Saturday, December 10, 2016

Umberto Tricca - Moksha Pulse (Working Label, 2016)

East meets West again. The first wailings of the encounter between jazz and Indian classical music were in 1963, the year Impulse! issued “Impressions”, a record by John Coltrane featuring Eric Dolphy with the beautiful piece “India”, in which drums and bass were imitating tabla and tempoura while the saxophonist was pushing at the boundaries his concept of modality.

Then, it was the time for Mr Anthony Braxton and his 'pulse tracks' to realize a music that was compelled in blurring the boundaries between African American music and Indian music avoiding every possible 'fusion' as it happened in the 1970s, giving life to a structure that remains between the most innovative and aesthetically accomplished.

The reason why Indian music was so interesting for innovative improvisers was well explained in a chapter of Derek Bailey's “Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music” (Da Capo Press, 1993): in facts, Indian classical music features a huge amount of improvisation. Ravi Shankar is an improviser as much as a composer, and this is the same tradition of people as Coltrane and Braxton.

Umberto Tricca
Now, is the time for the young Italian guitarist Umberto Tricca to provide the world of improvised music with a new melting of jazz and Indian music. Tricca studied guitar at CEMM in Milano, then at the Berklee School of Boston. Then, he followed the lessons of arrangement with bassist Giovanni Tommaso and other courses, such as modern harmony and jazz harmony.

Umberto Tricca collaborated with musicians coming from Florence (Italy) such as Giancarlo Boselli and Masabo Trio, deepening his own studies on harmony and rhythmic conduction of musicians as Dave Holland and Steve Coleman. While experimenting with italian music revised in jazz, bossa nova and samba and contemporary jazz repertoire, he starts studying Indian music with tabla player Francesco Gherardi.

The result of these different experiences are available in his new record “Moksha Pulse” (Working Label, 2016) featuring Achille Succi (alto sax, bass clarinet), Giacomo Petrucci (baritone sax), Nazareno Caputo (vibraphone), Gabriele Rampi Ungar (bass) and Bernardo Guerra (drums). As happened with Braxton and Coltrane, you will not find any ethnic inclination in this record.

The tracks of the album show the love Umberto Tricca has for Indian music, the counterpoints of Afro Cuban rhumbas, and contemporary music – you will hear in 'Prelude' an influence by some Iannis Xenakis compositions. The name of the project comes from the Sanskrit word 'Moksha', that means 'emancipation' underlying the choice of leaving every predetermined structure, developing the possible interactions between those traditions and musical languages.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Masao Adachi “AKA Serial Killer” (1969)

Masao Adachi
“Instead of replacing the camera with the rifle, why not have one in each hand?” – Masao Adachi

Born in 1939 in Fukoka, Japan, Masao Adachi was one of the preeminent figures in revolutionary cinema during the 1960s/1970s. He was a close collaborator of filmmaker Koji Wakamatsu, and both had the same photographer director, the legendary Hideo Ito. Masao Adachi provided the scripts for such masterpieces of Wakamatsu as The Embryo Hunts in Secret (1966) and Violated Angels (1967).

After directing his own movies, dealing with left-wing political themes and sex, quite often mixed together, Adachi left cinema for revolution, joining the Japanese Red Army to organize terror attack. But the reason we remember Adachi here at Complete Communion is one film, titled AKA Serial Killer, we saw yesterday night for the first time, even if the movie was released in 1969.

Masahiko Togashi - Mototeru Takagi "Isolation"
AKA Serial Killer was the film that defined the 'landscape theory' for which he is credited as one of the founders, but that has many followers in Europe – the most famous are Jean Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet: it is a radical Marxist theory stating that the landscape is a pure expression of the dominand political power. In showing the landscape, we show different degrees of alienation.

To demonstrate this theory, Adachi focuses on the story of Norio Nagayama, a 19 year old boy convicted for the murders of four people in four different Japanese cities. Adachi narrates with his own voice the life of Nagayama, while the images show landscapes of the places in which the killer lived.

This way, the movie is an act of accusation of the alienation that forced Nagayama to become an assassin. To help this, the movie is provided of a beautiful, sharp soundtrack of free jazz. The musicians involved are Masahiko Togashi (drums, vibraphone, marimba, timpani, percussions) and Mototeru Takagi (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet).

The music from the movie was collected in 1969 in a record titled Isolation (Take One Records), reissued in 2000 by Columbia and in 2005 by Bridge. There's lot of space in it, a meditative atmosphere broken by the saxophones and their cries. But it's the mix of images and music in the film by Adachi that creates a fascinating documentary of an era, an era in which the arts were all at the service of the revolution, of social change, and it is this era that we want to celebrate with this post, inviting all of you to enjoy both the music and the movie.  

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Žiga Koritnik's “JAZZY-GA!”

Žiga Koritnik's “JAZZY-GA!”
In Der Schillerstrasse 106
10625 Berlin – Charlottenbourg
Vernissage: Monday 31.10.2016 H. 7.00 PM

Paul Lovens photographed by Ziga Koritnik

Žiga Koritnik has been capturing images of musicians since 1987. He lives and works in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where he is a regular guest on the music scene and documents the Ljubljana jazz festival, the Druga godba festival, concerts in Cankarjev dom and various other events across Europe, both large and small, including Saalfelden jazz festival, Konrontationen in Nickelsdorf, Vienna jazz festival in Austria, Musique Mettisses in Angouleme, France, Womad in Reading, England and the Talos Festival in Ruvo di Puglia, Musica Sulle Bocche, Sardegna-Italy, and the Vision festival in New York. Since 1996 he has been a resident photographer of the Skopje jazz festival in Macedonia, where each year a calendar with his photos is published. In 2001 he held a major exhibition at the Skopje City Museum to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the festival, which was accompanied by a book predominantly featuring Koritnik's photographs. In 2001 he spent seven weeks in New York, where he documented the Vision Festival and became acquainted with the musical and artistic events in the city. He was afforded the opportunity to exhibit in the Kavehaz Gallery in Soho. In June 2006 he was invited back to New York to exhibit his work at the Vision jazz festival, at the Angel Orensanz Center. His photographs are regularly published in Slovene newspapers and magazines (including Delo, Mladina, Muska, and Fotografija) as well as in international publications (Time Out, Jazz Times, Jazziz, Signal to Noise, Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, Ballett Internationale, Village Voice, All About Jazz, Downbeat, Jazznyt, etc.). 

