CD booklet "a Stefano Scodanibbio"

Page 1

a Stefano Scodanibbio

In March 2005, I packed my bass and travelled to Bergen, a charming city surrounded by mountains on the west coast of Norway. I was there to play some concerts at the Borealis festival, an annual event dedicated to contemporary music, noise and sound art. What made it special was that Stefano Scodanibbio and Terry Riley were there as artists in residence. So I was really excited, because even though I had heard Stefano in concert some years earlier I had never had the chance to meet him personally. In my solo recital I was going to play one of my own compositions, called oibbinadocS, and I was curious if Stefano had

seen the title in the programme. Would he show up to hear me play? Had he seen the not-to-well-hidden dedication? And would he hear how he had influenced my playing? Well, of course he showed up at the concert! He listened anonymously in the audience and came backstage afterwards to greet me warmly. Being flattered by the title of my composition, he went on correcting my Norwegian style of pronouncing his name Stefano, where I of course had put an accent on the second last syllable instead of the first, making it sound like a girl’s name. Then he kindly complemented me on the music and we talked for a few minutes.

It was like most moments you have very high expectations for: they usually tend to be nothing spectacular at all. But this meeting marked the beginning of our friendship, which would last until he sadly passed away, in January 2012, after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease. Later on during the festival, I listened to a performance of Stefano and Terry Riley. I wasn’t familiar with their duo project at the time, and I remember being quite surprised by the predominant Indian, or raga influenced sound. It was a mild and contemplative performance, and also little bit funny – seeing Terry handle the synthesizer and hearing the strange combination of synthesizer and double bass. But in the second half of the concert, during the densely pulsating opening of Stefano’s minimalistic monster-solo Voyage that never ends, it got very dramatic when he suddenly broke the cello bow, apparently the only bow he had used since he started shaping the piece back in 1979. In a mild state of shock he went off the stage to pick up his bass bow, and, still in shock, continued playing a shortened version of Voyage. When the festival was over we travelled together to Oslo, where Stefano did a workshop at the Norwegian Academy

of Music and played a solo concert. This was the first and only time I heard the Sequenza played live, and, having recovered from the loss of his cello bow, he also played a complete version of Voyage. It was a very happy time for me! Later, we would meet again in Avignon – where he played the first sketches of Interrogazioni together with the dancer and choreographer Virgilio Sieni, then in Paris – where Stefano played Voyage and taught a master class, at Penn State University in the USA – where he told me that he was probably ill, but without specifying his illness, and lastly for our 2009 tour in Norway – where we performed as a duo. Stefano brought his own bass for the tour in Norway, and he played & Roll and Geografia amorosa as his solo numbers. & Roll is a variation piece in which Stefano makes a virtuosic play on Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady. The piece was originally part of a music theatre performance, where Stefano (in a hippie costume) played it as homage to Rock ‘n’ Roll, which was the musical genre he grew up with in the early 1970s. I remember asking him specifically to perform & Roll since I had never heard any performance or recording of the piece, and now I am happy to finally present his live solo performance on this CD. Geografia amorosa is a portrait

of Stefano’s passion for travelling and exploring foreign (musical) continents: “This piece explores the rhythmic and percussive possibilities of the contrabass which on this terrain proves to be a ‘magical instrument’, in that it unites the achievements of the tradition of music for string instruments with the innovations, the disturbances, the openings [or ‘openness’] of improvised music outside of the settlements of high culture … oh beat!” (Stefano Scodanibbio). The first time I performed Geografia for him was at the international double bass convention BASS 2008 in Paris. He was happy, but commented that it sounded a bit restrained, as if I was afraid of adopting my own rhythmic flow to the music. But when I played it again a year later in Norway it was firmly under my skin, and Stefano replied enthusiastically that I now played it much better than him! Even though Stefano sometimes commented on my concert performances, I never had any private lessons with him. The situation of implying his own musical and technical preferences on to others was something that he was uncomfortable with, although he would regularly hold workshops and master classes wherever he was. Stefano had the mentality of an autodidact, which I believe resulted in wanting other players

to experience the same way of search and discovery as he did. It was a welcome surprise for him to find a bass player as myself who had connected so closely with his music, without being taught how to play it. “You were the first one to really play my music”, he later told me. And my own work marked the beginning of an exploding international interest in Stefano’s music. For many years I have been performing and teaching his techniques and works, and gradually his legacy is finding the way into the repertoire of many young bass players. Most of the music presented on this CD is taken from live recordings from our tour through Norway in 2009. Stefano suggested that I should play the first bass of Da una certa nebbia, and he would play the second bass. I actually heard the first performance of this piece in Stockholm in 2002, where Stefano played in duo with Barry Guy. The first bass (which was then played by Stefano), is a typical reflection of his own style, and he chose the material from his very personal “waste paper basket”. The second bass however, written for Barry Guy, must have been a real challenge for Barry to play. Being known for his hyperactive all-overthe-bass playing, Barry was forced into a meditative, listening situation, playing

