Frankie Hi NRG and Alter Ego,Città di Castello 2002
Frankie Hi NRG is not Cathy Berberian.
Luciano Berio is not John Lennon.
Laurie Anderson is not Madonna
nor Pierre Boulez Frank Zappa
Frederic Rzewski is not Dr Dre nor
Alvin Curran, Snoop Doggy Dog.
Beck plays neither Judith nor Julian while
Stock and Hausen could never be Karlheinz,
Alter Ego is not the Beach Boys nor the Doors nor the U2
Scelsi is Nirvana but is not Count Basie nor
Cage the Duke of Earl.
Carter and Ellington are not Sun Ra but
Adorno Coltrane and Monk
Bruno Maderna is not Bob Dylan, nor
Charles Ives a Soft Machine.
Ligeti is not from Lhasa nor
Nancarrow a Mariachi Plaza
Xenakis did not study with Oum Kalsum nor
La Callas with Diamanda Galas, so
Pavarotti is not Ms Bjork, not even Zucchero,
Glass is not with Tupac
Demetrio Stratos left his Bouzouki in Paris
Mozart called Charlie Parker
Messiaen is not the "Bird"
Feldman and Zorn were never Satchmo and Sting nor
Sciarrino, Glenn Miller or Weill
Stravinsky was not Billie Holiday nor
Varese a Rolling Stone nor
Ustvolskaja, Patti Smith.
Nono and Vivaldi lived near the Grand Canal while
Schoenberg played tennis in Hollywood....
Gershwin played tennis with Schoenberg but
Ashley Behrman Lucier and Wolff were not the Sonic Youth nor
Oliveros, Amacher, Crawford-Seeger, Saarajaho and Julia Wolf Maria d'Alvear ever the Andrew Sisters.
Could Donatoni be Part, Evangelisti Cecil Taylor or Anthony Braxton Brian Eno, less likely Benny Goodman plays Brian Ferneyhough....or Queen Latifah, Gubaidulina
Why there should be two categories of musical expression (Classical European = "high," anything else = "low") has always been a mystery to me. The art music of the New World is particularly distinguished by its multicolored populist yearnings, be it the patriotic hymns and marches of Ives' America or the evocation of Balinese gamelans by Cage's prepared pianos. Yet the massive influence of popular forms in European Classical music is in evidence everywhere, from Bach's gigues to Beethoven's ecological Laendler to the Viennese waltzes lurking beneath every page Schoenberg ever wrote... despite the historically sharp differences between classes - the rich and the poor, i padroni e i servi - in Europe. .....
..........In my moment of compositional trouble I turned to Wally, one of my best composition students, who sees little difference in quality between Zappa and Xenakis having grown up with both, and asked him: given the same circumstances, a small new music ensemble plus percussion and a rap-artist, what would he do. Without hesitation, he said, "I'd go take a look at Pierrot Lunaire, for me the first piece of rap-music ever - the real prototype - this work of Schoenberg's." Well this is not the first nor the last time that a student will give me a good idea, but in this case he gave me the key to a) lead me back to Arnold, where I had never recognized myself at all, and b) lead me to an inspired solution to the problem of text both in general and to this music in particular. Conceptually at least I decided I would rewrite Pierrot (possibly calling it Puree Lunaire, though Arnold non scherza e con Arnold non si scherza), picking out chords, figurations and melodies which I could de- and reconstruct in ways that are common to my natural sound-gathering techniques. So there I found myself with this score of Schoenberg's, a score of exquisite agony and alienation, a score which in all its disturbing aspects is perhaps the single most important pilaster of music in the 20th century, and one which I admit to never having loved or studied in depth. So this is my tribute to Arnold, to whom I owe nothing really except the opportunity to hone down those special skills my generation needed to avoid stepping on the powerful land mines this composer had sown just about everywhere.