He is also involved in theater photography and has regularly collaborated with Mladinsko gledališče Ljubljana. He has worked with Iztok's Kovač's En-Knap dance company, documenting performances, and shooting an accompanying film of their performance Daleč od spečih psov (Far from Sleeping Dogs), as well as a film about composer Vinko Globokar, Krotilci časa (The Time Tamers) and Metod Pevec’s film Beneath Her Window, which got many awards at the Slovenian Film Festival and was the Slovenian candidate for the Academy Awards in 2005. From 1989 until August of 2006 he has been employed by the Slovenia’s national television station, Televizija Slovenija, as a TV and film cameraman, and has worked with directors Maja Weiss, Peter Braatz, Amir Muratović, Sašo Podgoršek and Michael Benson, and others. In 2001 he documented the making of Peter Greenaway's Map to Paradise exhibition in Ljubljana, which was later that year followed by the publication of a book with extracts from his documentation of Greenaway's film, the creation of which is still underway. In 1996 he self-published a book of photographs entitled Jazzyga! (Jazz-It!). To mark the occasion, he held an exhibition at a major European jazz festival in Saalfelden, Austria. He was invited back to the festival in 2003. 

His photos have also appeared in many books by other authors, including a book on the sculptor Jakov Brdar, whose sculpting of general Rudolf Meister he documented, and Colours of Music, published on the 20th anniversary of the Saalfelden Jazz Festival. Žiga Koritnik also created the cover of the Slovene translation of Miles Davis’ autobiography. He invited photographers Mauro D'Agati, Raffaella Cavalieri, Matthiass Creutziger, Manfred Rinderspacher, Jak Kilby, Luca D'Agostino and Enid Farber to exhibit at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival in Slovenia. In 2004 he made a joint photography exhibition featuring the works of Slovenian music photographers. He has collaborated with the publishers of Mladinska knjiga magazines, and the company Hit Nova Gorica. He is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. His photographs were included with CDs released by labels such as Tzadik, Intuition Music, Nika Records, Trost Records, The Thing Records and Leo Records. In 1997 the Italian photo magazine Zoom featured a presentation article on Žiga Koritnik. In 2005, his work was presented on 16 pages in Jazznin, a Japanese jazz magazine. He held more than 60 solo and 40 group exhibitions at home and abroad (Slovenia, Italy, USA, Austria, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Germany, France, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Monte Negro, Ireland, Japan...). Since 2005, he is a regular visitor of Sardinia, Italy, where he documented the Musica Sulle Bocche Festival, Ai Confini tra Sardegna E Jazz Festival, and the Isola delle Storie Festival of Literature several times. In collaboration with Tumbarinos di Gavoi and Jana Project, he published their book about the Sardinian carnival in 2009. He still documents the carnival every year. In 2009 he published a book of black and white photo impressions of Lake Bohinj, Slovenia. He regularly organizes music and landscape photography workshops at home and abroad. He has received the Special Recognition Award at the Olympus photo competition in Japan, and the Zlata diploma (Golden diploma) award for the annual report by HIT Nova Gorica. The internet edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica has an entry on Koritnik’s first website, created in 1996 (, under The Web's Best Sites.

The Exibition will be held from October 31 to November 6

See also:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Is the Avant-Garde sexist?

Matana Roberts
My reflection about this problem started quite some years ago. I was going to a concert with a friend, a trumpet player, who told me that 'women cannot play saxophone because their rib cage is smaller than that of a man'. Curiously enough, in that period a woman saxophone player was emerging, Matana Roberts, and the media dedicated to improvised music were praising her for the freshness of her sound and vision.

The result was that I started asking myself: 'is the avant-garde sexist?'. After all, what we needed was Peter Brotzmann heavy blowing, Cecil Taylor strumming, Han Bennink hammering. What about hues and shades? Obviously there was Marylin Crispell playng piano in many records by the Anthony Braxton quartet, there was Susie Ibarra playing drums with William Parker band 'In Order To Survive', and the concert me and my friend trumpet player were attending to was that of Joelle Leandre.

But that assertion about women's rib cage was so impressed in my mind that I started aking myself if the seed of mysoginy was in some way present in my environment. After all, when I was in London for six months, I attended many gigs and festivals and I noticed only few women. To be honest, I remember four of them – and only one from outside the Eu/US. And only few titles in my CD collection were attributed to women.

At a certain point, I started searching the web for articles about the subject. I read that women were mostly hired by the music business in jazz as pianists or singers, while all the other instruments were taken as instruments for male performers, as an example. This is mostly true also for improvised music. Then, I found a dissertation by Dana Reason Myers titled “The Myth of Absence: Representation, Reception and the Music of Experimental Women Improvisors” (2002).

Pauline Oliveros
I will talk about this thesis for all the lenght of this article, since it's really interesting if you want to deepen the problem of women musicians in a male-dominated world as the one of jazz and particularly the avant-garde scene of improvised music. The thesis of D.R. Myers starts with drawing the life and art of seven women improvisors: Pauline Oliveros, Marylin Crispell, Maggie Nichols, Joelle Leandre, Miya Masaoka and Susie Ibarra.

Since all these women are very well acknowledged nowadays and are well known to my readers, I will omit their achievements and I'll pass to the rest of the discussion. D.R. Myers starts analyzing how Down Beat magazine covers women in jazz from 1960 to 2000. Down Beat doesn't cover free jazz or avant garde music in general, and his columns are seen more as an opportunity to sell records of the concerned styles of music (bebop, fusion, classical jazz, etc.) more than discussing about issues of interest from the musicians themselves.