almost only a few scattered pizzicati throughout the piece. This conceptual approach was so surprising that it almost overshadows my sounding memory of the piece. But when we later performed Da una certa nebbia in Norway I rediscovered this beautiful and contemplative music, which slowly unfolds in changing patterns of shimmering breaths. Finally, the two improvisations that are included on this CD where performed

spontaneously in the concerts, without any previous talks or planning. They were named retrospectively, after remembering some of Stefano’s favourite likes: cigarillos and whiskey. This CD is dedicated to the memory of Stefano Scodanibbio.

Looking for the new

The use of harmonics on every part of the string is a technique more idiomatic to the double bass than to any other stringed instrument. In the 20th century, the traditional melodic role of harmonics developed into timbral experiments, as timbre established itself as one of the primary elements within new music. The development was extremely multifaceted in its exploration of new repertoire and its mixture of musical styles, and the experiments with timbre created some radical new sounds. After a period of intensive experimentation, where players explored the remaining undiscovered territories of the double bass, Stefano Scodanibbio then

reintroduced an idiomatic writing for the instrument, using harmonics in combination with ordinary tones in works such as Sei Studi (1981/1983) and Due pezzi brillanti (1985). The novelty of his style was lying in its refined use of harmonics on every part of the string, also in the low and middle positions of the fingerboard. In his music, narrative and rhapsodic phrases are formed through an interchanging of ordinary tones and flageolets – in a constantly changing motion between low and high sounds that creates multi-dimensional rooms where sounds and fragments of melody can evolve. The Italian musicologist Enzo Restagno writes beautifully about

the poetic implications of what he calls the ‘weight relationship’ between ordinary tones and flageolets: “The real sounds are more consistent and have a closer presence. The harmonics instead are gentle, distant and, with their thinness, vibrant, almost as if only in one’s memory. To oppose, to superimpose or to juxtapose these two types of sounds means to give life to vicissitudes of presence and absence so to construct true and real novels” (from the liner notes to the recording of Scodanibbio’s Six Duos, New Albion Records, 2001). Scodanibbio took up the double bass when he was 18 years old, and soon after he began studying with Fernando Grillo, the phenomenal contemporary music champion who had rapidly gained a reputation as “Buddha of the double bass”. Grillo, as a composer, had created a very detailed notational system, with which he controlled every aspect of sound creation. As a young player, Scodanibbio was naturally fascinated by the complexity and control of these new sounds – particularly of the harmonics –Grillo displayed, and he very quickly picked up a short, but intricate piece by Grillo named Paperoles (1976). Here, as in other pieces, Grillo explores sound and timbre par excellence. For Grillo, the object of sound became a subject of contemplation and exploration, in

search of the peripherals of timbre that lay hidden in this instrument. Although a short piece, is Paperoles nonetheless monumental in its attention to detail. It was described by Scodanibbio as “a manifest where more than 30 techniques of the modern contrabass are concentrated in just a little over three minutes, specifically notated almost to fetishism” (from the text Echi di un’avventura, where Scodanibbio describes his own development of the double bass and the pieces that have been written for him). But Paperoles would soon play a dramatic role in changing the relationship between the student and his teacher: Scodanibbio had practised Paperoles secretly during a summer holiday (he must have been around 20 years old at the time), and when he played it for Grillo in the beginning of the semester, his interpretation – which he said was in fact much better than that of his teacher – shocked Grillo to the extent that he kicked Scodanibbio out of the double bass class. Despite being excluded, Scodanibbio remained inspired by his teacher and he went on writing e/statico, which was composed in 1980 as one of his first pieces for the double bass. The similarity between Paperoles and e/statico, in their dissection and isolation of the sound object, and in the elaborate notation of sounds and

