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Mauri's blog, and repository of texts published elsewhere, jokes, lists and considerations on life, music, art and worldly affairs.

"Percussion music is revolution", John Cage was writing in 1939, when WRITING percussion music WAS revolution. The idea, as expressed in the article, is certainly out of context in present times, and I’m surely not claiming that other music and other instruments CANNOT be as efficient tools for a revolutionary act as percussion are; but none of it will ever confute that percussion music IS and WILL ALWAYS BE an ideal grounding terrain for any revolutionary agitation. Percussion is not one instrument; it’s a way of relating to the world, it’s an ever available aid to see known objects in a different way, to look at reality from a different angle, and therefore a tool for expanding one’s sense of self, of establishing a tangible unity with things outside of one’s body.

And like the voice of a singer, the natural disposition of a percussionist is always carried around; it doesn’t require anything else than one’s body, which makes it the ultimate statement of freedom.


Mind, of course I’m biased in saying that, and harmony probably does the same for a lot of people. For me it’s rhythm, metric, the alternation of tension and release in a persistent cycle; or the absence of it all for that matter: absence of metric recurrence, that or negation of a rhythmic grid, or the two combined. Or the mechanism of tension and release applied to a non-cyclical, non-repetitive rhythm construction. It’s all up to how familiar one is with any given language, how much that anchors you to a stable and reassuring relationship to reality.

As much as the methodical avoidance of a tonal centre possesses the power of leading us with firm hand to different planes of perception, so the familiar alternation of tension and release, when deliberately and diligently devoid of repetition and metric recurrence can liberate the mind from its known routes, and open the doors to dimensions not so firmly tied to space and time.


Rhythm, repetition, pulse, as much as harmony, bring us all together, they give us a concrete perception of what are the physical and mental features that we all share, thus increasing and encouraging mutual trust; love.

The absence of either, the systematic avoidance of root and repetition, drives us instead to the bottomless depth of our own selves, conversely expanding our sense of self. They’re both good; both are important tools for our evolution, and they do the same job, only from two opposite directions.


So that’s why both appear to be very effective instruments for trance and shamanic excursions, even in their more elemental forms.

But more than rhythm, and its antithesis, which are naturally a big part of what my life is made of, what interests me to an even greater degree is SOUND: it’s the exploration of forms through their vibration; the bond that you create between your body and an external object, and the air between the two and around them.


The seed of revolution lies always in the capacity of seeing and approaching reality from different perspectives, and percussion music will always connect you to something very basic of your nature, physicality and intelligence, rescuing you periodically and safely from whatever misleading logic the culture of your time might otherwise easily persuade you into.

For this reason, any rudimental use of strings and air-based sound-making objects fits naturally and lawfully into the category of percussion music.

Keep an eye on this post if you might care to, as I might articulate this idea in further details in the near future. What follows below, on the other hand, is looking like a pretty well settled declaration, and for the time being it is here to stay.


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Percussion music never really finishes anywhere. It expands to everything that exists. I think I've been a percussionist for longer than I've been a musician.

I remember as a kid, going around hitting everything, listening to things hissing, clanging, thumping, reverberating; imitating them, trying to be one of those things.

That's me; music came later, as a consequence of that. Take everything away from me; strip me bare of everything that defines me. That will still be there: I will still be a percussionist.

My solo percussion music, this particular act I'm working on, and all the various collaborations that stem out from it, is for me the completion of a cycle, the pragmatic expression of and the reconnection with something that predates my interest for music, and encapsulates probably the biggest mystery of my life. Music for me came as a mean for organising and give meaning to this seminal drive, which is that of relating to the world through sounds.

The discovery of the sound that can be drawn out of of things is an exercise that never ends; I think that putting an inanimate object into resonance, getting that body to produce a sound, is to bring it to a state as close to LIFE as that object will ever experience.

Sounds I hear around me interest me hardly less than those I create as a percussionist, and they invest an almost equal musical value in my mind.


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- For the record, here’s the complete John Cage quote (the exclamation mark on the title is mine…). It was originally published 1939, as an article for Dance Observer entitled Goal: New Music, New Dance


"Percussion music is revolution. Sound and rhythm have too long been submissive to the restrictions of nineteenth century music. Today we are fighting for their emancipation. Tomorrow, with electronic music in our ears, we will hear freedom.

Instead of giving us new sounds, the ninetheenth-century composers have given us endless arrangements of the old sounds. We have turned on radios and always known when we were tuned to a symphony. The sound has always been the same, and there has not been even a hint of curiosity as to the possibilities of rhythm. For interesting rhythms we have listened to jazz.

At the present stage of revolution, a healthy lawlessness is warranted. Experiment must necessarily be carried on by hitting anything-tin pans, rice bowls, iron pipes-anything we can lay our hands on. Not only hitting, but rubbing, scraping, making sound in every possible way...What we can't do ourselves will be done by machines which we will invent.

The conscientious objector to modern music will, of course, attempt everything in the way of couterrevolution. Musicians will not admit that we are making music; they will say that we are interested in superficial effects, or, at most, are imitating Oriental or primitive music. New and original sounds will be labeled as “noise”. But our common answer to every criticism must be to continue working and listening, making music with its materials, sound and rhythm, disregarding the cumbersome, top-heavy structure of musical prohibitions."

(…)

It goes on for few more paragraphs, concentrating on the relationship between musical composition and dance. It’s not a long article; one day soon I’ll finish copying it. I’m sure John Cage wouldn’t mind.

We’ve gone a long way since then, and the “musical prohibitions” of 1939 are of course no longer in force; but it’s good to remind us where we come from.

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In January 2010 we released the free downloadable "A Further Insight into Not Applicable"; Isambard Khroustaliov 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.


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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 declaring 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 develops, with no schemes imposed from outside the system itself to refer to. This is the way I've always perceived the whole issue anyway. 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 drives 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 function 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 to co-operation.


UNEXPECTED BENTS "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 aesthetics; 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 one. It is here treated as a further insight, for whoever cares to take the trouble of investigating further, 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 further enriched by the unannounced last minute appearance 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 improvisation 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"...


In Italian - sorry guys! Originally published on www.openimpro.com in June 2009. The Openimpro blog and the relative domain are now discontinued, and this interview is therefore unavailable anywhere else on the World Wild Web.


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OpenImpro - nell’ultima email hai osservato in tono semi scherzoso che improvvisazione anarchia e ateismo vanno sempre insieme. -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 potrebbe 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 usufruttuario, 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 perché 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 perché essa continua nel tempo ad eludere con successo qualsiasi definizione di metodo, e rimanere allo stesso tempo vitale e incredibilmente coerente con sé 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 autoregolazione. 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 qui. 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 o barocco. 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, ulteriormente 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 improvvisata). OpenImpro - ci puoi indicare un po’ di materiale da ascoltare in rete? Ravalico: Fear Of Bees - Isambard Khroustaliov / Maurizio Ravalico The Immense Swimmer - Maurizio Ravalico / Oren Marshall Up, 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: http://www.not-applicable.org/?page_id=131 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 giuste.


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