Nonetheless, Down Beat sometimes pays hommage to the masters of free jazz and avant garde music, favoring male participants: Cecil Taylor, Julius Hemphill, Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, and Ornette Coleman among others. Occasionally a review of a CD by Marylin Crispell appears. In addition, some journalists, such as John Corbett, have written about male and female improvisors. Despite his contributions, prominent American women improvisors has been very limited.

While the magazine tends to profile American musicians, on occasion European improvisors appear, including Barry Guy, Evan Parker, Han Bennink and Alex Von Schlippenbach. European women from the same generation and field are not featured: only three have been featured in articles and only five have received reviews in Down Beat. We obtain similar results consulting the database of the magazine Cadence, where, from 1976 to 2000, there are 686 articles about male musicians and only 30 featuring women musicians.

Myra Melford
As far as the magazine Jazziz, a special number was issued in 2000 dedicated to women artists. Only two women, Myra Melford and Carla Bley, are involved in both creative music and jazz music. Women instrumentalists remain marginalized, and experimental women remain even more marginalized. Things don't get better if we consider books. D.R. Myers analyzes the following titles: Robert Walser's Keeping Time (1999), Ingrid Monson's Saying Something (1996), Krin Gabbard's Jazz Among The Discourses (1995), Paul Berliner's Thinking in Jazz (1994), John Corbett's Extended Play (1994) and the famous book by Derek Bailey Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music (revised 1992).

All these books provide little mention of the contributions of women improvisors, and even less on cross-cultural aspects of the role of women in music. In contrast, Val Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life (1977) dedicates an entire chapter titled “You sound Good – For a Woman” in which Wilmer discusses attitudes towards women musicians and how creative women improvisors have helped support the male musicians they maintained personal relationship with (Alice and John Coltrane, Fontella Bass and Lester Bowie, Linda and Sonny Sharrock).

At this point D.R. Myers ask to herself if the statement “sound good for a woman” necessarily imply the notion of a woman who plays like a man, or if the comparison of creative women's abilities to creative men's abilities engender notions of the women being understudies of 'big brother' either directly of indirectly.

Amina Claudine Myers answers in an interview: “I don't recall actually hearing that statement [“sound good for a woman”] in reference to me, but I have heard it … years back when I was playing organ with Gene Ammons, I heard someone saying 'she plays like a man'. One time I was referred to as a female Mc Coy Tyner, or Cecil Taylor”. Amina Claudine Myers believes that statements like “'she plays like a man' means being strong and aggressive on the piano, but it's been proven that women have done heavy work and stood up under it.”

Susie Ibarra
It is perhaps safe to assume that the most valued physical standard would be gendered masculine. In an article issued on Times, a newspaper from New York, of May 30, 1999, David Yaffe describes the music of drummer Susie Ibarra depicting her as an 'exceptional' woman. Susie Ibarra can surely physically handle the drums differently from what many critics of the past were thinking about women – as my friend trumpet player – but the discussion of physicality leads readers to assume that there is a standard by which physical qualities are to be measured and compared in order to play the drums.

Yaffe discussion of Susie Ibarra creates distance between her and other women drummers or women improvisors. Allan G. Johnson makes an additional claim suggesting that what makes some women exceptional “is their ability to embody values culturally defined as masculine” (1997). In addition, many reviews of women musicians call attention to personal traits, physical attributes, or compare their music to other male musicians obscuring why these women's voices are important to be heard.

Coverage by media is not the only problem women approach through their journey in music. Joelle Leandre recalls that “as a woman, it is certainly more difficult to enter the musical 'machine'. We are the minority and it is therefore difficult to find one's language as an artist while remaining faithful to ourselves”. Other women have experienced a mixed reaction to their work, as it happened to Miya Masaoka and her piece Ritual.

Ikue Mori talks about the feeling of being displaced in both the improvised music field and technology: “They see the technology and they don't really consider me a musician playing an instrument. So I feel that they don't understand. But then I go to electronic music people's concerts. It's all male dominated. My music made by machine is not electronic enough, like I am too female for them”.

Maggie Nichols
Public criticism made by other musicians or participating colleagues can also alienate women improvisors. Maggie Nichols and Irene Schweizer, from the Feminist Improvising Group, recount how they were ostracized at one of the early important performances at the Total Music Meeting in Berlin in the late 1970s. Perhaps the discontent expressed by other musicians towards the ability of the musicians in the Feminist Improvising Group indicates not only gender bias, but also latent gendered conceptions of how music ought to sound or be created.

“We could be very iconoclastic and very surreal, or very silly – recalls cellist Georgina Born – I am sure there were good moments of music and moments of real hilarity. Only video would do justice to the character of what we did”. Born elaborates on how this use of humor could have led other musicians to perceive the Feminist Improvising Group to be not a serious band. “I am sure that humor is always a weapon from the margins. We were also using parody and probably the grotesque”.

It's time to have a look at various festivals of improvised music and its policies. Total Music Meeting (Berlin) has hired only a small number of women since 1968. Peter Brotzmann has appeared fifteen times, Evan Parker thirteen times, and Alex Von Schlippenback twelve. Twenty-eight different women performed at TMM. No African-American women were presented, and only three Asians have performed (Aki Takase, Jin Hi Kim and Sainkho Namchylak). The most women ever presented during a single festival was in 1979 with the Feminist Improvising Group (seven members).

At the Vancouver Jazz Festival, the number of creative improvisors, both male and female, totaled 45 on 1600 artists represented from 1986, equaling 2.8%. Creative women improvisors made up only 0.37% (six on 1600). Compared with other festivals, Taklos (Zurich) includes a large number of women who are not pianists and singers. This is important, since the festival more accurately represents the diversity of creative women improvisors. The number of women presented at this festival ranges from a minimum of three out of thirty-tree (9%) in 2000, to a maximum of ten out of thirty-four (29%) in 1996.

