Some considerations dated December 2017
So 2017 has been a good year after all. The latest album of my trio Fiium Shaarrk, “We Are Astonishingly Lifelike” was chosen by Gilles Peterson as one of the best 50 in his “Essential Jazz and Beyond Records of 2017” chart, and BBC3’s Late junction put it among their best 12 albums of the year!
I was also creatively involved in the making of Collocutor’s “The Search”, which has made quite some noise in its wake this year, and it’s probably going to carry on being talked about for another good while.
2017 was also the year when I consolidated and started gigging my solo percussion act, and in the Summer I’ve recorded an album, which I am counting on releasing in 2018.
Berlin has been good with me too… I have started some new stuff there this year, which you will hopefully hear about soon. I've just started a Facebook page for my solo percussion project, www.facebook.com/MaurizioRavalicoPercussion. Like it if you please, for the obvious reasons. I solemnly promise I'm not going to post pics of me smiling like a fool with my gear set up behind me in some studio where I’m working, nor of the grandeur of an empty theatre where I’m about to play. No need to mention cats and meals, of course; while political and philosophical conversations will be, as always, conducted strictly in person, when we meet, in bars, squares, houses; and we will meet. Many of us.
HAPPY NEW YOU EVERYBODY
Few suggestions for 2018:
program your reading, and read a lot;
learn a meditation technique, any one.
Don’t buy anything for Christmas,
don’t abbreviate, and use your punctuation impeccably.
Maintain a healthy suspiciousness towards neologisms.
We Are Astonishingly Lifelike
Released on March 10, 2017 - Not Applicable, NOT036 - Buy HERE
Quite few stories in need of being told about this album; many of which will not find due space in the fast-paced realm of newsletters, tweets and facebook posts. They will all of course appear on the various social media, as isolated and short-lived bursts, and for all these reasons I have decided to set up this permanent table on my literature page.
In the first instance, Fiium Shaarrk are:
Isambard Khroustaliov, on computer,
Maurizio Ravalico, on percussion,
Rudi Fischerlehner, on drumkit.
So that we all know.
The genesis of the cover, and how we arrived at defining all the imagery related to the album, is too lengthy to be even told here, and I'm going to leave it to a keen interviewer.
However, the photo was taken by one of my dearest friends, Benni Parlante, and the whole process was inextricably linked to my hometown, Trieste. The opulently uphostered dining room is one of the spaces of the Museo Revoltella, a building donated to the town in the 19th century by the Barone Revoltella, a local tradesman and patron of the arts, who also left an unrivaled art collection and a considerable sum of money to upkeep the building and expand the collection for centuries to come. We were very lucky to be granted access to the building for two days, and have virtually unlimited use of the various areas. Few hundred photos were taken before choosing the final two, and we can't thank enough Betty Apollonio, for facilitating the whole process.
The horse heads are the invaluable contribution of Alessandro Starc, one of the set designers of Trieste's Teatro Verdi, and are, incidentally, sawn off from a production leftover lifesize polystyrene replica of the quadriga statue on top of the Branderburger Tor, in Berlin; hometown of the Fiium.
Various models have taken turns wearing suits and masks during the mid July photoshoots: Federico Poillucci, Andrea Bolle, Marco Parlante, myself; and Yara Apollonio was there all the time to help keeping everything tidy.
The title of the album is borrowed by kind permission from an artwork by the American artist Barbara Kruger, "We Are Astonishingly Lifelike / Help, I'm Locked Inside This Picture!". Yet another signal of how much this adventure belongs to Berlin was given when, after a short hunt, we discovered that miss Kruger is represented in Europe by the Berlin-based gallery Sprüth Magers. It was a pleasant visit, and we were delighted and flattered by hearing that Barabara likes the cover, and she's happy with us using her title.
Alessandro Petrussa and Tiziano Bole, from Little Paris Productions, have taken the whole iconography of the album cover (and the horse heads) and wrote a script, directed and produced a video for our opening track, Conundrums. Praise goes to them and to the whole Little Paris crew, for taking this initiative and expanding the mythology of the band. The video can be seen on Little Paris' Youtube channel.
It is purely coincidental that on the video we made four years ago to accompany Wozzeck's Variations, one
of our first album's tracks, the main characters are men in black suits, wearing dog masks.