actions, is striking. However, Scodanibbio would very soon abandon Grillo’s style and notation, and instead adapt impressions from other Italian contemporaries such as Salvatore Sciarrino, Luigi Nono and Franco Donatoni. With Sei Studi (the title alludes to Sciarrino’s Sei Capricci), he defined his new style and techniques within a set of short études. Here, overtones not only find new timbral possibilities, but are also used melodically again, and in doing so Scodanibbio draws a line back to a greater historical development. Technical brilliance in Scodanibbio’s music is first and foremost portrayed in the linear, arabesque-like gestures that constantly shift between fundamental and overtone spectra, creating dazzling narratives as seen in On turning from Sei Studi or in Due pezzi brillanti, or in the rhythmic cascades of flageolet pizzicato heard in Voyage that never ends (1979/1997) and in Farewell, the last movement of Sei Studi. Programmatic ideas, as well as expressiveness and rhetoric of sonorities, are widely investigated in compositions such as Alisei (1986), Ecco - 21 cartoline per Edoardo Sanguineti (1997) and throughout the Six Duos (1990-1994) – a collection of duos for every combination of what he called the real string quartet; violin, viola, cello and double bass. The duos manifest his com-

positional, technical and poetic ideas through six clearly different works where memories, meditations and fantasies are mixed in the meeting of two instruments/ personalities. Jardins d’Hamilcar (1990) was the first piece of the cycle that was finished, and the unmediated sound of the music is contrasted by its poetic and literary source of inspiration. The title was chosen from the opening words of the novel Salammbô (1862) by the French writer Gustave Flaubert: C’était à Mégara, faubourg de Carthage, dans les jardins d’Hamilcar... “It was at Megara, a suburb of Carthage, in the gardens of Hamilcar, that the soldiers whom he had commanded in Sicily were holding a great feast to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Eryx. The master was absent, their numbers were large, and accordingly they ate and drank in perfect freedom.” In My new address (1986/1988), composed for solo violin, Scodanibbio drew inspiration from the contemporary Italian poet Vittorio Reta, and so did also Visas (1985/1987), Scodanibbio’s first string quartet; “Visas, naturally the most authentic expression of poetry belonging to my own generation” (Stefano Scodanibbio in the CD sleeve notes for My new address, Stradivarius, 2003). In the programme commentary for Da una certa nebbia (2002), Scodanibbio

reveals that his allegorical inspirations was derived from old Italian paintings: “The Alter Ego comes “from a certain fog” (Da una certa nebbia - see Vasari talking about the mannerist Florentine painter Domenico Puligo) and in that fog vanishes. Through the unfailing shading off errors are hidden and horror vacui avoided, pushing in front the subject and letting the figures emerging from the darkness of an indistinct inside. Material is taken from a very personal ‘waste paper basket’ and chosen among the most mannerist: melancholy, nonchalance, sprezzatura, sweetness, boldness, etc.” (Stefano Scodanibbio). With the last works of Scodanibbio, in particular Oltracuidansa (1997/2002), Sequenza XIVb (2004) and the Ottetto (2010/2011), he captures all the sounds of the modern double bass by returning to a post avant-garde approach of the exploration of timbre. Harmonics are no longer predominant in the music as he expands the timbral spectrum with clouds of percussive sounds and abstract noise. Again he was making new, by rediscovering the past, which was so fundamentally important for his creative act: “[…]only the new can make sense of a work and of working. And looking for the new is, to me, the condition for doing anything. With all the risks, dangers and chance that going off the beaten track

involves […]. Invention is more important than technique, which of course has to be there – it just shouldn’t be visible” (Stefano Scodanibbio in the CD sleeve notes for My new address, Stradivarius, 2003). Virtuosity of knowledge The composer Luciano Berio used an extended concept of virtuosity, which he called ‘virtuosity of knowledge’, to summarise his view on musician and instrument. Central to this concept, is the expansion of the scope, not only of technical possibilities, but also of the register of musical expression, through a kind of intellectual virtuosity that constantly reflects and challenges the idiom of the individual instruments, their technical capacity, and the historical roots of that idiom. Berio claimed that he never ‘abused’ the instrument in the manner of the more experimental styles of his contemporaries, and similar statements are given by Scodanibbio when he says that his music is “an expression of the desire to help the instrument finally find its own voice, after having known only the stammering of voices inappropriate to it or the sadistic violations of the so-called avant-garde” (from the CD sleeve notes for Geografia amorosa, col legno, 2000). They “never tried to alter the nature of the instrument, nor to use it “against’ its own

