Alessandro PERINI (b. 1983)
The Expanded Body
Space/Spectrum, for kalimba, three toy pianos and electronic sounds (2017) [9:10]
Intorno alla traccia for clarinet with two motorized side-keys and live electronics (2017-20) [10:02]
On that day my left ear became a frog, for violin with amplified, custom-made bow (2018) [7:49]
Epicentro, for piano, ten vibration motors and two contact microphones (2020) [11:52]
Steel string quartet, for four performers on amplified steel strings (2016) [8:28]
Rondō, for electric guitar with three motorized tuning pegs (2020) [13:49]
N-S, for cello, piano and tape (2017) [5:19]
Simone Beneventi (kalimba), Ars Nova Ensemble, Duo Dillon-Torquati
rec. 2016-2020, Inter Arts Center, Malmö, Sweden; Edith-Stein-Schule, Darmstadt, Germany
KAIROS 0015061KAI [66:53]
A cursory read through of the booklet note provides a good idea of Alessandro Perini’s USP – indeed the album title The Expanded Body alone alludes to necessity being the mother of invention, and in so doing addresses one of the central mysteries of music: whether the sounds a composer hears in their head can ever be precisely notated on systems of five parallel lines. And even when the none-too-trivial matter of dots, stems, accidentals and instructions have been settled, does the performed interpretation even vaguely resemble the creators’s original sub-aural intentions?
The disc’s title thus describes the adaptation of sonic sources, in this case a variety of conventional and not so conventional instruments, by imaginative mechanical and electronic means devised by Perini to convey his ideas in as literal a form as possible. Some of these adaptations have been invented and physically developed by the composer himself. The booklet essay, Extended space: computer techniques and instrumental experimentation in the practice of Alessandro Perini has been compiled by Luca Befera, Clara Foglia and Luca Guidarini; it has been idiomatically translated and whilst it is an illuminating read in terms of getting some sort of handle on Perini’s approach to organising his compositions, as a bit of of a technophobe I found the many references to niche technology (eg Arduino microcontrollers, solenoids and DAW) utterly perplexing. My online attempts to get even the basic gist of what these devices actually do proved predictably futile, although ultimately I think it is possible for listeners in general to classify the seven pieces on the album into three distinct categories
Perini’s major concern in the first and last tracks seems to be the relationship between a given sonic environment and the listener’s spatial perception. The prime mover in Space/Spectrum for example is Simone Beneventi’s kalimba, although it is at times rather difficult for the listener to disentangle its timbre from the accompaniment provided by a trio of toy pianos and Perini’s electronic manipulations. This is unsurprising in a way; for those readers unfamiliar with instruments derived from African traditions the kalimba is a kind of thumb piano, a modernised version of the Zimbabwean mbira. Whilst it has a slightly more nasal twang than the three toy pianos which accompany it in Space/Spectrum the distinction between these discrete sound sources is rather blurred by Perini’s electronics. The resultant piece oscillates between ambient inertia and tintinnabulous exotica and conveys an atmosphere not unlike that of some imaginary extra-terrestrial Old(e) Curiosity Shop. The sounds are magical although in truth I’m not mightily convinced they add up to much more than the sum of their parts.
On the other hand, the role of the tape contribution in the brief piece N-S is purely additive, its wintry samples (which also includes a kalimba, as well as snow and ice timbres) providing a sonic stage for the discursive gesturing of cello and piano. This atmospheric miniature unwittingly seems to arrive at a destination which is not too far away from that inhabited by the first half-dozen albums of the wonderful Lancastrian post-romantic adventurer Richard Skelton, not least in the earthy textures Francesco Dillon grinds out of his cello.
The third and fifth tracks also seem to share something of an overlap in their approach. Both involve the use of contact microphones, designed to amplify both the sounds produced by the performers but also their physical gestures – these are important given the adaptations Perini has applied to the sound source. On that day my left ear became a frog might boast the most evocative title of any of these pieces, but it’s billed as involving a violin with an ‘amplified, custom-made bow’; what that involves in practice is a bow devoid of hair and constructed of MDMA, whilst the mikes are attached to its tip and frog (explaining the piece’s ambiguous title), linking the sounds produced to Kairos regular Marco Fusi’s physical gestures. This is a piece characterised by resonant knocking, subterranean vibration, intermittent croaking, and an astringent scratching which is as close to conventional violin sound as the piece gets. It’s a fascinating experiment; listeners will decide for themselves whether it bears repetition as a listening experience- I suspect some of its visceral impact is lost on a CD recording.
