Another Timbre

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osvaldo coluccino - atto

at50    Atto

Osvaldo Coluccino   acoustic objects

Atto 1     4:54

Atto 2     9:03

Atto 3     8:56

Atto 4     4:42

Atto 5    10:58

TT          38:38

Recorded near Milan, February to May 2011

                                     youtube extract

Interview with Osvaldo Coluccino

To compose an acoustic music that explicitly refuses to use musical instruments is a strange decision for a composer in the classical tradition. Where did the idea for Atto come from, and why did you want to explore non-musical sound sources?

This refusal is an attempt to go to the heart of the matter, to look for the essence, stripping away clichés – even when they are honest clichés – to expose the centrality of creation (of the ‘act’ itself), and to emphasize its autonomy. In my case at least, this doesn’t come from a conceptual propensity, but from a concern with sensation: every formal micro-detail of the music is part of a sensitive expressive will that attempts to permeate the receptive apparatus, and to induce deep emotions, even at an unconscious level.

My path as a composer has always been characterised by two different methods:

(1) traditional music production (which starts as composition by an individual, who is of course isolated, but who then delegates the realisation of his intent to the interpreters).

(2) the work of a loner, a creator-performer, who conducts research in sound, whether using electronic or electroacoustic or fully acoustic sounds. Since the early 80’s I have also begun to follow this second path, as one who isolates himself fully (I’d say becoming more like a magician with his rituals than a musician).

In the case of Atto, the situation is even more specialised, because the acoustic sounds that occur are neither the result of musical instruments, nor recognisable sounds that can be associated with a particular object (as happens in Musique Concrète and with field recordings). I wanted to escape completely from the limitations imposed by the cages of our cultural habits, and to look for independence from existing methods. For me the situation is, both as a composer and a listener, a vivid, natural and necessary situation; it is the bread of our time and yet classical at the same time, not just a provocative gimmick to attract attention.

I can add about the origin of the idea, that the title – ‘Atto’ (act) – is emblematic. Philosophically speaking, through the act we renounce virtuality and bring something into being. So in the music I try to capture abstract or invisible or parallel elements, and then make them concrete. ‘Atto’ is an austere but charming word which – like the English word ‘act’ – has many meanings, all of which are valid. Among other personal meanings: ‘act’ as an intervention (of art) on things in order to develop a ‘new side’, therefore an act that generates  new things rather than mimicking existing things; or think of the phrase “a tragedy in 5 acts”, this work consists of 5 tracks; the prefix in the Italian word – ‘AT’ – is a tribute to this rigorous label.

I’m interested in the emphasis you put on being a ‘loner’ musically. What attracts you to this hermit-like existence, and would it not be possible to create similar ‘acts’ in collaboration with other musicians?

It’s the only way in which I can have total control of my ‘vision’. Moreover, I confess, I need to be alone to produce certain objects, just like the painter or poet who knows that his vision will not be mediated by others. I need to enter into the silence, into the darkness of existence, so, theoretically, I also need to get rid of myself. I am already too much.

But when using the other, traditional method of composition, in fact I’ve worked with hundreds of musicians, from when I was 13 years old until now, when I’m almost fifty. Though even there, fundamentally, I’m using the hermit’s way.

Could you describe the process behind Atto in a bit more detail? Were you, for instance, simply recording the sounds of everyday objects you came across, or did you actively ‘play’ various objects by striking, rubbing or scraping them? And were you thinking of the structure of the pieces before you found the sounds, or did the sounds themselves suggest the musical structure of each piece?

On a practical level, it was as you say: I struck or rubbed the objects, I breathed onto them etc.  I never left them in peace in their (false) status of amorphous objects, or with their forced function, or with a univocal voice. I provoked them so that the ‘new side’, which I wrote about above, springs out from them and resounds. It doesn’t matter what category of object it is; what matters is the aesthetic outcome of its ‘singing’. Ethic-Aesthetic. Those sounds will then “suggest the structure of” a space, which is a fact of great importance for me.

