How to conjure the spirit of Lucy in three steps, via telephone by Alessandro Perini
Analysis by Fabio Machiavelli
Prefer a PDF version? Click here to download.
For the score in PDF and the video of the piece, go to the dedicated page.
Here you find the original Italian text of the analysis.
1. Introductory notes to the piece
How to conjure the spirit of Lucy in three steps, via telephone is a piece for two performers and electronics composed by Alessandro Perini between 2020 and 2021 and written for the Duo Dubois. The composition’s title, as stated by the composer himself, is a direct reference to the diptych by Gian Carlo Menotti, composed of the one-act opera The Telephone, or L’Amour à Trois and the two-act opera The Medium. In the first of the two, the protagonist is Lucy, constantly engaged in long and articulate telephone conversations, which follow one after the other relentlessly. Ben, the second character in the opera, tries in vain several times to get Lucy’s attention, finally managing to make himself heard by the latter only by calling her through a telephone booth.
The Medium, on the other hand, tells of a fake psychic, Madame Flora, who, to make a living, stages fake séances through which clients are apparently able to talk to their deceased loved ones. During one of these séances, the fake medium convinces herself that she has indeed conjured up a spirit, but she cannot make the other characters believe her. At the end of the play, during her hunt for the invoked spirit, Madame Flore kills Toby, her daughter’s friend, thinking she has shot the evoked ghost.
The relationship between Menotti’s diptych and Perini’s piece is thus evident in the composer’s own words:
“By listening to this piece you will attend a séance session where the two performers will try to conjure and communicate with the spirit of Lucy. Lucy is best known as the protagonist of one of the most famous one-act operas by Gian Carlo Menotti, “The Telephone”, which was originally presented in a diptych with another similar work by Menotti, “The Medium”. The séance session makes use of specially built ritual drums as well as ubiquitous sound sources in order to invite the spirit of Lucy to a live chat with the musicians on stage.”
2. Instrumentation description
The piece features electronics in the form of several tapes, and two performers. All instruments are amplified by means of two condenser microphones, one for each performer, and are diffused via at least two loudspeakers, which act as a synthesis point between tapes and acoustic instruments.
2.1 Performer I: instrumentation
Performer I (as indicated in the score) uses a prepared alto saxophone and a speaker. For the saxophone, the neck is replaced with a structure made using a 3D printer, the function of which is to house a mini speaker, which is then installed in the upper hole of the instrument’s body, and for which the instrument itself functions as a resonance and filtering medium. The bell of the instrument is prepared with the latex of a balloon cut out and fixed around its circumference; the latex must be secured in such a way as to ensure sufficient tension to create a sort of small drum.
The speaker outside the saxophone, on the other hand, consists of an approximately 5″ cone and is powered by a specific amplifier that receives the signal from the device used to play the score; this, in fact, consists of a video synchronised with some audio files, which, in the case of performer I, are two and are redirected respectively to the external speaker and to the mini-speaker inside the saxophone.
A single condenser microphone amplifies the instruments used by Performer I. The performer is called upon to use the saxophone sometimes with a partially ordinary technique, e.g. by performing specific fingerings, sometimes by acting directly on the latex with which the bell is prepared; both in the case of the saxophone and in the case of the speaker, it is necessary to move the instruments in space, according to the indications in the score, in order to obtain variations in timbre depending on the different positions they assume with respect to the microphone; in this regard, the performer is also called upon to position the instrument in such a way as to bring the hole from which the sound reproduced by the mini-speaker comes out most closely to the microphone. In the last part of the piece, the external speaker is pressed against the cheek, so the oral cavity acts as a filter for the played tape.
2.2 Performer II: instrumentation
Performer II uses a prepared Tibetan bell, a kalimba, a piece of sandpaper and a speaker. The Tibetan bell, whose fundamental should be C, is prepared in a similar manner to the saxophone bell; the latex of a cut balloon is used to construct a kind of small drum, of which the bell constitutes the body and the latex the skin. The instrument prepared in this way is operated with the same techniques used for the saxophone bell; however, the specific instrumental techniques will be better investigated in the relevant chapter.
The sandpaper must be bound to a stable support and is used by rubbing its surface with a hard metal brush.