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In January 2010 we released the free downloadable "A
Further Insight into Not Applicable"; Isambard
designed the artwork, using images by Britt
and himself, and I wrote the liner notes. In the digital release, the
latter appear scattered across the various jpegs that form the album's
pdf booklet. Here below is a text version, copyable, pasteable, quotable.
- - -
A SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENT IN ANARCHY
Little did we know when we released out first collective work "NA
- an introduction to Not Applicable" a year ago, that over 6000
people would have downloaded it; and little it matters nowadays that
it was a free download, with a little "donate" button hidden
somewhere in the page, that most people decided to leave unnoticed.
After all most of the material was recorded live, during performances
with their own economy already arranged. And the videos were all out
there already anyway, their commission already cashed in. The decision
to not manufacture it in any physical support, then, settled once for
all the production costs to zero, giving our hot heads final justification
for just letting people take it. No charge. Treat of the house.
At times it seems to me that being part of Not Applicable is all about
trying to do things the wrong way, mainly just for the sake that the
right one has been already tried anyway. Or trying the wrong way in
the quest of finding out exactly what is wrong in it, or indeed if there
is anything wrong after all. This is the story of my life; I wonder
how come I didn't end up in such a madhouse earlier.
Can't you have a label without a logo? a commercial organisation without
a treasurer, or meetings without a moderator? Why can't you stack three
hours of original music and over one hour of videos in one single release?
And give it all away? WHY?
Not Applicable, the label, the group, the team, the people (I'm never
going to call it a collective!) has probably most eloquently than ever,
been defined by Isambard, who in our ABOUT page, describes it as "a
group of musicians, composers, visual artists and filmmakers collaboratively
developing new approaches to their respective artistic pursuits. Not
Applicable is an open-ended framework which encompasses both the realisation
and documentation of these collaborations in the form of performances,
installations, CDs, DVDs and on the web."
That's it. Not Applicable is what we do, and if one day we will start
doing other things Not Applicable will become something else. No constitution,
no declaration of intents, no manifestos, no hierarchy. Quite a risky
situation, considering it opens a door to the possibility of one of
us going nuts overnight and exclamating in public "this is what
Not Applicable is about, and this is the direction we're taking now!"
and still be coherent with the original framework; and with no constitutional
basis to throw him out, one is left with no alternative but dealing
with it, and observing what sort of music can come out of this.
But isn't this what improvised music is all about? To generate a system
that generates its own rules as it comes into existence, and to deal
with it as it developes, with no schemes imposed from outside the system
itself to refer to. This is the way I've always perceived the whole
Reminds me of that John Zorn piece, Cobra, where whoever is in charge
is merely a co-ordinator, a prompter for the group's intentions, needs,
spontaneous twists. - A brain, totally subjected to the body's pulsions
and general state of health. The possibility of organising a revolt
against the authority of the prompter, or even of isolating yourself
and do your own loner thing, is also contemplated in the piece's intentions,
and it's coherent with its purposes.
Democracy has got nothing to do with this. Democracy is only possible
(and sensible) within a centrally structured, constitutionally based
organisation of any more than two members. This is no democracy; this
is a bleeding organism, and so is the music that comes out of it. You
see, this is not about praising the beauty and the advantages of being
part of a group, but rather to be given the chance of observing its
dynamics, learn to fuction within it, allow it to inform our possible
artistic outcomes and let the latter teach us about new forms of sociality;
to read back spontaneous music and try to find schemes there, suggestions
that there are still unexplored possibilities of the human natural tendency
"NA - an introduction to Not Applicable", our first collective
release was an anthology, a collected selection of previously unreleased
tracks, the majority of which was recorded live, during our regular
nights at Scooteworks Café, in South London. Many friends have
been our guests during those evenings so delightful to remember; a lot
of new music has been created, some extemporaneously, some hurriedly
composed, under the threat of a monthly recurrence. The idea of the
first "sampler" (as we keep on calling it, even if it has
no reasons to bear such name) was, chiefly, to make music that we were
pleased with, publicly available, and incidentally to promote the whole
adventure, to inform as many people as possible of our esthetics; to
say "this is Not Applicable in its dynamic state; the rest of the
catalogue are our finished works". A portrait, an introduction
in fact, to Not Applicable.