I said above: “I try to capture…”, indeed I can actually say the opposite: “These elements try to capture me”, by using me as a sounding board. In fact one of my greatest satisfactions is when, after long and exhausting work, I can say: “Here is something I don’t know, even if it feels familiar. I don’t know how to make it. It doesn’t belong to me.” However, beyond personal perceptions, the reality is somewhere in the middle: in all my compositions – for example a piece for ensemble, or choir, or a performance of our type, etc. – almost everything is playing inside me in advance of the realisation. Fortunately there is this ‘almost’ that saves the operation: it’s wonderful when the composition under construction flows in its own freedom, and in unexpected ways compared to the original plan, and when it mixes itself with those plans in a fascinating way. Obviously in my case it’s not improvisation, but there is a splitting of the senses; it is sometimes vertigo, sometimes a temporary overflow across formal boundaries. It is precisely to let myself be invaded (captured) by instances from those external elements.

It’s interesting that the way you talk about music and composition is far more romantic than with most musicians I talk to. And in fact part of what I like about Atto is that it somehow creates a kind of lyricism out of the most mundane, everyday materials that you use. Do you think this is a fair description?

Perhaps because for me music, to begin with, is a strongly inner experience, with visceral ears, ears that can hear perfumes... My experience with art is totalising. We know that a lot depends on the ability to listen, and also on the diversification of these listenings, insights and discernments, so I think that you’re right: my testimony probably is passionate. I don’t know, maybe because I was also a poet for many years, and so it’s all-encompassing, totalising; this is a journey that I have completed, finished.

Could you tell us a little about your background? I understand that you were better known as a poet originally, so how and when did you first start composing?

Lately, when someone asks me for a biographical note, I make it shorter and shorter: 9 or 10 lines of selected events (a bare list), from among the most recent events. It’s like saying: if others really need to know about me, those 10 lines are enough.  I would like that intangible elements such as ignitions, commitments, feelings of being abandoned, ideals etc arrive to them, intangible elements that follow a certain path, rather than the story of a man, my story.

However, I can say that I started as a musician, studying classical guitar when I was twelve, then musical composition (classical music and rock) and then writing poems immediately after. Already in 1979 and 1980, when I was sixteen, I performed in concert halls in Northern Italy. Artistic creation has always been a need for me since childhood, and I have put it into practice. When I wrote poetry, I could not write music, and vice versa. Speaking just about music: in me the musician and the composer are two separate entities, two different parts of the brain that occasionally wink at one another.

But returning one moment to the story, I could get passionate about the life stories of other artists, the classics: how can I not be moved by them, by the misunderstanding and mistreatment that they suffered, the stories of Cézanne, Rimbaud, Schubert, Lautréamont...? But I also enjoy reading, for example, Francis Bacon when he says that he was a domestic worker-cook, a stenographer etc, thereby disappointing those who expected ostentatious qualifications instead.

But a great part of my background has been occupied with Beethoven, Schubert, Webern, Nono.

Your mentioning Nono doesn’t surprise me: although I don’t feel that there’s any similarity in the soundworlds of Atto and Nono’s music, I feel that there is a connection at some level. His music too is very passionately felt. How do you think his music has affected yours?

I like the formal aspects of his music, the revolutionary centrality he gave to the sound, the culmination of his last period, and more. With regard to my case – without wanting to make comparisons – you could listen to some of my works for traditional instruments. By chance at almost the same time as Atto, two other discs of my music have just been released – String Quartets (on Neos) and Stanze (piano works, on Col legno).

About the artists I love, I sense an innate expressive power, which makes their work ‘resonate’ in a special way: this is the basic connection that I see between my favourite artists.

Do you think Atto opens a new direction in your work – a third thread in addition to your electronic compositions and your pieces for conventional instruments? Or is it a one-off experiment?