The Kalimba, which must be able to perform the notes A and C, has no preparation elements and is used in an ordinary way.
The speaker, exactly as with Performer I, consists of a 5″ cone, and is powered by a specific amplifier which receives the audio signal directly from the sound card. The use to be made of it by the performer is similar to that described for performer I.
2.3 Technical sheet
The technical sheet involves the use of a central computer, which via a sound card, distributes a tape directly to the loudspeakers on stage and a specific tape to the speaker used by the performer II. The computer monitor is also used by Performer II to display a video score, synchronised with the tapes. The performer I can use an external device, such as a tablet, or a second monitor driven by the central computer, to display the video score; the device used for this purpose will also use the mini-jack output to distribute a stereo audio file, whose two channels will be distributed, through the appropriate amplifier, to the mini-speaker inside the saxophone and to the speaker used by Performer I; in this case, the two performers will have to synchronise the start of the video score. A mixer receives the tape and the signal from the two microphones, redirecting it to at least two loudspeakers positioned on the stage, close to the performers.
3. Instrumental techniques
The use of preparation for alto saxophone and tibetan bell and the use of speakers as modulated sound generators (not only by means of tape or control of the sound source, but also by direct manipulation of the performer on the object), necessitate the development of specific instrumental techniques that take into account the possibilities and limitations of the instruments used.
3.1 Prepared instruments with latex (Perfomer I e II)
As for the prepared saxophone bell and the prepared tibetan bell, the two objects are both transformed into two small drums equipped with a particularly elastic skin; this structural sharing allows the elaboration of a shared instrumental technique, effective on both instruments.
The latex surface of both instruments is divided into three performance zones, coinciding with the ordinary positions of percussion membranophones: centre, ordinary (usually half the length of the radius), and rim. The positions are marked in the score by explicit indication.
The percussive action of the fingers on the latex skin is noted as much in the actual percussive action (the moment when the skin is touched) as in the release action, as the latter also produces sound. Latex, in fact, reacts to percussive actions, but also to those of rubbing and release. Arrows allow us to understand the alternation of the two gestures (percussion/contact and release), and the duration of the moment of contact between fingertip and latex, which must correspond to the value of the notes marked with the downward arrow. The increase in pressure of the fingertip against the latex is indicated with a line that opens in a sort of fork; this allows the realisation of variations in the perceived pitch of the gestures performed on the skin with the other hand. The actions corresponding to the two hands are noted on two separate lines.
The action of rubbing on the skin with the fingertip in notated with a flat head note. The action can be performed either in a circular direction or by ‘drawing’ a straight line. Sometimes the rubbing changes gradually and ends with a single stroke.
If the flat head note is directed upwards, the performer must release the skin as soon as the sound is produced; this also allows the gesture to be executed quickly and ad libitum.
The last two playing techniques required for instruments prepared with latex are the execution of a tremolo (by vibrating the hand) in conjunction with the rubbing sound, indicated with an arrow with a wavy body, and the action of plucking the latex, indicated with wedge-head notes.
3.2 The 5” speaker (Perfomer I e II)
As described in the previous chapter, both performers are equipped with a 5″ speaker, which are driven by their respective amplifiers and re-amplified by means of microphoning.
The two cones play tapes synchronised with the performers video scores and are manipulated by the performers in order to modulate the reproduced sound.
There are two playing techniques developed for speakers; the first consists of moving the speaker away from the microphone and closer to it, so as to achieve a crescendo/decrescendo effect, depending on movement, and is noted on a system based on two lines. The lower line indicates a position of the speaker far enough away from the microphone so that the latter is not able to amplify any sound reproduced at all; the upper line, on the other hand, indicates a position of extreme proximity of the speaker to the microphone capsule, so that amplification is maximum and returns strong dynamics. Although the technique is described in the legend in terms of returned dynamics, it is known that the variation of the speaker’s spatial coordinates with respect to the microphone do not only translate into variations of dynamics, but, more generally, into variations of the overall timbre, for example by returning an effect of more or less marked proximity, or of remoteness.
