A Quest for Balance (2015)

For digital synth and interactive system

Duration: about 10 minutes

Tech: portable mono amplifier with subwoofer

Why defining relationships instead of going for the certainty that something will sound according to my expectations, and exactly in the moment I want? On the other hand, if freedom and unexpected is what we are looking for, why spending so much time in defining relationships so accurately that sometimes the result differs only by a little variation in the duration or a spectral partial?

Everyone familiar with the idea of free improvisation (or non-idiomatic, as Derek Bailey more correctly pointed out), or broadly with experimental music had to deal at some point with the vertigo that freedom carries with it. If many musicians persevere there must be a strong reason, but it doesn't come for free.

Like many of us, I gave to free improvisation a big value. Like many of us, I created all the tools I use for the sound production. In recent years I even stopped using sampled sounds in interactive music. One reason is that I'm interested in the identity of the electronic sound, which often, somehow, is still overlooked, but another important reason is that this gives me more freedom to define an interesting and clean relationship between the gesture and the sound produced.
Now this looks like the perfect situation for the free improvisor: no rigid structural plan ahead at the beginning of the performance, and not even a tangible limit given by the specific characteristics of the instrument in the preparation's phase. So why ruining this idyllic situation defining, for instance, that a part of the piece will happen only if a particular gesture will produce a particular sound? Assigning this change of scene to a button, and clicking it when it is time to move to the new phase wouldn't be way easier?

A quest for balance.

When we talk about balance in art we often refer to the idea of proportions. A piece is formally correct if its parts are well proportioned or if the goal of the piece is to underline meaningful disproportions. Still we compare an element present in the piece to another, an element happening now to something that happened before. In this case the idea of balance is different because the balance is not between the sounds one can hear in the piece, but between gesture and sound produced; and gesture is not audible and, in interactive electronic music practice, sometimes not even visible.
Theorically there is nothing preventing two pieces, one realized by clicking buttons and another by defining a series of gesture-based interconnected relationships, from sounding exactly the same. Like there is nothing preventing a very tense performer from playing the most beautifully fluid music. Although this is very unlikly to happen. The balance in question is a state of consciousness, which creates the right premises for the performance to happen according to that humanly inutitive sense of time proper to the improvised performances.

These relationships are empty boxes which carry elements of form, but above all, they create a map for a gestural behaviour, and these gestures are so influential to the final shape of the work, that it is becoming very hard for me to cosider them as something separate from it. These relationships not only clearly are formal elements of a composition, but also confer somehow that sense of self-containment and responsability, so dear to Cornelious Cardew (Treatise) and Christian Wolff.
In this world of relationships, gesture is not a mean by which acheiving form, it is embedded in the form itself. We were thaught that the 20th century introduced a third dimension in western music, the timbre. According to this analysis, we'd have to add a forth parameter cause here gesture, timbre, duration and pitch work exactly at the same level. But probably it is just like improvisation has always been for centuries, before that all western fight for freedom; the same freedom that we ourselves have undermined with a meticolous and long standing effort.