Pierluigi Billone
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Mani.De Leonardis


for 4 Automobile Springs and Glass
Commissioned by the Südwestrundfunk


1. Mano (Hand)

With each fortissimo beat that is muted with the hand, the expenditure of energy in the action of muting that counteracts the energy and absorbs it, is itself extremely strong, as is demonstrated by the blisters on the left hand, by the muscle cramps. This ancient activity and gesture truly belongs to the working of iron. The hand that holds the auto spring extends the impulse in the body that initiated it. When I muffle and let go, there is a moment in which the energy of the vibration is present both in the spring and in my arm, and this energy, which comes from the right hand, runs through the spring, continues in the left hand, and becomes a flow that leads to the next beat. It is a closed circuit of energy, so to speak. After several beats I vibrate with the spring and have become part of the instrument. I am playing, but it is not all: I am also sounding, and in fact I am playing on my own body. Every metalworker has such experiences, though for him or her they are always linked to the demands of the technical process. These circling vibrations spread in the body and remain present there. That is why they can come to the surface again in various ways:

  • as an intervention that changes the vibration yet again
  • as a direct impulse of the hands on the spring
  • as an impulse of the hands on the body that is reinforced by the voice
  • as undefined resonance of the voice
  • as undefined name vibration.

When the body (simultaneously and independently) becomes a second sound source, the vibrations of body and instrument interweave, and in many cases it is no longer possible to determine which was the original source: this rhythmic interweaving is a focus of this work.

A glass is added to the springs: the glass can only be struck softly with a wooden hammer; otherwise it will break or fall down. The glass sound is a part of the rhythmic play, but it retains its strangeness. The presence of glass—as polestar, so to speak—remains unalterably clear and stable, while everything else changes. Hence it can also indicate, embody, or “aimlessly” wander around extra energy, ruptures, leaps into another dimension, or particular rhythmic events, ... During those moments in which the rhythmic instability and motoric energy become extreme, the glass pulses with its own independent rhythm. Then the rhythmic sections contain a "foreign" element that splits them, and attention is forced to become unusually flexible. The impulse with the maximum energy and the one that necessarily has the least are found together here, without being antitheses. The rhythmic stability of the glass, the constant shift of every moment, and the particular attention that both make possible are all one single, indivisible, rhythmic phenomenon. The work lives from such rhythmic connections that interact and connect.

My complete admiration and thanks go out to the performer.

2. De Leonardis

It is generally assumed that people have two hands. For me there are and have only ever been a very few who truly have as many hands as Mother Nature gives us. Giacometti was one of them: the right one extended, modeled, and formed; the left scratched, removed and hollowed out. The head sat directly between them.

Musicians? Well, some of them have two right hands and a head, but they are rare, very rare. There are others who have just a head but no hands at all, or only two right hands without head. I prefer the former. [...]

Seeing is my profession – or more precisely, seeing and causing to see. [...] Just like that, with my hands deep in my pockets...

Federico De Leonardis - Breve storia della mano (Brief history of the hand)

I know the object I have before me hardly at all (for several year now the hanging spring has been used as a special kind of triangle, struck with a metal bar), and I do not know how else it could be played. While experimenting with it I happened to place the spring on the floor above a hollow space that functioned as a resonance chamber, and then I heard especially rich and deep vibrations. It sounded very much like certain electronic sound transformations (e.g., in Répons by Pierre Boulez). The encounter was by chance, though not the attentive listening. Together with Richard Strnad (a member of the Klangforum Wien, to whom the work is dedicated), I sought out and purchased four different auto springs. The spring is a metal spiral of industrial manufacture whose form and function is the result of decades of mechanical design and experiments, but it is surely not intended that it corresponds to the gesture of the hand. It has no top or bottom, no front, and it was certainly not designed to produce a sound (and of course it does not have the dazzling charm of many ready-to-use percussion instruments).

Over the years I have learned that everything reveals itself only gradually and according to its own rules, and this almost never happens as an answer to a direct question; hence every stage of this approach has its own necessity, and nothing is trivial. I cleaned all the auto springs of rust and encrustations, as one would an archeological fund, in order to achieve the familiarity that results from hand contact with the form, with the "rhythm" of the form, the distances and differences between the rings, the possible irregularities, perhaps only to discover whether this metal ha an inner life...