The second playing technique developed for the speaker involves using the oral cavity to resonate and filter the tape. The performer has to press the speaker against his cheek with a lot of pressure and has to make with his lips and oral cavity the movements that one would naturally make in order to pronounce the words and phrases marked in the score, but without actually pronouncing anything, thus without producing sound. At the end of each word and phrase, the performer must “freeze” the position corresponding to the last pronounced phoneme. Sometimes the phrases follow a precise rhythm. Sometimes there is an overall duration within which the text can be freely read.
3.3 The prepared saxophone with mini-speaker (Performer I)
While the mini-speaker inserted in the upper hole of the saxophone’s body autonomously plays the associated tape, the performer acts on the instrument by making two types of gestures: ordinary fingerings, and movements of the instruments in the space.
As far as fingerings are concerned, they are performed in the ordinary sense by the performer; they interact with the tape by modulating its sound. Therefore, the instrument functions both as resonance body for the tape and as an active and variable filter. Added to the sound of the tape filtered by the instrument is the sound of the key clicks, generally indicated in the score by forte.
The second technique used, i.e. moving the saxophone in space, makes it possible to vary the spatial coordinates of the same with respect to the microphone; this gesture, to be performed in conjunction with a continuous gesture of opening and closing the holes, this time limiting the dynamics of the key clicks as much as possible, acts in a similar manner to that seen for the displacement of the cone in paragraph 3.2. In this case, no movements from very far to very close to the microphone are marked in the score, but only a “fluid movement” that realises a change in the resulting timbre. The saxophone must also be moved in order to expose the holes from which the sound comes out to the microphone.
3.4 Other playing techniques used
Other techniques involve the use of a brush and a metal sponge on the sandpaper.
Thus, the sandpaper is rubbed with a single gesture by the sponge, while the metal brush performs either a circular rubbing on it, or a single gesture of rapidly increasing and decreasing pressure, in order to obtain a single sound as detached as possible, or a continuous gesture of varying pressure that produces a continuous sound.
3.5 Reflection on the internal variability of elaborated techniques
It is sometimes possible that the development of specific techniques, generated by the need to respond to needs or possibilities resulting from the preparation of instruments, has the side effect of producing such specific gestures with a moderately narrow margin of variability. This obviously depends from time to time specifically on the instruments used and the techniques required.
To make a comparison between opposite extremes, where the extremes are, on the one hand, the realisation of a specific pitch, hence a note, by means of an ordinary instrument, and on the other hand, the realisation of an extremely specific sound, the parameters of which are strictly determined by the writing, the effectiveness and success of which depends on the performer’s attention to detail required by the composer, it is possible, but not necessary, that the more we move towards this last extreme, the more the margin of variability of this same techniques would be extremely small.
The variability of a specific technique, however, does not necessarily depend on the freedom in terms of the possibility of its realisation, but also on the possibility of varying its parameters even within the writing itself; thus, a variability not necessarily dependent on interpretative possibilities, but also on the possibility of manipulating the techniques themselves during the writing phase.
Thus, it is possible to investigate the techniques realised by Perini for this piece from this perspective, trying to identify the variability margins used (which do not necessarily coincide with the potential variability margins).
For this purpose, it was decided to analyse two different techniques: the execution of percussive strokes on the instruments prepared with latex; the approaching and moving away of the 5″ speaker from the microphone.
The hits to be performed on the latex of prepared instruments are, of the two mentioned above, the technique that probably presents the widest margin of variability, both in terms of variability in the execution phase by the performer and in terms of variability in terms of modification of the parameters in the writing phase. The percussive technique used in general on these instruments enjoys all the possibilities of variation and manipulation typical of similar techniques applied to ordinary instruments (drums of various kinds, percussion membranophones in general). In fact, all the specific parameters that modulate the sound can be controlled: intensity of the gesture; perceived relative pitch (through pressure on the latex); speed; quality of touch (articulations such as staccato and accent can be requested). Furthermore, the perfomer has control over the entire process of sound production and variation of the parameters described above, being able to effectively realise the gestural variations in the score.
With regard to the use of the 5″ speaker, even the act of moving it in space, of varying its spatial co-ordinates in relation to the microphone, presents a margin of variability, which is actively exploited by the composer. In this case, it is not possible to control the quality ‘of the touch’, or the intensity of the reproduced sound; however, it is possible to modulate its speed, for example, by creating more or less sudden gestures, with more or less accentuated dynamic ramps. In fact, in the score, the composer indicates the movement to be made by the cone by graphically creating ramps to imitate its behavior.