In Steel string quartet for four performers on amplified steel strings (the title is precisely worded with good reason) things get even stranger, the contact microphones broadcasting the sheer physicality of the piece with an even greater force. In this case the performers are in fact four percussionists, each borne by a wooden swing suspended by steel cables which are, we are told, “rubbed, plucked or struck – with fingers or a superball” (the latter being the formal name of those tiny extremely bouncy tiny balls which were a novelty when folk of my age were primary school pupils). Any consequent resemblance between the resulting sonorities and the sound of bow on string is purely coincidental, yet what emerges is undeniably impressive, glowering deep glissandi, elastic pizzicati, buzzing granulations, crackling, scything and clockwork-like timbres. Again I think its’s fair to say that while the ‘music’ that emerges is elusive, mysterious and frankly even sinister, one a gain might better determine the degree to which Perini’s aesthetic aims have been met if one was able to witness the performative physicality involved in producing this extraordinary din firsthand.
For me the most convincing ‘music’ on this issue is to be found on the even numbered tracks, each of which involve a single conventional instrument which has been mechanically and electronically extended by the composer. Indeed the booklet note confirms that they constitute “a triptych of works for solo performer and augmented instrument”. Quite apart from the adjustments Perini has made to the workings of the instruments, each of these pieces is also filtered by a piece of kit known as an Arduino microcontroller. I’m afraid I am not remotely qualified to even attempt to convey what this thing actually does and must refer interested parties to the infinite wisdom of their preferred search engine rather than proffer some hare-brained ham-fisted attempt at description or explanation. As for the pieces themselves (they are the only three items on the disc which extend beyond the ten minute mark) Intorno alla traccia for adapted clarinet relies on Natalie Eriksson’s constant application of circular breathing techniques to make its impact as well as a pair of automated side keys which enables the player to make sounds from her instrument way beyond the scope of an unaltered clarinet. The musical line and unpredictable, irregular clickings and pulsings proceed in a single, limpid unbroken arc which projects a peculiar beauty from first note to last. This is one of the most exotic and striking solo clarinet pieces to have ever crossed my path. The echo effects produced by Eriksson are a wonder. I would advise any reader sufficiently intrigued by this review to start with this remarkable piece (it’s the second track). Almost as compelling is the electric guitar piece Rondō; here the addition of three automated tuning pegs enables a continuity of expression over a fourteen minute span akin to that of the clarinet work. Whilst its more diffuse structure possibly creates the impression that the piece outstays its welcome the remarkable performance of Ruben Mattia Santorsa is mightily impressive. Epicentro for adapted piano is to my ears the least convincing of the trilogy despite the novelty of its sound world. In this piece contact microphones are attached to pianist Irene Bianco’s fingertips enabling the magnification if the piano strings’ vibrations. The opening three minutes actually resembles the effect of dampened pneumatic drills being applied to a pavement, and whilst the effects here are viscerally intriguing it lacks the smoothness and continuity of Intorno alla traccia.
On the evidence of this fastidiously prepared and beautifully recorded disc, Alessandro Perini is every bit as much an inventor as he is a composer and performer. The allure of this album lies in the art of possibility, whereby he imagines an alternative future for conventional acoustic (bar one) instruments that absolutely challenges the idea of their inevitable redundancy at some point. It will be interesting to discover where Perini’s muse leads him next; hopefully Kairos will be there to record the next stage of his journey.
Natalie Eriksson (clarinet), Marco Fusi (violin), Irene Bianco (piano), Vincent Caers, Oded Geizhals, Stanislas Pili, Ruben Mattia Santorsa, Nagisa Shibata (percussion), Ruben Mattia Santorsa (electric guitar).
Francesco Dillon (cello) and Emanuele Torquati (piano)