The little and typical town of Casté in La Spezia’s countryside, within the municipality of Riccò del Golfo, after the Foce pass, counts 23 inhabitants (someone more during the summer) and was completely rebuilt and restored thanks to the European Union’s funds. This summer the town has become scenario of a series of very particular initiatives divided into theatre, videos and music. It is a wonderful landscape in the Vara Valley with old houses made of squared stones and cement, “piazoeti” (i.e. balconies used to make products dry), and a single family-owned restaurant, which is difficult to abandon once sitting on the balcony with a great view on the valley rich of chestnut groves.
After a quite shy edition last year, this time Mauro Manco together with Roberto Bertonati created a widespread event – with practically no budget – which we hope will become a real point of reference for ‘off art’ lovers.
Theatre shows (by the Evasy company), reading events (by Elena Colucci), particular conferences (Pop porn with Giovanna Maina by Roberto Bertonati), music (by Gigi Cifarelli), photographic installations (by Gianluca Ghinolfi), cartoon drawings (by Simone Lucchesi), sculpture works (by Alessio Manfredi) and video projections or sound lives (with Stefano Tedesco and Manuel Bozzo) took place in the Paganini court yard in Casté’s heart – a real natural stage where amplification isn’t needed and the only light is that of the moon and the public, like in ancient times, collects in a circle listening to stories.
The event ended up with a very effective live act typical of Stefano Tedesco and Manuel Bozzo. The ancient walls of the Paganini court yard hosted Manuel’s video images (do you remember ‘Supervideo’ from the G8 in Genoa?) sounded live by Stefano, aware and refined electroacoustic musician from La Spezia. Tedesco combined together live music and different musical instruments (xylophone, cymbals, guitar), with their live processing and live made samples and acoustic effects.
The common topic of this very impressive live event, both for scenarios and deep sound/images, titled La terra dà solo buoni frutti (The Earth only gives good fruits) was the metamorphosis. Like in a zoom that from the sky brings to the centre of the Earth, images passed by with electronic shading and coloring effects analogically made through two mixers: from the galaxy to desert and skyscrapers. From the indistinct humanity in a chaotic oriental city to the faces of demonstrators and policemen with riot gear and bludgeons acting in Genoa in 2001. Suddenly everything becomes clear: the transformation stages of beetles, grubs, worms, butterflies are mixed together with unequivocal images of the consumer western society and become a metaphor of a society which will undoubtedly end up in gangrene,decomposition and death.
Intense and deep sounds and noises: the live set is managed like a great intensity performance both in audio and video installations, because artists influence each other and create an artistic interaction of great sensitive sharing. And in order to fully understand the message, the performance ends like a deeply felt present, with the voice of the independent director Alberto Grifi saying: “We must invent a computer based not on brain but on heart”.
We therefore had the pleasure to interview Stefano Tedesco. This is the result of our job.
Claudio Musso: According to the etymological dictionary, the word Improvisation has its roots in improvviso i.e. unpredictable, unexpected, unforeseen, sudden, abrupt. According to your experience and above all based on the roots you suggest in the jazz culture, what definition would you give for the word ‘improvisation’ and the role it plays in your research?
Stefano Tedesco: In my opinion, improvisation is like a butterfly flight: if you observe it, you will notice that the butterfly is so light that even the smallest air breath makes it change direction. However the butterfly keeps on flying and its flight is fluid or often jerkily, it goes up and down, then comes back and finally it rests on the desired flower. If you look at it in details, it seems a flight without sense. However it has its logic and a particular esthetic beauty.
Quoting Cornelius Cardew’s words: “What is important are not the errors people make, but rather their ability to learn from them and change direction”. I think that improvise is absolutely necessary to compose, in the conventional sense of the term, whereas you don’t need to compose to improvise. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven used it to create written works of art. The African traditional music and the Indian classical one widely use the improvisation technique, despite the strict rules to be followed. The same happens in jazz tradition, which is based on the improvisation of a certain theme. For me it means playing with unexpected events….
I’m proud of my jazz roots, but the main influences I received came from John Cage, his music and his texts. London and Eddie Prevost’s workshops were the circle closure point, i.e. the discovery of music. It is a simple discovery, but also an important one: the sound.