The comparison between the two techniques makes the differences in terms of their margin of variability evident; while the former, which is essentially the recovery of “traditional” techniques applied to “non-traditional” instruments, presents a rather wide range of variability, which is indeed exploited within the piece, the latter, more specific and bound to the very medium to which it is applied, presents a lesser, though not absent, margin. However, it is important to note how a technique that is more specific and more constrained to the medium to which it relates does not manifest itself without elements of variation, but rather emphasises the smaller margin of variability it offers, making it a characteristic element. Therefore, the reflection on the margins of variability that a specific instrumental technique offers is not aimed at highlighting a hypothetical supremacy of more malleable techniques over less malleable ones, but rather at emphasising how effectiveness is possibly to be sought even within the very limits of a technique used.
4. The instrumental apparatus and the overall system as a synthesis point
As we have seen in the previous chapter, instrumental technique does not only concern the acoustic instrument, but instead interacts with more complex systems that integrate instruments with their preparation, with microphonation and thus their amplification, but also with tape, when they function as resonance body and filtering tool, and again with electronics itself, when objects designed for sound diffusion are transformed into manipulable sound generators.
Therefore, the instrument must no longer be considered as a medium in its own right, integrating and encompassing the generation of sound, its manipulation and its diffusion, but rather as part of a more complex apparatus that concerns the entire sound production system, from the source, to all the intermediate levels, both those constituted by acoustic objects and/or instruments, as well as those based on electronic components in any declination, up to the final diffusion of sound.
In the specific case of How to Conjure the Spirit of Lucy in Three Steps, via telephone, it is possible to identify two separate instrumental apparatuses, or if you wish, two recognisable structures within a more complex apparatus, coinciding with the set of materials and set-ups used by the two performers, and the overall system/equipment that integrates the whole and ends with the diffusion of sound.
4.1 Perfomer I: relationship with one’s instrumental apparatus
As far as the performer I is concerned, as we have seen, the prepared saxophone and the 5″ speaker are the materials on which it acts.
From this point of view, the saxophone has a dual function: starting point in the process of sound genesis, and intermediate part of another chain of sound production. When the saxophone is played through an action on the latex, it constitutes itself as the first element of sound production in the instrument-microphone-diffusion system; in this specific case, therefore, we have an instrumental action that generates a sound of an acoustic nature, its microphonation and thus amplification, and its diffusion through loudspeakers. In this sense, the sound production process follows an ordinary pattern whereby amplification is the enhancement, i.e., the extension of strictly acoustic instrumental capabilities. When, on the other hand, the saxophone is used as a means of resonance and filtering, it no longer has the role of the primary object of sound production but intervenes in a more complex chain consisting of the speaker/tape – saxophone – microphone – diffusion system; thus, the saxophone is inserted as a means of acoustic filtering between two elements of an electronic nature: the tape and the instrument’s microphonation. We are thus witnessing an inversion of what could be considered “typical roles”: the role of “acoustic sound source” is replaced by the digital sound source constituted by the tape reproduced by means of the mini speaker, and the role of electronic filtering medium (as could be done, for example, through the use of live electronics) is replaced by the mechanical filtering of the acoustic instrument. Thus, the result of the electronic/musical instrument interaction is microphoned and then amplified and brought back to an electronic domain by means of diffusion through the main loudspeakers.
The second system used by Performer I consists of the 5″ speaker, its microphonation and final diffusion. Here again, a non-electronic component intervenes in manipulating the electronic sound source: the performer’s action on the cone. This second system, from a certain point of view, extends the sound modulation capabilities of the microphone system, as it sees the interaction between the speaker and the microphone itself as the means of sound manipulation: the human action of moving the speaker with respect to the microphone constitutes the “filter” of this system. Actually, this was already the case with the saxophone, which in fact, has to be moved with respect to the microphone in order to obtain timbre variations of the sound reproduced by the mini-speaker and filtered (see Figure 11).