This second collective output happens to be a monographic one. This
is probably because the single event documented here in its entirety
contains most of the extremes, the idiosyncrasies and the convergence
of many different influences that transpires from the first, anthological
It is here treated as a further insight, for whoever cares to take the
trouble of investigating futher, because, unlike an artificially assembled
collection, it can give a truer rendition of the minute-by-minute dynamics
of the group. It also furtively suggests that a maturation and a consolidation
of the elements may have taken place between the two releases; something
we like to believe.
The two tracks that compose this album are the integral, unedited documentation
of a live performance, which was set up with the desire of taking advantage
of a rare occurrence of having most of the core Not Applicable sound
makers in London on the same night, together with some of our dearest
friends, and past guests, from Berlin. This jolly party was furtherly
enriched by the unannounced last minute appeareance of Anna, another
Berliner, in London for a course.
The evening is divided in two sets. The first one follows a scheme
suggested by Rudi, a progression of duos alternating seamlessly on stage:
R. Fischerlehner - A. Kaluza
A. Kaluza - L. Ohlmeier
L. Ohlmeier - A. Willer
A. Willer - M. Ravalico
M. Ravalico - R. Fischerlehner
With I. Khroustaliov being given the liberty of intervening throughout
the set at leisure.
The second set is a collective improvvisation by all the above participants,
added by the fortuitous arrival of Tom Arthurs, who, on a day off, appeared
during the interval, and was forcibly driven back home by Isambard to
collect his horns. Hadn't it been for this act of love we would have
missed forever the dark intimations that came into existence on the
last nine minutes of the set, because I have a feeling we would have
probably called it a day at 24'10"...
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AN INTERVIEW ABOUT THE ETHICS OF IMPROVISED MUSIC.
In Italian - sorry guys!
Originally published on www.openimpro.com
in June 2009.
OpenImpro - nell’ultima email hai osservato
in tono semi scherzoso che improvvisazione anarchia e ateismo vanno
-Nel video su youtube dei Not Applicable Artists dici che il fondamento
del vostro la voro è una sorta di ammirazione reciproca, che
vi fa ascoltare, riprendere e sviluppare le idee degli altri.
Pensi ci sia una relazione tra musica e etica? se si, è possibile
una specificità etica dei diversi modi/stili musicali e quale
potrrebbe essere quella propria dall’improvvisazione radicale?
Ravalico - Se ho capito bene la tua domanda la mia
risposta é sì, ogni genere musicale, in quanto tale, è
legato a un’estetica che riflette quella della vita del suo creatore
o usufruitore, ed è dunque un’espressione di specifiche
idee su com’è che dovremmo vivere la nostra vita.
Insomma, nel modo di fare musica di ogni artista, e nei gruppi di genere
a cui egli sceglie di appartenere, si ritrae e si definisce quella che
è la sua ricerca personale di essere umano. Credo che sia un
processo tipico di tutte le forme di creazione artistica.
Credo che se anche dopo decenni la musica improvvisata continui a rimanere
un genere di rottura, ciò sia principalmente per due ragioni:
primo perchè essa continua inflessibilmente ad evitare due principi
costruttivi che sono propri della maggior parte dei generi musicali:
la gerarchia umana e quella dell’organizzazione dei suoni; secondo
perchè essa continua nel tempo ad eludere con successo qualsiasi
definizione di metodo, e rimanere allo stesso tempo vitale e incredibilmente
coerente con sè stessa.
Queste due forti caratteristiche separano la musica improvvisata da
ogni altra forma di organizzazione musicale, e fanno di essa una componente
misteriosa ed importante del patrimonio artistico umano. Qualcosa che
dobbiamo continuare a coltivare, e che probabilmente custodisce una
delle chiavi del nostro progresso.
Come riporti qui sopra, la mia opinione é che quella che tu chiami
improvvisazione radicale sia molto strettamente legata sia all’idea
di anarchia che a quella di ateismo. La similitudine, o meglio ancora
la parentela, é data secondo me dal fatto che fra tutte le forme
di creazione musicale, la musica improvvisata é forse l’unica
che non fa riferimento ad alcuna regola che venga imposta dall’esterno
dell’evento musicale stesso. Essa cioè segue leggi e direzioni
che vengono generate dal sistema a cui si applicano; un principio che
é affine sia all’esperimento sociale anarchico che al rifiuto
dell’idea di un creatore supremo. Mi spiego meglio: una performance
di musica improvvisata é 1), dal punto di vista sociale, un esperimento
riuscito di organizzazione non gerarchica, e 2), dal punto di vista
poetico, un’imitazione dei sistemi naturali, con la loro evidente
Io non c’ero quando questa forma musicale ha avuto inizio, e non
ne ho studiato a fondo la genesi ma, da quel che posso vedere, le mie
considerazioni personali sono che le similitudini della musica improvvisata
della scuola britannica con il free jazz statunitense sono solo superficiali.
