Saturday, October 31, 2015

Giuseppe “Frippi” Lenti 13 Questions

Giuseppe Frippi is a São Paulo (Brazil) based guitarist who is known for his work in the years 70/80´s. Recently has emerged with a brand new material, an album called “Desert Wind”, launched by Voiceprint.

Quarteto Bizarro 

The first appearance of GF in the Brazilian musical scene was in 1975, at the age of seventeen, with a group called Quarteto Bizarro, one of the first Brazilian fusion bands at that time, which played in the underground circuit of São Paulo and concluded its activities in a memorable concert at the MASP theater (Art Museum of Sao Paulo), totally sold out. Quarteto Bizarro never registered its compositions (either in studio or live)

Os Voluntarios da Patria Photo J.R. Duran

In the early 80´s, GF started a new project called CO2 with the well-known bass player Skowa dos Santos (Premeditando o Breque, Sossega Leão) and Drummer Athos Costa (Zero). The band had clear directions into the new musical scene, influenced by Lounge Lizard, King Crimson, the Police...

After some gigs, GF was invited by guitar player Miguel Barella and drummer Thomas Pappon to join the band Voluntarios da Patria. This band registered its first and unique work in 1984 and, even if the sound emerged from the studio hadn´t the same vibe of its live performances, it was very well received by critics.

In 1986 Voluntarios da Patria changed radically its profile: vocalist Nasi Valadão, as well as Bass Player Ricardo Gaspa and Drummer Thomas Pappon quitted the band. New members were invited in their place: Paulo Horacio (vocals), Akira S (Bass and Chapman Stick) and Edson X (drums).

Os Voluntarios da Patria

Voluntarios continued its sequence of gigs, including a famous participation in the TV program “Mixto Quente” of Rede Globo Channel. The band was acclaimed by specialized critics especially by its peculiar work of guitars and well synchronized rhythmic session, but never achieved the mainstream.

In 1986, GF was invited by Akira S to join his own group, Akira S e as garotas que erraram. The precedent year, GF had participated with that band to “Não São Paulo” a compilation of several new bands of the “Brazilian alternative rock scene”.

In 1987, Akira S e as garotas que erraram, with GF assuming the guitars, entered into the studio to record his first album.

Akira S e as garotas que erraram

In 1989, GF participated in a course of the cycle “Guitar Craft”, organized by Robert Fripp.
After the end of Voluntarios da Patria, GF conceived with Miguel Barella a new work that was ideally the continuity of the well-spoken work of guitars of the former band. This time, this format was an instrumental work based in studio performance, and its name was “Álvos Móveis”.
The album was completed in 1991, but Brazilian economic crisis at that time resulted in abortion of the project of launching the album once it was finished.
At the end, it was launched some years later (1996) without a live tour or event, only as a registration of the completed work.

GF and Miguel Barella participated of some events as a duo, with a repertoire based on the album but adapted to this format.
In 2002 was launched the second and last album of this partnership, published by Voiceprint called Slow Link.

In the meanwhile, GF started to study with a very well-known and recognized Brazilian player, Michel Leme, improving jazz improvisation.

GF began to work in a solo album that had been completed only in 2010 called Desert Wind with the huge collaboration of the legendary John Parahyba (Trio Mocotó, Ivan Lins, Jorge Benjor, among others) and Celio Barros (one of the best double Bass players in Brazil).


In the same year He worked also in a duo album with bass player Celio Barros, which has never been launched and with a new group called AFX (Akira S, GF, and Edson X).

Recently GL has launched an Youtube page to publicize his ongoing compositions

What do you remember about your first approach to sound?

Well, I have a cousin (now he is a very well-known lawyer in Torino ) that played piano at a very high level when I was kid. He played a lot of classical stuff ...I was simply astonished with his skills...
But I decided to play electric guitar when I was eleven years old and I was living in Argentina (in the early seventies) and there was a very interesting blues & rock scene there ...(fantastic guitar players like Pappo, Claudio Gabis, Kubero Dias, Edelmiro Molinari were my heroes at that time…)
I was fascinated with blues improvisation...
And I think that since then I become essentially a Blues player, even if I don´t play blues at all...

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

The first I think it was In the court of the Crimson King ...It was a long time ago...
The last: Floratone by Bill Frisell
Coincidence or not, both (Frisell and Fripp) are among my very favorite guitar players…

How's your musical routine practice?

I don´t have one... Generally my approach with the instrument is to try to build up some musical structure which will be the seed of a new piece.
Eventually I practice some scales, personal licks or some alternative techniques.
But I try not to exaggerate with scales in order to avoid using exercises instead of perception when I am soloing.
The scope when I practice is acquiring the essential technique to support my compositions and playing …
Nevertheless I am not seeking for virtuosity … I'm always trying to be above all personal and recognizable in my playing.

Which work of your own are you most surprised by?

Without any doubt my last CD named Desert Wind (Voiceprint), my first solo album that I elaborate with the huge collaboration of drummer and percussionist João Parahyba and bass player Celio Barros: two gorgeous musicians.
Any way, I always think that the last work is the best one…. Because is the one in which you certainly have developed a little bit more your capacity of communication through the music.

