on music and beauty

Category: Music (Page 1 of 3)

silence is a looking bird

I composed this short piano piece when I was 16, inspired by ‘silence’, from 95 Poems by e e cummings:





(inquiry before snow

© 1958 e e cummings

Life after life

Soundtrack for an award-winning documentary film by director Enrica Colusso. Life after life (Fine pena mai) follows a group of prisoners jailed for life in the Italian prison of Porto Azzurro, on the Elba island in Tuscany.

No risk no champagne

Music for an award-winning documentary film directed by Enrica Colusso and produced in 2002 by Fandango, an Italian production company. The subject of the documentary is the dramatic ordeal of young Ukrainian women lured abroad with the perspective of a decent job and forced instead to sell themselves.

This job was quite difficult to deal with. I spent quite some time finding the right tone for the music, and when I eventually thought I had, no one else seemed to agree… Obviously this happens quite often when writing music for a movie, but this time, maybe because of my close relationship with the director, it hurt more than usual. In the end only one little piece from the original soundtrack that I wrote was used in the final cut.


In 2000 AGON invited me to compose the music and sound effects for a six-room interactive installation to be realised at Bologna’s COSMOPROF international cosmetics fair. Intercos, the company that commissioned the installation, wanted to create an immersive environment around a specific narrative.
Memory, Garden, Irony, Seduction, Laziness and Future were the six themes, one for each room.

The music I wrote consisted in six loops of the same length, one for each room. The sense of continuity was given by a common harmonic structure shared by all the loops, while rhythms and instrumentation were very different, according to the room’s theme. Various models of interaction were implemented in the installation, the most interesting one being the Future room, were the movement of the hands of the visitors affected both the visuals projected on the facing wall and the sounds being diffused by the loudspeakers.

I collaborated on this installation project with Michele Tadini, Paolo Solcia and Andrea Taglia from AGON.

The Dancing Pig

Shortly after arriving in Birmingham I was involved in the realisation of The Dancing Pig, in collaboration with Mark Lockett, a wonderfully polymorphous musician, and Roy Kwabena, then Birmingham’s poet laureate, and a brilliant story-teller originally from Trinidad.

The Dancing Pig is an Indonesian story about two curious children and a witch. I worked on a live electronics setup to transform Roy’s narrating voice and some of the gamelan instruments, to give the story and the music an eerie, outworldly quality.

Three Variations


(Variation no. 1 )

These three Variations represent a short essay in harmonic projection and time compression. The orchestral space becomes the playground where a melodic line is expanded and explored from a harmonic perspective, while the pace of change of different musical objects generated by the fragments of the melody increases dramatically.

The original model for the harmonic structure of the work is no. 2 from Per Iona, an earlier piece for solo piano.

1. Mosso
2. Calmo
3. Più mosso



High up on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia, under the snowy peaks and overlooking the Caribbean Sea, live the Kogi Indians. Contrary to the fate of many indigenous people in South America, the Kogi have managed to maintain their cultural identity and traditional way of life. Their geographical isolation has certainly helped, but the main reason is the unusually articulated, profound and interconnected set of beliefs and rituals that govern their life. Mythic thought and everyday life are so intertwined that many anthropologists have recognised the exceptionality of the Kogi among other Indian tribes of Central and Southern America.

The Kogi universe is based on a creation myth centred on the figure of the Great Mother. Originally she was aluna, pure thought. This word has multiple meanings in the Kogi language: memory, spirit, imagination. This mythological narrative has been the main source of inspiration for Aluna. The role of the Great Mother, and how she spins the world into existence from the dark primeval waters, has determined the form of the piece and the interaction between the soloist and the ensemble. The music of the ensemble is always derived from the solo viola part. Technology is used in the piece to project the viola sound in space and to allow the soloist to control and transform the sounds of the ensemble in real time.

When dealing with different cultures, I am always very interested in a kind of reverse ethnology, whereby we use concepts and knowledge from “primitive” people to try and shed light on our own culture. Aluna sets out to recreate a musical equivalent of the incredibly rich and profound creation myth of the Kogi. No musical tourism and no exotic flavours then, rather the attempt to transcend cultural differences by marrying Western compositional techniques with a world view from a remote culture.

Written in 2005 for Rivka Golani, the renowned virtuoso viola player, Aluna is dedicated to the memory of my mother. Aluna was first performed on 24 June 2005 with Rivka Golani, solo viola, and the Thallein Ensemble conducted by Lionel Friend in the Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire.

