Walter Branchi

The power of the uniqueness of a place is formidable for music that never belonged to any place as is the case with electronic music.

Music and the external world: quest for a fruitful coexistence

I am quite aware of the difficulties involved in explaining in words something that does not fall into normal categories of music such as genre, style, trend or anything else and how easy it is to understand it when concretely experienced.  However if I want to explain my idea of music in relation to the external world, in words, which is all I have at my disposal, I shall try to be as clear as possible.

My point of departure is a type of music that can open the way to a harmonious, non-invasive, non-violent collaboration with the external world, a music whose form is the product of the simultaneous co-existence of all things;  music that is integrated, that shares, gives and receives energy from the outside.

The external world is everything that exists outside the musical composition, the actual physical space. It can be limited as in a concert hall, or unlimited as in the case of a natural soundscape.  Obviously just how much the outer world contributes to the music in a circumscribed protected space is of little account, with the exception of a bit of coughing or the underlying hum of the audience. On the contrary, in a natural soundscape the countless sounds or noises that characterize it, in their plenitude and mutability, can contribute greatly to a piece of music.

Word of explanation

In speaking of sound, noise or music, one becomes part of the relationship.  It is the human being who perceives the vibration transmitted by the physical space and detects the sensation of sound.

Constructive and destructive coexistence

If coexistence with the external world is to be constructive, then the terms of the  composition must be decided on a priori. The piece of music must be created and structured so that it can coexist with the external world. It is therefore something that must be decided on before, and not after the composition has been begun.

In other words it is not enough to play one’s music in the open air (when it may have been written for a concert hall or where the problem of its relation to the external world has not been broached), nor is it enough simply to write a piece of music that is to be played outside.  In both cases, the external world is destructive; it is perceived as noise, disturbance, confusion. The underlying reason, and here we touch directly on the compositional aspect, is that in both cases the music was composed in line with a logic of beginning-end: it is thematic and therefore narrative, it is central, the rest is bother, discomfort.  Music conceived in this way is absolute, despotic, authoritarian, in relation to the surrounding ambient sounds.

Coexistence is also destructive when, for example, the music obliterates its external world because of the power of the sound. An example is provided by something that really happened a few years ago at the premiere of the work of a young composer in Rome, in the park of Villa Medici. I remember that the music was played concurrently with a series of visual images and that the sound volume was so powerful that even the trees were swaying. The spectators initially covered their ears, but then began to leave. Only a few heroic souls succeeded in remaining to the end. Afterwards I was introduced to the composer who was dismayed by the fact that most people had fled, and said as he came towards me: “What a shame, and yet there was a full moon…”

Aggressive sound has become a standard in almost all open-air concerts. Even classical Indian music, with its fundamental and refined relationship to its surroundings, when played in the context of a European “concert”, becomes flat due to the limits of the amplified sound reproduced by loudspeakers.  This is a real paradox for the external world where ‘the open-air’, is totally obliterated by the music that is played in the open air!

How then are we to establish a constructive musical coexistence with the external world? The problem, I believe, is of a compositional nature and therefore I have had to reconsider the meaning of composing.  I am oriented towards a logic that does not include recurrences, themes or repetitions. I am interested in music without reference points, without a traditional internal path. In my work the external world in all its complexity and dynamics provides the direction or path.  The logic of my music, as it flows along is unrecognizable, yet succeeds in maintaining a vital relationship with the external world.

For a more in-depth treatment of the subjects dealt with, the reader might want to read two of my essays: ‘On the way’ and ‘The problem of recognizability’.

Translated from the Italian by Erika Pauli and Walter Branchi