The speaker also realises a third system, or if we want a variant of the second, when its sound is filtered by the performer’s oral cavity. Thus, the generic system can be seen as speaker – performer – microphonation – diffusion, where the performer first declines in the manual movement of the speaker, and then in the filtering of the tape through the oral cavity. When the system is realised in this second configuration, the observations made for the mini-speaker/tape – saxophone – microphonation – diffusion system become equally valid; the oral cavity takes over from the saxophone both in its role as acoustic resonance medium and in its role as acoustic filtering instrument.
4.2 Perfomer II: relationship with the instrumental apparatus
The first of the instrumental apparatuses that Performer II uses is constituted in the multi-percussion – microphone – diffusion set system. This system replicates that represented by the saxophone when used as a percussion instrument, and the previous observations therefore apply. Acoustic instruments function as primary means of sound production, as generators of sound, and through amplification, certain qualities are enhanced and thus extended.
The second apparatus is the 5″ speaker – performer – microphone – diffusion system. Being constituted and used with the same criteria and techniques seen for performer I, the observations are the same as in the previous paragraph.
4.3 The overall system/apparatus of the piece
The systems just described, and the tapes that are reproduced without passing through acoustic manipulation systems, find their point of synthesis in the mix diffused by the main loudspeakers. Thus, the ensemble of materials present constitutes a complex and ramified apparatus, which does not follow a single line of sound production, but multiple ones, which flow together, via the mixer, to the ultimate medium of diffusion.
The identification of the various instrumental apparatuses, or sound production apparatuses, is not only important in terms of describing the set-up of the piece as such but is especially important because internally, it contains the very means of sound manipulation and production that then constitute the piece. This is only true for situations in which an acoustic medium is amplified, without the interposition of electronic sound processing, or manipulation of any kind; but even more so when within those systems the very elements that constitute them become means of active and controllable manipulation of sound. This is the case, for instance, in the interaction between 5″ speakers and microphones, where the capabilities of the microphone system are further extended through the performance technique; or in the interaction between mini-speaker, saxophone and microphone, or even in the interaction between 5″ speaker, human oral cavity and microphone.
All levels of articulation of the instrumental apparatus thus become a place for a possible manipulation of sound, whether this takes place electronically or through human action, thus extending the instrumental capabilities, but also the capabilities of sound amplification and reproduction systems.
The table created represents the overall system of realisation of the piece, with the steps on which the author acts in realising the sound of the piece highlighted.
|Method of intervention||tape production||filtering by different fingerings; moving the instrument relative to the microphone||amplification||place of synthesis of the piece|
|Apparatus||prepared saxophone with latex||microphonation||diffusion|
|Method of intervention||action on the instrument||amplification||place of synthesis of the piece|
|Method of intervention||produzione del tape||filtering through the oral cavity; moving the cone relative to the microphone||amplification||place of synthesis of the piece|
|Method of intervention||tape production||filtering through the oral cavity; moving the cone relative to the microphone||amplification||place of synthesis of the piece|
|Method of intervention||action on the instrument||amplification||place of synthesis of the piece|
5. The performer’s role
With the use of specific means closely related to the work, if not made specifically for it, be they prepared instruments, complex instrumental apparatus, or specific techniques that gradually move further and further away from ordinary technique, the perspective on the performer’s role changes, as much in the relationship between the performer and the medium as in the relationship between the performer and the performance itself.
We are usually accustomed to thinking of the performer as an expert on their instrument, and rightly so. The performer is not only the interpreter of the piece, but also a profound connoisseur of his medium, whose performance techniques he masters and whose structural aspects he probably knows well. This certainly remains valid for ordinary derivative uses of existing and widespread instruments, and sometimes even for prepared instruments whose modifications do not directly interact with instrumental technique. However, as the medium required by the author moves away from the ordinary instrument, the performer may partially lose his role of absolute expert.
In the specific case of How to conjure the spirit of Lucy in three steps, via telephone we witness varying degrees of mutation in the relationship between performer and medium, dependent on the various preparation methods and performance techniques required.
5.1 Perfomer I: changing role of the performer
With regard to the use of the saxophone, a distinction can be made between gestures inherited from ordinary instrumental technique, and gestures not inherited from ordinary instrumental technique.