Recently I have built up a YouTube channel in which I have uploaded my last compositions.
Together with my favorite pieces of the album Desert Wind.
I am counting for this project with the enormous collaboration of the Italian artist Michele Vannucchi (aka MKT), who has developed the videos behind the sound.

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

In my case, I have to maintain a certain technical level because of my musical concept (even if, it is worth repeating : I am far from looking for virtuosity…)
It is very frustrating when you are not able to play something that you have conceived by your own.
In general, I think we have to imagine the musical career as a projection, as well as any other kind of artistic expressions. I particularly think that in painting, for instance, before achieving a non-figurative phase you have to learn how to draw figures and then you can move to some different line.

Lucio Fontana did not start his career tearing the canvas; he studied a lot before this and the tearing of canvas was a result of years of reflection about art…..Yes, of course, anybody could technically tear a screen, but without having travelled before the road of transformation and reflection there isn´t any value in there. In this context, technique is an intrinsic element of the process.
Walking this transformation way, in my point of view, is the serious manner to approach art…

Once Mr. Robert Fripp said something very relevant about that, I do not remember exactly the words, but it was rather similar to : “When Music comes to you , you must be able to receive her..” and I do believe in that.

Why do you need music? Can we live without music?

Because music is a link with high levels of spirituality and abstraction.
Not at all!!! In few moments of my life I´ve stopped to play for a while. That was psychologically devastating for me.

Tell me one musical work which has provoked a change in your music

There are many works that I can mention as influence and that in certain way change my to approach music, I tried to listed some:
Starless and the bible black & Discipline King Crimson
No pussyfooting R. Fripp & B. Eno
Friends & Music from another era Oregon
Solstice Ralph Towner
Kind of Blue & Bitches brew Miles Davis
I sing the body electric Wheather Report
The inner mounting flame & Shakti - John McLaughlin
Codona Collin Walcott Don Cherry Nana Vasconcelos
Brown Rice Don Cherry
Cloud about mercury David Torn
In line Bill Frisell
Überjam John Scofield
Electric Ganesha Land Prasanna

What quality do you most empathize with in a musician?

I think that I'm always looking for a mix between intuition and personality.
I can say instead of intuition, inspiration… but the result, I think, is almost the same.
As I can mention I like musicians that you could recognize in the very first notes, even by the tone or because of their phrasing in the instrument.
I can englobe in this group some well-known guitar players as: Robert Fripp, David Torn, Prasanna, Shaun Lane, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Jeff Beck, Terje Rypdal, Eivind Aarset, Ralph Towner.

Of course, the same concept could be applied to other different instruments …. In this field I can mention fantastic players like: Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Eddy Gomes, Arild Andersen, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Don Cherry, Jon Hassel, Rabih Abou-Khalil

Depict the sound you're still looking for, or the sound you'd like to hear.

I think that a serious musician is never satisfied with his own production.
I have tried in the last few years to merge in a work various different genres:
Jazz, oriental music, some African music, psychedelic music, some techno music…
I think it's a very difficult thing to do, especially to put in the brew the exact dose of each ingredient in order to reach a consistent style.

In my opinion, the starting point, as a reference, could be certain incredible works that defined the soul of ECM records in the seventies. That was really revolutionary.
You could hear today those records and they are fresh, untouched by the course of time. This is the real meaning of timeless music.
I really love to drink from that source…

How do you feel listening to your own music?

I am very proud indeed of my own music when I achieve, in one defined piece, the target I wanted to. When I reach this point, I can hear a certain piece ad infinitum.

That said, generally this is not an easy route. Sometimes I love some imperfections in my playing, and I can hear them with detachment, but most of the time I am very cruel with myself. I have to repeat and repeat the recording ad nauseam, until touching the adequate level…

What special or extrange techniques do you use?

I don´t think that certain techniques I use could be defined as extrange ones …
But I can described some:
1) Slide guitar: I started to study slide guitar using some bottlenecks in order to emulate certain inflections in Indian music called “sruties”…. I was achieving discrete results when I heard some native musicians which changed my mind in terms of how to do the right thing. In fact, they obtain the sound I was looked for only by sliding the fingers of the left hand through the neck without any specific device. Of course I started to research all the necessary material to develop this skill.
2) Loops: I generally use loops, mostly as ambient support, creating a cloud of sound on which I can create another kind of structure. My loops largely are not defined by a specific tempo or rhythm, they have to flow as a tamboura sound.
3) E-bow: I use that device to emulate a real bow sound with a percussive approach. I avoid to employ it because of the infinite sustain. To reach this effect I rather prefer to use a consistent overdrive sound and the adequate tremolo fingering approach (like every bluesman do…).

Which is the main pleasure of the strings? What are their main limitation?

The main advantage in utilizing strings is that they are flexible objects and because of that you can mold the sound utilizing techniques like bending, sliding (with bottleneck or not), tremolo and so on.
This bring to you an incredible variety of alternatives when you are elaborating a phrase or something.

