on music and beauty

Tag: creative process

From culture to nature and back

‘From culture to nature and back: a personal journey through the soundscapes of Colombia’ is an online essay where I reflect on my experience of the natural sounds, music and rituals of remote places and communities in Colombia. The article, with its accompanying recordings, has been published in Journal of Sonic Studies 19, an issue entirely devoted to the sounds of Latin America.

In the essay I celebrate the astonishing richness and diversity of Colombia’s natural and human soundscapes, and reconstruct the process through which they have influenced my own creative work as a composer. Reflecting on a long personal and intellectual journey of discovery that plays out on many levels – musical, anthropological, aesthetic – helps bring to the fore important questions on music composition as the locus of cultural appropriation and reinterpretation.

How far can the belief system of a distant culture travel before it loses its meaning? From a postcolonial perspective, can a European composer justify the use and repurposing of ideas, sounds and songs from marginalised indigenous communities? In trying to give an answer to these questions I keep unravelling layer upon layer of complexity, in a fascinating game of mirrors where my own identity as a “Western” composer starts crumbling away.

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!

You are a content provider

We write music because we feel compelled to do it, not because of some external reason or demand. Or do we? The role of inspiration, and what can be defined as inspiration in composing music, has been debated extensively. The truth is, we cannot separate external influence from inner compulsion.

Throughout the history of music, the most successful composers have been the ones that have managed to tune their creative impulse to the needs of the outside world. As far as creative output is concerned the outside world is a strange mixture of elements, where the expectations of patrons, commissioning bodies, influential friends and colleagues coexist with an imagined audience and the public projection of a composer’s self-created artistic image. All these elements come to play in the mind of composers as potential influencing factors, and affect their work more than they would like to admit.

We should then rephrase the first sentence like this: we write music because we want to communicate with the world. What is the chosen channel for this communication? If you are a smart composer, alert to the changing world around you, you will know already that the zeitgeist doesn’t inhabit concert venues programming ‘contemporary music’ works. It is to be found instead in some sort of team endeavour – a movie, a theatre production, a multimedia installation, a site-specific event, where your music becomes part of a wider artistic venture, a complex cultural product of our time, reflecting the interconnecting nature and the infinite resonances of our mostly mediated experience of reality.

You have then become a content provider, a sharp operator in a increasingly undecipherable world, carving small slices of meaning by interacting with other media, other forms, and with the unavoidable, ubiquitous technology we try so hard, often so helplessly, to keep under control.

Music and Inspiration by Jonathan Harvey

Just finished reading this fascinating book. It has a very ambitious goal: to reveal, or at least to shed some light on, the inner workings of the creative process behind the composition of a musical work. Although at times a bit scholastic, it gives us a hint of a vast, uncharted world, and how creativity can be triggered by unrelated, disparate and often unpredictable sources of inspiration.

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 on 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 the §me 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 unrecognisable. 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 with the film director Piero Berengo-Gardin, 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 Teatro alla 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‘s 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.

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