by Marilena Laterza
The digital revolution is an anthropological one that for some years now has been introducing a stream of unheard-of resources into musical thought and practice. These are resources that all composers under 40 have had to come to grips with as they reflect on their artistic activity and reconsider the overall creative tradition. This process has led to outcomes that, although extremely varied, are nonetheless anchored, surprisingly, in a series of shared premises, ranging from research into form to the conception of timbre as a fundamental prerequisite, from composition understood as an ars combinatoria of pre-existing musical elements to attention for the perceptive result that that combination produces. But perhaps, more than anything else, it is the renewed relationship with history, strongly encouraged by the digital resources and the possibilities they afford, that astounds the observer: a relationship that is no longer traumatic or morbid, but instead, serene and constructive, which allows us to sense exciting new points of arrival for the music of the future.
Albeit without making concessions to the past, Francesco Antonioni (b. 1971) remains tied to his pre-digital artistic roots and bears witness to a presence different to the mainstream. Music, for him, is still an occasion to invite performers and listeners to reflect together in the place. And this is true both when that music makes exclusive use of acoustic instruments, conducting a dialogue with the history that those instruments bring with them, and when it uses electronics, provided that they are able to bring together different worlds and, in the face of the virtuality of the digital, safeguard the truth of the work. A necessary truth that, in the music of Antonioni, entails the constant expression of an emotive content: art, for him, “has the task of directing one
towards a path to embark upon,” and the challenge of new music is “to place people before an enigma—even furnishing them with the keys to access it—ineffable but full of sense and gratification for anyone who wishes to question it.”
Born, both actually and musically, before the digital age, Emanuele Casale (b. 1974) experiences digital technology as a resource that is never taken for granted and that influences in equal measure both his “esoteric” music, with electronics, and his “exoteric” music, principally for solo acoustic instruments. In the former, characterized by a certain compositional complexity, the electronics act as a sort of receptacle of time in which to collocate the acoustic instrumental sounds, conferring on them a greater temporal precision. But even when, in his “exoteric” pieces, Casale operates from the point of view of a listener who knows very little about the contemporary, the digital, albeit in a different way, returns. In fact, the possibility of making use of an immediately accessible and repeated quantity of musical information, passing with extreme rapidity from John Lennon to Debussy, translates, in the course of his writing, into a greater freedom of expression. Released from the prohibition against transgressing certain clichés, reference to traditional music in Casale’s works remains nonetheless an affinity of a non-citationist nature, something “personal” and involuntary, as in the case of his affinity with certain Italian instrumental music of the early 18th century that is recognizable in his more ironic pieces.
Silvia Colasanti (b. 1975) does not make use of electronics in her compositional production. Music, for her, is a combination—with the mentality of today—of pre-existing elements that have made the history of Western music. Timbric elements—because Colasanti still believes in the possibilities of traditional instruments, and for her the challenge lies in making use of already patently connotated instrumental make-ups still arousing marvel—and also harmonic elements: “today a cluster is just as historicized as a C-major interval.” The important thing, then, is not the material, but the manner and the context in which it is used. Once a tradition has been assimilated, for Colasanti, it is necessary to interact with it, setting up a dialogue in which the past resounds through the chords of modernity. “What is art,” she asks “if not to continually give a new name to the same meanings, with a language characteristic of the epoch in which one works, representing oneself and communicating with the people of one’s own time? If we observe the same object under a new light, we seem to see a new object; it is new, but only in part.”
For Matteo Franceschini (b. 1979) the correct approach to the development of a musical idea is still that of an artisan, with pen and paper. This approach does not, however, exclude recourse to digital technologies, which, for Franceschini—currently interested in multi-perceptivity and multi-sensoriness—are fundamental. Digital technology, in fact, permits him to integrate with the same rigor different forms of artistic expression (music, literature, video art) and to render his creativity synaesthetic, involving not just hearing and sight but also other channels of perception, for example, taste. All of this is based on solid technique and deep historical awareness, but free from dogma and from the “weight” of the masters, whose legacy, in Franceschini, is renewed in those fundamental, almost physiological, archetypes that he collects and reinterprets, one above all, form, handed down by the “noble fathers” but managed with the instruments and thought of today.
For Daniele Ghisi (b.1984), his first approach to writing music was digital. Influenced by the processes of computer-aided composition, he makes use of the computer, on the one hand, to allow himself to “be surprised” in his dialogue with the machine as as a creative participant other than himself and to discover unexpected evolutions of an idea through the modification of certain parameters. On the other, he uses the digital technology to manage the meta-musical process that lies at the basis of his work. In fact, for Ghisi, writing a piece consists of re-elaborating a database of musical elements and citations, almost never recognisable when heard, in such a way as to obtain a form one degree removed from the original. The digital techniques, then, become a means for interfacing with tradition, within a perspective of “open music” in which the work of the fathers takes the form of live material, and not just at an unconscious level. Nonetheless, when Ghisi writes for acoustic instruments, there is no computer-aided orchestration software equal to the job. The translation of a sonic idea into acoustic content remains for him an “analog” craft.
From the moment he set foot inside IRCAM, where he has become a teacher, Mauro Lanza (b. 1975) has not written a piece of music without a computer, making use of it to organize a coherent form as much as to manage the harmonic dimension. He especially appreciates the clarity and impersonal character of formalized processes of composition. These allow him to get past his own ego and his own cultural background so as to create an “unhuman” music, which stirs up a profound and sacred fascination. Within this logic, Lanza has in recent times interacted with the history of music as a blind listener who takes bits from it and puts them back together without heeding hierarchies of value. The musical material that he uses is impure, full of connotations of an objet trouvé. There is no direct tie with history, and so no recognition of any debt to the masters, but rather an uninhibited
attitude which, often by means of “corpus-based synthesis,” raids the repertory, breaks it up into pieces and recomposes the rubble, recreating what might be termed “sonic Frankensteins”.
Much more than for the continuously evolving outillage that digital technologies offer to composition, Francesca Verunelli (b. 1979) considers the digital techniques fundamental to the extent that they constitute an epistemological principle with which it is necessary to come to grips, in particular in respect of time. In fact, according to Verunelli, the alternative temporality which, thanks to the digital technology, accompanies the biological one, influences and reinforces the perception of what she considers to be the most powerful aspect of musical composition: the writing of tempo, or, in other words, the possibility of listening to it, but also of “seeing” it under one’s very own eyes, and also of “awakening” the listener. Thanks to a formal elaboration that challenges the expectations of the listener, Verunelli provokes in him or her a feeling of surprise that only music can generate. And if it is true that the rhetorical codes of perception are the result of a long sedimentation in time, Verunelli’s music reveals itself as a game that cannot avoid taking account of history.
Translation by Nicholas Crotty