I don´t see any limitation on this … only possibilities …but, of course, you could say: piano has a wider range of sound that you cannot approach with your guitar…
OK , if necessary, we could always invite our favorite keyboard player to join our project…

What instruments and tools do you use?

I have many instruments that I bought along the years.
I can say that my main one is a PRS custom 24, 10 top, made in 1991.
It is a very powerful instrument, very versatile indeed.
I have also other interesting tools like:
* Ibanez GB 10 and Ibanez AF 105, for jazzy sound
* Gibson Lucille and Dusemberd StarplayTV , other interesting semiacoustic sounds
* A Gibson SG Special with P90 and bigsby bridge (mostly for rhythm stuff) made in 1974
* A 1979 Fender Stratocaster 25th anniversary
* A master electric sitar (copy of the “coral guitar sitar” of the sixties ) made by luthier Jerry Jones
* An old Roland G 202 with the GR 300 Synth
I generally use a Mesa Boogie DC 3 as amplifier (or a Peavy bandit) and a bunch of pedals and devices, among them, I can point out an old Oberheim Echoplex and a BOSS RC 50 for looping porposes, a Digitech Wammy pedal and some Electro Harmonix stuff (super Ego, C9…)
Recently I Bought a Mini-nova Novation Synth that I am utilizing for triggering phrase sequences.

Selected Discography

Voluntarios da Patria
Baratos Afins 1984

Não São Paulo Akira S e as garotas que erraram 
Baratos Afins 1985

Akira S e as garotas que erraram
 Baratos Afins 1987

Álvos Móveis Álvos Móveis 
Suck my discs 1996

Slow Link Álvos Móveis
Voiceprint 2002

Desert Wind Giuseppe Frippi
Voiceprint 2010

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Scriabin again and again

Alexander Scriabin, Tatiana Schloezer and Leonid Sabaneev on the banks of the Oka

Faubion Bowers

For so long now — in fact until very recently — Alexander Scriabin has lived under the haze of public amnesia. Cloudily, he has existed in the memory as a series of half-remembered questions. Didn't he write a color symphony? Wasn't he Koussevitsky's friend? Didn't he invent the piano "poem," as Chopin the piano "nocturne" and Liszt the orchestral "poem"? Didn't he plan to destroy the world with his final piece of music, and didn't he believe World War I was a prelude to this magnum opus?

Didn't he strain his right hand and write for the left hand alone, long before it became the fashion? Wasn't he the one who first wrote musical directions, such as "poisonously," "satanically," or "with a chaste ardor"? What happened to his symphony of glances, perfumes, and caresses? Wasn't he the one who put "sex," as opposed to "ardor," "passion," or "love" in music? Didn't Strauss copy his "sex-in-sound" when he wrote that opening bedroom event in "Rosenkavalier"? Or was all this experimentation merely in the 19th century or fin de siècle air?

Every time Scriabin played a composition, he played it differently, depending on the mood of the day. The cover photo shows him emerging from his "trance" of composition, after putting the last trill on the "Poem of Fire."
Yes, all this was so. But lately, the world hears anew from Scriabin. His interpreters have sprouted like crocuses on a snowy spring morning. Sviatoslav Richter toured all America last year with Scriabin's Seventh Sonata, the "White Mass," the only Scriabin Stravinsky can stand. "It needed to be heard," Richter said.

Vladimir Horowitz made his comeback with Scriabin's Ninth Sonata, the "Black Mass," last year at Carnegie Hall. His next longawaited recital will feature Scriabin's supreme masterpiece— the Tenth Sonata. Lorin Maazel conducted the New York Philharmonic in the salacious "Poem of Ecstasy" (originally called "Orgiastic Poem") and critics scurried to give the piece belated encomia. Boston's Erich Leinsdorf revived the "Divine Poem" and carloads of auditors drove from all over to attend.

Meanwhile, dozens of YAPs (young American pianists) now include major Scriabin in their programs— Kunin, Hymovitz, Hammerman. And Van Cliburn encores his concerts with Scriabin showpieces— the Patetico in D' Minor, the Left-Hand Nocturne, a mazurka, a prelude, an etude.

Scriabin was the most unusual composer ever nurtured by Russia, and for good or for ill, he still stands as one of the rarest of musical innovators— and the most controversial. The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia says of him, "No composer has had more scorn heaped or greater love bestowed..."  

Vyacheslav Karatygin, the musicologist, stated that, "No name in Russian music awakened more passionate or more critical interest during a lifetime. For some, the word Scriabin smacks of fearsome madness. For others, and each year our number increases, he signifies the daring innovations of genius... yet he was a man bayoneted for his novelty."

Just what was Scriabin's newness in those Tsarist days? For one, he put "fire," "color," and "light" into his piano and orchestral music. He titled pieces "Dark Flames," "Towards the Flame," and his Fifth Symphony, "The Poem of Fire," was performed with a clavier of colored lights. The theme was inspired by Prometheus, who gave the flame of wisdom to man. Irving Kolodin once analyzed Scriabin's musical process as "rubbing tones together until they give off musical sparks."

