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21 Century Cori Spezzati
400 years of modern music
October 2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival in Venice of Claudio Monteverdi, a
father of modern music, as maestro di capella of St Mark’s Basilica, the planet’s most
sought-after music job. For this occasion, we traverse 400 years of modern music in a
single programme which creates newly-composed spaces in the cradle of spatial music.
Some words by curator Erwin Roebroeks.
Picture this: the composer who pushed music’s limits to the max being the most famous musician
in Europe. This happened just a couple of centuries ago! His name was Claudio Monteverdi.
When Monteverdi arrived in Venice, probably on the 10 of October 1613, the focus of attention
was the musical “now”. Music was undergoing a transformation from a liturgical tool into a
dramatic art form; the vitality of harmonic sounds was blowing away the old contrapuntal music.
Giovanni Gabrieli, “master” of the spatial grandeur of the “Venetian style”, despite having died
only one year earlier, was already forgotten, not to mention his uncle Andrea Gabrieli, “founder”
of that style. Yet Monteverdi integrated virtually all of their innovations into his own work.
Venice, which is to say St Mark’s Basilica, was the cradle of “spatial music”. Giovanni Gabrieli
placed diverse choirs, ensembles and soloists at different locations around the church; delays
caused by the spatial disposition of the performers formed a structural component of the music,
which was the culmination of the Venetian phenomenon known as cori spezzati (“split choirs”).
Beginning at St Mark’s, this technique for composing music especially for specific structures
gained popularity throughout Europe, yet it subsequently declined again with the advent of
concert life - which again took place in Venice - when music began to travel and was therefore no
longer tailored to a specific situation. Monteverdi was the creator spiritus of this new era, bringing
music into a new dramatic world, reversing the prevailing logic by making the text lead rather than
serve the music, integrating spatial aspects again in a dramatic way, for example basing echoeffects on the poetry he was setting.
Claudio Monteverdi: Ohimè, dov'è il mio ben for soprano and Wave Field Synthesis
This madrigal, the famous G minor Romanesca, comes from the Settimo libro dei madrigali
(1619), a milestone of diversity in Monteverdi’s development, with the word “Concerto” – first
used by the Gabrielis (Concerti, 1587) – on its title page.
This Seventh Book is a first child of the operatic era. Here, Monteverdi renounces the classic fivevoice setting of his first six books of madrigals in favour of madrigals for one, two, three, four and
six voices, as well as creating adventurous forms in other ways.
Ohimè, dov'è il mio ben is a duet for two sopranos and basso continuo. Yet to me it is a duet for
one soprano and her inner voice, which manifests itself as an echo, because of the connection
between the inner struggles of the woman searching for her love and the distance between the
two voices. Of course, in Monteverdi’s time it was not possible to let a musician sing along with
herself, but now it is. Composer Ji Youn Kang has made a high-tech spatial and temporal setting
of the madrigal, which will be sung by soprano Roberta Mameli alone, the first voice performed
live and the second pre-recorded, as was the basso continuo, for which I have chosen one
theorbo only, played by Diego Cantalupi. The second voice will be played and spatialized via
Wave Field Synthesis, a state-of-the-art technology specially designed for spatial sound
rendering. Wave Field Synthesis (WFS) not only offers the possibility to position or move sounds
inside a venue, but also enables the creation of a sonic space bigger than the physical venue
itself. The audience will sit at the centre of a square of the 192-loudspeaker system of The Game
of Life Foundation - it is possible to locate a sound source several miles away or right in front of a
listener’s head, using only the laws of physics.
In the spirit of Monteverdi, we will follow the content of the poem yet in a way that was not yet
possible in his time. Ji Youn Kang’s approach is an extension of Monteverdi’s musical narrativity.
Because Monteverdi already embodied his interpretation of the poetic text in the music, Kang
focused more on the drama of the melody than on its lyrics – taking Monteverdi one step further.
Roberta Mameli will be the only performer on stage, in keeping with the loneliness of the textual
content. Her inner echo, the recorded voice, will physically wander through Teatro alle Tese,
looking for her love. In doing so, “she” may pass through the audience, or leave the venue
altogether; that’s all possible with WFS. Her odyssey ends when she learns that she is her own
fate. That’s the moment the two voices come together, and the echo finds herself, literally, back
together once more with Roberta Mameli.
Luigi Nono: La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura for Wave Field Synthesis and violin
Next comes another Venetian giant, Luigi Nono. Centuries after the invention of cori spezzati,
spatial music once more acquired a renewed emphasis, this time in the context of electronic
music. Composers like Edgard Varèse, Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen composed the
physical and sonic space of their music as unities. And so did Luigi Nono, for instance in his giant
Biennale commission Prometeo. Tragedia dell’ascolto, in collaboration with architect Renzo Piano
(1984/1985), a drama which unfolds in sound itself.