Ten years ago at the Chamber of Labour of Milan a short electroacoustic piece of mine was performed, the sources of which were all acoustic, that is, the results of performances with conventional objects, which were then edited, electronically processed and mixed. Before and after that date, the sound on my other electroacoustic compositions has sometimes also come from acoustic sounds that I produced.

So my experience with Atto is not a whim of the moment but a true passion, or, rather, an artistic necessity. Though it’s true that Atto was the first time that I have dealt with material that was entirely acoustic.  I intend to produce other similar works (a few, you’ll be able to count them on the fingers of one hand; I'll never be a redundant author), and in fact I’m already planning to start work on another piece for acoustic objects in the coming months.

You spoke earlier about the sounds in your work suggesting the structure of a space’. What did you mean by this?

A few years ago, a philosopher who had been listening to a long composition of mine, asked me: “What is music for you?” Nobody before had asked me a question that was so dry or ‘cheeky’. In an equally sharp and dry way I answered: for me, music is a place.

Osvaldo Coluccino - String Quartets (Neos)

Osvaldo Coluccino - Stanze

(Piano works on Col Legno)

 Osvaldo Coluccino -  Voce d’Orlo

 (ensemble pieces on Rai Trade)

 Osvaldo Coluccino - neuma q

 (electronic work on Die Schachtel)

 Osvaldo Coluccino - Gemina

 (ensemble pieces on Due Punte)


“In this day and age, CDs constructed using bits of recordings of acoustic objects are ten a penny. Apart from how well it is done, what makes Atto so interesting is that its creator Osvaldo Coluccino is better known as the composer of more traditional instrumental and electroacoustic works, with past releases appearing on heavyweight contemporary music labels such as Col Legno and Neos.  For this release, in an attempt to challenge himself by breaking away from the clichés of the music he usually creates, Coluccino decided to work only with acoustic objects not normally related to music making, using them in such a way that their identity could not be figured out, thus attempting to return to a simple essence of sound apart from the cultural and historical baggage attached to his usual working methods.

If giant leaps were made by Coluccino personally, the end results here are less original in their form, but even so, you can hear the acute painterly ear he has applied to the arrangements on Atto. The sounds used are mostly quite small; little squeaks, crashes and scrapes, some crunchily brittle, others colourfully tonal, and all recorded in a large resonant space but then distributed and sequenced with great care and a consistently sharp consideration of structure. Coluccino doesn’t just stack sounds up; nor does he ever let the music slide into any kind of drone. Instead he gives every sound the space to stand up for itself alongside its companions and allows them to build an often quite dramatic narrative that forms finely balanced compositions.

In an interview on the label’s website, Coluccino states that Atto will not just be a passing diversion away from his usual work, and that he plans more composition in the same vein.  This can only be good news, as he brings a sense of compositional integrity that is quite hard to find in a growing field.”

Richard Pinnell, The Wire

“Je ne sais pas ce que ça veut dire que de jouer d’objets acoustiques. Il faudrait que je me replonge dans Schaeffer peut-être. Je ne sais pas ce que ça veut dire, mais je peux l’entendre. Surtout, il ne me faudra pas chercher quel est l’objet qui peut faire ce bruit-là, quelle est la chose qui peut sonner comme ceci.

Il est marqué dans le digipack que les objets de Coluccino ne sont pas musicaux. Et qu’il ne retouche rien à l’ordinateur. Voilà ce qu’il fallait que je sache. Pour ce qui est du reste, ce n'est qu'un voyage à faire. Un souffle me pousse, un crissement m’indique une direction, un sifflement capte mon attention. Tout a l’air de se passer dans l’air, oui c’est bien des courants d’air que j’entends. Mais je pose trop de questions, et je ferme les yeux.

