Berlin24 November 2001
24 november 2001
Forum des stilwerk
in collaborazione con l'Istituto Italiano di Cultura/Italienisches Kulturinstitut
Mario Bertoncini Suite (1999)
for prepared piano
Mario Bertoncin: Alleluia (1982)
for 8 Japanese gongs
Giulio Castagnoli Quattro poemetti (1993)
for cello and electronics
Dillon/Bertoncini Free improvisation
for cello and piano
M. Bertoncini Elementi di forma (2001)
for cello and electroacoustic processing (digital interpretation by Mario Bertoncini and Christian Messer)
Mario Bertoncini, piano
Ulrich Maiß, cello
Behind the mask of the title, a musical title - sonorous but not, let us hope, bombastic - today's concert presents to a modernist knowledgeable public at least three separate themes, today more topical than ever: group improvisation, preparation of traditional acoustic instruments and their combination with the latest inventions of the electronic digital processing technique.
The public, in fact, has already heard everything and experienced everything, both published and unpublished; a great deal has moreover been said and written on free improvisation, - or rather on collective extemporary composition in the period of post-serialism or of "I\nformal": perhaps more has been written than played, but in many cases - let us say without acrimony - this should not be considered a bad thing.
Despite the possibility of immediate information typical of our time, some rather obscure points can still be identified in the process so that a few supplementary items of information together with a minimal chronology will do no harm and complete the picture of improvisation.
In August 1964, at Rome, Francesco Evangelisti, Aldo Clementi (Nuova Consonanza) and John Heineman (American Academy) met the composer Larry Austin, a temporary guest of the Academy and member of N.M.E. (New Music Ensemble) of Davis University in California. Austin played them a recording of the improvisations of his group. Struck by the possibilities inherent in this new way of music-making, they decided to found a similar group formed by composer-performers: so the first European group of collective improvisation was born which, according to the wish of Franco Evangelisti, took the name of the Nuova Consonanza Association.
As well as Evangelisti and Clementi (piano) and Heineman (trombone, cello), the group in this initial phase included also William O. Smith, American composer and clarinetist at that time a guest of the Academy; shortly afterwards, Ennio Morricone (trumpet) and Walter Branchi (double bass) also joined the group.
The following year, Evangelisti managed to overcome the initial doubts and hesitations of Mario Bertoncini and include the then young composer and pianist as a permanent member of the instrumental ensemble. The young musician brought the group the results of his research on percussion instruments and the piano (continuous sounds obtained with the bow and by means of long lines attached to the piano wires and to the suspended cymbals, etc.) and took on the role of percussionist in the recently formed instrumental team.
The characteristics which contributed to emphasizing the substantial difference between the Nuova Consonanza Improvisation Group (G.I.N.C.) and other contemporary groups subsequently formed, including the so-called "free jazz" of those very same years, can be synthesized as follows:
- first of all, the definite wish on the part of all the members of the GINC. to take part in collective extemporaneous composition, excluding inflexibly any traditional form of soloist participation;
- secondly, the total independence from any pattern or scheme.
The group makes free use of a post-serial vocabulary stylistically referable to the aesthetics of the "Informal": clearly identifiable melodic and rhythmic cells are intentionally disguised and fragmented by the combined action of the various instrumental "gestures" which in this way lose, in the general context, any separate significance, any individual meaning. Each member of the group has a clear idea of the role of his participation in the whole: the single "gesture" consists in adding to the overall picture a colour, a tessera; the dialectics based on the contrast of one voice, which dominates, and others, which accompany, has lost for these musicians as much significance as the concept of form understood as a predetermined opposition of contrasting elements arranged arbitrarily in time and not compatible with the vocabulary chosen - or if we prefer - dictated by the musical grammar of the time.
By unanimous decision on the part of the whole group, exercises at rehearsal in no way assumed the value and role of schematic formulae, but rather constituted a consecutive study of the various behaviours (action/reaction, appraisal of a particular sound "gesture" as a signal, etc.) relative to the collective musical dynamics.