L’idea che li accomuna, credo, è che una volta iniziata
l’improvvisazione i musicisti seguano e facciano riferimento l’uno
all’altro, invece che ad una struttura imposta dal di fuori della
musica stessa; l’intenzione è dunque quella di generare
nell’atto della performance un sistema che abbia una coerenza
interna che si basa su delle regole generate dal sistema stesso, e ad
esso uniche e irripetibili. Questa è un’idea molto moderna
nel pensiero occidentale, e si riscontra anche in altre discipline,
sia artistiche che scientifiche. Le similitudini tuttavia si fermano
Quanto appena detto, nel caso del free jazz, si verifica di solito dopo
l’esposizione del tema, che rimane comunque un elemento portante
del pezzo, la sua giustificazione principale. In più, nel free
jazz l’uso degli strumenti, per quanto libero da strutture, riferimenti
metrici e centro tonale, rimane prevalentemente ortodosso, e la ricerca
dell’esecutore è quasi sempre quella di una melodia, o
di una costruzione di qualche tipo, anche nei casi estremi in cui quest’ultima
si manifesti con la sua distruzione o la sua negazione.
La continuità storica della musica improvvisata va cercata invece
nel lavoro fatto negli anni 50, 60 e 70 da compositori europei e statunitensi
quali Berio, Feldman, Cage, Brown. Attraverso il loro lavoro di ricerca
essi hanno generato un patrimonio di materiale sonoro completamente
nuovo, e dei nuovi sistemi di organizzazione del materiale che poco
a poco sono entrati a far parte dell’immaginario dei musicisti,
e sono diventati un punto di riferimento nelle loro aspettative estetiche.
Credo che i principali elementi di questo processo, se vogliamo isolarli,
siano, nel caso della musica composta di cui sopra:
1) Partiture grafiche, che non rappresentano delle univoche istruzioni,
ma che possono generare interpretazioni musicali diverse ed arbitrarie.
2) Partiture invece in cui le istruzioni sono dettagliatissime ed articolate,
ed esplorano nuove possibilità di utilizzo degli strumenti musicali.
3) Composizioni musicali che suggeriscono nuove modalità di relazione
tra gli strumenti e i musicisti, diverse dallo schieramento orchestrale
4) La metodica insistenza di John Cage sull’utilizzo del silenzio
come elemento costruttivo e strutturale della musica, e la creazione
di opere come ad esempio il Concerto per Piano e Orchestra, il cui effetto
figurativo è quello di uno schiumeggiare di suoni effimeri che
sbucano da un mare di silenzio, e in esso ricadono al termine della
loro breve vita.
Vedi, io penso che dopo che la musica generata con questi procedimenti
è diventata familiare sia ai musicisti che agli spettatori, la
musica improvvisata sia arrivata per offrire un modo più efficace,
pratico e organico per produrre quello stesso tipo di risultati.
(Chiaramente la musica improvvisata é aperta a influenze e spunti
che provengono da tutti i generi musicali, e da tutta l’esperienza
uditiva in generale, ma questo legame con l’espressionismo musicale
credo che sia la sua motivazione estetica originale.)
Inoltre, il tremendo impatto che la musica aleatoria di John Cage ha
avuto sull’esperienza interiore sia del compositore che dell’esecutore,
è stato a sua volta, a mio avviso, ultriormente rafforzato ed
arricchito dalla pratica dell’improvvisazione. Mi spiego. John
Cage ha spesso affermato che comporre usando metodi di domande e risposte
aleatorie ha preso per lui il posto della meditazione Zen; non solo,
ha trasferito la pratica della meditazione, trasformandola da esperienza
interiore a esperienza proiettata verso l’esterno, a forma di
comunicazione. Questo è altrettanto vero per gli esecutori di
questo tipo di musica (chiunque abbia suonato una qualsiasi composizione
di quel periodo lo sa) ed è una colossale conquista dell’esperienza
umana. Ecco, per come la vedo io, la pratica dell’improvvisazione,
per il fatto che l’esecutore mantiene in questo caso il totale
controllo sulle sue scelte, generando però una musica che continuamente
evita qualsiasi forma di continuità culturale, strutturale e
mnemonica, sia più simile, per l’esecutore e in parte per
l’ascoltatore, a un viaggio sciamanico che a una meditazione Zen.
