The fourteen pieces in this collection represent a tiny part of the pedagogical heritage of the first two decades (2001-2021) in the life of the Department of Music and New Technologies at the Conservatory “Ghedini” in Cuneo. Since 2011 it took the name of METS (Electronic Music and Sound Engineering Department), and, through this album, we wished to celebrate – in the most appropriate fashion for a musical activity – an occasion which was very meaningful for us.
Our choice to open ourselves to the world of experimentation and of electronic composition, as well as to that of sound recording and editing, represented, for our Conservatory, the passage toward an extended and articulated world of sounds, juxtaposed to and fruitfully integrated with the traditional study of classical music. This choice offered to various generations of students the opportunity to express themselves through the languages and technologies which were employed and shared within the novel department. Prior to that, this would have been possible only at the private and empirical level, and in a less structured and recognised fashion. The pedagogical itinerary, in fact, is articulated into two three-year undergraduate courses and in two two-year postgraduate courses, at university level, and into two distinct paths: on the one hand, that concerning composition, and on the other, that relating to sound engineering. They lead to two specific degrees.
For both the METS and the Conservatory of Cuneo an element of great importance is their participation in the prestigious Europewide initiative called EASTN-DC (European Art, Science and Technology Network for Digital Creativity), to which they have taken part since 2017, as the only Italian reality of educational and musical production. From this extended and mutual initiative were born important artistic and cultural events among students, teachers, and various European institutions, producing concerts, seminars, and other initiatives of great importance and originality.
A tangible example of this activity, along with the CD you are holding in your hands, is Asymmetric Thought, a discographic production funded and promoted by EASTN-DC. It is a double CD + DVD published by Da Vinci Classics (C00318, 2020), dedicated to 18 contemporary Italian composers, writing for guitar and electronics.
From 2012, the work of the METS department is coordinated by Gianluca Verlingieri, who was also one of the department’s first students, and therefore appears as a composer in this collection. The person in charge of EASTN-DC for Italy is Giuseppe Gavazza. Both are composers who have been active for years both in the field of contemporary classical music, and in that of electronic music.
This album, where some selected experiences are gathered, excerpted from those of the METS students of different compositional generations, represents therefore the actual witness of an itinerary which developed over two decades. We find, in them, the free interpretation of various compositional media, and, more specifically, the mixture and dialogue between electronics and some traditional musical instruments, including voice. This collection has no pretence to completeness, nor does it aim to fully represent such a passionate work. Still, it is meaningful because it bears witness, first and foremost, to the creative vitality – original and at times audacious – of 14 brilliant young Italian musicians. We are glad to be able to share this work, in the hope that it can be an inspiration and stimulus for many future young composers.
Two explanations are necessary. The pieces written by Cristina Mercuri and Marco Barberis require the use of the “extended guitar”. It is a classical guitar with an internal loudspeaker, an hexaphonic microphone under the bridge, and two contact microphones on the board. This implementation allows us to employ the instrument for diffusing a mono audio signal, and, at the same time, makes the sounds caught by the microphones available in order to access external electronic elaborations, and an amplification of the sound through vibrating transductors mounted over large forex panels. It also prompts an additional spring transmission system connected to two flat drums (currently two Persian dafs). The specific model employed for the two works is in maple and fir wood, and was realised by luthier Marco Lijoi from Savigliano (TO, Italy). On it are mounted a high-quality woofer, cross-over and tweeter, and it is purposefully without microphones, with the aim of safeguarding the quality of the concert instrument.
Another explanation regards the “portative electronics”, described thus by its creator, Giuseppe Gavazza: “Portative electronics (2010-2022) is a concept I developed in parallel with my experience as a musician, inspired by the Portative Organ, an organ frequently used since the thirteenth century. The relationship between a portative organ and a great church or theatre organ is the same found between my own Portative Electronics and the ‘great’ standard electronic: with all the – easily imaginable – limits and advantages in both cases. Another definition could be that of Acoustic Electronics. Rather than increasing the sound level of acoustic instruments bringing it to the level of electronic amplification, I choose to lower the electronics’ level to that of the non-amplified acoustic instruments. Two red threads converge into the development of this prototype. On the one hand, my wish – that accompanied virtually all of my electronic works since the early Nineties – for the origin of sound to coincide with the place of the instrument generating the vibrations; on the other, my experience with GENESIS and synthesis for physical models. Portative Electronics, in its current version called TOS (The Orange Suitcase) can be set up at 2, 4, or 6 outbound channels
Extended Guitar and Portative Electronics, therefore, are two experiences which intertwine and interact with each other both technically and conceptually.