I tried out numerous sticks, and was left with two especially hard wooden hammers and a common iron hammer. Only after many attempts did I find a suitable stand for each spring. The auto springs facilitate a person-thing-sound relationship that starts at zero: a particular opportunity to form knowledge (something New Music has, of course, often sought...). The spring can only produce a sound if I am in a position to hear it, that is, if my ability and sensitivity, the mobility of my attention, my ability to recognize something or produce connections, my freedom to welcome that which is unfamiliar to me – if all these things work in me inseparably and do not inhibit one other.

Every sound that the spring offers is simultaneously a horizon of the (tonal, mental, manipulable, practical, cultural) space to which I belong. Every new sound that opens up is a new space opening on the horizon. Every sound that I do not take in reveals to me what I do not know or do not want to have near me. The spaces that have not opened up are those that lie outside my scope. And so on.

From every spring, undefined sound constellations, fragments of movement, rough sketches of progress gradually come to light that are caused by the work of a single hand or of two together, using one or more springs; from the first points of contact evolve actual sound-manipulation spaces (this even, created thus and only occurring thus); they are unique and completely open. This kind of slow work of the listening hand establishes and reveals the initial meaning of the differences, of the distances, of the connections, of the strangeness, and so on.

There is a rapid and extremely mobile "intelligence of the hand" that facilitates and leads to every further connection to the things. This intelligence is, however, spoiled if one begins to intervene because one thinks the hands are merely neutral mechanical processes like pliers that are simply available to brain activity. Sometimes the intelligence of the hand is overshadowed because one no longer trusts one's own hand (or never did).

It is precisely this division into hands and head (practice and thinking)—and the whole rigid ideology that goes with it—that justifies our culture's conception of listening.

The title's reference to Federico De Leonardis, an Italian visual artist who has made voluntary limitations on the role of his hands one pillar of his reflections and work, thereby becomes a friendly (and mutual) provocation, and not just an homage.

3. Hands εΰλυτα φέγγη (...free lights)

Sound is not an acoustic definition but stands for a living and open presence/connection, and it means contact, revelation, and belonging (that has always been the case).

Hand means a complete and undivided working together of all faculties in the contact with things. Not every vibration is sound, and not every movement is a listening hand, (...and music does not occur in every piece). A piece in the bigger sense strives to be a place where that which comes into the present and reveals its own horizon of references transforms the stability of that which is already known, and does so in exemplary fashion.

Quite sensibly, one speaks of the work that goes into the piece as if of a path, and of the piece itself as if of a place that remains open and that others can occupy as well and can pass through according to their needs (unfortunately, the listening we are accustomed to remains a little beneath this possibility...). The relationship to sound—and to space—is also a slow process of establishing contact where points of reference emerge, developing and growing out of our elemental distances. While doing its work the listening hand also encounters, discovers, and passes through the traces of possible routes and lines of connection, like the streets, bridges, and squares of a city that do not yet exist. It follows them like a foot would (undivided working together of all faculties). As it becomes familiar with the measures and distances of the place, it patiently seeks and finds a way. It will be the task of the writing hand to continue this beginning, intensifying and disseminating it without losing its freshness. It should turn every step into a discovery that occurs at each moment, and it should itself also persisting in discovering.

Going and creating space is what sound does. The piece is an adventure of sound itself. The person who writes the sound—that is, the composer—willingly takes on the task of become in turn hammer, auto spring, glass (pencil, paper) and remaining open to this transformation. That does not always succeed. When the writing hand and the listening hand separate or even forget each other, it weakens the experience of the sound.

The question remains open (one that is for some perhaps just a disturbing "background noise"): Does all this touch upon my existence? And how deeply?

Of course, and how!—though one also has to believe in it—for it is always my own hand, when I strike the spring, when I write, when I turn out the light, when I set off the mechanism of a "smart" bomb that always kills in the wrong place, or that of a "cowardly" bomb on a bus or train, when I stroke a face, or squeeze a hand, when I page through this booklet.