Scriabin also incorporated the concept of "flight" in music... gusts of upsurge or vzlyot in Russian. He actually believed man could fly, could sail through the air unrestricted by gravity, and one of his page-long piano preludes is titled, "Winged Poem." He even contemplated incorporating an airplane machine into the orchestra for a symphonic poem, "Icarus." This was long before Honegger's "train" symphonic piece.

As for introducing sex into music, Scriabin went beyond the romanticism of Brahms and the magical gardens of female temptation in Wagner. He wrote erotically orgasmic music, titled, "Desire," "Danced Caress," and "Sensual Delights."

Scriabin searched ceaselessly for expressions of love in his music. His mistress, Tatiana Fyodorovna Schloezer, was as much tool to his work as object of passion. He wrote her in 1905 about the "Poem of Ecstasy":

"How you will envy me. You bemoan the fact that you cannot find new words for love and caresses. l have, though, and oh, what words they are! When I see you, I will speak them to you, which means I will play them for you. I have never made such love before."

Scriabin and Tatiana

Tatiana, Scriabin's wife during his last 11 years, was truly his muse. They were never legally married since his first wife refused a divorce. During Scriabin's tour of America (1906-07), he and Tatiana, like the Maxim Gorkys a few months earlier, were expelled from the U.S. for their unlegalized marital status.

Scriabin also poured a philosophical world-view and world-feelings into music. In 1905, he came across Blavatsky's "The Secret Doctrine," but its Theosophy came as no surprise. He had discovered much of the idea for himself, intuitively. Later, he branched into his own breed of mysticism based on a doctrine of the Will, the limitless ability of man to be God.

Madame Blavatsky

His words were often mystical and megalomaniacal.
I am come to tell you the secret of life
The secret of death
The secret of heaven and earth.

After 1903, he abandoned the traditional tonal system and boldly explored modernistic paths which prefigured some of Schoenberg, and which years later, Stravinsky copied. Scriabin was, in fact, the first serialist or composer to base a composition on a "set."

At times, Scriabin exposes some of the profoundest, most complex harmonies ever written— chords of ten tones, exquisitely distributed as in the first two pages of the Eighth Sonata, which also have a counterpoint of six strands going at once.

Some of the most sad-sweet, romantic melodies ever dreamed belong to Scriabin. Artur Rubinstein explains Scriabin's decline because of this very romance. "People," he said to me several years ago, "didn't want Scriabin because they didn't want romance or melody in music... they hadn't it in their lives."

Scriabin also started the fashion for music for the left hand. One summer, after Joseph Lhevinne had astonished the Moscow Conservatory with a virtuoso performance of Liszt's "Don Juan Fantasy," Scriabin competitively overpracticed. He strained his right hand so severely that doctors pronounced his career at an end. Scriabin continued to practice with his left hand, and the result was the wellknown solo music for the left hand. After long rest and the gentle cure of Mozart's light music, he resumed his concert and composing career. The power of the left hand pervaded Scriabin's music from then on, adding a texture of complexity and subtlety, and unfortunately considerable difficulties for an interpreter.

And last among his innovations, there is no doubt that Scriabin introduced madness into music. His last work, conceived but never finished, was the "Mysterium" (in the Greek meaning of the Eleusinian mysteries, or religious service), and it was to shatter the earth with its suppurating vibrations. It would begin with bells suspended from the clouds, and they would play ringing notes to summon the spectators.

Much has been written about mystical experiences deriving from Scriabin's music. High priestesses of the Scriabin cult have described visions of waves of light, of golden ships on violet oceans, and bolts of fire seen during performances of his music. Many of these reports come from mystics and Theosophists who are well- disposed to the suggestion. However, even the rationalist and positivist critic, Leonid Sabaneeff, was led to write:

"As Scriabin, the thaumaturge, played his secret and liturgical acts of compositions, even the passive listener began to feel currents. They stretched out and touched his psyche. This was not simply an artistic experience, but something more irrational, something that battered at the frontiers of art..."

The esteemed London critic, Ernest Newman, also saw Scriabin's light, and wrote of it in the London Times.
What others say they experience is one thing. What one experiences for oneself, of course, is more pertinent. In my own case, on two occasions, I have seen radiant flashes of blinding colored lights during performances of Scriabin's music. I neither expected them, nor was I able to repeat them when I tried. It was totally different from the "thrill" of sensation or "tears" of pleasure, those emotions more commonly associated with conventional music. They happened. I saw them for no explicable reason. I was more surprised than delighted. The experience has never come again but I have not forgotten it.

Vera Ivanovna Isakovich-Scriabin

This experience convinces me that Scriabin's music adjusts or negotiates human sensibilities in a mysterious and intuitive manner. He tapped sources as yet poorly documented or understood. My detached and disinterested opinion, resulting from a study of Scriabin's life and its crystallization into a music of unique sounds and incredible conceptions, affirms this strangeness... and delight.

Like Christ, Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin was born on Christmas Day and died at Easter. Scriabinists make much of this coincidence. During his lifespan of forty-three years, from 1871 to 1915, Scriabin himself did nothing to discourage the homology with the Messiah, although he could hardly foresee the final seal of Easter.