Davide Ficco © 2022
Carlo Ambrogio: THE CHORD DUEL
“The Chord Duel” for two classical guitars and a modular synthesizer is a grotesque musical parody of an old-Far-West duel. Simply put, we will not hear here shots of colts and revolvers, but rather two guitarists who fight each other with every musical arm they are able to play. The piece’s very name is freely derived from the plethora of ancient codes of rules for duels among gentlemen of the past. In this work, the two guitarists employ a great variety of “tools” for playing their own instrument against the other musician. We will thus have sections with a chain bow, a latex glove or even a credit card, and so on. In every section of the work each instrumentalist has a large percentage of freedom, so that the work includes also improvised. Electronics, always present in each section, represents the memory of a desert landscape, as if it were the true spectator of this duel to the last aural shot. We can say that every section is composed by thinking precisely to the three elements – i.e. the two duelling musicians and a background – as if they were all parts of a single sound object, which the listener will perceive in its unity. Electronics has been created through a modular synthesizer, where analogic modules have a predominant role. The sound of each guitar is captured by a microphone and processed in real time, so that the result may have a good percentage of change due to the analogic circuits. The work was performed live in Karlsruhe in 2019 in a version spatialized in 8 channels, with guitarists Angelo Martino and Marco Barberis. The version presented here was re-imagined by Marco Barberis as a sound designer.
Marco Barberis: DUO
Duo was born from the idea of extended guitar, realized by Davide Ficco within the context of EASTN-DC, Festival di Creatività Digitale. This particular guitar, in the case of Duo, reproduces a synthetic signal simulating the timbre of a classical guitar. The two instruments play at the unison some very similar elements, with very close rhythmic-melodic intertwining, leading to the con-fusion of real and synthetic timbre, creating the illusion that all the musical material be reproduced by a single sound source. The sound of the synthetic guitar is realised through a kind of synthesis called Karlplus-Strong, a method handling a waveform through a line of delay, with filters for simulating sounds of plectred strings, and is a technique of subtractive synthesis based on feedback loop, similar to that of a comb filter. Since the two guitars are superimposed to each other for most of the piece, the effect of fusion happens in a very efficacious fashion, requiring a very precise synchrony of the performer. The structure is composed of four sections. The first one is more agitated, whereby the two instruments interact, homorhythmically blended with each other; a second section, much quieter, whereby the real guitar exposes bichords, which are synchronic with respect to the low register of electronics; the third section in which there are exchanges and phase shifts between the two instruments, and a fourth and last part whereby the first section is represented, but with a very rapid disaggregation of the initial compositional elements, eventually brought to silence.
Gianluca Delfino: LAUT
The discovery, during the summer of 2017, of a strong and surprising fascination for Javanese music, especially the one performed on the big Gamelans of Yogyakarta (Kraton) and Solo (Mangkunegaran), inspired the original idea for this composition and the choice of imitating some of its prevailing features: essentially the timbre and resonances of its metallophones and the intricate rhythm patterns. One possible example is the second section, where a common and dynamic pulse drives the interaction of three voices characterised by their being grouped in sequences of 3, 4 and 6 accents, so as to give the impression of a polyrhythm.
The sea (Indonesian: Laut), a fundamental aspect of Indonesian culture, is what clearly characterises the central section, with long audio samples that occasionally bring hints of a human voice to the surface. Throughout the whole piece, the movement of the sea is constantly reminded by waves of short vocal samples. Moreover, all sections are marked by the only sample of a real Gamelan orchestra: an abandoned Gong Ageng from the island of Karimunjawa. The large bronze gong that marks the end of cycles in Indonesian music, the Gong Ageng, is said to sound best when the slow beatings in its decay make the sound come and go in a wave-like fashion.
The vocal elements are snippets, short samples of Linton Kwesi Johnson, Zadie Smith, Derek Walcott and a Devon farmer.
Alessio Dutto: DENTRO III
Dentro III is the third work of album Dentro. It is a doubtlessly mystical work, with its slow pace and its repetitiveness. Mystical in a broad sense, not Christian. It was realized with the sounds I recorded within the “Chiesa rossa”, the Red Church, the Chiesa della SS. Trinità in Centallo (CN, Italy), and later elaborated with the most diverse techniques. I did not consider as the “organ” the instrument only and the parts composing it, but rather the entire church, the true soundbox of the instrument.