nature” (Luciano Berio: Two Interviews with Rosanna Dalmonte and Bálint András Varga, trans. and ed. by David Osmond-Smith, New York/London, 1985). But like their more experimental contemporaries, it was within the presentation of the musical sound (as in German “Klang”), that Berio and Scodanibbio articulated their ‘virtuosity of knowledge’. As far as Berio was concerned “the composer can only contribute to the transformation of musical instruments by using them, and trying to understand post factum the complex nature of the transformations” (ibid.). Where the composer usually observes the transformations as a result of the compositional process – where he has worked with form and structure, but also with instrument and playing techniques – Scodanibbio, as a performer, followed the opposite path. For him the transformations began with physical explorations of the instrument – progressively, by gradually transcending its fundamental techniques with new ways of using the instrument –, which eventually initiated the creation of his unique musical expression. It is rare to find a rewriting and reinterpretation of a piece that so much epitomises the ‘virtuosity of knowledge’ that Berio was talking about, as Scodanibbio’s double bass version of Berio’s Sequenza

XIV for cello. In his programme notes to the new version, Scodanibbio writes: “Since 2000/2001 Berio was talking about a Double Sequenza for cello and contrabass. His first idea was to have them performed one after the other. But eventually he wrote the cello Sequenza (XIV), which, in its final version, was performed by Rohan de Saram in 2003. He sent me the score in April of the same year asking me to ‘reinvent’ (that is the word he used) it for double bass. He didn’t want a transcription – this was very clear. He expressly asked me to make a version for double bass using the new techniques he heard in my pieces.” The cello Sequenza combines western and non-western elements, in homage to Rohan de Saram’s Sri Lankan descent and diverse musical background. De Saram grew up playing the Kandyan drum, one of the most significant instruments in Sri Lanka, and he provided Berio with tapes and transcriptions of Kandyan drumming. The percussive sections, with which Berio enriched his work by featuring a twelvebeat Kandyan drum rhythm often expanded or reduced by one beat, are in Scodanibbio’s version often reinvented using his special technique of playing flageolets with both hands, thus enabling quicker passages, a higher degree of virtuosity and adding more tonal material

to the percussive sounds. Scodanibbio has himself often pointed out the sounding similarities between his flageolet techniques and the tabla drumming in Indian music. This is particularly clear when listening to his duo with Terry Riley, where they imitate the shape of sound of Indian ragas. As in all of Scodanibbio’s compositions, the interchanging of harmonics and ordinary tones shapes the identity of the ‘new’ Sequenza. The extremely diversified melodic passages, regarding pitch, rhythm, dynamics and timbre, reach into an even further dimension when they travel in and out of harmonics and ordinary tones. Overtones are used extensively as ‘resonators’, in creating chords from the sounding overtones. And contrary to the many arrangements of Berio’s Sequenzas, the double bass Sequenza also contains a higher degree of original material in the new version. Inspired by guitar techniques in flamenco music, Scodanibbio supplemented his version with several brief, personal commentaries on Berio’s music, as optional inserts similar to those used by Berio in, for example, Sequenza VII for viola. In the bass Sequenza, Scodanibbio composed a flowing phrase of arpeggiated bowing – imitating the strumming technique of the flamenco guitar, as well as a section of rapid right-hand finger play

similar to the flamenco tremolo. “…to allow the contrabass to sing with its own voice” Being a composer-instrumentalist, Scodanibbio composed his music together with the double bass, and at the root of his search were questions about the identification and assessment of sounds through the instrument. The intermingling and interrelated compound of (novel) sounds, based on overtones, founds the sonorousness which the instrument speaks, and constitutes what I believe a close relation to folk music. The harmonics may for example be regarded as equivalents to the fiddler’s open strings, or to the understrings on the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle. They often create a certain drone-like feeling in the music, and new dimensions of expressiveness, virtuosity and timbral colouration occur in the interchanging of ordinary tones and flageolets. One of the main problems faced when using harmonics is that the sound is locked into the overtone spectrum of the open strings. As in many traditional fiddle tunes, harmonic variation is therefore acquired by retuning the strings, and Scodanibbio similarly used simple scordatura tunings of one or two strings in works such as Voyage that never ends and Sequenza XIVb. For example, the

double bass in Voyage is tuned A-F-B-G (from high to low in solo tuning), and Scodanibbio adopts a variant of the equal tempered tuning where the strings are tuned by the 4th and 6th partial (3rd and 7th overtone), resulting in a more unified sound of the four strings and a greater resonance of the instrument. As a performing musician, and as a traveller, Scodanibbio came into contact with music and cultures from all over the world, but he still reserved a special place for Spanish and Latin-American influences. He enjoyed a particularly strong relationship with Mexico, where he spent much of his time. The impact it had on him is evident in the arrangements of folk songs from Mexico in Canzoniere messicano, and of classical flamenco music in the pieces Quattro Pezzi Spagnoli, both cycles scored for string quartet and written in the second half of the 2000s. Scodanibbio’s music emerged in the dawn of postmodernism and pluralism, when contemporary music gradually opened up to other influences to affect its idiom. It is difficult to imagine a similar voice of the double bass arising anytime else than in the ‘golden years’ of contemporary music, the 1980s, in the deep traditions of Italian music-culture. It carries within itself a reflection upon previous