Scriabin was a small, elegant, beautifully handsome man, frail, always pale, a little greenish even, it is said, behind luxuriant, officerlike, trained moustaches. His beard was sparse but it hid the Scriabin cleft. He sported these hirsute displays from his early twenties, and they seemed not so much to express the Slavic custom and conviction as to conceal his feminine softness. Everyone noticed his politeness and mannered tenderness, his modest and apologetic air.

But beneath it all, Scriabin was a nest of nervous gestures and idiosyncrasies. He lived in fear of infection and contamination. He would don an overcoat to open a window. If someone wore a fur coat, he wouldn't breathe its air or go near the person. He washed his hands constantly, even after shaking hands, and often wore gloves inside the house. He never dressed casually, even at home, but always in elegant high fashion.


But all of this existed under a covering of total charm and the sweetest of manners. Sabaneeff, his greatest biographer, describes him, as he appeared in 1910:

"How elegantly polite and delicate he was! And in those very qualities, the people who surrounded him with friendship were placed at a distance. It always struck me how through politeness he could put a million kilometers between himself and his conversational partner. Everyone was sweet to his face when they were with him— even those who minutes earlier had made the most appalling allegations... He was now very much a man a la mode. Clusters of people swarmed around him, like rings around Saturn... "

Scriabin (sitting on the left of the table) as a guest at Wladimir Metzl's home in Berlin, 1910

Rare exhibitions of temper occurred invariably, however, when the status of art or the position of the artist was imperiled. On this subject Scriabin was adamant.

Ruling omnipotently over the earth
Come all peoples everywhere
To Art.
Let us sing its praises

chorused his First Symphony. He repeatedly said to friends, students, the press, and biographers: "Tsars must kneel to art," "Art can change the face of the whole world," "The artist is higher than the Tsar, so kings must bow before him."

Anyone reviewing Scriabin's life can not help but be dazzled by the host of golden, shining personalities glittering around him. Today, the events read like a celebrity roster. Scriabin had a capacity for extraordinary friendships, despite his distance and psychic remoteness.

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Brilliance surrounded him from the very beginning. His mother had been a Gold Medalist pupil of Theodore Leschetizsky. Then at seven, Scriabin's aunt took the boy to Anton Rubinstein, head of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, who advised her "not to push... everything will come to him of its own accord." His student years in the 1880's at the Moscow Conservatory were spent with fellow students such as Joseph Hofmann, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Joseph Lhevinne, Bronislaw Huberman, Modest Altschuler, all of whom were pianists, composers, violinists, conductors, who would later become, like Scriabin, world-famous.

Vassily Safonoff, known to Americans as conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1903 to 1919, was Scriabin's piano leacher and mentor. "He is very, very great... a great pianist and a great composer," he often said of Scriabin. When Safonoff conducted Scriabin's Second Symphony for the first time, he waved the score at the orchestra and said, "Here is the new Bible, gentlemen... "

Leo Tolstoi

The young student Scriabin came to the notice of Leo Tolstoi, writer-idol of all the Russias. "How sincere he is, and sincerity above all else is precious," exclaimed Tolstoi after hearing Scriabin play one short prelude. "From this single piece, you can tell he is a great artist... "

With Rachmaninoff, two years Scriabin's junior, a lifelong relationship developed which sparked with real and imagined antagonisms. It was always a "friendship," despite the insidious efforts of cliques surrounding the two.

In 1901, a rumor spread through musical Moscow and St. Petersburg that Rachmaninoff had made a public jibe at Scriabin. The occasion was the first performance of the First Symphony conducted by Safonoff. Rachmaninoff was heard to have said, "I had thought Scriabin a simple swine, but it seems he's gone and turned himself into a composer after all." Rachmaninoff disclaimed the remark, but a quarrel between their two factions spread.

On one side were the nationalists, with Rachmaninoff espousing Russian themes and folk music as a source of inspiration. On the other, Scriabin and the cosmopolitans, universalists, and internationalists in music. Once in a bilious moment and with pointed reference to Rachmaninoff, Scriabin wrote his publisher, "Is it possible that I am not a Russian composer, just because I don't write overtures and capriccios on Russian themes? "

Years later, Scriabin even attacked his youthful god, Chopin, for being nationalistic. "Not even the tragic break with Georges Sand," he wrote, "could precipitate a new note in Chopin's creations... He was overpowered by nationalism; it was too deeply rooted in him... "

Trying to quiet the scandal between Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, the two men appeared together on the same platform in 1911. Rachmaninoff conducted the Moscow Philharmonic in Scriabin's First Symphony (the "swine" one) and accompanied him in his Concerto. The rest of the program was Rachmaninoff music conducted by himself. But only with Scriabin's death did the gossip end. Then Rachmaninoff made a grand tour of Russia in a series of all-Scriabin programs. It was the first time he ever played music other than his own in public, and was the beginning of his spectacular concert career so famous in its day. The money from these concerts was given to Tatiana and her three children.

Zverev (center) and the students he housed, from left to right, Samuelson, Scriabin, Maximov, Rachmaninoff, Chernyaev, Keneman, and Pressman.

