Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Luigi Nono: ...Sofferte Onde Serene..., A Floresta è Jovem e Cheja de Vida [Sorrowful but Serene Waves/ The Forest Is Young and Full of Life], 1979
Tonight's post is strictly for outside music lovers. Fans of abstract free jazz will especially enjoy the first track.
Luigi Nono was a composer well known for mixing musicians with electronics. Both compositions on this album employ electronic elements and the second, A Floresta è Jovem e Cheja de Vida, is heavily processed. It includes vocals, a clarinet, percussionists, and of course tape, and Nono captures a rich range of sounds. The vocals are spread out pretty evenly across the song, but the excerpt that I posted is a mostly electronic passage to give you a sense of the kinds of sounds Nono was working with. I would have liked to hear a lot more of this stuff personally, but I'm a sucker for old timey electronics.
A Floresta is a song in protest of the Vietnam War that was composed in 1965 and 1966, right in the middle of the conflict. Listening to it for the first time, I couldn't help thinking that Nono must have felt a deep sense of futility as he was writing it. He clearly cared enough about Vietnam to compose such a long song that incorporates so many carefully selected criticisms. Still, he was presenting his critique as an artist, even as a figure in the academic world; he must have known that his words probably would not reach the right ears and that they certainly wouldn't convince them of anything. I say he must have because the uncompromising aesthetic that he packaged his message in would be enough to turn away any power player, and in any case his music tended not to be terribly friendly to what people back then called the establishment. This was often the role of artists, to speak the truth (more specifically their interpretation of it) to the people who were interested in listening. For overtly activist artists like Nono more than the rest, I suppose one of the goals was to spread an idea or an attitude to as many people as possible. The more people there are who support or reject certain kinds of policies, the more likely they are to at some point help bring about social and political changes. The practice of spreading political awareness through art is not exclusive to artists who share Nono's perspective; those unhappy with the status quo for a whole host of reasons have engaged in it.
Nowadays, it seems like the internet has largely taken over that role. Relatively few people have single-handedly brought about significant, concrete change for the good of humanity in recent times, but we keep sharing insights and information in the hopes of shaping a more informed populace and catalyzing a series of changes that sometimes don't seem very far off. I think that's what made me sympathize with Nono's position when he was writing this music. When I see an injustice in the world, I try to write about it because I think that if enough people are talking about enough issues, there may come a day when this kind of talk translates more readily to action than it does now. Of course, the channels of dissent that we take for granted today were a generation or more off during the Vietnam War. In spite of this, people then managed to make some big changes although they couldn't ultimately save the Vietnamese people from the tragedy of war and the trials of exile and rebuilding.
On ...Sofferte Onde Serene...
Maurizio Pollini: piano
On A Floresta è Jovem e Cheja de Vida
Liliana Poli: soprano
Kadigia Bove, Elena Vicini, Berto Troni: voices
William O. (Bill) Smith: clarinet
Bruno Canino: conductor for the percussionists