It is not possible here to give a detailed exposition of the preparatory techniques which animated the sessions of the GINC; it is sufficient to recall the fact that the music produced then, in the form of records or of broadcasts, now meets (more than thirty years later) with an always increasing favourable response on the part of a public which is also young and for that reason not motivated by any nostalgic or historically questionable considerations.
If - and how much - these old principles are still valid will be demonstrated by comparison with the performance of the duo in programme.
In the first half of the programme the piano is represented - in the broadest sense - by two works: Suite ("colours") and Alleluia. The first consists of five movements, played without a break. Each movement is characterized by a colour chosen arbitrarily by "nonfunctional" analogy (1°: Dark red; II°: Blue-green; III°: Blue; IV°: Yellow; V° Dark green) and is based on processes directed at obtaining continuous sounds on the piano - like the sounds produced by stringed instruments - by means of a technique which the composer has invented and has frequently demonstrated in public since the early Sixties. In addition, the by now classic "prepared piano" of John Cage accompanies contrapuntally the development of the five movements. In the second piece, Alleluia, the piano is used - it could be said - in a metaphorical sense. In fact, the sound is produced by eight Japanese gongs placed horizontally above the mechanism of a grand piano and conditioned by the very fast execution of polyrhythmic figures whose percussive "pianistic" precision and the variable angle of incidence of the hammers produced by rotation generate, thanks to the resonance of the gongs, an incessant and iridescent flow of sound tones.
The final work in programme, Elementi di Forma, was composed expressly for Francesco Dillon and will be given its first public performance today by the cellist. In the electronics part of the work over four hundred sound samples played by Dillon have been processed, using almost exclusively a special device for stringed instruments. This device was designed by Mario Bertoncini in 1992 and patented by him the following year under the name STABDÄMPFER (bar sordino). The samples were recorded at the electroacoustic laboratory of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.
Apparently for a singular dialectic inversion, but in reality as the result of the explicit wish of the composer to exercise complete control of the performance, the work - on hearing it - is ascribable to the "Informal", given the microtonal harmonic substance and the absence of clearly identifiable rhythmic figures. An in-depth analysis of the work reveals, instead, a complex serial structure that combines the magic square of Jove matrix with the matrix comprising the first six figures of the Fibonacci sequence. As this sequence is derived by proportional affinity with the numerical ratios of the golden section and the duration of the work is represented by the sum total of the figures of the square of Jove, fragmented in its turn by a canonic structure which also includes alternate moments of rest, the composer has consequently organized, according to the proportions of the golden section, also the reciprocal relationship between live instrumental sections and pre-recorded material sections. But this is not all. Halfway through the piece, canonic forms can be found between live instrument and recorded material as well as the use of palindromic and canonic structures which accompany the work right up to the end. In addition, to keep the record straight, it should be added that at matrix level a third dimension, represented by the organization of the letters making up the name BACH, transposed and organized in three sections for a total of twelve different sounds, completes dialectically a yet further stylistic refutation of the informal content of the piece, which nevertheless remains undeniable. With regard to the relevance of the use of dodecaphonic/serial structures, allow me to recall at this point that if it is true that the entire work makes use of a microtonal harmonic fabric - that is, based on untempered intervals - it is equally true that our perception as western musicians never succeeds in reaching an absolute valuation per se of thirds of a tone and quarter tones: for the western musician, a quarter tone below or above a given frequency always presupposes the reference to a known quantity, the tempered interval.
For the digital processing of the recorded part, I have used exclusively (as I have already mentioned) the concrete sound of the bar sordino no. 1 without any recourse whatsoever to midi or synthetic processes. The work, with brief interruptions, was carried out almost daily from December 2000 to June 2001 at a private laboratory. Without the constant and indefatigable assistance of the laboratory owner, the composer Christian Messer, Elementi di Forma would have never achieved the aspect that the public this evening, on hearing it, will be able to verify.