Nikolai Zverev, the finest music teacher in Moscow was also the most notorious homosexual of his day (despite the Russian axiom, "Everything in private, nothing in public"). The greatest talents of the generation attended his school. In this class photo, left to right: Samuelson, Scriabin, Maximov, Rachmaninoff, Chernyaev, Keneman, Pressman.

This very tour, however, produced other rifts. Sergei Prokofiev, then a young pianist and composer just coming into fame, describes an incident in St. Petersburg in 1915:

"When Scriabin played the Fifth Sonata, every note soared. With Rachmaninoff, all the notes lay on the ground. This performance caused considerable agitation. Alchevskii, the tenor, a friend of Scriabin's, cried out, 'I'm going backstage to tell him how it should be played!' "I tried to be objective, and pointed out that although we were used to Scriabin's own playing and preferred it, obviously there were other possible interpretations and performances. I held him by the coattails, but was dragged along to the artist's room where he grabbed Rachmaninoff.

After the explosion, I tried to soothe the ruffled Rachmaninoff by saying, 'All the same, Sergei Vassilievich, you played it very well.' Rachmaninoff froze in his tracks, and replied icily, 'You, and you thought I could play badly?'"

Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff never spoke to each other again.

The composer Anatol Liadov was another jewel in Scriabin's neck" lace of celebrities. His charming fragment, "The Enchanted Lake," so well-known here, gives little notion of the autocratic musical power he wielded in Russia. His letters to Scriabin began, "Ever dear and sweet... " and ended "... I kiss you warmly..." But this affection ran rough at times. Once in 1909, during an evening party in St. Petersburg, the usual high-flown discussion had been about the ultimate meaning of art and its new esthetic directions.

Scriabin was carried away and became incautious of his megalomania. He cried out, "I am the creator of a new art world... I am God!" Liadov, the gentle and loving, tapped him on the shoulder. "And quite, my dear," he said, "but just which kind of a god are you? A cock-of-thewalk, that's what!" Scriabin was dumbstruck with embarrassment, but smiled that famous smile which melted opponents. The other guests laughed nervously. The Liadov-Scriabin friendship survived. "... Ever dear... I miss you... "

Anatol Liadov

Scriabin's self-elected mission of bending the world to his artistic purpose was no secret. As Sabaneeff wrote, " this frightening, luxuriant, spiritual hothouse of Scriabin's private life, the heady atmosphere was poisonously sweet— like an opium den. The most infectious and dangerous flower of all was the idea of Scriabin's own selfdeification. This thought was never expressed en toutes lettres. But it always hovered about us, and we were always vaguely conscious of it."

One of the most glowingly documented adorations of Scriabin was given by the Pasternak family. Leonid Pasternak, then Moscow's most fashionable portrait painter— Tolstoi, Rachmaninoff, Rilke, Verhaeren, Scriabin, and later, Lenin— was the father of the now celebrated Boris Pasternak. In both autobiography and poems, Boris refers to Scriabin: "My god and idol... I loved him to distraction... charming elegance, the air of fine breeding... Iucidly serene and restfully calm... not only a composer, but an occasion for perpetual congratulation, a personified festival and triumph of Russian culture."

drawing by Pasternak

In this famous Pasternak drawing, Koussevitsky leads the Moscow symphony, with Scriabin as soloist.

An even more important and devastating friendship was with Sergei Koussevitsky, later conductor of the Boston Symphony. From 1909, the two men provided food for several years for Moscow's voracious musical gossip-mongers.

"I would not have perished without Koussevitsky," Scriabin said after the relationship was broken, "but he surely would have without me."

Koussevitsky had built his career on Scriabin's then glistening reputation. By 1909 Scriabin was a god of sorts, and Koussevitsky a much disliked man. He had married, for the second time, an heiress to a fairyland fortune of tea, chemicals, and ordnance factories. He was disliked by the Moscow bourgeoisie because he was a parvenu; yet was spurned by musical circles because he was a representative of that bourgeoisie.

Koussevitsky used his incredible supply of money widely and wisely for the purpose of establishing himself. His salary as a doublebass player in the Bolshoi orchestra during his first marriage had been the equivalent of $50 a month. Now, he announced plans of building a Koussevitsky Symphony Hall, and one summer he hired the entire Bolshoi Symphony for a trip down the Volga.

Rimski Korsakov

Koussevitsky believed in Scriabin's "Mysterium," that great final cataclysm, and bought the rights to publish, perform, and possess it when it would be completed, at 5,000 rubles a year for five years. It was to synthesize all the arts of sound, sight, scent, and touch, and be performed with orchestra, voice, shafts and columns of constantly changing lights, miming, fragrances, and intoxicating smokes!


"Others were afraid to play much Scriabin," Sabaneeff wrote of the time, "the piano music was too difficult and the orchestral pieces too complicated... But Koussevitsky gambled and his lucky number came up."