From Buddhism to ancient Greeks, everyone knew that sound can reveal and trigger Energy from human mind. It isn’t a chance that a single prolonged sound is used for Buddhist meditation. If I have to use a word, I would say that I consider myself a radical improvisator. I think improvisation is synonymous of experiment. And I also add the research of new execution techniques, construction and assembly of new instruments: all means intended to look for new incentive and sonorities. As Steve Lacy once said: “Music stays there where it has to stay: at the border between what we know and what we don’t know. People have to push it towards what they don’t know. If they can’t manage to do this, it will be its end as well as theirs”.
Claudio Musso: The atmosphere during your live performances makes thinking of a mimesis attempt between the pre-recorded sound (field recording) and the live one. The union between the different sources is supported by a melodic structure which opens the way to experimentation, but at the same time reflects the echo of classical composition.
Stefano Tedesco: This question gives me the opportunity to conclude what I’ve previously said. Improvisation, experimentation and gesture. In my opinion these three elements are a necessary part of the performance as well as of the study. They penetrate and influence each other.
Improvisation is a gesture which is generated both from a will and at chance, but also from research and experimentation. We could say that a gesture always comes from a will and therefore it doesn’t exist as chance. The same is for improvisation. Cage used Ching to make composition choices, without the intervention of its will. However he necessary had to open the book or throw some coins and therefore his intervention modified the chance, although we don’t know in which extent. This is the most beautiful part.
I personally use all the available material, above all during the study phase; I make improvisation, compose, process, record and create bases on which I then work both for live performances and discs. For its nature, my music reflects the research of a form which can be considered as a canonic one and instead it isn’t because it does not respect any rule, other than my sensibility and esthetic sense. This includes instrumental sounds, melodies, strong rhythms, noises and field recordings, as single elements or all together, within a general plant where all this sounds can find their natural seat. And actually, isn’t it so in nature too?
Claudio Musso: In your many biographies on the net, we read that your research focuses on the relationship between sound and space. Outside macro categories that could be valid for many artists, is the manipulation of sound matter and frequencies influenced by space?
Stefano Tedesco: Absolutely yes. The same sound is reflected in a different manner according to the space it occupies. And the reflection continues also inside our ears. I like working with space and its resounding. A space which positively responds to sound matter gives the opportunity to concretely work with acoustic instruments and play on full and empty elements. In these contexts the sound event is pure magic. In this case one has to be a little bit bewitcher and be able to dose each sound, mix it with another one and make it resound till the natural fading and taste the empty space that divides the previous from the following one. One can work on a single event as well as full the space without really knowing what will be the final result, which sometimes is really incredible. It is a job which allows to discover, together with the public, the sound nature and that of the space which hosts it. Every environment will be different from the previous and the following one. All this is very stimulating.
Claudio Musso: Let’s make a short technical digression. You use many instruments and their relationships contribute to the musical mix which is typical of your performances. What is your approach as regards this topic?
Stefano Tedesco: Vibraphone, glockenspiel, drums, guitar, piano, concertina, effects, mixer and cables. I’m working above all with guitar, only one cymbal, effects and a computer. Sometimes the vibraphone substitutes the guitar. The computer is more and more present in my live works for many reasons. Surely I like the electroacoustic synthesis in my works. I also like the alternation between acoustic and synthesized sound and I like the improvisation gesture. However computer gives me the opportunity not to make thousands of effects and therefore to ‘travel light’ above all when I have few money.
I decided to construct a little vibraphone that I called ‘pocket vibraphone’. I used about ten ivories of my vibe and built a wooden structure to support them, similar to that of the ORFF instrumentation. Since the vibe plates are made of metal, I asked myself if the guitar pick-up would have amplified the sound. I made some attempts with a friend of mine who plays guitar and…what a surprise…it worked. And from there a series of coincidences happened. I recorded a demo and asked David Toop to listen to it. He was working at his CD Sound Body and was looking for a vibe player. So he asked me to record something for his CD and if he could use part of my demo for his composition. From then on I definitely entered his trio with Phil Durrant.
Claudio Musso:Besides the cooperation in the musical field, you also had many contacts with visual art. Moreover you produced alone many installations which unite the creation of scenarios and the production of sound, such as for example Amazzonica developed from the workshop in the forest with Francisco Lopez.