Still, resonance is not due only to sound which propagates in air, which doubtlessly has an important role, but also to objects found in the church, as well as by the vey walls. Therefore, beyond “normal” recordings, I employed two techniques. Firstly, I used a geophone built by LOM Instruments; it is a very precise contact microphone, as it is derived from geophones employed in geology, and has been modified with the purpose of being useful for musicians and sound artists. I therefore played and recorded with the standard magnet placed on the candlestick and on the music stand.
With the sucker, instead, I recorded the sound passing to the back of the benches for the people.
I tried also with the walls, but without obtaining results. The second technique, instead, is that of the feedback pulse, in order to capture the frequency response of the air within the church and employ it in a convolution reverb. The technique I employed is rough but funny: I made a balloon explode, and thus obtained a frequency feedback which was not entirely realistic, but artistically interesting.
Simone Giordano: TOC~
“Toc~” is a work for percussions, live electronics and fixed media. The work was born on the occasion of a personal exposition by Giuseppe Penone, held at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Castello di Rivoli in 2019-20, and is inspired by the cycle of seasons. The work is divided into four sections; each has a writing style, elaborations, and a background of its own, characterizing its colour and mood. The performer employs a special instrument made of a portion taken from a chestnut tree trunk (14cm x 29cm), “pierced” by an iron wedge, which divides it upper side into two parts. Through his or her hand and a small wooden stick, the percussionist is required not only to play a sequence of prescribed tempi and rhythms, but also to explore the potential of the wood and wedge within the two improvised sections.
Miking consists of two piezoelectrical microphones placed respectively on one of the instrument’s internal sides and the on the iron wedge. The sound is therefore captured and sent to the electronic performer. This, in turn, through a patch of Cycling’74 Max8 and following the indications found on the score, elaborates the signal in real time through filters, delay, frequency shifters, subtractive synthesis and looper. Finally, the work is accompanied for almost its whole duration by a fixed media. This audio file was realized through a process of sonification of a picture representing the veining of a piece of wood. This process is made possible by the graphical sequencer Iannix and by a preceding image editing; it consists in mapping the veins’ position creating a list of numerical values which are then sent to Max8 which transduces the data into audio data.
Fabrizio Giraudo: ECO RITMA
This composition is the fruit of a continuing research and exploration of new possible sound sources and of new possible listening points. Its title, “Eco Ritma”, is the anagram of the word “materico”, “concrete”. From this thought the piece’s entire idea develops. Starting from the concept of concrete painting, privileging the expressive function of matter as such, and employing, beyond the traditional colours or in their stead, the use of diverse matters in order to confer an active and autonomous role to their corporality, the interest in experimentation and study of these same concepts in the musical world develops. In order to explore this concrete sound, the choice of the source fell on a rhythmic guitar. With its wooden soundbox, its metal strings and its plastic components, it offered a stimulating variety of materials with which one could experiment. A fundamental inspiration came from the work Mikrophonie I by K. Stockhausen, where the microphone was employed as a musical instrument and in an investigative fashion, in order to make the slightest nuances perceptible. Still, this approach was insufficient for me in order to transfer in the best possible fashion matter into sound. Therefore, I employed the microphone also as a medium for creating sound, like a bow, a plectrum or a stick, thus rubbing it, hitting it, scratching it over the guitar’s various parts, and to capture their corporeity as much as possible. Electronics completes the work; it is obtained by elaborating the recorded sounds through resonators, echoes, filters and reverbs, juxtaposed and contraposed to the guitar’s sounds.
Igor Giuffré: OSMOTIC FLUTE
This piece explores the flute’s timbral possibilities, especially by extremising them through the treatment of electronics, which, not by chance, employs and processes only samples of that instrument. The system employed for the management of the electronic aspects is a digital sampler “built” by the composer by employing the MaxMSP software. The flute samples used here come all from recordings of solo flute, directed and realised beforehand by the composer himself, with the purpose of deriving from it the materials needed for the performance of this score.
Electronics, in fact, has a decidedly greater specific weight within the piece’s overall economy. It is the hinge around which the various sections are articulated, and therefore it determines the entire structure of the work itself. This component is the one to which the composer wished to give the utmost relief. However, it still enters often in a dialogue with the acoustic element. From this viewpoint, the dialogue between the two parts – the real one of the acoustic instrument and the virtual one of electronics (processed flute samples) – is always “organic” (or “osmotic”). The interventions of both tend always to search for a certain degree of imitation or inclusion. The two voices at play, therefore, follow and chase each other, without ever prevailing on the other, and at times without even letting one guess which one is the real, and which one the imaginary part.