The combination of the two great artists electrified Moscow, and helped dissolve somewhat the hostility towards Koussevitsky. His ability had an outlet through Scriabin's creativity, and he communicated, superlatively, the magic and mystery of the Scriabinic scores. He gave "Prometheus " an unprecedentedly expensive hearing— nine rehearsals. For it, he introduced to Russia the custom of program notes. For the "Poem of Ecstasy," he hung garlands of little electric light bulbs from the proscenium. "Frightfully vulgar," Scriabin murmured, "but never mind... "

Then came a financial misunderstanding. Koussevitsky paid Scriabin a thousand rubles ($500) for ten concerts during the famous Volga trip. "A scandal... I received more when I was student," Scriabin protested. Koussevitsky in a fit of rage sent Scriabin a bill for 13,000 rubles to recover his advances on the "Mysterium." Sabaneeff relates the Scriabin version of the altercation vividly:

"I said to Koussevitsky when he asked for so much money back, 'Who are you? And now compare it with who l am.'

"And do you know what he said? 'I've done a lot for you.' He... had done a lot?!

"I said to him that he and all like him ought to rejoice at the chance to work with creative artists such as myself and not carry on in this disgraceful fashion. Ludwig of Bavaria would have endured anything from Wagner. That pricked him. He answered, 'Ludwig was only a king, and I am an artist.' those were my words that he spoke, my very words that I had said to him long ago. He threw them back at me, all to serve his own purpose."

After the break, Koussevitsky still continued to perform Scriabin. The reputation of both men grew. Koussevitsky worked for a while under the Bolsheviks, then finally resigned. He came to America, after an exile in France, and in his debut program performed, successfully and sensationally, the "Poem of Ecstasy."

Serge Diaghilev, that dedicated propagandist of Russian ballet and music and art, also was once the butt of Scriabin's wrath. The place was Paris, and the year 1907. The occasion was the famous six concerts of "Great Russian Historical Music (from Glinka to Scriabin)". It was Diaghilev's custom, since he was the patron of the concerts, to send complimentary tickets to the stars. And every star of all Russia was there. "If a bomb exploded," someone said, "there would be no more Russian music."

For or one concert, Scriabin's tickets arrived late at the hotel. During the intermission, according to Yuri Engel, yet another Scriabin biographer, Scriabin "delicately and diffidently" mentioned this inconvenience. "How late you sent the tickets... I almost missed them."

"Say 'thank you' that I sent them at all," snapped the massive, fleshy Diaghilev towering over diminutive Scriabin. "I could just as easily have not sent them at all." Engel details the ensuing scene:

What had become of our gentle Alexander Nikolaevich? He threw himself at Diaghilev, screamed almost hysterically, but somehow held onto his dignity. 'You allow yourself to talk this way to me! You forget art. We are artists. We create it, and you, you merely fidget and strut about its edges selling it. Without us who would want even to know you? You would be less than... than nothing on earth!'

Diaghilev was mortified. He bowed his head, saying, 'Yes, Alexander Nikolaevich. Yes, it is you. I... I am nothing."'

Diaghilev's quick yielding was as extraordinary to his friends as polite Scriabin's outburst was to his.
photo: Scriabin's desk

Scriabin's Moscow apartment is now a national museum. He often composed standing at the lectern-work table. The rocking chair was his favorite. He, not guests, ocupied it.

Scriabin's dining room

After music and high-flown philosophy, guests gathered in the dining room for dry cake, pirozhki (pastry stuffed with meat), tea out of glasses, and Georgian wines.

Scriabin's last years belonged to Moscow, Petersburg, and the provinces on concert tours. He was more than a curiosity. Veneration had set in. "The proud idea of Scriabin as man-god places the human soul in the center of the universe like the sun," wrote B. V. Asafiev, the musicologist. Scriabin's seven-room apartment was a mecca for foreign visitors— Gordon Craig, Albert Coates, Emil Cooper, Pablo Casals, Ferruccio Busoni — but it was also a center for Russians. These contrasted from the old aristocracy with its pitterpat of princes and princesses, to the people of the theatre, to the symbolist poets.

Poets formed a special part of Scriabin's life. He was, after all, himself a poet. The whole literary temperament of the period revolved around these symbolists— Ivanov, Blok, Baltrushaitis, Bryussov, Biely. And they all wrote and spoke about Scriabin. Balmont, the giant redheaded leader of the movement, sang in a pamphlet called "Light and Sound in Nature and the Color Symphony of Scriabin":

"Scriabin is the singing of a falling moon. Starlight in music. A flame's movement. A burst of sunlight. The cry of soul to soul... a singing illumination of the air itself, in which he himself is a captive child of the gods... All his music is light itself."

The intelligentsia also all knew Balmont's often quoted description of Scriabin's playing: "It is not a piano he plays, but a beautiful woman, and he caresses her."

Scriabin by then was truly renowned, musically famous the world over. Pianists were brought to him for approbation. Artur Rubinstein was presented at 17. He wanted to be a "Scriabinist," as the term then went fashionably. So was Vladimir Horowitz, who in actual fact has become something of a Scriabinist with several magnificent recordings of the music to his credit.