Riesco ad esprimermi chiaramente? Sono pensieri a cui sto ancora cercando
di dare una forma finita, dunque ti ringrazio per avermi posto questa
domanda, e permettere di svilupparli.
OpenImpro - Una domanda più ortodossa: quali
differenze vedi tra gli artisti attivi in GB e quelli attivi in Italia?
Ravalico - Mi piacerebbe tanto essere in grado di
risponderti, ma devo confessarti che non sono molto informato sulla
scena musicale italiana (presumo tu ti riferisca a quella della musica
OpenImpro - ci puoi indicare un po’ di materiale
da ascoltare in rete?
Of Bees - Isambard Khroustaliov / Maurizio Ravalico
Immense Swimmer - Maurizio Ravalico / Oren Marshall
Down, Charm, Strange, Top, Bottom - Javier Carmona / Maurizio Ravalico
Sono tutti e tre tratti dal mio ultimo album, un lavoro collettivo degli
artisti Not Applicable. Questa é la pagina dove si può
scaricare gratuitamente l’intero album:
OpenImpro - Qual è il tuo primo ricordo legato
alla musica improvvisata?
Ravalico - La mia memoria si perde e si confonde un
po’ qui, ma credo che, da bambino, il suono disorganizzato abbia
catturato la mia attenzione ben prima di quanto abbia fatto la musica,
ed é forse la ragione per cui mi sono avvicinato alla musica
in primo luogo. Forse, iniziare da musicista formato a suonare musica
improvvisata, é un modo per ricollegarmi a quelle prime impressioni,
ed esplorarne il significato, non so. Ricordo comunque che già
da ragazzino, quando ne sapevo poco o niente del mio strumento, ero
incuriosito da qualsiasi musica che deviasse dalla consonanza armonica,
dalla cadenza e dalla regolarità metrica.
Comunque, a parte tutte queste menate, credo di aver avuto una cruciale
folgorazione la prima volta che ho sentito “Endangered Species”,
quel lunghissimo e densissimo pezzo su “Song X” di Pat Metheny.
Avevo ventun anni e ricordo di aver pensato che non esiste niente di
più bello al mondo.
OpenImpro - Come ti vedi fra 5 anni?
Ravalico - Fra 5 anni ne avrò 50. Vuoi veramente
che ti risponda? Spero di piacere ancora alle ragazze di 23, e di non
apparire a loro come un uomo appannato e disilluso; ecco come mi vorrei
vedere. Vorrà dire che nella mia vita ho fatto tutte le cose
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AN ATHEIST'S DEATH
After a short and relatively painless agony, an inveterate atheist
dies. Much to his surprise, it is not the eternal night, the dreamless
silence of the soul and the definitive dissolution of the conscience
that follows the termination of his body activities.
He wakes up instead, in a different place than that of his departure,
and in the company of other human beings.
The scenery that breaks before his eyes is quite a peaceful and agrestic
one: little woods, smooth green hills, here and there a small lake;
little one-storey wooden houses are scattered acroos the green with
no apparent scheme, and all around the area people, either chilling
out by themselves, or gathered in small and playful parties.
But above all, a lot of average space between each human being. Not
a densely populated region at all.
As the spot where he regains consciousness happen to be at the end of
a small queue of some four people, he decides that, given the circumstances,
there are not much better things to do than to wait for his turn. To
greet him at the end of the short wait is an archangel, who, after a
quick look at a big registry book laid on his table, informs him: “Welcome
to afterlife. In your lifetime you have stubbornly refused to affiliate
to any established religion, you have dismissed any irrational explanation
to the mystery of existence among all those that were repeatedly offered
to you from the priesthood and the sacred books, and because of this
conduct you have been assigned to Hell”.
“Hell – the atheist thinks – so this is it; I would
have never expected it, but here I am, facing eternal damnation. Well,
not much else to do but go with it”.
His reply to the archangel is firm: “All my life I have been faithful
to myself; I have lived according to the needs of my inquisitive spirit,
and I have been passionately committed to the search for my personal
freedom. I have no regrets, and I am ready to accept the consequences
of my choices. Take me to Hell, and so be it”.