Jin Hi Kim
The festival has featured six Asian performers and two African American women. The programming demonstrates that there are more women who are not just pianists and singers which should be hired. The Guelph Jazz Festival (Guelph, Ontario) began in 1994 run by Dr. Ajay Heble, a professor of comparative literature at the University of Guelph specializing in post-colonial studies, and he has been the festival's founder and artistic director.

Up until 2000, the festival has concentrated on bringing women improvisors from Canada or the United States and has presented a handful of women improvisers that were not presented at the Vancouver festival, including Maggie Nichols, Amina Claudine Myers, Pauline Olveros and percussionist Gayle Young. The Festival de Musique Actuelle Victoriaville has programmed a variety of Asian women improvisors and European women improvisors. The percentage of creative women improvisors varies from 15.7% in 1985 to 7.8% in 1990, to 5.5% in 2000.

A close examination of the number of women hired to perform at all those festivals reveals that women are hired substantially less than their male colleagues. The attention placed on singers and pianists in festivals and the media over other istruments may be examined in terms of historical notions of women in music. In her study of girls' musical education in British schools, Lucy Green points that teachers tended to identify particular istruments with girls.

Recent musicological studies address the history of women pianists and singers in Western classical music, a tradition that still has enormous influence on music industry and social practices. During the 19th century the piano was associated with the bourgeoisie and was almost exclusively an instrument for females of amateur rank. Many artists used women pianists as subjects for their paintings and drawings, capturing many of the dominant culture attitudes towards women.

Mary Lou Williams
“The piano served as an object to be looked at besides being heard or played … the looking was insistently gendered, driven by the instrument's extra-musical function within the home as the visual-sonoric simulacrum of family, wife and mother” (Leppert, 1993). The notion of women as pianists and singers is widespread even in contemporary jazz music. The most famous women in jazz before the 1960s were pianists (Lil Harding, Mary Lou Williams, Dorothy Donegan, Marian McPartland, Hazel Scott).

The prominence of women pianists still dominates women's contribution in jazz today. But if a girl is conditioned and trained on one instrument from elementary school, it may be difficult to switch instruments once a certain proficiency is achieved on one instrument. And certainly a visit to any Western music conservatory will clearly reveal that the majority of women tend to major in piano and voice. Many traditional music programs foster the continuation of this kind of gendered construction in their students and curricula.

One way for women artists to counter some of the dominant hiring practices at festivals is to produce their own festivals. Festivals such the Canaille Festival (Frankfurt) co founded by trombonist Annemarie Roeflos and Irene Schweizer has created a space for many women improviors. Joelle Leandre, Elvira Plenar, Maggie Nichols, violinist Maartje Ten Hoorn and Marylin Mazur have played there.

City of Women, a festival held in Ljubljana, was started in 1995 with the specific goal of providing space for women artists, musicians and theorists. The 2001 call for artists posted by the organizers is especially telling: “City of Women's main theme for the first edition of the new millennium is inspired by an in 1989 written, unpublished poem by Audre Lord: 'Most people in the world are Yellow, Black, Brown, Poor, Female, Non-Christian and do not speak English.

Joelle Leandre
By the year 2000 the 20 largest cities in the world will have one thing in common: none of them will be in Europe none in the United States'. In addition to this we also want to stress that a large percentage of the European and North-American population is not 'white'. 'Western society' is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. In this new global contest it is not surprising that the main creative centers, the contemporary art talent is less and less to be found in 'white' cultural fortresses.

With this in mind we have decided to call the 7th edition: YEAR ONE, and select only artists and theoreticians 'of colors'”. However, the women programmed by the festival still legitimizes the most famous women (Marylin Crispell, Lindsay Cooper, Ikue Mori, Tenko, Meredith Monk and Zeena Parkins) and is not committed to the younger generation of improvisors.

Another festival, Kosmos Frauenraum, is held in Vienna. There, in 1997 a group of women formed LINK. Part of its mission was to raise awereness for the need of women-centered performance space in Austria. They obtained from the governement a space, a cinema called 'Rondell' as their homebase. After a while, the governement retracted their promise and so LINK squatted the 'Rondell' for the next months.

Performances, readings, concerts as well as actions of protest took place not only at the 'Rondell' but all over Vienna. Finally LINK found the cinema 'Kosmos' suitable to substitute the 'Rondell' and the space was named 'frauen.raum' and opened in 2000. In 2002 Kosmos presented an international festival of music entitled 'Here I am': artists invited included trombone player and violinist Annemarie Roelofs, The United Women's Orchestra, Joelle Leandre, sound artist Gabriele Proy, Susie Ibarra, trombonist Abbie Conant and Sylvie Courvoisier.

Another example of a festival open to women is the Vision Festival, based in New York and founded by bassist William Parker and her wife Patricia Nicholson. The 2002 Vision Festival reveals a much stronger commitment to African-American improvisors and featured women include Joelle Leandre, bassoonist Karen Borca, and the vocalists Ellen Christi and Jayne Cortez.

Ellen Christi
In March 2002 the San Francisco Jazz Festival presented “Women and Jazz: A Panel Discussion” featuring writer and activist Angela Davis, musicologist Sherri Tucker, composer Maria Schneider, pianist Mary Watkins and Susie Ibarra. One would argue that in the near future things will go better for women improvisors, but the path is still long and full of obstacles.

The lesson we can learn is that the world of art is not ripped apart from society, and that it reflects the same dynamics. This means that the music we all listen to reflects the dynamics of power we all live through our society and that a music that reflects change and committment is still far from us. This is also an explanation to the problem I raised up with my last reviews.

The records I reviewed, all by male musicians, are records of 'post avant garde' music. A music that takes improvisation mixing it with other styles of music from the 20th century. A music that has its reference in the past, that doesn't look at the future. A music that reflects a period of stagnation. Maybe if in the future men and women will collaborate together, there will be a new music, reflecting new values and new musical ideas – think about the Feminist Improvising Group as an example.

