Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Domenico Sciajno: Sequens

OK - it's been a while and there is a bit to cover sometime over the next weeks: things have been hectic here (new semester, selling our house, buying 20 acres, moving horses..) Last week 4 disks arrived from Bowindo (last seen in 2006) and this one blew me away - a concept plunderphonics album taht works brilliantly. I looked up the score so can explain the basics. What surprises me is that it was constructed/recorded in 1999 and has only now been released.

Here goes: Luciano Berio wrote 15 Sequenzas - solos for a variety of instruments and one vocal. Sciajno got recordings of them (14 from DG and one from BIS) and a recording of a sequenza he wrote. After digitising them he divided them into four groups - a trio, two quartets and a quintet. He then cut the pieces up and interwove them to form group works: for example Parte 1 is a trio of flute, trombone and accordion. Here Sciajno shows his mastery of how to overlap, superimpose and separate the tracks in a counterpoint. The cuts from the tracks have to be played in sequence and all have to be used. What could have been a mishmash of sound becomes a strong modern chamber work through the combination of Berio's original composition and the skill of Sciajno.

However, there is more: he then combines similar instruments (strings, brass, wind) and creates sections which are placed under the groups to create additional depth and atmosphere - 'fragments with similar characteristics have been grouped and superimposed to generate strong sections recognisable from their rhythm and harmony'. Less obvious - once you listen closely you hear them down there.

The work also develops structurally - in each part the number of tracks on the mixer increases as the groups expand and the number of sections grows (2 in Parte 1, 10 in parte 4) [the score includes window-dumps of the structures of each Parte].

To describe the music would be hard - think of modernist solo pieces exploring the dynamics of the instrument in a classical format, rather than say the outerlimits of improv, with the lines coming in and out, forming solos, duets, trios, quartets, in a complex intense but not atonal or extreme, insightful way.

I don't know if anyone else has done similar work, but this collaboration between two composers is astounding - Sciajno has remained completely faithful to Berio's compositions by 'merely' cutting/pasting them (and his own sequence fits) and created a new Berio work which was always there but never drawn out. Perhaps it is the copyright issues that have kept this hidden, but it is a masterwork worth bringing to light.