* * *


Flute (doubling Piccolo)
Clarinet in Bb (doubling Bass Clarinet in Bb)
Horn in F
Trumpet in Bb
Percussion (Marimba, Glockenspiel)
Live Electronics (one performer)
2 Violins
Double Bass

Magma, or the See-Through Wilderness

Magma is about ritual and our relationship with nature. The traditional rites of passage from nature to culture – once powerful instruments of social integration and knowledge – do not exist anymore. Yet, humans still need rituals. To be meaningful today a rite of passage needs to take the inverse route, and go from culture back to nature.

In Magma a woman lives through different experiences that bring her close to an unexpected understanding of nature, as a frenzied, violent and irrational force, as a living magma perpetually regenerating. When her “inverted” rite of passage is over, the woman realises that her new awareness cannot be shared, and that there is no going back.

An old Nordic folktale introduces and frames the action. It sets the mythical mould that forms the basis of the woman’s behaviour, and allows a better understanding of the ritual dimension of the plot.

The idea for this work came from my personal experiences in a faraway country, while music and narrative evolved from the desire of setting up a reaction between different cultures, using – in a kind of inverted ethnology – the cultural criteria of so-called primitive societies to analyse and unmask our own behaviour.

The text of the libretto is by the Germano-Irish poet and writer Sebastian Schloessingk.

In Magma there are a number of musical and theatrical issues that I wanted to explore:

  • The relationship between speech and song, and the way to convey meaning in operatic writing: there are two actors on stage, and their speech is measured, without being rhythmically altered. At the same time key words from their text are sung by two singers for each actor. The singers are like added dimensions to the stage characters, and project musically the meaning of the words.
  • Real-time control of electronics in performance. The production of Magma took advantage of a new tool for live electronics, the MSP set of audio objects for the Max programming environment for the Macintosh. MSP had just come out in 1998, and in Magma it is used among other things for real-time convolution of voices and percussion with different sound sources. Magma is the first major Italian music production to use MSP.
  • Research in dynamic harmonic fields: they become elastic entities that follow closely the dramatic structure of the work. While writing an opera for the stage, compositional procedures should be closely related to, and even dependent from the dramatic structure of the work. Harmonic fields become here elastic, continuously self-modifying entities, that adhere as a second skin to the dramatic surface of the opera. On top of their fundamental harmonic identity, these fields may acquire – according to the dramatic situation – other dimensions. A historical one, in the shape of a direct intersection with patterns of notes clearly belonging to a given style, or a geographical one, where musical elements from distant cultures are integrated in the harmonic structure of the fields.

* * *

Commissioned by CIDIM, the Italian National Music Committee, together with the Rossini Theatre in Lugo di Ravenna and the Toscanini Foundation in Parma, Magma was premiered in Lugo in March 1998, with the following interpreters:

Alessandra Cecchini, Soprano
Margherita Salio, Mezzo-soprano
Maurizio Leoni, Baritone
Danilo Serraiocco, Bass

Francesca Brizzolara, Donna
Gabriele Volpi, Uomo

Denise Fedeli, conductor
Gigi Dall’Aglio, stage direction
Tiziano Santi, stage design
Tempo Reale, live electronics
Orchestra del Teatro Rossini di Lugo


In 1999, while working at Centro Tempo Reale in Florence, I was invited to write the music for a radio broadcast in sixty one-hour episodes, Novecento. The programme, dealing with social, cultural and artistic life in the 20th century, was intended as a kind of long goodbye to the dying century.

Novecento is an entirely electroacoustic collection of short pieces. The whole collection is built using as raw material fragments taken from the works of some of the musical icons of the century, from Ligeti to Lutoslawski, from Boulez to Nono, and mixing them with original material composed for a sort of underwater, end-of-the-world piano. No synthesis is used at any time. Since the original sounds are both taken out of context and redesigned, they are barely recognisable, but the halo of their previous meaning still hovers about, and gives the whole collection the eerie, ghost-like quality that I wanted.

Commissioned by RAI RadioTre, Novecento marks the beginning of the collaboration between RAI, the Italian National Television Network, and Centro Tempo Reale – the Florence-based centre founded and directed by Luciano Berio for music production, education and research with new technologies. In 1999 RAI joined Regione Toscana and the City of Florence as the third official funding body of Tempo Reale.

Per Iona

Two short piano pieces dedicated to Iona Schloessingk. The first inhabits a vast space, held together by a simple melodic thread. The second explores the harmonic depth of a more articulated melodic line, and provides the model for a later, much larger work for orchestra, Three Variations.

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