The use of the saxophone as a percussion instrument, through the direct action of the performer on the latex, for example, inherits nothing from the ordinary technical background of the instrument. The medium is modified and transformed; the transformation enables the realisation of previously impossible techniques, and, thus, a type of sound production in respect of which the performer is no longer an a priori specialist. In this case, the relationship between medium and performer changes to the relationship between instrument and instrumental background: the sound-generating medium is still the saxophone, albeit prepared, but the methods of sound production have nothing to do with the figure of the saxophonist; on the contrary, they appear to be those typically associated with the figure of the percussionist. Therefore, such a preparation and use makes the medium usable no longer necessarily by a saxophonist, but by any performer with the specific musical background enabling him to understand, learn and realise the performance techniques required by the composer.
It is true that the method of sound production is no longer the same as in the tradition. The performer no longer has to produce sound himself by means of insufflation, a role now entrusted to the mini-speaker inserted in the upper hole of the instrument’s body, but the use of specific fingerings on the instrument presupposes the possession of a specific instrumental background, which the previous techniques did not require. It is also possible to question what is, and if there is, a possible limit to the learning of the specific instrumental technique that the piece requires; for example, is it possible to learn the required fingerings in the same way as one might learn to use a prepared instrument whose playing technique is no longer the ordinary one, but totally reinvented? So, in this sense, is it possible to entrust the prepared saxophone part to a performer who is not a saxophonist?
The question remains open insofar as some parameters are difficult to evaluate, above all because they are not measurable and have too high a margin of variability. For example, even if the general use of the instrument completely transcends the specific instrumental background of the same, it is possible (but not certain) that the performer expert in this sense is, in any case, in possession of a certain instrumental ease, and of a certain degree of manual practicality which could simplify part of the instrumental actions required. Likewise, it is possible that an approach to the instrument on the part of a performer lacking that same background is somehow more predisposed, even on a mechanical level, to manipulating the medium in an unconventional manner.
As far as the use of the 5″ speaker is concerned, on the other hand, the instrumental background considerations are resolved in the fact that the medium itself has no institutional reference background, i.e. whatever use is made of it, as things stand, it is a use which, once conceived, must, in any case, be learnt by the performer, regardless of the degree of complexity of the gesture, or of the interaction of the gesture with the overall instrumental apparatus. Further reflections in this sense will follow the section on performer II.
5.2 Perfomer II: changing role of the performer
As far as performer II is concerned, the use of the various percussion instruments does not present any particular deviations or modification from what may be considered “ordinary technique” for the figure of the percussionist. It is also true that the figure of the percussionist is easily assimilated to that of a performer who learns in a targeted manner the techniques of using the specific means of a given piece, often regardless of whether these are actually percussion instruments or not. Generally speaking, the percussionist does not bring an instrumental background strongly rooted in the classical-romantic tradition, except for orchestral instruments and repertoire. In other words, if for the specific case of Perini’s piece, it is perhaps true that the saxophonist distances himself from his instrument more than the percussionist does from his own, it is also true that the percussionist already represents the figure of the “neutral” performer, or rather, “not bound to a historicised practice”.
With regard to the use of the 5″ speaker, the same considerations made for performer I apply.
5.3 Further considerations
Thus, as regards the instrumental background required of the performers of How to conjure the spirit of Lucy in three steps, via telephone, we have already seen that in both cases, it does not necessarily correspond to that typically associated with the instruments used (percussion and saxophone).
This is due to the concomitance of the factors illustrated above: the realisation of an instrumental apparatus that no longer coincides with the ordinary instrument alone; the development of specific instrumental techniques for the new apparatus, which only partially share its qualities with the ordinary instrumental technique; requiring the performer to learn and use various elements (be they instrumental technique, physical means, elements of interaction with electronics) that go beyond the circumscribed domain of the use of the ordinary instrument.
Thus, when we speak of the instrumental background that is learnt, for example, in institutional courses, even when it includes the study of so-called extended techniques, it may no longer be suitable for training the type of performer required for a part of contemporary music production. In fact, when pieces of this kind are produced, it often happens that the performer has to reinvent himself, and independently construct the means of learning the specific piece. It is therefore conceivable that there is a need to include more, within the instrumentalist training courses, a practice that concerns an approach to the instrument that goes beyond ordinary practice, and that is open to new forms of its use and conception.
