giovedì 2 aprile 2015

Interview with Fabio Selvafiorita and Andrea Aguzzi

You have a curious curriculum: you have a degree in musicology in Bologna with a thesis on computer-assisted composition, you founded a company for video production and postproduction, and you studied electronic music at the Scuola Civica in Milan with Alvise Vidolin, what did it mean for you to study with a teacher of that level?

It may seem a little bit eclectic path but I always followed only two great passions: music and cinema. I arrived at the Scuola Civica after that I temporarily abbandoned my university studies in Bologna. Vidolin came from the Padova’s center of Sonology, he had collaborated with important postwar composers as Nono, Sciarrino, Berio, Battistelli. He remains the historical memory of Italian contemporary music so I could not ask for anything better then him. I made a lot of practice with him about live electronics of repertoire pieces and I remember many interesting encounters with composers and scientists.

You studied at IRCAM in Paris, what did you find in that country compared to the Italian situation? What kind of environment IRCAM has...?

The subject of my thesis was: OpenMusic, IRCAM software for composing, so it seemed natural to further my studies with the same people who contributed to the development of the software. The IRCAM is a reality that is aging but is unmatched in terms of organization and professionalism in the research and production. We must, however, try to understand the need for this type of research today. Many of these institutions tend to approach music from a unique cognitive-engineering paradigm type which has now had its day. Staying in Paris I have found much more interesting as what goes musically by GRM. An "Italian situation" does not exist because there are no similar institutions in our country. But I do not think this is a bad thing.

In much of your music I think we can feel the presence of the guitar, it may seem a little bit strange thingthinking about your studies and your training about electronics and computer science. How important is the presence of the guitar in your music?

Please keep in mind that I began studying music at 12 years old when my father enrolled me in a course of classical guitar. There followed a period of intense study lasted almost 15 years and for a some time I embraced the idea of making it a career. I became pretty good but I soon realized that it is not enough to be "pretty good" to become a professionist. I did then also my best experiences with the electric guitar playing rock but especially metal, thrash metal. I liked the style of Chuck Schuldiner, Denis D'Amour (aka Piggy) two young lives too damn early cut short. Then some American acoustic music, Fahey, Basho, Michael Hedges. Parallel to the guitar, however, as you pointed out, I began to be interested in other ways: musicology, electronic music and finally the composition. For example I consider the attendance of composition’s courses with Alexander Solbiati another very important moment for my training. Thanks to him I learned what it means to compose, to be a Composer and then mediate between a musical thought and writing by means of musical instruments. In electronic music instead writing is absent or takes other meanings. Other grammars, other formal possibilities emerge and are developed. There is thus a substantial ontological difference between the two worlds, and the difference is made writing. In my music such as this is reflected in a vast difference between the electronic music that I produce and I write the instrumental. Contrary to electronic music that I produce my writing, so even for guitar, is quite "traditional" and my models remain composers like Petrassi, Castiglioni, Henze. Going back to your question about the guitar is right; most of the things I wrote down was for guitar. And I will continue to do so. I am convinced that it is an instrument yet to be explored. As a composer, I will not pass up this challenge.

You have published other pieces for guitar (besides the Fleurs d'X) for Ut Orpheus Edizioni, like "Seven short pieces for guitar" in 2005 and "Eloge de l'Asymptote for Guitar" in 2006, do you want to talk about them? Have they been performed and recorded?

The Fleurs d'X are now published by Nuova Stradivarius while the two works you mentioned are published by Ut Orpheus. Apart Fleurs d'X my catalog for guitar begins to be quite substantial: two fantasies-sonatas, five preludes, three collections of songs in a Suite’s form including the seven short pieces, the Eloge and Quodlibet and finally a chamber’s music for guitar and five instruments. The model I belowed to compose the scores you mentioned above is the one of the great baroque Suite guitarists, Roncalli, de Visée. Short forms, concise and with an extreme gestures varietas. Fleurs d'X apart, the majority of these scores have never been performed and recorded.

How did start the project Fleurs d'X and collaboration with Elena Casoli?

The Fleurs d'X is primarily a game born almost by accident. I tell some curious details about the birth of this work in the CD’s booklet. Like all games, there are some serious implications and some half-serious. I read that you called them fragments: I think this is a correct definition even though I consider them the same way as emblems. The mandatory nature of the scores is not without “reservatezze”, very close to the limits of the music game as the famous Rondeau Cordier or symbolic as in emblemata by Atalanta Fugiens Maier. There are such small musical puzzles that I enjoyed to put in a lot of passages. I always then an image, as the music as courtesan thing sometimes I write for guitar as if it was appropriate music to sign the hours of an imaginary future court. If you have ever read Anathem by Neal Stephenson you can easily imagine this fantastic monastic courtesan community. Talking about Elena I believe that the greatest fortune for a composer is working with professional interpreters. Everything she did was made with maximum professionalism: I offered her the job, we met three times for tests and at that point I realized that I could also seal the collaboration in a CD. I wanted to personally follow the studio recordings experiencing some solutions like using a contact microphone to highlight some particular sounds.