Simone Sims Longo: PROFILI
Profili is a work for clarinet and clarinet sounds fixed on support which I composed in 2017. The piece is performed by Emanuele Utzeri, an excellent clarinettist to whom it is also dedicated. The electronics were composed entirely with clarinet sounds elaborated in studio, through, principally, techniques such as time-stretch, granulation and spectral elaboration. In the timbral elaboration the noise component of the clarinet’s sound was speared and employed in order to create musical figurations and sound events surrounding and accompanying the instrument’s melodic patterns. The timbre’s deconstruction takes the residual sounds into consideration. These characterize this instrument, but they not always surface in a typical listening experience; here, they are made protagonists. The superimposition of sound layers weaves a harmonic field where the acoustic clarinet draws melodies intertwining with the rhythmical events of sound design, creating multiform figurations. The work is inspired by the idea of the profiles of the houses’ roofs, which, seen from an upper visual projection, frequently display interesting textural geometrical patterns. The sound’s evolution wishes to juxtapose itself to these architectures, which constitute a characterizing identity of the urban landscape. By receiving the heritage of minimalist music, this piece wishes to let the hearer move into an imagined dimension, made of shapes and lines which define the space’s structures.
Cristina Mercuri: SCARAMOUCHE
Scaramouche is a “joke” for Extended Guitar and Portative Electronics. The piece is structured into three performance levels: an acoustic guitar played live, a virtual guitar on a monophonic track, and electronics on a stereophonic track. The performer is required to play an Extended Guitar, a particular acoustic guitar created by M° Davide Ficco and provided with an internal loudspeaker. This will reproduce the monophonic track, that, by so doing, will employ the resonances of the guitar’s very soundbox. The actual guitarist, during performance, will begin an increasingly lively debate with the virtual guitarist, up to the realization of a contrapuntal discussion, similar in kind to the “caccia” or “ricercare”. They therefore give life to a new-generation counterpoint, whereby both competitors develop extemporaneous skills with experimental performing techniques, and leaving to electronics the task of mixing the expressive emotions.
For the realisation of electronics, a selection from the recordings of the guitar performance of the score was employed. These materials were elaborated by simulating live electronics; they were also transformed and blended with each other, until they became almost unrecognisable. This stereophonic track is reproduced by the Portative Electronics, a concept developed by M° Giuseppe Gavazza and inspired by the Portative Organ; it consists of a small and portable stereophonic audio equipment with a subwoofer.
Debora Picasso: NOTHING MORE
Nothing more is a piece written for classical guitar and sound files. It is inspired by the poetics of Edgar Allan Poe, and in particular by his poem The Raven. I thought of musically describing its atmosphere and some specific moments. For instance, starting from b. 19, the instrument is put out of tune during the performance, just as the poem’s protagonist slowly gets insane; or, from b. 65, one could observe the rubbing of a wooden stick over the guitar’s strings. This sound aims at evoking Lenora’s voice, the partner of the protagonist of The Raven. She dies, leaving the protagonist in despair. The jeté instead evokes the raven’s wing stroke; the raven is a horrific character in Poe’s oeuvre. In the piece’s first part, the sound of the prepared guitar (with two hairpins fixed on the strings) is reminiscent of that of midnight belles; in the following measures, instead, the protagonist’s slumbering is represented through the use of harmonics, while the electronics produces, far away, some unexpected percussions. The inspiration for this first part derives from the incipit of Poe’s poem:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door
Only this and nothing more.”
Electronics surrounds the guitar with a dark and disquieting atmosphere. Not by chance, most sounds are reverbed and frequently sudden interventions or short sequences of dissonant notes are found.
Bruno Fabrizio Sorba: DAU PHU
Dau Phu belongs in a musical project whereby the double-bass’ sound is treated in real time by electronics – in this case in the MaxMsp environment, besides Moog analogical filters and delays. The use of external samples or synthetic sounds generated by other sound sources is not admitted. Similarly, tapes or prerecorded parts are not employed. As concerns the treatment of the double-bass in real time, several synthesis techniques are employed, among them granular synthesis and FM. Moreover, the MaxMsp patch also includes a 4-part harmonizer based on a fft managed via MIDI. This allows, for instance, to harmonize, through a MIDI device, the double-bass’ single monodic line into a four-part writing. The possibility is also admitted of sampling the inbound signal and to repropose it during performance. The quasi totality of the parameters associated to the algorithms employed for the treatment of sound are mapped through Control Change to external MIDI controllers, in order to be able to dynamically interact, in real time, on the sound generated by the double-bass.
