AMN Reviews: Benoit Delbecq – The Weight of Light [Pyroclastic Records]

When John Cage invented the prepared piano to accompany a dance performance, the idea was to mimic the sound of a percussion ensemble in a space too small to accommodate one. With his own work, French pianist Benoit Delbecq has taken the idea of the prepared piano further. For Delbecq, using a highly selective and idiosyncratic system of preparations along with an open form of composition, the prepared piano is seemingly transformed into an ensemble—an unaltered piano accompanied by one or more percussion instruments.

Delbecq’s musical vision is on full display in The Weight of Light, a fascinating solo album recorded in the otherwise inauspicious month of March, 2020. Delbecq’s sound on the recording is grounded in a pulse-based, elastic sense of time that he constructs out of repeated patterns of independent and layered rhythmic motifs. He’s developed his own form of graphic notation employing circles and calligrams—words arranged to form shapes or images—to denote these musical structures, which he conceives of in terms of proportions or other relationships between numerical objects.

Delbecq’s method of piano preparation is to insert objects, most often wooden sticks of varying hardness, into a handful of strings in a way that affects only the keys playing the rhythmic patterns. As a result, he lends the piano the sound of a gamelan, as on the pieces Family Trees, Anamorphoses and Pair et Impair, or of a drum kit, as on the opening The Loop of Chicago. On top of all this he plays jazz-inflected, chromatic or modal melody lines drawn predominantly from the unprepared part of the piano. To hear it is to imagine one is hearing two or more players or overdubs, but it’s all done by Delbecq alone, in real time. It’s sleight of hand, literally, in the form of hand-crossings and striking keys already depressed. But Delbecq also can play directly and in a largely conventional manner, as he does on the album’s closing track, Broken World, a freely elegiac and highly affective quasi-ballad.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Luigi Nono – La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura [Kairos 0015086KAI]

The provocatively beautiful La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura: Madrigale per piu “caminantes” con Gidon Kremer, violino solo, 8 nastri magnetici, da 8 a 10 leggii, an open-form electroacoustic work for solo violin, eight-track tape and eight to ten music stands, was one of the last pieces composed by Luigi Nono (1924-1990). Nono wrote the piece after having met violinist Gidon Kremer, recordings of whose playing, which Nono later manipulated electronically in the studio, serve as the sound sources for the piece’s electronic component. Nono called the work a madrigal because he conceived it as a polyphony—specifically a polyphony that Nono, ever opposed to hierarchy in music or anywhere else, envisioned as a truly level duet for voices meeting on entirely equal terms within a given space.

The spatial setting of the work plays an important role in shaping the performance, no two of which will be exactly the same given the good deal of discretion that Nono’s score affords both performers. The eight to ten music stands are distributed within the performance area; six of them contain scores for one each of the piece’s six parts, while the remainder are empty. The violinist is to trace a path through the parts by “wandering”–both the violinist and the sound projectionist are the “caminantes,” or “wanderers,” of the title—from stand to stand, playing from the score, the empty music stands serving as disruptive wild cards of a sort. The violinist can choose when to begin and how long to play each of the parts, while the sound projectionist can fade tracks in or out in dialogue with what the violinist plays or according to his or her own sense of musical architecture. Thus though the piece has a total duration of 61 minutes, the duration any given part will have is left to the actual choices the performers make while playing. A complex work, then, and one in which a certain element of unpredictability is always in play.

The realization of La lontananza by violinist Marco Fusi and sound director Pierluigi Billone reflects the specific choices these two performers made not only during the recording of the piece, but beforehand. The two agreed on an overall architecture and, at Fusi’s suggestion, on putting a focus on the liminal aspects of the piece, and hence on some of the violin’s more elusive sonorities. The version that resulted is one of refinement and nuance. Although there are passages where the violin is played with a full-throated voice—as for example in the fourth section, or in the more cohesively linear melodies of the second section, where Fusi and Billone interact in a relationship that approaches something resembling a conventional, albeit discordantly Modernist, counterpoint—it mostly appears at the lower end of its dynamic range, often with sounds from which the stability of pitch, and in some cases even its traces, has been deliberately effaced with aporetic gestures. This is especially true of the third section, in which Fusi introduces exquisite fluctuations of tone and tone color and positions his sound at the threshold of audibility. His description of his approach to this section as involving a turn inward is apt, and in fact serves as a good description of his orientation within the work as a whole. Billone’s projection and sculpting of the electronic material provides not only the multiplied images of Kremer’s prerecorded violin, but a counterweight of assertion and density to Fusi’s voice of introversion. No mere background or neutral environment, the electronic parts carry a substantive eloquence of their own on a par with the violin. Together they offer a harmony of equals, through difference.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Irene Kepl – Get Weaving! [Zeromoon zero173]


The open form composition—the composition that leaves significant aspects of its realization to the discretion of the performers—combines the immediacy and in-the-moment awareness of improvisation with the thought-out architecture associated with more conventional, premeditated writing. Get Weaving!, a work by Austrian violinist / composer Irene Kepl, is just such a composition, here performed by a quintet comprising the composer on violin, Ingrid Schmoliner on prepared piano, Petr Vrba on trumpet and speakers, Werner Zangele on alto saxophone, and Susanna Gartmayer on bass clarinet.

Kepl’s score addresses a limited but well-chosen set of parameters–instrumental groupings, foreground-background relationships, durations and timbral effects—and engages them in dynamic ways. Her compositional choices, along with her skill in conducting the ensemble through its 43-minute-long performance, produce a rewarding, profoundly textural experience consisting in a constantly changing panorama of densities and voicings, with a particular emphasis on contrasts of pure and aggregate colors.

Daniel Barbiero