“Oh, but this IS Hell - is the archangel's reply – in fact,
if you give me a minute to close today’s registry, I’d like
to show you a bit around”.
Our hero is puzzled, and not sure what to think, but he decides to play
the game for the time being.
“Before you start building you own hut you should go and check
one of the existing ones out: many times people just move to a different
area, and there are always empty dwellings available around.
“That there is the tennis ground, if you’re into this sort
of things, and on that pier you can just help yourself to any of the
anchored boats to go fishing on the lake. There there’s the open
air cinema, plus few small projection rooms for private views. We have
an amazing collection of movies here; in fact we have ALL movies that
were ever made. Me, personally, I like to hang around live music venues
better; there are about fifty just in this sector”
The resurrected is beginning to make sense of all this: “I know
what’s going on: he wants me to taste all earthly delights for
the last time, to make my damnation even more bitter; he wants me to
beg for mercy... But he’s not going to have it: I’m going
to stand straight and face my destiny with courage”.
The archangel continues his little sightseeing: “You are welcome
to help yourself to any fruits on the trees, but as you have just resurrected
you must be starving, and you sure can do with a proper meal; besides,
I want to show you the restaurant. And, you must not let your first
day in Hell finish without tasting the fabulous wine that we produce
As they rush towards their next stop they walk along the sharp edge
of a high plateau, and the atheist is suddenly distracted by a fearsome
view. The plain right below, as far as eyes can see, is an endless stretch
of sterile land, covered with huge holes in the ground, where thousands,
hundreds of thousands of people, screaming off their throats, are amassed
naked, devoured by flames.
He’s speechless, hardly able to blink, or move a muscle. Red eyed
and dry mouthed by the sudden wave of heat that just hit his face, he
shouts to the archangel, who’s way ahead and urging him to walk
“That is Hell isn’t it? Damn you archangel, I knew this
from the start! Now you’re taking me for the last meal and then
this is what there is for me for the rest of eternity! Fire and pain!”
The archangel points to the plain with his thumb, avoiding looking at
it. “What, that? Oh no, no; those are the Christians: they...
that's the way they want it!”
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4 THINGS I FEEL I SHOULD LET AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE KNOW
1 – There is not, in
all medical literature, one seminal text stating and demonstrating that
HIV is the direct cause of, or is indeed in any way related to, AIDS.
See what Peter H. Duesberg, and other established medical personalities,
have to say on the subject; go to www.duesberg.com.
If you have further information on this topic, or indeed evidences that
what stated above is false, I would very much like to hear from you.
2 – Your hair does not
need shampoo; it is perfectly able to look after itself if you wash
it daily with straight water. If you stop bombarding your scalp with
shampoo, your head will look and smell like a garbage dump for a month
or two. This is because your hair has gone mad, and it constantly produces
natural fat without measure, just to have it completely wiped out with
the next shampoo. If you can put up with it, after a short period your
skin will find its natural balance, and start producing just the quantity
of sebum needed to keep your hair healthy, strong and good looking.
Shampoo is a con of planetary proportions. Use water. I've been going
on for over fifteen years, and so have many other people I know.
3 – Most washing-up liquids
work as well if diluted one to ten with water. You will have to use
a little more liquid, of course, but not ten times as much.
4 – If you can listen,
in details, what everybody else is doing, it means you are playing at
the right volume.
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10 FRAGMENTS OF LITERATURE WITHOUT WHICH I WOULD PROBABLY SPEND
MY DAYS CLUNG TO THE ROOF BY THE FINGERNAILS, SCREAMING WITH TERROR
A Retrospect - Ezra Pound (1918)
The Preface - from The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde (1891)
Ambient Music - on the inner sleeve of Music for Airports - Brian Eno
L'Arte dei Rumori - Luigi Russolo (1913)
Experimental Music – John Cage (1957)
The last 209 words of Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller (1934)
The Function of the Orgasm - Wilhelm Reich (1927)
The Groucho Marx Letters
Charmes de Londres – Jacques Prevert (1952)
Heaven and Hell – Aldous Huxley (1956)
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11 THINGS I HAVE LEARNT FROM 12 CONGA PLAYERS
from Tata Güinnes - to assign undivided beauty
to every single note
from Francisco Aguabella - to space up the two open
tones on the tumbao
from Jorge Alfonso - the demonic geometry of 5 drums
from Daniel Ponce - to make sense with 4
from Eddie Montalvo - the melody of 3
from “el Panga” - to hit the congas hard
from Jerry Gonzales - how to cope with a lightweight
from Mañenguito - to not imitate anybody
from Paoli Mejias - the importance of growing some
from Eddie Brown and Bobbye Hall -
to back up the backbeat
from Bobby Thomas junior - to swing the jazz
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In 1998, together with the drummer Davide Giovannini, I released "Accommodating
Gods", the only album of a duo called Afroshock. In those years
we were studying Afro-Cuban music from the source, and we were playing
a lot of Salsa and bata drums with ensembles mixing Cuban, South-American
and European musicians. With the Afroshock duo we were trying to interpret
Santerìa chants and rhythms freely, from a personal perspective. An impressionistic approach to the subject matter, I would say.