In the meantime I spent hours listening to rap music of all kinds, trying to distill the beats and rhythms, and later the speech patterns, into essential, useful musics of my own. And in line with Schoenberg's use of the poems of Albert Giraud** (in German translation) I decided to take on another poetic giant, Dante Alighieri, a task that every living intellectual must do sooner or later. Here was a good reason: Dante is the model for the Italian language, and to put this text into the hands of a rapper would be an act of great honor and respect. Dante is everyone's poet, no??? So I retranslated the text into a common spelling code which is used in Italy, so that for the opening line of the "Inferno," "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita....." Frankie gives us: "napoli empoli livorno/milano empoli zeta zeta otranto/ domodossola empoli livorno/ como ancona milano milano imola napoli/ domodossala imola/ napoli otranto savona torino roma ancona / venezia imola torino ancona..." which later when encoded from the English "Midway in our life's journey becomes even more liltingly anglo: "Mike india delta whiskey alpha yankee/ india november/ oscar uniform romeo/ lima india foxtrot echo sierra/ julliet oscar uniform romeo november echo yankee......."
Then comes the Inferno backwards from line 73 to line 1 which is for me as interesting as it is in the original order of words. After all these are only holy cultural icons and can be prayed to in whatever way one is inspired to. Then along with these half-obscured sources - and there are more, ranging from Russolo's "L'Arte dei Rumori" to Cage's "I-VI" out of the Norton Lectures - come Frankie's own real interventions, accompanied by Alter Ego's conservatory-trip-hop beats and by random sequences of chords, stolen from Rzewski, Lacy, Schoenberg and myself of course, all put through digital shufflers, filters, granulators, phase vocoders to create an independent gaseous tail like those found on any normal interplanetary comet and embellished with hundreds of sampled sounds from ship horns and roulette wheels to mating bisons - all under the devilish control of Domenico Sciajno.
Like most pop musicians Frankie cannot read music. While this excludes some kinds of music making, it includes and inspires many others (eg a voice free, out of sync, rapping and improvising in tongues and out of tongues.).. After looking back over my experience in making the 6-part radio work ERAT VERBUM (produced by the WDR, Studio Akustische Kunst , Koeln 1990 -2001), a work that uses all language and linguistic forms as music, I was able to find ways of integrating Frankie's voice as a contemporary musical instrument as well as a vehicle for avantgarde poetics which morph into rap and vice-versa as naturally as in any piece of new music from Berio's "Circles" to Rzewski's "Coming Together" to Ashley's "Dust." The inclusion of percussion is in part what connects these two worlds, and the percussion is often very primitive - tin cans, dresser drawers, cardboard boxes, toy drum machines.... but the low end also employs a rare Bass Marimba and the Highend a vibraphone and a glockenspiel.
So what is it??? - this literary outing in a world of divine nonsense... this holy communion between Uptown and Downtown?? It is in fact a 60 minute opera about everything; the protagonists are all of us and all our ancient memories and future histories. Above all it is about living in the sound of the present. It is a music which is "colta" or cultivated like potatoes, you plop them in the ground and wait for them to grow; it is also "incolta" like a patch of weeds, ragged and wild but often edible.... The blues, like potatoes and weeds, belong to everybody, like us, me and Frankie... and this is where Morton Feldman steps in and says to me "hey kid, how'ya doin'?" to remind me of who I really am once I take off my chameleon suit.
Alvin Curran, 21 June /7 July, 2002
Brute Beat Brut Bruit (2002), for flutes, clarinets, piano, violin, cello, percussion, speaking voice, electronics. First performance Alter Ego and rapper Frankie Hi NRG, Festival delle Nazioni, Citta’ di Castello, Italy. Listen to excerpt 1 excerpt 2 excerpt 3
**the free-restructuring in 4 languages of the original poetry by Giraud is handsomely done by Susan Levenstein given here:
dandy di Bergamo
si beve con gli occhi
sur ses hanches
Dans une immense mer d'absinthe
dandy from Bergamo
Valse de Chopin
mit Augen trinkt
membres déjà verts
shuddering and sweet
Injectés de meurtre
Le geste fou
fard vert oriental
Mutter aller Schmerzen
sucks and slurps
Dandy von Bergamo
palude del cielo
roses de clarté
Rossarzt der Seele
linge de lumière
in blutgen Fingern
woven of moonbeams
rot und offen
Nouant sa jupe
Die dürre Dirne
chiarore di fuoco
aiguilles à tricoter
macchia di gesso
Fleck des hellen Mondes
canto della forca
Knipst er trüb
Ein närrisch Heer
Duft aus Märchenzeit
Le Soleil s'est ouvert les veines