developments while embracing a new idiomatic intelligibility. And it thrives on using confrontational and intensifying antagonisms, such as low and high sounds, normal tones and flageolets, improvisation and structure. It incorporates different styles of music, absorbing national and foreign musical influences, balancing high art and folk culture. It frees the double bass from its image as a ponderous, awkward instrument or a bastard cello, sometimes transcending into a percussion instrument, sometimes becoming a harp or an Indian violin. Scodanibbio’s music does not incorporate dogmatic attitudes, much more does it include a reflective pragmatism towards history, virtuosity, expression and language. In the CD sleeve notes for Geografia amorosa (col legno, 2000), he expresses: “What is the language of the contrabass? How can an idea be given voice? How can one determine from among the great variety of the contrabass’s voices, from among its thousand voices, the voice? Does language [the use of language] perhaps conceal the voice? And if in the end ‘the flight of the voice into the use of language is to have an end’, if ‘the completed thought have no more thoughts’, then are we not perhaps looking down into the abyss of silence?”. Scodanibbio never

answers his philosophical reflections in clear words, but a number of compositions arose from the creative exploration of ‘language’ and ‘voice’, as in Marche bancale and La fine del pensiero, both composed in 1998 in collaboration with French dancer and choreographer Hervé Diasnas, using music for double bass and tape. Together with the rhythmic and percussive possibilities explored in Geografia amorosa (1994), these pieces found the sounding entities leading up to the sonorities heard in Oltracuidansa, a piece for double bass and 8-channel tape based entirely on sound material generated by the double bass. The sounds of timbral exploration and transformation that meets us in Oltracuidansa grew out of philosophical reflections sparked by the discovery of a text by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben – La fine del pensiero (The End of Thought) – “a text that leads to the recognition that thought cannot find an adequate language, at least not a verbal one” (Wolfgang Korb in the CD sleeve notes for Stefano Scodanibbio Geografia amorosa, col legno, 2000). As the overtones strengthen the link to the fundamentals of all sound, Oltracuidansa also reveals the atavistic and, in the double sense, dark tones of the instrument. Together with Ottetto, his last and perhaps

most ambitious work, these pieces articulate the culmination of Scodanibbio’s technical, aesthetical and philosophical thought. In a CD-review from “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik” (March/April 2011), the critic Burkhard Schäfer uses an expression from the post-structuralist vocabulary of Gilles Deleuze when he writes: “Oltracuidansa is strongly archaic, stretching over vast distances under the spell of its sensory-acoustic texture, not so much aimed at the experience of interesting effects, but more rampant on the rhizomatic proliferation of sounds”. With the Ottetto, Scodanibbio returns to, and unites the rhizomatic with the opposing arborescent (also Gilles Deleuze’s expression) conceptions of sounds that had prevailed in most of Scodanibbio’s other compositions. And interestingly, both pieces can also be perceived retrospectively in their sounding similarities to Fernando Grillo’s experimental compositions from the 1970s. [This text is an edited version of the article “A folk music for the double bass”, which is published on]

Credits Track 1 and 6 recorded in Hoff church, Østre Toten, 3. April and 27. September 2013 Track 3 recorded live at Tou Scene, Stavanger, 18. November 2009 Track 2, 4 and 5 recorded live in the Levin hall, Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo, 19. November 2009 Produced by Håkon Thelin Recorded, mixed and mastered by Cato Langnes Mixed and mastered at Studio Nordheim, NOTAM, Oslo Executive producer Kristian Skaarbrevik Liner notes by Håkon Thelin Editorial work by Sarah Ludwig-Simkin Scores printed with kind permission from Maria Teresa Bonugli Scodanibbio Cover design by Lasse Marhaug Photos by Maresa Scodanibbio, Alfredo Tabocchini, Ignas Krunglevicius, Fabio Falcioni and Bjørn Thevik Atterklang 2014 Distributed by Musikkoperatørene AS Released with support from Kulturrådet, FFUK and NOTAM A very special thanks to Maresa Scodanibbio, Sarah Ludwig-Simkin, Cato Langnes and NOTAM