On the poster/booklet I wrote this lengthy text, in which I was trying
to put in context the whole phenomenon we were part of in those days.
- - -
The music on this album is the outcome of a project
that began in 1989 and took more or less its present form by the end
of 1991. It originates from our love for Afrocuban music, from recognising
in it a huge idiomatic wealth for percussion music and it develops around
the question of how a white European musician can interpret this music
without straying into the frustrating maze of imitation.
We have been part of that flow. We are amongst the thousands of musicians
who during the last couple of decades have travelled from the old continent
to the main urban centres of Cuba to study its music, the attraction
being a territory universally acknowledged as one of the nodal points
in twentieth century’s musical evolution. What we found was a
cultural and artistic goldmine, alive and dynamic, of astounding vastness
and rare beauty, that in many cases surpassed our expectations and demanded
of us an involvment and commitment even greater than anticipated, as
well as influencing dramatically the way we would approach music from
then on. In other words, that place totally blew our minds.
Over the years we became part of a network in which books, records,
tapes, manuscripts and all kinds of musical information are hunted,
borrowed and exchanged in a feverish fashion that probably resembles
closely the first years of the introduction of Jazz music into Europe,
although we can only imagine it. Professional and amateur musicians
from all over the continent rarely seem to miss any good opportunity
to hook up with the like and share an experience that united us all
in a passion and sense of mission, the ultimate aim and the historical
perspective of which seem to have never been clearly enunciated.
Especially during the last ten years we have seen the emergence of an
ever increasing number of musicians who achieve a high degree of specialisation
in batà drums, conga drums and the immense musical literature
that these instruments are associated with. Those who choose to teach,
when properly equipped, have been able to convey the beauty of this
art to a large number of people, creating a first generation of learners
who invariably manifest the desire to carry out the pilgrimage themselves
and touch with their own hands the source of such fascinating music.
As a result bands started being formed. Ensembles consisting mainly
or exclusively of Europeans choose to perform not only the popular Cuban
orchestral dance music, but even percussion based styles like Comparsa,
Rumba, Abakuà, Ararà and Yoruba music; many of which belong
to the religious legacy of the nation.
Some learn to reproduce this repertoire faithfully, with respectful
accuracy and with the intense emotional charge that this music requires.
Some others, again inspired by American masters such as Irakere or Fort
Apache Band, fuse elements of Afrocuban music with Jazz or other genres.
A melody or a specific rhythm is used as part of an arrangement, or
a whole tribal flavoured episode is inserted to sparkle up a tune or
a live set. In most cases the choice of elements and their modes of
insertion are the ones suggested by bands and composers from Cuba or
from the Latin communities in North America.
This growth of interest amongst musicians from all over Europe contributed
to popularize Afrocuban music and has created an awareness in music
lovers in general. DJs, journalists and record labels have spread a
music that is now known, appreciated and sold far more than it was ten
Although hard to admit, it seems rather obvious that for as long as
the general efforts will aim at reaching as faithful a reproduction
of the American models as possible, then both the promoters and the
music listeners will inevitably choose to make use of Cuban music by
referring to its original sources; not necessarily dismissing or underestimating
the whole phenomenon that we have been part of, but surely failing to
notice any immediate relevance in it as an artistic proposal.
They must not be blamed. This big curve has completed its course. The
widespread ignorance about Cuban music that we have always seen as our
main obstacle has finally dissipated, and a number of us now find themselves
lost, without any artistic statement ever formulated as an object of
cohesion, on the outskirts of the musical scene, unemployed and decadent.