Les objets de l’Italien me tournent maintenant autour, me voici encerclé, je garde les yeux fermés. Le tonnerre gronde, des roues tournent, des matériaux tintent sonnent grincent… Est-ce du polystyrène que l’on frotte sur mon parquet ? Et l’imagination reprend le dessus. Un trou apparaît, Coluccino et ses objets s’y engouffrent et je suis le mouvement. Par la force des choses, par la force des objets. Il y a des disques qui, en plus de vous emporter, vous font imaginer des choses. C’est le cas d’Atto.”

Héctor Cabrero, Le Son du Grisli

“Osvaldo Coluccino is a self-confessed loner with an eclectic history as a musician, poet, and composer. As a composer, he has employed conventional acoustic instruments and/or electronics, the latter exemplified on Neuma Q (Die Schachtel, 2010). For Atto, recorded near Milan between February and May 2011, he took the role of sole creator-performer and opted to make music using neither instruments nor electronics. Instead he struck, rubbed or breathed into everyday objects to generate sounds that cannot be associated with any particular object. As Coluccino has said, "I wanted to escape completely from the limitations imposed by the cages of our cultural habits and to look for independence from existing methods."

The recorded sounds were then used to construct the piece, which consists of five parts that play together seamlessly without any jarring transitions. In its entirety, the piece lasts just under 39 minutes. Its most immediate characteristic is a sense of space and tranquility. Coluccino has not overcrowded the soundscape nor allowed any sound to linger for too long; there are no prolonged drones or barrages of sound. On occasion, two sounds are heard in parallel, but throughout, each component of the piece can be heard clearly and savored.

Coluccino was successful in producing sounds the source of which cannot be identified, thus keeping Atto fresh and cliché-free. The majority of them are covered by the term "small sounds," which includes scrapings, rattlings, tappings and breathy tones. Most were clearly recorded in a resonant space; they resound in ways that others achieve electronically rather than physically, giving the music presence and immediacy.

Altogether, Atto sits at the overlaps between ambient, EAI, improv and modern composition and should find favor with devotees of any of those musics. It is music that will stand the test of time and be richly rewarding for years to come.”

John Eyles, All About Jazz

“Quite inexplicably, not only I had never heard the music of Osvaldo Coluccino prior to Atto but even the name was completely foreign to my memory. Not that knowing better would have helped this time, as previous opuses by the Italian have been published and performed as scores with defined instrumentation and notation, whereas this is another type of proposal altogether.

Coluccino chose seclusion in remote places to seize the essence of undetermined objects – exclusive of any proper instrument – which he mostly struck, rubbed and in some way enlivened using his hands and breath. Affirming a necessity of being alone during the creative impulse, the performer tried to establish a connection between himself, the sonic items and the (unquestionably large) environments, looking for answers that a regular compositional process could not give him at the moment in which these tracks were conceived.

A single artist was loosely coupled by yours truly while coming to terms with this receptacle of ringing rattles, collapsing masses and assorted leftovers improved by vast reverberations: David Jackman (Organum, if you like). Not because of excessive similarities in the acoustic outcome – there aren’t many extensive drones herein, although the booming ambiences do ring a bell – but primarily for the introverted exploration of a rough palette that, upon repeated attempts, reveals surprising truths disguised amidst the relative normality of unprompted gestures.

The nonexistence of standard musical components – no harmony, no melody, no rhythm, at least in the conventional acceptation of these definitions – constitutes an incentive for fine-tuning our listening abilities through what appears as a collection of echoes from an historically neglected long-ago. Not composition, not improvisation: just snapshots of states of mind, translated into substantial clatter and gentler cracks in a charged silence.”

Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

“Antoine Beuger recently lamented the fact that so many interpretations of John Cage's music lack a basic sense of beauty and phrasing, an observation that came to mind as I listened to these four new releases from Another Timbre. Whether for large ensemble, trio, duo or solo player, and whatever the syntax employed in the music's construction, each is imbued with a sense of beauty that is often overwhelming. Sometimes raw, often sparse and occasionally embracing something akin to silence, these are some of the strongest offerings in the fairly young label's catalogue. Skogen's Ist Gefallen in den Schnee and Taus's Pinna share a fairly strict focus in terms of pitch content, while Thread (Annette Krebs, Magda Mayas and Anthea Caddy) and Atto (Osvaldo Coluccino) tend toward a more disjointed aesthetic, yet all derive, at least in part, from the music Cage left, whether from the wild pointillism of his 1970s etudes, the never-silence of 4:33 or the majestic long-toned grandeur of late orchestral works such as 103.

Atto inhabits a world where form is not so easily categorized. Osvaldo Coluccino states in an interview on Another Timbre’s site: "The acoustic sounds that occur are neither the result of musical instruments, nor recognisable sounds that can be associated with a particular object (as happens in musique concrète and with field recordings). I wanted to escape completely from the limitations imposed by the cages of our cultural habits, and to look for independence from existing methods. For me the situation is, both as a composer and a listener, a vivid, natural and necessary situation; it is the bread of our time and yet classical at the same time, not just a provocative gimmick to attract attention."

The composer speaks, in the same interview, of wishing to tap into deep emotion, with every sound "suggesting the structure of a space", but the deep natural reverberation in which everything is bathed seems to cloud the issue, rendering both space and emotion more obscure. This is some of the most elusive and enigmatic music I’ve heard in some time – early AMM is certainly a predecessor, but I'm reminded, at certain moments, of Roland Kayn's electronic symphonies as pitches appear and recede just as quickly, only to be replaced by seemingly unconnected sonic events – but its composer's ear for subtlety, ensures a timbrally pleasing and structurally diverse listening experience.”

Marc Medwin, Paris Transatlantic

“Alors là, voici une très étrange suite de pièces acoustiques, une suite initiatique à la recherche de l'essence sonore de la matière. Osvaldo Coluccino, compositeur et instrumentiste italien qui navigue entre l'écriture traditionnelle et les performances/installations sonores, nous propose ici quatre pièces où il n'utilise que des objets acoustiques et extra-musicaux, sans modifications électroniques/numériques. Matériellement, quelles sont les sources sonores? Aucune idée, elles me paraissent impossibles à identifier, on peut seulement saisir, à l'envolée, quelques bruits métalliques ou plastiques, quelques bois peut-être par moments. Les détournements d'objets réduisent la matière physique à un état d'insignifiance, seules les caractéristiques et les possibilités sonores de la matière semblent intéresser Coluccino pour cet étrange Atto. Des objets sont frottés, percutés, soufflés, crispés, malaxés, on ne sait pas vraiment comment ces textures sont produites, ni avec quoi. Mais on sait qu'il ne s'agit pas d'instruments, ce qui permet aussi à Coluccino d'éviter les clichés réductionnistes pour explorer de nouveaux territoires sonores et musicaux.

Si les espaces sonores dessinés par ces objets sont indéniablement originaux et créatifs, il n'en reste pas moins que leur contemplation demande une disponibilité d'esprit entière (ainsi qu'une bonne hi-fi...), car la musique de Coluccino est subtile, minimale, souvent très calme et aérée, mais aussi difficile, parfois austère ou hermétique. Il y a un côté très froid et chirurgical dans ces manipulations d'objets, et certains aspects tout comme certaines textures peuvent très vite rendre l'atmosphère stressante et oppressante. L'exploration des matériaux en tant que possibilités sonores et musicales est extrêmement profonde, si profonde qu'elle peut en devenir vertigineuse et effrayante. Atto réclame vraiment une attention et une disponibilité totales, si entières qu'il m'a paru trop austère ou hermétique. Cependant, la richesse des textures et la créativité de ce manipulateur d'objets pourront certainement envouter un certain nombre des lecteurs de ce blog à mon avis, et je pense tout de même que le voyage sonore proposé par Coluccino peut être assez puissant une fois que l'on se laisse prendre au jeu.”

Julien Heraud, Improv-Sphere