet – I think that a fundamental difference exists between that period and today. In those years the composers were the ones that started experimenting and they created the demand for new machines to realise their musical experiments. In a way, musical thought guided the birth of new machines and their characteristics, so that there was a situation comparable to the introduction of new instruments during the preceding centuries. Nowadays, on the contrary, and for quite a long time now, probably from the end of the Seventies, electronic machines started to be an incredibly useful tool for commercial music and ceased to be under the direct influence of musical thought. In fact, it was musical thought that started to run after new technologies, trying to cope with the startling amount of new machines coming out every moment.

Structure of the piece, alternating great density and calmer moments, static, harmonically static.

Electronics in the piece: harmonizers, delay, spatialization.

Functions: amplifying, clarifying the harmonic structure, emphasising the structure, and amplifying the expressive range, through amplitude and density.

Ofanim is a piece that can be played in many different spaces, and every time we perform it in a different space, the music changes, according to many different factors. And every time we learn more on the relationship of sounds with space. It is really a work in progress, but one whose many faces, corresponding to its subsequent performances – we hope – convey always the same musical meaning. Because, I say it once again, live electronics technology should always be part of a wider musical vision, and it should really act as an amplifier – in every direction – of a musical meaning, that – even sketched – has to be already there, in the score.

© 1997 Lamberto Coccioli

…the sun is out, the sun is out

The title of this work for large orchestra is the last line of Boys And Girls Between The Wars, a poem by Sebastian Schloessingk I have also set to music. The original work for voice and four instruments is the starting point for ...the sun is out, the sun is out . The original instrumental gestures are projected and expanded in a vast orchestral space, and acquire a completely new dimension. This process of transcription, of reading again and translating the same material in different forms, obviously inspired by the lesson of Berio, has always fascinated me.

Composed in 1994

© 2015 lamberto coccioli

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