One difficulty that this hypothesis presents is the specificity, sometimes exclusive, sometimes shared, in a limited number of works, that pieces of this type provide. In fact, it is difficult to imagine an institutional pathway that continues to see in the figure of the performer/interpreter expert on his own instrument alone, moreover with a specific predilection for a certain praxis, the solution to the performance requirements encountered here, and which in any case concern a broader panorama.
A possible and partial answer is already contained in the conception of the performer as a performer, as an elastic figure who no longer responds to the rigidity of his own specific background, but rather relates with a certain agility to new or different contexts, for which predispositions to learning (e.g. of techniques specifically elaborated for that piece), and to the conception of the instrument in its form of an instrumental apparatus are required; thus a performer who is not only concerned with his ordinary instrument, but who can, if necessary, master the use of all the components of the overall apparatus on which he is required to act.
In the specific case of How to conjure the spirit of Lucy in three steps, via telephone, for instance, we see the author requesting two performers for the execution, referred to as “performer I and performer II”; indications of this kind thus reveal how a conception of the performer understood as the figure endowed with the qualities described above has already partially entered into part of the shared imagination.
6. Brief points of formal analysis, and final considerations on the material
A correct formal interpretation probably requires an analysis by the composer himself, who also possesses the specific information about what happens in the various tapes, not only those associated with the mini speaker and the 5″ cones, the behaviour of which can be deduced to a large extent from the comparison between the listening and the score, but also those reproduced directly by the main loudspeakers.
It is certainly possible to draw analogies between the description made by the author himself, and reported on the first page of this analysis, the narrative elements of the works to which the title refers, and the process of the materials realised within the piece itself. It is also possible, however, that the considerations made in this regard suffer from an interpretation that speculates on the aforementioned topics, the consequent observations of which may not be in line with the author’s actual conception of the material.
Proceeding in this sense, with regard to the arrangement of the sound materials used, they are organised to create “fluid section”; it is possible to identify two macro-sections that refer to the ritual of the evocation of Lucy’s spirit through the use of the “ritual drums”, and to the final communication or call of the two performers, in which Lucy participates. In this sense, Lucy’s voice is present in the tapes accompanying the performers in the use of the speakers pressed against their cheeks; three different versions of the Hello Hello area of the work The Telephone, or l’Amour à trois, respectively panpotted right, left, and centre, are thus reproduced from the tape at a reduced speed, each at a different playback speed. The first macro-section thus runs from the beginning of the piece to measure 113 (page 4 of the score), when the percussion of the tibetan bell and the kalimba conclude the rubbing gesture on the prepared bell of the saxophone. The latter gesture specifically imitates the use of the old rotary dial telephones, whose characteristic sound accompanies the instrumental action in the tape, initiating the transition phase that precedes the use of the oral cavity as a filtering medium for the tapes reproduced by the 5″ cones. The first such gesture takes place at measure 120 and coincides with the transition from the first macro-section to the second section, as well as the last. Thus, what characterises and differentiates these two macro-sections is evident from a first glance at the score. In the first macro-section, there is an intense use of the instrumental apparatuses previously described, which are used with a strong rhythmic component; therefore, ideally, the entire macro-section could coincide, as the author also partly describes, with the ritual of evocation of Lucy’s spirit, which is operated through the use of “ritual drums”. The entire section is pervaded by the rather continuous return of a series of impulses generated by the 5″ cones, reminiscent of the sound of a square wave; these gestures are often consequent to rhythmic sections with a certain degree of intensity (moderate to high). These same gestures represent attempts to listen to and/or communicate with the evoked spirit, a sort of check on whether or not the evocation has taken place; the characteristic sounds are reminiscent of those of a telecommunication with significant interference. The use of the 5″ cones in this sense coincides with the very last gesture in the score, after the text (not perceptible but present in the score) has questioned Lucy’s presence several times.