Berlioz said that composing for classical guitar was difficult to do because you had to be a guitarist, this phrase has often been used as a justification for the limited repertoire of classical guitar before other instruments like piano and violin. At the same time has been more and more questioned by the growing interest that the guitar (whether classical, acoustic, electric or midi) has reached in contemporary music. Do you think that there is still a trth in Berlioz’s words?

The words certainly had a sense in the period in which they were written. Berlioz played guitar and was a hero of the revolution that was going through the language of music. But maybe I would talk more about sound then about language. The romantic sound (his Dionysian component), is in fact incompatible with the thinness of the guitar (Apollonian instrument). It 'a sound that tends to saturate space. In the same instrumentation essay Berlioz considers innovatively problems as the spatialization of orchestral instruments, acoustics etc. etc. But romantic saturation was not only an obvious "dynamic" question.At those time they were beginning to become aware of the same tonal space’s limits. If the already defined composers “forma mentis” built on Fux was still unwilling to adapt itself to the combinatorial guitar, you can imagine it in the post Sturm und Drang. Guitar was always the Ancient Regime’s instrument, of Louis XIV, and Berlioz in his music certainly was not celebrating the memory of the victims of the Vendée genocide. If the romantic sound tends to envelop the audience, guitar, in contrast, has a sound that tends to draw to itself the listener. Enchanting him. But here happens something extraordinary, unique and even tragic in the history of music. From the point of view of psychoanalysis it is a process that would call for the” removal of a schizophrenic unconscious desire”. The novelty expressed by the romantic sound, his ecstatic dimension is so predominant that prevails even on the imaginary mythic-symbolic embodied by the plucked string instruments (therefore also in the processing of the most archaic type guitar lute, harp). Imagery that is still very much present in the composers (those celebrated by Canon) who removed the guitar from their practice. You can think about of the centrality of archaic harp or lute in all processing of romantic poetry. Another example that would be worth deepening: the harp-lute of Beckmesser in Meistersinger Wagner. I would not dragging it too long but, for better or for worse this consideration for me has important implications for the entire history of the guitar. Here there is also material, as he wrote Quirino Principe, to define "what the music is whatever its historical epiphany ... its essence, beyond existence."

I have noticed in recent years a gradual rapprochement between the two aspects of avant-garde music, on the one hand the academic side and the other one brought forward by musicians far away from the classical and coming from areas such as jazz, electronics and extreme rock like Fred Frith, John Zorn, the New York downtown scene and some electronic music labels such as Sub Rosa and Mille Plateux influenced by the thought of Deleuze and Guattari. What do you think of these possible interactions and do you think that there is “room” for them in Italy? In addition, we often hear about improvisation, sometimes random improvisation within the contemporary music sometimes confusing it with game of chances as for Cage, what meaning has improvisation in your music research?

Never as today in Italy there are now amazing musical talents, between performers and composers and electronic musicians. Regardless of the institutions and their degeneration is an extraordinary period for both the experimental music as for the academic. The difference in our country is made by the individual, hardened by all the possible difficulties to emerge. On contamination between academia and experimentation I have many doubts but I hope, in the near future, to be able to hear my voice. My insatiable curiosity led me to attend both worlds ... but I do not know if you know Cristina Campo’s verse:
"Two worlds -and I come from the other."
Improvisation for me has a very great importance especially in electroacoustic music. But I was never interested in documenting the act of improvisation itself.

Apart from the use of the computer what approach do you follow to compose? Do you use only the computer or do you prefer a more "traditional" way? Do you write on pentagram or do you use other systems such as diagrams, drawings, etc.?

If it comes to writing music I actually almost always use first pen and paper. Not for a quirk retro because objectively it is less tiring write music directly on computer. But the hand’s ancient gesture imprints more easily in the mind and helps me a lot especially in the pre-compositional development. Then I take a lot of notes in a completely disorder. But not always proceed in this way. Sometimes I use OpenMusic (or PWGL) and Finale opened simultaneously to generate new material. The transition between these softwares or of these with the first method is non-linear and unpredictable. In between there are many prints, many cuts and a lot of dutch tape. I use drawings and diagrams mainly for electronic music or chamber music. They are not prescriptive but a repertoire of possibilities regarding the different parts assembly (these are often improvised on electro-acoustic instruments, especially nowadays with tapes and pedals). These patterns refer to narrative procedures and / or typical of the audiovisual film so as to oppose each other editing and montage techniques.

What are your next projects?

After four years since my last “musique concrete” production I’ m finally finishing my first electronic music solo. It 'a long suite tentatively titled Come to Venus, Melancholy (the story by Thomas Disch). I then picked up an old project of a series of scenes from Faust for viola d'amore and electronics but I have not the faintest idea where and how it will end. Recent news is the beginning of a collaboration with the online newspaper L'Intellettuale Dissidente for which I will deal with Traditional and Avant-Garde music, finally in a post-ideological perspective, with no easy concessions to the simplifications, that will be followed by critical insights, news and advice listening.

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