Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
at151 Emmanuel Holterbach & Blutwurst - ‘Ricercar nell’ombra’
A 46-minute piece composed by Emmanuel Holterbach in collaboration with the Italian ensemble Blutwurst:
Cristina Abati (viola) Marco Baldini (trumpet) Maurizio Constantini (double bass) Daniela Fantechi (accordion)
Michele Lanzini (cello) Edoardo Ricci (bass clarinet) Luisa Santacesaria (harmonium)
‘Ricerar nell’ombra’ was developed during Bluwurst’s residency at Tempo Reale, at SpazioK Prato and SBA+C, Florence.
Interview with Emmanuel Holterbach
Tell us about the 'ricercar nell'ombra' project. How did it start, what does the
title refer to, and how was the piece developed with Blutwurst?
Meeting Blutwurst was like a shooting star appearing in the night sky… They loved my work, I loved their work. So make a choice: become friends or work together. We actually did both.
Blutwurst are based in the beautiful city of Florence and had good connections with Tempo Reale (an organization for contemporary music research founded in the 1980’s by Luciano Berio). This is where we were able to start work together during a three-week residency back in May 2018.
I come from an art background and turned at an early age to sound art back in the 90’s (sound installation, noise performance, inventing instruments). I’ve worked as a musique concrète composer since early 2000, so I was confused when they proposed that I should compose a piece for them. I actually don’t have a clue how to write a score - I don’t even read notes! But they do, so I started to consider strategies of collective work…
In my electroacoustic work, there are a lot of cycles, embroideries, loops into loops into loops into loops of various length, creating hypnotic swell effects. I immediately thought that would be an interesting way to start. Cycles of tones played by skilled musicians - and that’s what Blutwurst are!
On the other hand, I have a love affair with Italian music, especially ancient, medieval music, through to Baroque, and on to the experimental music of the 60’s and 70’s (Giusto Pio, Roberto Cacciapaglia, Marino Zuccheri, Teresa Rampazzi and Gruppo NPS, Enore Zaffiri, Franca Sacchi - thank you Die Schachtel for bringing most of these to light). So I wanted to make a humble and sincere homage to the Italian musical tradition.
There was also this beautiful composition, « Ricercar III » by Francesco Guami, a composer from Lucca in Tuscany who worked during the XVI century. The first seconds of this piece fascinated me, seven notes whirling in a gorgeous, simple melody… blooming. So this is where things started: if the notes of this melody created such a beautiful state of contemplation, what if we started stretching them, permutating them, and created a large structure out of them? The intuition was good and turned into a fertile soil for our collaboration to blossom.
Then we talked about important things.
I walk and hike a lot. Walking in the landscape is a basis of my musical thoughts (and also in my life). Experiencing the subtle variations of the ground, minerals, vegetation, lichen, mushrooms, from lakesides to mountains, from forests to large plains, valleys, shores. And also the tensions in the air, meteorological events, the strength of tectonics…all these elemental considerations titillating and happening in your mind when you start experiencing the great outside, in whatever wild and solitary places still remain.
How to create with music an experience of the deep, of the large forces surrounding us everywhere, every day, at all times?
We also talked about the ancient tradition of scroll painting in Japanese and Chinese culture, especially the long horizontal scrolls, where you can get lost into contemplation, wandering on painted paths.
All these elements were sources of inspiration for this collaborative work.
Then we worked together a lot. It was more like the process of painting a canvas. While the seven musicians were playing these seven notes as long tones embroidered together, I was influencing the way that energies and tension should appear on this large sound geography.
At some point in the work, the balance of the piece started to be almost an hour in length, which was impressive!
Then the Blutwurst musicians began to draw a more precise score and organisation of events for proper interpretation. It was a very interesting way of composing together.
I wanted the composition to have intense parts, like a thunderstorm or high mountains. I also wanted to have forests and valleys, silence and shadows. This is how the title popped out, a combination of ricercar (research) and ombra (shadow).
Can you tell us about your background in experimental music? How did you come to it, and where are you based?
I could tell you so much about the pleasant journey I had in the French underground and my love of records, and all the inspiring composers I’ve been lucky enough to meet during all these years. I could also talk about my long-term relationship with Eliane Radigue, helping her to gather, organise and publish her archive works and biography… But maybe it would be boring?
Or maybe things are more simple. Maybe I am very sensitive to the sounds surrounding me since I was a child and have a great satisfaction just listening to various phenomenon (natural, electrical, mechanical, radio, etc). Maybe all the walks in the wild, mountain hikes, and wandering around were so inspiring, and these are the places where my mind and perceptions can blossom, flourish and bring intuitions into the field of consciousness.
Maybe I understand the vocabulary of wind, streams, rocks, living beings a bit more comfortably that the vocabulary of civilization?
Maybe my background in experimental music takes root at the same place were poetry feeds me, in the experience of everyday reality (I don’t read a lot of imaginative poetry, more contemplative poetry about everyday phenomena). Because I don’t feel like things should be « invented » (are we even able to invent?), or maybe I’m not really impressed by imagination. Everything is already here, magic and intense and fascinating and wonderful in the world as we perceive it. Stranger, stronger than anything we would be able to invent. Then my only aim is to find a proper vocabulary to express what I experience (if I am touched by this, and I know I am not that unique, then someone else will probably be touched too).
Is this experimental?
Also, I am very playful and have always lived under the official poverty threshold (I’m ok with this, it’s a choice). So I like to work with cheap devices and equipment, and it’s an interesting game to make these sound large and strong and intense. This is also why I have designed some of the instruments I use (like enharmonic glasses, or other electronic devices). Field recording can be so satisfying, as can both analogue and digital electronics. The studio, as an instrument, is a grotto of miracles.
But I must say that leaving these solitary paths for a while and working with musicians was really a great pleasure.
I grew up in eastern France (Metz & Strasbourg) in post-industrial surroundings, then I lived for ten years in the mountains round Grenoble. Now I live in Lyon, close to the Saône river, which breathes every day in a different way.
Emmanuel Holterbach, photo Jules Roeser
Blutwurst in concert
Blutwurst & Emmanuel Holterbach at Tempo Reale