Pierluigi Billone
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ITI KE MI

(1995)

for Viola


[pdf]

Barbara Maurer


ITI KE MI (New Moon. Mouth. Feminine) for Viola is the result of a long period of study and research with the instrument by the composer followed by actually working together with the performer.

It should be stated here at the outset that neither the stringing nor the tuning of the viola are standard: two fourth strings, one third and one first string are tuned E, C, G and A in that order. Further, both score and notation - the latter also uses a system of colours - are inevitably very complex because their job is to define, differentiate between and represent a veritable maze of techniques and sounds which the performer is required to employ and produce.

These techniques and sounds make huge demands on the performer's physical and interpretative abilities since the work is a total rethink of the instrument and the huge number of roles required of the viola mean that at times the results sound utterly unlike music for a stringed instrument. The sophisticated combination of various approaches to fingering and bowing separates out the individual components of a sound and puts them back together in such a way that a whole new horizon opens onto vibrations.

In the composer's own words, "Some 'rough', unstable vibrations of the strings contain shorter surface vibrations: traces of apparent vocal vibrations or from some indecipherable source which are created only when there is movement and which cannot be separated from the rough vibration generating them. There is an unheard background which initially becomes apparent only under certain conditions and particularly in what might be defined the "shade" cast by techniques and vibrations which are already familiar to the listener. This background or "elsewhere" is the very place over which thousands of fingers have passed back and forth as they played. These thousands of fingers did not notice those traces of sound vibration and merely ignored them because they had nothing to do with what was most obviously (and certainly) musical and because those traces shift eh attention to where the most familiar distinctions become blurred or simply fall away. These precariously unique vibrations are that elusive point where various kinds of connections join each other, just as an eclipse - a "moment" on a planetary scale - reveals a new order of things awaiting discovery."

ITI-New Moon is an allusion to the absence of traditional sound. The connection with the moon is that its light prevents the appearance of the background and what that background contains. And at the extreme opposites of this background content lie vibrations of the metal or wooden parts of the viola, (direct contact between wood and metal or wood and wood), and elusive races of vocal sound (KE-Mouth) which combines speaking and singing, (particular fingering and bowing techniques and combinations of both thereof).

The pace of this work develops as though it were moving through a number of spaces where, against a constantly differing background, traces of vocal sound appear and vanish with all their particular variety of characters and accents. In some cases, these traces acquire a dramatic quality because of the nature of the vibrations from which they emerge. This occurs, for instance, at the climax dominated by the mechanical vibrations of the wood of the bow directly upon the strings: it is difficult here to tell the difference between the penetrating oscillation of the hypertreble harmonics and the screeching of metal wheels on a steel rail or the cry of a bird or of a human being. And the same is true of what happens next, when the player's left hand is well beyond the bridge of the instrument and on the short stretch of string between bridge and tailpiece, conjuring up an unlikely sort of "stuttering" sound which might just as well be the irregular vibration of a car exhaust.

The first person to experience shock and disbelief at all this is obviously the performer and although I myself have played this work in public many times, that shock and disbelief are undiminished. The third monosyllable of the title MI-Feminine remains obscure, nor does the quotation on the score itself throw any light on the music. The only thing that can be done with it is let it in and give it room.

The quotation is from the film "Nostalgia" directed by Tarkovsky. Under a protest banner that read "We are not mad. We are serious", the character Domenico recites the following haiku in farewell before setting himself on fire:

"Oh mother, oh mother,
the air is that lightness
surrounding your head
which becomes clearer
when you laugh.
Now music!"

See also [UTU AN.KI LU]