The piece under discussion is the first of a suite dedicated to the world’s traditional cuisine. It is a kind of a first course in our homage to international cuisine, intended as the spokesperson and the sharing of flavours from the world’s countless culinary traditions. Like subterranean rivers, they unite the peoples of the Earth, mixing history, languages, and traditions. Just as the meals of a tradition far from our own may seem to us curious or daring, so our music proposes a menu of sounds which may seem foreign, but that belong in the cultural heritage of us all.
Francesco Torelli: UROBOROS REPRISE
Urobros Reprise is a piece for prepared electric guitar and live electronics. It was recorded live, because improvisation is an integral part of composition. The performer intervenes by soliciting the guitar, changing the objects which modify its timbre, and controlling a software created for this purpose. These interventions are written on the score, which gives general indications, but also leaves abundant possibilities for autonomous choice. Through a computer, the musical elements are continuously recorded in short loops with different lengths, and are later reproposed after having been elaborated as concerns timbre and duration. The software includes some algorithmic processes, generating casual results with which the musician will have to interact. This creates a flow of events which cyclically re-propose themselves in time, always new, and at the same time always identical in their intimate nature. Like a uroboro, the music contained here continuously generates itself and feeds on itself.
One primary component of this page is rhythm, which works as the joining element between the sound elements naturally created by the guitar and those generate electronically. Rhythm becomes the shared language employed in the dialogue established between the two instruments.
Following Fred Frith’s example, performance also requires for another pickup to be installed on the guitar’s peg box, allowing us to capture the strings’ vibrations also near to the nut.
Andrea Trona: BLOOM
BLOOM is a piece performed live by the improvisation duo of Simone Grande and Andrea Trona. Their practice is based on mutual listening, and to the boundary sound spaces which they, from time to time, create in an extemporaneous and free fashion.
Theirs is a radical improvisation, whereby musical dialogue is developed between the electric guitar and a digital electronic setup, probing the dyad musician-space, which is every time different, new and surprising.
The duo leads the hearer within its own sound vision, made of hills and perturbations, but also composed by delicate and plain sounds. The piece’s characterising element is disaggregation: the unforeseeable and changing variation of sound material. It is a crackle, constantly modified, expressing a rarefied musical language, impossible to predict, made of granules and residuals. The heard sound is heterogenous and does not include pre-built sound material. The combinations are therefore texture and sound gestures, contaminating each other, and taking constantly new life and new meanings through the adaptation, modulation, and the musician’s real time intervention.
Since the duo’s practice is based on free schemes, the result accepts a global vision of the sound result. At times strongly intertwined, at times neatly separated, the two instruments find themselves within a constant musical vortex, appearing spontaneously at the beginning and surprisingly disappearing, in a delicate and subtle way, in the finale.
Gianluca Verlingieri: FÜR… ELISE?
Gianluca Verlingieri wrote Für… Elise? between 2002 and 2004, expressly thinking to the virtuosity of pianist Alessandro Commellato and of his virtual alter-ego, the Yamaha Disklavier®. The Piedmontese composer was, at that time, at the height of his studies in composition and electronic music at Conservatory. In this youthful work, however, one can already see the signs of the elective creative process he would develop in the ensuing years of career:, i.e. the “analysis and re-synthesis” of music and sounds from other chronological and geographic realities.
“I chose this extremely well-known thematic material for the idiomaticity with which it resumes, in collective imagination, the very idea of piano”, wrote Verlingieri in the program notes to the 2004 recital in which this recording was realised. And he went on: “The seeming simplicity, both compositional and performative, of Beethoven’s famous album leaf stimulated me to complexify the discourse through the help of a Disklavier® interacting in real time with a pianist of flesh and bones, through an algorithm programmed in the Max environment, similar to a complex arpeggiator, in an indirect reference to a technique for thematic creation with is typical for Beethoven”. The result is a series of musical episodes, fresh and epigram-like, in which Verlingieri recalls the classical variation form. He frequently plays on the thread of the unplayability of certain passages for a human performer without a virtual alter ego. The pianist ‘sells his soul’ to the machine and integrates with it in an indistinguishable fashion, reaching, in the conclusion, a diabolic morphing of Beethoven’s incipit with the Gregorian Dies irae. This classical reference is further sealed by pre-recorded electronic elaborations of cells from the Bagatella, realized through the C-Sound language; they ‘ignite’ the pianist’s action, while, at the same time, exploring the surrounding acoustic space, thanks to a multichannel spatialization. (Elena Mollo)
Translations: Chiara Bertoglio