Stefano Tedesco: Visual art always interested me and I think video art in particular is an extremely interesting field where I can deepen my researches. For the first time this summer I worked with Manuel Bozzo (in the project La terra dà solo buoni frutti) and it has been a good experience. I also worked with Claudio Sinatti in the group Symbiosis Orchestra, then with Andrea Gabriele and many others among which Scanner.
My cooperation with Riccardo Arena is longer and more diversified. I composed the music for many of their videos and we have an always open project where I give live sound to one of his videos lasting 30 minutes and titled The Gaze.
For Amazzonica instead I built a 3 meter high structure with 3 meters diameter. A circle of innocent tubes hanged on the ceiling to which I fixed a sail totally painted in black. The structure ideally represented a mask to cover the face of a tribe from the center of the Amazon forest and used for magic rituals. The sounds diffused in it were those recorded in the 2 weeks workshop in the Amazon forest North of Brazil, i.e. Mamori lake, the zone where Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcaraldo was shot.
Francisco Lopez has been directing there a workshop for more than 5 years. He is a very keen guide and an expert in the sound field. His afternoon lessons were above all philosophical conversations about life, nature, environment, animal and human behavior, how we perceive what happens around us and how we interpret it and how it reflects on our life and works of art. Francisco is part of those field recordings representative who use recorded sound matter and modify, process, manipulate it to create another sound landscape and therefore reinterpret it and present their new vision of the world. I surely feel nearer to this approach than to that which considers field recordings as the loyal reproduction of the environment.
I must say that nature already offers us what we look for, but I don’t feel being an ethno-musicologist or documentarian. We could however edit sound material without processing it but this is another story…
Claudio Musso: You recently followed the creation of a compilation featuring exceptional contributes: LONTANO-Homage to Giacinto Scelsi. Dedicating a project to a ‘bulky’ figure like Giacinto Scelsi is not only a poetical declaration, but also a very brave act. How did you develop the project? What inspired you? Visual art does not miss, and there is also an artist’s front cover…
Stefano Tedesco: The front cover is by Riccardo Arena who took inspiration from the symbol used by Scelsi to put his signature: a circle and a strict line. Riccardo reviewed it in a 3D way with a ‘spatial’ collocation.
Before all I should say that Scelsi was born in the province where I grew up and that I chose as place to live in after 25 years: La Spezia. I have known Conosco Scelsi since we attended the Conservatory and I’ve always appreciated his music and his compositive approach. Although it is a reason of discussions – in my opinion useless – his art is of sure value. I got the inspiration during my staying in London. There one has the opportunity to know and compare with artists coming from all over the world. In the discussions about music, for some strange reason, often appeared the name of Scelsi and always with excellent comments. This seemed very curious to me but also interesting and I thought it would have been beautiful to involve all people I had the opportunity to talk with and ask a musical contribution to develop a free disc celebrating his music and thought.
The first who accepted was David Toop, followed by Herman Kolgen who is an expert of Scelsi’s works and last but not least Elio Martusciello and Alvin Curran, who met and personally worked with Scelsi and inserted in his piece Scelsi’s voice telling one of his own poems. Rafael Toral for example did not know Scelsi, so I gave him some information and he created one of the most beautiful pieces of the whole compilation. The same happened for Olivia Block. Sebastien Roux instead knew Scelsi very well and among his favorite pieces there is Quattro pezzi su una nota sola (Four pieces on a single note). And so on all the others. I am very proud of the names appearing on this CD, above all for the very high artistic value of each composition which make this work valid and efficient in its purpose.
The compilation titled LONTANO – Homage to Giacinto Scelsi, was developed from the awareness that Scelsi’s work played a very important role in the scenario of contemporary music. In France he is considered father of Spectralism and one of the musicians coming from the so called ‘extra-cultured’ area. His sound experimentations are taken in great consideration without prejudices or limitation of any kind. The attention Scelsi put on sound, timbre combinations and non conventional instrumental practices rather than on armonical rules is a more common topic for musicians from the experimental area than compositors of contemporary ‘cultured’ music.
And of course the compilation was sold very well abroad and remain almost unsold in Italy. The Wire, the most important specialist journal in the world wrote a wonderful review in the June edition.