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ECO-MUSIC: SOUND AND PLACE (*)

Eco-music – music of belonging.


Music connected to its surroundings, to the complex of exterior circumstances that have made and
make its existence possible.
Music not dominant, not emerging.
Music of the complexity in which each part gives and receives life from the others.

SOUND AND PLACE

A place for listening is not an architectural invention that is more or less functional to what is taking
place, nor is it a self sufficient space attainable anywhere. A place for listening is a place where
there is a break between what is heard and what is felt, a point of flux, a magical and mysterious
interplay between us and what surrounds us.

In the meantime I have survived:

-The affliction of loudspeakers. For years I have looked at the head of a listener in front of me, as I
listened to music from loudspeakers placed on either side of an empty stage or at the four corners of
a concert hall;

-The impropriety of the context. Listening to electronic music seated in a concert hall, or in an
opera house or in any other place meant for the execution of a musical rite and oriented towards a
stage where nothing happens, has always embarrassed me, made me feel that something was not
quite right, as if I were in the wrong place.

-The presence of the performer as the absence of something. The real reason for doggedly insisting
that there be at least one performer in electronic music is not that of justifying an otherwise empty
stage, but rather the need to embody a physical-musical gesture conceptually inherent in most music
and that refers to the performer.
The absence of a performer calls attention to the “presence of an absence”.

-The environment manifests itself as a disturbing element. Practically all of us, while listening to
electronic or concrete music, have at some time or other mistaken a sound from outside as part of
the music being performed. And how irritating a cough, a distant murmuring and the siren of an
ambulance can be.

-The non-belonging/non-rite. The lack of correspondence to place and the absence of a ritual in
electronic music give me the uncomfortable feeling of not belonging, of not being connected to
persons and places, of not sharing.

-The creation of “new” listening places. To mention only a few: “Musica Verticale” with the chairs
arranged in a circle, IRCAM (Espace de projection) with modifiable walls and ceiling (more
absorbent, less absorbent), Osaka with 1600 loudspeakers and channels that make the buzz of a bee
realer than real, Stanford with the simulation on four loudspeakers of the movement of sound in
space. None of these proposals has solved the problem of listening to electronic music.
“FELT LAKE”
Ingenuous dialogue and casual revelation: it is the context that counts
(Stanford, a day in January or February 1984)

W. It’s a fantastic system, all completely automatized.


M. That’s right, nothing is done manually any more, it’s all controlled by a computer.
We were copying tapes from a digital “master”.
W. Once the program has been set up, all the signals are copied exactly the same, so let’s go out to
get some air and talk.
The Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics was few miles from the Stanford
University Campus. Set in the midst of the lovely California countryside, it was circular in form and
surrounded by large bushes and eucalyptus trees. From the space in front of the Studio one could
see a small lake in the distance which I believe gave the place its name: Felt Lake. In addition to all
kinds of birds, every now and them one could glimpse the flight of a large white bird, perhaps an
egret. It was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm.
W. I can’t believe how fascinating this kind of music is when heard outside together with the sounds
of the environment.
M. You’re right, it almost seems to have been written with this in mind. The things in this place
somehow seem to be joined together by the music. The sounds of the environment integrate well
too instead of disturbing.
W. You think so?
M. Yes, it’s like listening to things rather than the music. Or let’s say, listening to the place through
the music.
W. I was thinking the same thing. Look at those boys, they’ve stopped to listen too, to listen to this
place, almost as if they were bewitched.
M. It’s the absence of separation that is so astonishing….

Revelation: our real experience with respect to an event always depends on the context, is a
complex experience, and even afterwards what we remember is a context consisting of places,
persons, our mood, the season, etc.

The end

Second part

It is the liaison the roses give


me with sky and earth that
makes my music begin to sing.

A step backwards.

I love roses – their charm, their story, origins, colors, shapes, the way they carry themselves,
their fragrance, strong points and weak points. I like to be in their midst and to feel through them.
I’ve been fascinated by roses ever since I was a boy, but music always came first. I’ve often thought
of how these two apparently distant passions could be put together. I realized that the only thing that
could contain them both was the natural environment, so I planned and made a garden, or better yet
a kepos, an ancient Greek word which embraces concepts such as womb, fecundity and enclosure.
The garden of music
(Birth of a context)

The idea was not so much that of having my music “listened to” in some place other than a
concert hall (but which would have served the same purpose), but that of “participation” in a
context of beauty (color, fragrance, incredible forms, flowers and things, sounds, clouds, air) in
which it might also be possible to listen to music. An unannounced music. A music by an unknown
composer.

What was needed was a type of compositional structure more amenable to the complexities
of the external world, that would therefore favor a music/environment where the music would be
perceived through everything around it and where it and the environment would complement each
other.

TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A TIME

It was with the idea of time that I had to work.


I was well aware of the fact that every thing exists because it has a time of its own in relation
to that of other things – both from a physical point of view and from perceptive experience. And
therefore the existance of a piece of music means that it has to relate its time to that of all the things
around it, in a dimension that is absolutely relative and that is far removed from the uniformity of
clock time.

To Isabella and Vicky

In some gardens I have the feeling


of a music of the universe:
a music of multiple time.
There is the time of the life of a flower and that of a sound,
the time of a tree and of the sun, of the flight of a bird
and of a distant train.
And my time.
And every time
participates in and creates
the whole of a fragment.

Once one succeeds in achieving this feeling of oneness, of globality, then one becomes part
of an infinite music. And this sense of belonging makes us feel we are part of an ecological system
in the complexity of nature. This sensation is so primordial and powerful that it is the basis of our
perception of reality, much as culture would have us interpret nature in its separate parts.

To be part of the mutual harmony of things

MUSIC OF CONTEXTUAL AWARENESS


To affirm and confirm means bringing something out, means to put points of reference and
thereby establishing the premises for a possible return, the creation of personages, of a story to tell
and therefore of a self-existing entity, an autonomy, an object, a non-belonging.

But what I am looking for is something else – a musical event where there are no references
to time, a flow, a form of time and not a form in time, something that does not affirm is own
emergence, but that is open towards its exterior.

A “theme” is the primary nucleus that returns in varied or transformed form, it is the initial
state of a trajectory, a point of departure that arrives at a conclusion, it is a beginning-end. And a
beginning-end is always a separation. One of the things that impresses the sense of time on our
traditional music is its “thematic” concept. In music, a theme is a succession of elements that could
not exist independently of time and in particular of the time of the human physical gesture, in which
a theme finds the limits of its articulation.

It was a question of modifying that gesture of time, which historically has become a musical
gesture, characterizing what we recognize as music.

What I wanted to do was create music without a theme, without beginning or end: music that
was the direct emanation of the mental gesture of the composer, in a thought dimension, beyond the
limits dictated by the psycho-physical activity of the performer performing traditional music.

We must orient ourselves towards a systemic rather than a thematic concept of music, for the
fact that a work cannot be created independently of an environment is implicit in the very idea of
system.

“…The way to integrate music and context is to let the context influence, even determine,
the composition in all of its aspects. This is what is never dealt with in the traditional teaching of
composition where abstraction in music is always “out of context” “. (**)

We have to be aware that a musical composition is not a self sufficient object, but a dynamic
system to which we, the environment, we through the environment and vice versa, help give it form
and make it blossom.

Walter Branchi

Time
Time does not determine any sensory stimulus and it is only when it takes on form, when it takes shape in a piece of
music or something else, that it becomes an experience of our mental and spiritual life.

(*) “ I Poteri del Suono”, Volterra, 24 July 1993


(**) Barry Truax, personal communication