Until that moment, I expect to encounter music that reflects the past and the status quo, as the records I reviewed in the past months. It is necessary to include different genders and races in our culture if we want it to be renewed. If we fail this target, we will listen to music created following old schemes and old dreams, a music that is far from being near to us, a music that will be conservative.

If you want to read Dana Reason Myers dissertation in its entirety, follow this link.  

Friday, July 8, 2016

Santi Costanzo - Deeprint (Improvvisatore Involontario, 2016)

At the beginning in the 1950s there was bebop, with his harmonic complexities. Then, in the 1960s, you had free jazz, with his stress on the melodic aspects of music and glossolalia. Then again, in the 1970s, it was the time of the Chicago avant garde, with his attempt to revisite the structures of the music and its openness to contemporary music, and the European improvised music, with every musician involved in creating their own language detached completely from the blues. And finally, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was the time of the post-modern avant garde, with the likes of John Zorn, Ikue Mori, Zeena Parkins, in which languages were colliding to create games with codes.

What happened in the 2000s? In part you have young musicians as Mary Halvorsom, who works on creating a language of its own collaborating with masters as Anthony Braxton, pushing the evolution on the next level, on the other hand you have a myriads of others young musicians who are not part of a movement – not at least while developing their own language – who are creating music taking here and there from the history of music itself; they have for sure mentors and masters, but they don't affect necessarily their development as musicians.

This younger generation explore the values of the music that came before them and then they pick some elements useful to create their own experimentations. But this time, there's no such a movement on their back. They're lonely. I called this music 'post avant garde', and the record Triplain by Paolo Sorge (reviewed here) is a good example of this music. On the other hand you have Sorge's scholar Santi Costanzo, who is clearly another representative member of this 'post avant garde' style.

His new record Deeprint (Improvvisatore Involontario, 2016) is a good example of this new tendency. As the guitarist-composer affirms, this record has three elements: seriality, extemporaneous composition, and free improvisation. Seriality is a reference to the classical contemporary music of the XX century, and it's related to melodic, polyphonic and polyrhithmic aspects of the music. Extemporaneous composition is present in the Prologue and Epilogue of the record, while free improvisation is sometimes guided through the use of conductions.

What is this music we're talking about here? It is still avant-garde? The press talked for a long time about 'post-rock' during the 2000s, and it was a music thatwas opening for sure the boundaries of rock music. But it is this 'post avant garde' music opening the boundaries of the avant-garde? For sure no. It is music you can enjoy through more listenings, finding new nuances every time, as it ever happens with complex music. But it is a music, at least as far as we listened to nowadays, that draw elements from the past.

It is nostalgic music for nostalgic times, and I want to state that this is not the fault of the single musicians, but it is fault of our times: every art is becoming more and more conservative, and this is what's happening also to music. But first become politics. They're influencing music, as far as I can hear. What we can do, so? First thing is try to know everything about the past of music – that's why Complete Communion is devoted to document the AACM, the free jazz movement and recently also contemporary music, with the biography of Iannis Xenakis you all read this week.

We need to deepen the past of avant garde music, we need to master it, we need to know more about it. This is an era in which musicians are left alone, they have difficulties in sharing their music, they have difficulties in creating it. There's no such a movement as they were in the past. This is an era of nostalgia: everybody is looking at the past, and is trying to travel across countries that were still covered. We need to widen our knowledge of the past, in order to help the music to find out new ways to express itself.

As far as this record, I invite you to listen carefully this quartet, since its combination of atonality, electric guitar, free movements of the horns and polyrhythms will not let you disappointed. But I invite you also to discover the music of the past, so come back to my Xenakis biography and start listening to new worlds. This is a strange era, and we need all our resources to put the barricades in their correct order again, to not let pass the Order of Homogenisation.

Line Up: Santi Costanzo, guitar and composition; Fabio Tiralongo, flute, soprano and tenor saxophone; Carlo Cattaneo, alto flute and baritone saxophone; Alessandro Borgia, drums. Tracklist: Prologo, Lai, Audire Aude!, Jumpfive, Milea, Sphere Theories, Ziqqurat, Epilogo

Santi Costanzo Official Website Here you can listen to some previews of the album

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Iannis Xenakis [Part 3 of 3]

In 1967 Xenakis becomes teacher of music at the Indiana University, in Bloomington, U.S. He' not completely keen on teaching, but he accepts since he wants to realize a centre of research devoted to the relationships between music and mathematics. Unluckily almost all of the funds are redirected for the Vietnam war. In 1966 the composer resigns, and he comes back to Paris where he found the CEMAMu (Centre d'Etudes Mathématiques et Musicales, a non-profit organization dedicated to the study of the application of information technology to music). During these years he will realize the Polytopes, architectural spaces that today would be defined 'multimedia centre' and 'site-specific', dedicated to performances involving compositions made of light and sound.

The Polytopes (from the Greek 'poli'=multi and 'tòpos'=space) represent an idea of art that integrates sound, light and space. In that sense, polytopes are not only ancestors of the soundart, since the sound sculptors of our times are always working in a given space, and they sculpt it after choosing it, not before projecting it, and this is Xenakis' most complete realization, today not overtaken. The architecture of specific spaces created to enjoy live music and the creation of its own tools so to realize electronic music come together in Xenakis' mind and activity. When reading his writings of the 1980s, it is clear that what pushes the composer towards this form of total art is the same anxiety he has since the days of stochastic compositions: "Can we do tabula rasa of all the known compositional rules?", and "what a rule is?".