We have had our good time as ethnomusicologists and pioneers, but now
maybe more efforts should be made to explore the meaning of the obsession
that brought us to Cuba in the first place, and lucidly incorporate
this musical patrimony into our own cultural background, in order to
actually create something new out of it, and to pay back our debts to
a culture that so far has been for us mainly an endless source to withdraw
musical ideas from.
This is a call to whoever didn’t take “Latin Music”
as a façade for their lack of musical personality.
A few European artists are already moving in that direction. They are
the ones who refused to relinquish their own musical roots, the ones
in which now two great systems of expression coexist in a coherent and
Their work is slowly awakening the attention of the audience to what
this music has to offer to our culture from a conceptual and idiomatic
point of view; but there is still a long way to go, and this path seems
to be slow and not completely free from obstacles.
Many times these obstacles are generated by promoters and record companies
who, having priorities not always compatibile with the creative obsession,
cannot conceive taking risks on something which does not aim at reaching
a specific and already existing clientele; but there are times in which
this process is aborted inside the mind of the musician himself, and
this circumstance seems to have rather complex ethical implications.
They are, maybe, to be searched in the articulated role that sense of
guilt has long had in our civilization. But the main point is probably
that in learning this music one is facing a tradition that is not only
so vast no one knows it in its entirety (not even in the motherland),
but it is so bound by rules, so disciplined and demands such respect
and consideration in approaching it, that in most cases the foreign
acolyte does not feel entitled to contribute to it with his own ideas,
nor to contaminate it with his own musical background, with the music
he has been listening for all his life. So, under such autority, one
is prone to oscillate endlessly between acknowledging that his own contribution
will only be possible at the end of the learning cycle and wondering
if such an end will ever be reached.
Nonetheless, the art of playing Batà drums, Rumba or any of
the ramifications of the pulsating heart of Cuban music is no archaeology
at all. It is a dynamic process, nowadays more than ever in constant
transformation; the driving forces of this transformation being the
individuals who learned this art, inclusive of their personal reality
and their social and geographic placement.
West African music, be it religious or secular, is a strong social and
individual tool, the roles of which go far beyond diversion and distraction
from daily human occupations. It is an omnipresent trascendental activity
which underpins the very foundations of one of the most influential
civilizations of our time: trance, preservation of myths and archetypes
and a rooted sense of belonging.
In arriving to Cuba and to other American Catholic colonies, the people
deported from Nigeria, Cameroon and the neighbouring countries, encountered
a situation that was completely different from the one of their homelands.
In another part of the world, with a different society and a different
language such important social and historical functions as the ones
mentioned above had to be kept alive. They managed to do so by modelling
upon the new environment the way a living organism would do. The shape
and the sound of musical instruments were modified, the ritual
procedures took new paths, even the face and personality of the gods
mutated, in an elegant and concious process of adaptation that reveals
what is deepest and unchangeable in the heart of a human society.
The capacity to germinate in the womb of peoples and societies different
from the ones of origin is a characteristic intrinsic to Cuban music
from the very beginning of its existence. It is what makes it so inherently
universal and is probably the main reason why it is so attractive and
intelligible to people who are not born and raised within its natural
environment. It is an aspect which is not dissociable from the music
itself, and its mechanisms should be studied and assimilated with the
Whenever full understanding and respect are established through proper
training, there is nothing wrong in intervening by making drastic and
personal creative choices upon a form of art that owes much of its elegance
and complexity to the contribution of different peoples and cultures.
If we look in perspective to what is now happening in Europe with what
is commonly (and coarsely) called “Latin Music”, we might
agree that we are dealing with a phenomenon that is far from uncommon
in this century’s history of art. Classical music in the United
States has been for a long time just an imitation of the European models
before composers like Ives, Varese and Copland made a concious effort
to detach at once from those models and create a new, national identity.
European Jazz, British Rock, Newyorican Salsa, also belong to this category;
and even the Musical Nationalism of early twentieth century contains
several hints for us, although it does not fit perfectly into this list.
We might agree, we might not, it’s always very hard to compare
our time with any other epoch of history, but it is worth trying. We
might even, ultimately, find out that we are talking about something
that lacks the scale of the examples mentioned above. What is certain
is that we are going to have a lot of fun.
The deviation occurs in the centre.
This is a proposal. And a starting point.
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