AMN Reviews: Stefano Scodanibbio – Oltracuidansa

Stefano Scodanibbio: Oltracuidansa (Mode Records 225)

With this recording, Italian contrabassist Stefano Scodanibbio offers a sonic investigation of the relationship of voice to language. The voice in question is his own, as expressed in the language of his instrument.

The idea for Oltracuidansa began with a brief text by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben on the nature of thought. From the text, Scodanibbio derived a series of questions concerning language, voice and thought and their complex interrelationships. Translated to the bass this meant, as he puts it, a “radical questioning of the relation between body and instrument.”

“Oltracuidansa” is an Italianization of the Provencal “ultracuidansa,” which Scodanibbio defines in part as “to think beyond” the limits of thought. This is an apt metaphor for what Scodanibbio is doing with his instrument on this recording. In questioning his physical rapport with it, he plays it beyond the limits of standard classical technique.

Scodanibbio recorded nearly six hours of various sounds produced by twenty-six different methods of applying hands, hair and wood to the instrument’s strings and body—the roster of techniques is meticulously catalogued in Scodanibbio’s liner notes accompanying the CD. Once recorded, the sounds were assembled via multitracking into a layered work nearly an hour long. No processing of the sound was used beyond the addition of some reverb.

Over the course of the track Scodanibbio sets out the extensive sonic vocabulary that can be pulled, rubbed, struck and otherwise coaxed from the bass. The result is an extended sound environment composed of constellations of colors and textures of differing intensity and duration—required listening for anyone interested in the state of the contemporary contrabass. The overall atmosphere is restrained and thoughtful, with much hanging on the nuances that differentiate the sounds.

One of the questions Scodanibbio asks with Oltracuidansa is whether language hides voice. The answer is ambiguous: The voice which expresses thought necessarily is both enabled and constrained by the language that gives it its distinct material form. By exploring the language of the bass as he does here, Scodanibbio shows that the performer’s voice is inseparable from the instrument through which it comes to life.