Since 1952 to 1956 Xenakis elaborates in first person in Fortran language a program in order to obtain scores that realize on cartesian axes analitic geometry, composing the pieces of the ST Series. The use of the computer as a compositional tool helps him to overtake 'the art of the fugue', which is transforming a theme following the rules of transposition, augmentation, temporal decrease, etc. inventing, instead, his own musical forms. The ST Series comes from applying to the stochastics the 'Markov chains' (responsible of the developing of computer science and of linguistics, at least until Noam Chomsky proved they were useless in that field).

Not only probability, but also repetition, determinism, so to measure the symmetry of a composition (Nomos Alpha is an example, again): 'repetition' is the definition of one of the smallest conditions to have a 'rule', following Newton. Nomos Alpha is also the best example of 'symbolic music' realized by the composer. Unsatisfied by the structures of Western music, for its limits in polyphonic development, as far as the time logic, Xenakis points at the popular music, in particular the Bizantine popular music, for his use of the pedal in vocal polyphony so that it creates a new tension, the same that will occurr in the music of Debussy or Schoenberg. The composition is divided in 24 sections, and it is composed by two layers: the first is composed by a group of 24 elements, while the second, in contrast, is no more determined by the group theory but it follows a continuous, evolving movement. Commissioned in 1965 by Radio Bremen for cellist Sigfried Palm, and dedicated to the mathematicians Aristossenus, Evariste Galois and Felix Klein, Nomos Alpha represents perfectly the dialectic of transformation of time between en temps and hors temps from which the idea of 'amnesia' comes ('to leave at the entrance the emotional and qualitative burdens passed on by musical traditions' taking under exam only 'the abstract relationships in every event' [Iannis Xenakis, Musiques Formelles, 1963]) and that represents the attempt to recover in music the 'ubiquity' typical of subatomic physics.

The Polytopes are the places in which to present music not only composed, but also played by computers. The Polytope of Montreal has been realized in 1967. Commissioned for that year Expo, it has been realized with wide concave and convex mirrors suspended to electric cables reproducing 'visual melodies' through lightning sources. The music created for the polytope will lead to Kraanerg, a piece of 75 minute of lenght, without any inner subdivision, including instead 20 moment of silence of different lenghts integrals to the development of the piece itself. The first section of Kraanerg contains equal portions of live orchestra and recorded tape, the second section is mostly live orchestra, and the third is almost entirely recorded tape. Performed for the first time at the National Arts Center in Ottawa in 1969, and conceived as accompaniment for Roland Petit's ballet company, Kraanerg has been performed until 1972 and then forgotten until 1988, when a new version coreographed by Graeme Murphy took it at a new peak, with a performance almost exclusively instrumental. The title of the piece comes from Greek, and it means 'accomplished act', referring to the youth movement of those years and the socio-political changes wished for.

The Polytopes diverge the one from the other for the spatial-temporal disposition of music and listeners. The Polytopes of Persepolis and Micenae are the only ones with a fixed stationing for the listeners while sound and light sources are dispersed. Works as Terretektorh and Nomos Gamma presuppose, on the contrary, the listeners to be dispersed between the musicians. The Polytope of Montreal sees the audience at the center of the architecture, with the light and sound sources around the audience.

During the 1970s Xenakis teaches composition and gives public lectures. He creates an atelier as the IMAMu at the University of Indiana, he teaches at the Sorbonne since 1973 to 1989, at the Gresham College in London since 1975 to 1978, and he can see his works performed even in Iran. His last work, O-mega, is accomplished before Alzheimer prevents him to compose. He falls into a coma at the beginning of February, 2001 and he dies in Paris few days later.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Iannis Xenakis [part 2 of 3]

In "Art/Sciences, Allianges", Xenakis formulates the link between the arts, and between art and science, already affirmed in his own works: he uses the compositional methods of Metastasis in order to realize the shells of the Phillips Pavillion. 'Allianges' in French means alloy, but it is to be interpreted more as 'synthesis', than in the sense of a perfect fusion between parts. The base of this fusion is Pithagorean math, with his implied links between arithmetics, astronomy, geometry and music. In the following articles collected in "Musiques Formelles" the word 'formalization' is substituted with 'axiomatization'. An entirely 'axiomatic' composition in the opus of Xenakis is Nomos Alpha. Examples of 'axiomatics' developed by the composer is the 'reticulum theory', on whose base has been realized the first part of Jonchaies, and the 'vectorial spaces'.

If it is possible to compare exactly composition and theory in Xenakis, it's because the idea of formalization, of 'mechanism', has a practical goal. There is an independence of theory from composition, as in hindustani music "a book of theory cannot be distinguished from a book of religious teachings and [...] the purely theoretical instructions the musician obtains are almost exclusively aesthetical, not technical [...] since he finds a practical instruction among an active musician" [Derek Bailey: Improvisation and practice in music, Da Capo Press, 1993]. A reference to an improvised style of music helps us to hint at the distance between this world and the one of Xenakis ("The expression aleatory music today means improvised music. Using this way the word 'alea', that in scientifical terms implies casuality, means making an abuse, and it reflects a counterfeiting and sentimental attitude" [Iannis Xenakis, "Ad Libitum", in The World of Music, vol. 9, no. 1, 1967]) and to have a clue on John Cage ("he introduced a new freedom in music, and its realitazion, as it happened in painting with Jackson Pollock" [Iannis Xenakis, "Su John Cage", 1993, in "Universi del Suono", Ricordi, 2003]).

Xenakis developed first of all a compositional method, the 'stochastic theory' – the use of function of distribution of probability in order to compose instrumental music, then the theory of games, the symbolic logic, the groups theory, the reticula theory, the stochastic dynamic synthesis – the use of functions of distribution of possibilities applied to the synthesis of sound, the theory of arborescence, the theory of brownian movements, the theory of cellular robots, and finally the UPIC system (Poliagogic Unit of CEMAMu), a technological invention.