Works by other composers were brought to Scriabin's desk for comment, approval, or help. Behind his facade of politeness, his judgments of others were harsh and contemptuous. He called Prokofiev "trash," Rachmaninoff "boiled ham" (his music, that is), and he detested Stravinsky. "Minimum tvorchestva," a minimum of creativity, he said of him, implying a maximum of fabrication. "How busy Petrushka is. It's a toy, a plaything. What a mass of insolence... minimum tvorchestva."

Suddenly Scriabin's life had run its course at the height of his powers. On his deathbed, when a pimple on his lip had turned into a furuncle and this in turn led to blood poisoning, Scriabin called out "etokatastrofa" (this is a catastrophe). He meant simply he had not finished his "Mysterium."

Easter week of 1915 was blazingly sunlit. The bells rang all day. And Scriabin's funeral was a social affair. Mountains of flowers covered the coffin. All Moscow attended. Jams of people lined up outside the apartment and the church. For Scriabin's friends, the intimate circle, his death was tragic. As Sabaneeff wrote, "Our sun had gone out. We the satellites had no planet."

After the October Revolution of 1917, a violent reaction set in in Russia against Scriabin. He was denounced as an "enemy of socialism" and Shostakovich called him "our bitterest musical enemy." By 1932 however, Scriabin's ghost was reprieved from its prison of hate. Today in Soviet Russia you can hear all-Scriabin recitals, and they will be completely sold out. Several musical schools carry his name, and his melodies are incorporated copiously in sound tracks of Soviet movies.

Now in the U.S., after an interlude in public performances of his music, to quote Horowitz, "the time has come for a re-hearing of Scriabin's music which has so vastly enriched our piano literature."

To today's listener, Scriabin still touches nerves of esthetic beauty. Both consciously and unconsciously he explored the furtherest reaches of musical possibility. He was one of the strangest phenomena that ever existed in music, and he returns to us again and again.

A cloud of followers and friends (and enemies) trooped after Scriabin's coffin to the fashionable Novodevichy cemetery (where the first scene of "Boris Gudonov" is set) high in the Sparrow Hills, where Naploeon first saw "Mouscou, cité Asiatique... ".

Listen to Scriabin's music on the enclosed record, as played especially for Aspen Magazine by Daniel Kunin.


Christian Wolff on Feldman
John Cage and David Tudor - Music in the Technological Age (September 15, 2015)

John Cage and Morton Feldman In Conversation (September 8, 2015)
4'33'' Cage for guitar by Revoc (July 10, 2015)
John Cage: An Autobiographical Statement (May 22, 2015)
Angle(s) VI John Cage (April 30, 2015)
Morton Feldman (March 16, 2015)
Morton Feldman and painting (October 3, 2014)


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Solo Gig The Critical Sound

The Critical Sound

I`m extrapolating this phrase from the military historian John Keegan, who has noted in both animals and people a “critical distance”, a physical space in an encounter across which two entities evaluate each other as either benign or threatending.  “The fight or flight” scenario.

In music making, this is a moment of sonic crisis. It could be the point where a player or players won´t stop running their hot riffs or chord changes; and it´s dragging on the unity that the group is requiring while en route to Jupiter.

Conversely, it could be a situation where the whole group is improvising beneath its potential. Playing lazy; hanging around grooves.  Jam session. Modal noodling in A minor. Not listening deeply enough. 
At some juncture a player interrupts the proceedings with all the sonic divergence necessary to force a departure from whatever was previously going on. Attack-mode creative intervention – which could be anything that doesn´t injure anyone- is often a good idea when confronted by improvisational loafing.
If neither player (or faction of players) backs down, it can sometimes work for these two incompatible components to go on in juxtaposition together. In fact, it can sometimes turn out  quite nicely as a type of sound collage, for a minute anyway.
With improvisation, insurgency is often a function of the sonic immune system.

Photos by Man Ray
 Dave Williams


01.- Call it anything you want
02.- Concerning accidents
03.- Dislike of musical noise explained
04.- Choo-Choo
05.- Truth in music appretiation
06.- What is musical free improvisation
07.- Our Universe
08.- Working Jung's Riff
09.- Preferences
10.- When it's our of our hands
11.- Glad we didn't order the special
12.- Working Jung's Riff
13.- Know the enemy
14.- The mutable form
15.- Concerning Inmortality
16.- Mach Numbers
17.- Conditionalities of Quietude
18.- Then and now
19.- Why not Sneeze
20.- We Passed Jupiter and Then Headed North
21.- Product Placement
22.- Coming under Fire
23.- Longevity of the Unpredictable
24.- Signal Intelligence
25.- FUBAR to the Rescue
26.- What Was That?
27.- The Sonata Came much Later
28.- Coming Under Fire
An Unlikely Crisis
30.- The Huge Flummox Factor

Based in a noted musician's decades of personal experiences, his book Solo Gig: Essential Curiosities in Musical Free Improvisation (CreateSpace  Independent Publishing Platform, 2011) examines some crucial and  far-reaching aspects of musical free  improvisation, with particular  regard to live performances.  In this  illustrated collection of  narrative essays, the author looks both into  and from inside this  uniquely paradoxical, challenging and rewarding way  of making music,  within the context of an inherently eccentric milieu. 

Available here. (U.S.A.) (Europe)