Nono wished to denounce hierarchies between composers, musicians, technicians, and listeners,
and between everyday life and art. This can be heard in La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura
(1988 / 1989). Originally a composition for solo violin, eight-channel magnetic tape and eight
loudspeakers, composer Wouter Snoei (who also developed the WFS software and its live
application) and violist Barbara Lüneburg will perform a live interpretation using WFS, enhancing
the spatial aspects of Nono's composition.
Nono’s score specifies eight to ten music stands, and consists of six musical sections for the
violinist. Consequently, some music stands remain empty, or at least do not contain music which
is to be played. The definitive number and positioning of the music stands are left to the choice of
the performers, depending on the interpretation of the piece and the performing space. Before the
concert, the route taken by Barbara Lüneburg between all the music stands, and the choice of
which stands will bear the six sections of Nono’s score, will be established. While the violinist’s
freedom of action lies in her timing, sound director Snoei is free to decide which of the eight
channels will be heard; the score mentions that all eight may never sound simultaneously. The
timing of the tape is fixed, but its spatiality, dynamics and polyphony are free, as is its connection
with the violin, leading to new musical relationships in each performance.
This piece was composed for Gidon Kremer, and on the tape Nono and Kremer can be heard
constantly moving around. Lüneberg doesn’t wear light shoes while performing, in order to blur
the difference between “real” and recorded sounds, whose similarities are enhanced by the sound
rendering possibilities of the live WFS. A noisy audience, or environmental sounds from outside
the performing space - which might normally be a disturbing factor - are merged together into a
single immersive sound experience. This WFS performance may indeed be beyond Nono’s
dreams, since now even the location of the loudspeakers is no longer fixed, and sounds are able
to move with complete freedom. As in the case of Monteverdi, this is one of those rare moments
in music history where new technology can help to realise old artistic ideas.
Ji Youn Kang: Dong-Nae Gut for Wave Field Synthesis
Ji Youn Kang is a composer from Seoul, who combines Eastern and Western traditions from the
inside out. She studied with the great Korean shamanistic masters, also gaining Masters degrees
in the West, for example at the Institute of Sonology at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. Her
work makes a fascinating connection with Luigi Nono, who was inspired by the Asian concept of
“Ma”, the unity of time and space. Kang grew up with this concept, which is indeed audible in her
music. While Western composers will often first create their sounds (in time) and then spatialise
them (in space), for Kang these are one and the same compositional act (Ma), resulting in a truly
convincing spatial music.
The main idea of Dong-Nae Gut derives from the traditional Korean ritual “Ma-Eul Gut”, one of the
oldest existing musical forms and one of a number of Korean traditional rituals, each with its own
character, purposes, and processes. All are local events in which citizens pray for well-being, for
a better, peaceful environment and for prosperity. Ma-Eul (“town”) Gut (“ritual”) is a very common
example, and is still regularly performed. “Dong-Nae” is a more personal synonym for Ma-Eul.
When Ma-Eul Gut is performed, the musicians – the local shamans – travel throughout a city,
from its borders to every street. Throughout the journey music is played, people join in and sing
along together. Kang’s choice of this ritual as material for her new commission was determined
by the fact that we are bringing a travelling spatial music system to the very town where spatial
music first arose, for a specific event in a now globalised world, as a kind of ritual for Venice.
Kang’s composition bridges new technology and an ancient musical form, thus transforming the
ritual into an abstract phenomenon and becoming a new artform. The ritual acts as a source
behind what is heard, rather than being directly perceived by the audience.
If music’s destination is freedom, the idea of sound-sources becomes problematic. With WFS the
loudspeakers are no longer sound-sources but “sound-intermediaries”, producing a discrepancy
between seeing the loudspeaker, which is nearby, and hearing the sound-source, which might be
miles away, or even in front of the speakers. To Kang, this freedom of sound-movement in WFS
encourages the listener to adopt an openness to perception, so that she likes the idea of not
providing a fixed notion of where a sound belongs, in distinction for example to hearing piano
sounds and their reference to Western music traditions. The aim is to enable each listener to
judge for themselves what they are actually hearing.
The musical continuum formed by these three compositions reflects their composer’s intuition that
there is no room for historical time in musical time. Music is concerned with an eternal present, as
we see from Nono’s poetic title: the historical past (Monteverdi) is reflected in the musical present
(Snoei’s approach to Nono) and leads to new worlds (Kang’s fusion of Eastern and Western
Erwin Roebroeks
curator of 21st Century Cori Spezzati