It's now time to look closer to some compositions, in order to verify how theory and compositional practice intertwine. Metastasis, whose title means 'after the stasis', it's a composition for orchestra of 61 instruments: 12 winds, 7 percussions played by 3 musicians, 46 strings, and it's long about 9 minutes. It ain't a stochastic composition, but a piece based on the idea of continuity and discontinuity, something of interest for Parmenides and, after, Albert Einstein – the relationship between matter and energy: if you modify one of the two variables, you act also on the other, and at the same time the composition is influenced by Olivier Messiaen and his theory of rhythms. In 1954 Xenakis was still studying composition with him.

The ideas of rhythms and of continuity/discontinuity help Xenakis to put together the linear perception of the music with a relativistic vision of time. It all starts from the sounds of nature, about whom Xenakis wrote in his writings about stochastic music. The aim of the composer is to "blow up the frames of representation" [Makis Solomos, Apollo e Dioniso, gli scritti di Xenakis, in "Universi del suono", Ricordi, 2003] so to obtain that the events you listen are not evoked or represented, but burst in through music. We're not that far from Antonin Artaud's 'Theatre of Cruelty'. If in Pléiades-Mélanges, as an example, at a certain point we can hear a group of percussions that hint to something that can remember the shuffling of horses, while the ones coming immediately before can evoke some war drums, their value is never descriptive, exactly as it occurs in baroque music.

"The textures act directly, without passing through language, through representation, through codification: they provoke a physical shock. Their violence is a mean to divert the listening from the research of a 'meaning' [...]. There's no need to look for a reality outside the perceptible". [Ibid.]There's no duality, in Xenakis, between nature and culture: nature is the only thing that exists, and if there is tension, conflict, it is because "composing is a fight [...] a fight to produce something interesting". From there it comes the hint to the inner time, and the interest of the composer for the evolution of human perception, starting from the study of the perception of the time in prehistoric societies and the attention on Jean Piaget's experiences on the development of that perception in children. The time itself is nothing more than a surface phenomenon of a deeper reality, the movement ('déplacement'), what Xenakis try to reproduce with his music.

Strings open Metastasis in unison, before they part in 46 different segments, one for each instrument. Intensity, register and density are the variables on which the score lingers, taking the place of progressive linearity of traditional scores, included serial scores. First and third movement of the composition doesn't have a theme or a motif, relying entirely on the force of the idea of time. The second movement, instead, has a melodic element played by the strings, and conceived following the dodecaphonic method of Schonberg and elaborated using the Fibonacci series, a technique that Bartòk used for some of his own themes. The score has been written on a cartesian diagram, then translated tri-dimentionally into the structrure of the Phillips Pavillion.

Pithoprakta ('acts of probability') is born from the idea of developing musically a sound matter using the applications of Boltzmann and Maxwell and the Newton calculation of temperature and pressure of gas. The composition is conceived as a modulation from order to disorder, realized through a 'swarming of molecules' whose parameters submitted to the calculation of probabilities are density and degrees of order, whose diagram has been realized thinking about gaussian distribution of the height. The two compositions are the result of a reflection towards the problem of how to realize a musical work making tabula rasa of the previous compositional methods. "To compose is to fight" said Xenakis, "a fight for the existence. A fight to be. When instead I imitate the past, I do nothing in reality, so I don't exist. [...] The difference is the proof of existence, of knowledge, is participation to the things in the world". [Bàlint Andràs Varga, "Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, Faber & Faber, 1996]

Monday, July 4, 2016

Iannis Xenakis [Part 1 of 3]

"The soul is a fallen God. Only the ek-stasis (the exit out of the Self) can reveal its true nature. We need to escape the Circle of Birth (reincarnations) through purifications (katharmoi) and sacraments (orghia), tools of the ekstasis"
-- Iannis Xenakis, "La voie de la recherche et de la question", 1965

It's 1958. Architect Le Corbusier and his scholar Iannis Xenakis are working on commission at the Philips Pavillion for the Bruxelles Fair. Composer Edgard Varèse is engaged in the sequence of sonic events that will compose his Poème Electronique, whose name comes from a statement of the architect when he had the assignment: "I will not create a building, but an electronic poem in which colors, images, sounds, and architecture will merge so that the audience will be completely dominated" [A. Capanna, "Il Padiglione Phillips a Bruxelles", Turin, 2000]. Xenakis, assistant of Le Corbusier since ten years, is working on the analytical study, and his work is based on the same ideas that led him few year before to give life to music works starting from the intuition – inversely pythagorean – of making music using mathematical formulas, until the definitive overtaking of seriality and the creation of the first 'stochastic' works as Metastasis (presented for the first time to the Donaueschinghen Festival in 1955), Pithoprakta (1956) and Achorripsis (1957).

Those are the years in which Xenakis issues some articles in the magazine “Gravesaner Blätter” by Hermann Scherchen, later published on the volume "Musiques Formelles" (1963, reedited and expanded in 1971 and in 1990), writings that mark the decade that is more related to the 'formalization' of the vast theoretical and musical work of the Greek composer. Twenty years later, during an interview, at the question "Doesn't mathematic interest you anymore?", Xenakis answers "It was an idea, today we need new ones, maybe more disturbing, more strong" [Anne Rey, "Expliquez-Vous Xenakis", Le Monde de la Musique no. 71, october 1984]. The 'disturbing' Xenakis hint at is the movement through time and space, and the primal chaos, and the energy under the phenomenic coordinates of time and space. In the same historical period who produced structuralism and the phenomenology of perception, both signs of the evanescence of Décartes and his self-consciousness, one of the two cornerstones of the last centuries along with Newton physics. A link between Apollo and Dyonisus, science and nature, whose analysis, as Makis Solomos underlines in his essay included in the Italian version of "Universi del Suono. Scritti e interventi 1955-1994" (Ricordi, 2003) is far from being understood in its own complexity, gives life to the art of Xenakis, as long as Nietzsche's philosophy.