The presence of this gesture just described, and the presence of other gestures similar to it, e.g., in the saxophone, which sometimes filters a sound quite similar to that reproduced by 5″ cones, creates an alternation between sonorities that refer to a purely acoustic-ritual imagery, and sonorities of a strongly electronic-digital character. Sometimes there is a diluted alternation between the two sound environments. At the same time, in other cases, the proximity of the elements creates a kind of dialogue between acoustic action and electronic response. For example, from measure 5 to measure 11, we see a very strong prevalence of the acoustic domain over the electronic one, while from measure 12 to measure 19, the opposite occurs. In this case, the elements seem to suggest a moment of rituality (the acoustic section, denoted by a very strong rhythmic component and characterisation), and a moment of response to the ritual, of telecommunication with interference (the section with electronic sounds). Instead, a dialogic moment occurs in measures 95 to 104, when the electronic sounds filtered by the saxophone dialogue with the gestures made by the sponge and brush on the sandpaper.
Moving on, the title seems to suggest the presence of three sections, three attempts, or three different moments all of which are necessary to try to evoke Lucy’s spirit; thus, three sections that do not coincide with the two macro-sections described above. As mentioned above, the sections appear to be fluid, without a definite end and beginning, and there are various criteria that can be used to identify them, so the subdivision proposed here is purely hypothetical.
The first section could be identified in measures 1 to 46; after an intense “ritual activity” performed by the two performers using drums, the section ends with a long “electronic sound response” part. The whole section outlined finds justification in a coherence and homogeneity of performance techniques, which intensify up to the climax of measure 38, before the possible concluding response just described. According to this interpretation, there follows a transition phase and a second section extending up to measure 114. In this second section, the presence of the electronic sound domain is greater, and there is a dialogical component between the elements presented by the two performers, which is evident in the example described above, but seems to be present throughout the whole section. Thus, from the point of view of ritual, the first section seems to comprise two mostly coinciding roles of the two performers. In comparison, the second section involves two roles, two distinct activities that materialize in using different instruments and performance techniques.
The third section is the one that extends from measure 120 to the end of the piece. It is perhaps the concrete attempt to converse with Lucy’s spirit. It is characterised by the use of the oral cavity as the filtering medium of the 5″ cone and the presence of Lucy’s voice in the tapes, as previously described. Both performers use the same technique, and the elements present are recurrent in both parts.
Thus, to summarise a hypothetical formal interpretation, the first section is characterised by a sharing of techniques and roles, and by the alternation between two different sound environments, which relate to each other mostly presented separately (except for the first brief intervention of the 5″ cone). The second section presents elements of dialogue between the two performers, who no longer share the simultaneous use of the same instrumental technique, but present different elements. The sound context of this section presents the coexistence of acoustic and electronic sound. The third and last section is the final section, in which both performers return to sharing the performance technique, using the oral cavity as a filter for the 5″ cone.
How to conjure the spirit of Lucy in three steps, via telephone is a work whose elaboration presents numerous points of reflection relating to various themes, some of which have been set out in the preceding chapters: the revision of the concept of the instrument as a complex apparatus, thus the instrument seen as the sum of the means and processes that go from the production of sound to its diffusion; the role of the performer, whose figure can no longer coincide only with the expert on his own instrument, but who is required to have a gradually increasing knowledge, and a high degree of adaptability and learning capacity for each piece or specific context with which he will be called upon to deal; the instrumental technique, or more generally the performative act, the contents and modalities of which adapt to the evolution of the concept of the instrument and thus determine the change in the figure of the performer.
From the point of view of content and form, as we have seen, part of the material is explained and understood within the analysis of performance techniques. The form, here only hypothesised and the nature of which can certainly be investigated in greater depth, instead reveals a strong reference to the contents of the works to which Perini’s piece refers. These contents are also taken up, as we have seen, within certain elements of the piece, such as the inclusion of Lucy’s voice in the tape, the reference to the typical sonorities of the rotary dial telephone, the gestures of which are also reproposed by the performers, giving rise to a threefold relationship between the performing gestures, their content and the title of the piece itself.
Pingback: “How to conjure the spirit of Lucy in three steps, via telephone”: analisi di Fabio Machiavelli | Alessandro Perini
Pingback: How to conjure the spirit of Lucy in three steps, via telephone | Alessandro Perini