Born in Braila, Romania, on May 29, 1922, at the age of twelve Iannis Xenakis move with his family in Athens. Here, he study architecture and engineering, quitting in 1941, when the Nazis occupy Greece. Soldier for the national Resistance, and after for the Communist Resistance, in 1945 the future architect and composer refuses to enter the national military guard created by the British protectorate in order to defeat the partisans, and he becomes a clandestine and is condemned to death in 1947 as a terrorist. That same year in September he leaves Greece for Paris, initially a stage befor going in the U.S.

In the European capital he starts studying composition under Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger, then he leaves to study with Olivier Messiaen. Graduated in engineering in 1947, the following year Xenakis enters in Le Corbusier's studio, and with him he designs different works applying on architecture the same principles of his research on composition. Since his "The Crisis of Serial Music" (1955) Xenakis attracts resentments and critiques, first of all for being not satisfied with a way to think about music whose crisis at the time was not completely evident. Between the lines, his personal vision emerges: "Music is a message conveyed by the matter between a man and another man, or a message of men to other men, so it has to speak to all the range of perceptions and human intelligence [...]. We need to establish a constant flow between the biological nature of the man and the buildings of his intelligence, otherwise the abstracts developments of the music of today are at risk of loosing themselves into a desert of infertility." ["La crise de la musique sérielle", 1955]

If the first works of the composer, from 1948 to 1953, are still ideally linked to the ideas developed by Gyorgy Ligeti and Franco Evangelisti, recovering popular tradition, it's the conflict with serialism to push Xenakis to develop new compositional tools. About serialism, its more evident limit is, for him, the predominance of the frequency of sound over intensity and timbre, and the predominance of quality and geometry of sound, whose result is a shape consisting primarily in a multilinear manipulation of the fundamental series. This is very limiting for Xenakis, at the point that, when in 1958 he will dedicate a text to Alban Berg, noticing the affinity with his first steps, he will riaffirm that "it is an error to say that dodecaphonic music abolished tonal functions replacing them with other functions. It is possible instead to evoke the influence of the Renaissance's polyphony." ["Alban Berg le dernier romantique", Le Figaro, february 7, 1985]

Between his contemporaries, Xenaki has affinities with Varèse – according to whom music is "the intelligence of the sound becoming body" [Edgard Varèse, "Ecrits", 1983] – since both are researching a rationality not foreign to the inner and visceral sense of the sound matter. This necessity has been also interpreted biographically, since the composer himself made statements as the following: "Everybody has observed auditory phenomenons of a great politicized crowd of dozens or one hundred thousand people. The human river articulates one rallying cry with an unvarying rhythm. Then another rallying cry is launched from the head of the demonstration spreading to the end of the crowd, and it substitutes the first rallying cry. A wave of transition [...]. Dozens of thousands machine guns and the whistles of the bullets add themselves to that total disorder. [...] Stochastic laws of those events, emptied of their political or moral content are the laws of cicadas or rain. They are the laws of the passing from pefect order to total disorder, in a continuous or explosive way. They are stochastic laws".[Iannis Xenakis, "La musique stochastique: éléments sur le procédé probabilistes de composition musicale", 1961]  

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Sergio Armaroli Trio with Giancarlo Schiaffini - Micro and More Exercises (Dodicilune, 2016)

Christian Wolff (born in Nice, France, in 1934) is one preeminent figure in experimental classical music. His parents were Helen and Kurt Wolff, responsible for the publishing of works by Franz Kafka, Robert Musil and Walter Benjamin. In 1941 the family relocated in the U.S., where they founded Pantheon Books and issued the famous edition of the I Ching that impressed John Cage after Christian Wolff gave him a copy. Wolff became an American citizen in 1946, and at the age of 16 he had lessons in composition by John Cage. Wolff became an associate of Cage and his artistic circle, including Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, David Tudor and Merce Cunningham.

From the very beginning of his career, the music of Christian Wolff dealt with improvisation, offering freedom to the performers to some extent. The 'micro exercises', from the 1970s, “were for an open ensemble that would form a microcosmic society in which players worked together yet responded to one another heterophonously, all players attempting to play in unison with one another, yet inevitably spilling over other's attacks and releases. Although in some way these exercises mimicked the loose-weaved texture of Old South congregational singing (and the Ba-Benzélé music Wolff admired), they prompted Cage to say they sounded like 'classical music of an unknown civilization” [from Michael Hicks and Christian Asplund “Christian Wolff Inside an Original Modern Musical Mind”, University of Illinois Press, 2012].

Sergio Armaroli
It is not a surprise to find out jazz musicians interested in Christian Wolff's music. Nor it is a suprise to find Sergio Armaroli interested in Christian Wolff's music. Armaroli, born as a painter but soon interested in the world of percussions, studied under the direction of Joey Baron, Han Bennink and Trilok Gurtu. Along with his trio (Marcello Testa double bass, Nicola Stranieri drums, Sergio Armaroli vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, mbira, shakers, burma bells, gongs, percussions) there is another important composer/performer in this record reviewed here who worked with some of the most important avant garde composers of the past: trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini.

This double cd set issued by label Dodicilune, “Micro and More Exercises”, is composed by a first cd with the music of Christian Wolff (the Micro Exercises), and a second cd featuring the music of Giancarlo Schiaffini (the More Exercises), who studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Gyorgy Ligeti and Vinko Globokar, and collaborated with John Cage, Karole Armitage, Luigi Nono and Giacinto Scelsi.

There's no such a hiatus between the first and the second cd, and that means that the quartet plays organically with a great care for the structure and the texture of the music - and that the music of Giancarlo Schiaffini is contemporary music in every way. Few pieces have a jazz flavour, like Microexercises 7, 10, 15, 17 and 22: that cinematic quality you can find in post no-wave music of John Lurie, and that are less interesting, for their deja vu effect, than the rest, an accomplished balance between written music and improvisation. Since you can find it useful, I want to give you advice of this other record of Christian Wolff music, “11 Micro Exercises” by guitarists Beat Keller and Reza Khota, issued in 2006 by Wandelweiser Records, and reviewed here.