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Crosscurrents in Early Electronic Music: Italy—Part 2

My blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.

In Part 1 of this series, we listened to a variety of works from the key Italian studio from the 1950s and 1960s, an institution set-up by the national broadcasting system, the RAI Studio di Fonologia Musicale in Milan. In this episode, we turn to the work of three independent studios operating outside of Milan:


Pietro Grossi, Studio Di Fonologia Musicale Di Firenze (or S 2F M)

Enore Zaffiri, Studio di Musica Elettronica di Torino (or SMET)

Teresa Rampazzi, Gruppo Nuove Proposte Sonore (or NPS), Padua.


The name Pietro Grossi will be familiar to many of you. He became well known in the 1970s for his delightful compilations of broadcast library music, usually composed using electronic music. He was also a pioneer of computer music in Italy. His introduction to electronic music composition came in 1961 when he was a resident guest composer at the RAI studio in Milan. During this time, he became fascinated with algorithmic manipulations of sine waves and produced the piece Progetto 2-3 (1961) which mathematically managed the slowly intersecting trajectories of six audio signals.[i] Soon thereafter, in 1963, Grossi founded the Studio di Fonologia Musicale di Firenze (S2FM) studio in Florence. There he continued his mathematical explorations of electronic sounds, including some work for at the Olivetti-General Electric Research centre for which he was commissioned to compose some computer music for a holiday disc that the company gave to customers. Her accomplished this using an Olivetti GE-115 mainframe computer, a system primarily used for accounting. We’ll hear some of that original disc in this podcast.


Enore Zaffiri founded the Studio di Musica Elettronica di Torino (SMET) in 1964 in Turin. Early work from this studio was mostly abstract and experimental. We’ll play some terrific examples. “Musica Per Un Anno”from 1968 by Zaffiri consisted of frequencies whose amplitudes and durations were determined based on the mathematical analysis of 12 geometric figures derived around the 12 hours on a clock face. This slowly evolving work might strike most of us today as early ambient music. Then, we’ll hear a work by Lorenzo Ferrero from 1971 that featured an EMS Synthi. The work of Zaffiri in Turin followed closely on the heels of Grossi. He took a systematic, research-based approach to applying technology to the composition of art music, developing a college curriculum around this approach and composing many classically structured pieces that could be performed live.


Teresa Rampazzi was an Italian composer whose work we have often featured in this podcast. She established a studio called Nuove Proposte Sonore (NPS) in Padua in 1964. She founded the NPS Group together with the visual artist Ennio Chiggio. The work of this studio was often associated with exhibitions of the work of visual artists, showing the growing consolidation of efforts by avant-garde artists in a variety of media. Working with analog devices they produced some of the most compelling electronic music of the period and soon became one of the most reputed electronic music centers in Italy. With the departure of Chiggio from NPS, Rampazzi spend the years 1969-1970 transforming the studio into a female-only collective for the electronic music experiments of Rampazzi, Serenella Marega and Patrizia Gracis. It is surprising how they were able to achieve great results with some simple means. At least in the beginning. In the first period they used a couple of two-track tape recorders by Sony, an EICO low frequency generator, a mixer, an oscillator, a Revox tape machine, and a self-built loudspeaker. They had to use the stairwell as an echo chamber. In the second period, when the studio was more established, they had six manually-controlled oscillators as well as six modulated ones, a white noise generator, an octave-band filter and a variable one, an amplitude modulator, a note triggering device, a reverb unit, a 10-channel mixer, a unit for audio signal routing, four tape recorders, a stereo sound system and a frequency meter. During the last years they also bought a 2500 ARP synthesizer. Here are some of the works from the early studio that are seldom heard. Unlike Pietro and Zaffiri, whose work took a structured, systematic approach, Rampazzi’s music more freely explored sound densities, drones, textures, and the possibilities of treating sound sources through many variations. Her legacy of music, composed primarily between 1960 and 1980, is surprisingly timeless stylistically, sounding entirely contemporary in its contemplations of slowly changing sonorities and timbres and a sense of lyricism in electronic music.

[i] Mori, Giovanni. "Pietro grossi’s live coding. an early case of computer music performance." ICLC2015 Proceedings: 125-132.


Episode 101

Crosscurrents in Early Electronic Music: Italy—Part 2

Playlist


Pietro Grossi, Studio Di Fonologia Musicale Di Firenze (S 2F M)

1. Pietro Grossi, Marino Zuccheri, “Progetto II e III” (1961) (1961 RAI). Pietro Grossi began experimenting with electronic sound while visiting the RAI in the early 1960s. During this time, he became fascinated with algorithmic manipulations of sine waves and produced the piece Progetto 2-3 (1961) which mathematically managed the slowly intersecting trajectories of six audio signals. This is an excerpt from the original 30-minute work. 2:56


2. Pietro Grossi, S2 F M: A1, “Primavera,” “Estate,” Autunno,’ “Inverno,’ “Alba,’ “Tramonto,’ “Notte,’ “Temporale,’ “Arcobaleno,” “Suspense N. 1,” “Suspense N. 2,” “Suspense N. 3,” “Suspense N. 4” and “Thrilling” from Electronic Soundtracks (1965 Cooper Recordes). Works composed at the Studio di Fonologia Musicale (S 2F M) in Florence. This is the first example of broadcast library music that Grossi was engaged in for many of the following years, presumably to keep his S2FM Studio funded. 9:24


3. Pietro Grossi, “Battimenti A Due Frequenze” (1965) from Battimenti (2003 Ants). From the inside cover: "94 sets of beats with 2, 3, 4, 5 frequencies taken from a catalogue of sound events that I and my collaborators have created in the electronic music studio S 2F M around the year 1965. These sound events were meant to be used for various compositional purposes. Each set of beats lasts approximately 30 seconds; they are arranged as follows: 10 sets with two frequencies, 25 with three frequencies, 31 with four frequencies, 28 with five frequencies. Listening at low level is suggested. P.G." Interestingly, this experiment in four parts required about 54 minutes to hear in total. This part is the shortest. 5:50


4. Pietro Grossi, “Collage” (1968) from Musicautomatica (2003 Die Schachtel). A change of pace from other works at this studio, this collage piece is an electroacoustic work largely based on naturally occuring sounds that have been distorted and modified. 13:52


5. Pietro Grossi, “Citta' Sommersa,” from Atmosfera & Elettronica (1972 Lupus records). Another broadcast library album of interesting, electronic atmospheres. 2:59


6. Studio Di Fonologia Musicale Di Firenze, “Mixed Paganini,” “Permutations Of Five Sounds,” “Continuous,” (1967) from GE-115 - Computer Concerto. Imagine hyour surprise if you were a recipient of this 7-inch disc that was distributed in 1967 as a New Year’s gift by Olivetti company. “Transcriptions for the central processor unit of a GE-115 computer of short excerpts of Paganini & Bach music scores and original works as well.” I chose to present side 2 of the disc which features early computer works with a flare for the rapid-fire articulation of notes by the computer. These examples vary significantly from the more traditional classical arrangements found on side 1. Realized at Studio di Fonologia musicale di Firenze (Italy). 5:04


Enore Zaffiri, Studio di Musica Elettronica di Torino (SMET)

1. Enore Zaffiri, “Musica Per Un Anno”(1968, excerpt) from Musica Per Un Anno (2008 Die Schachtel). Early work from this studio was mostly abstract and experimental. This piece is a terrific representation. All of the frequencies, their amplitude and durations were determined based on the mathematical analysis of 12 geometric figures derived around the 12 hours on a clock face. From the liner notes: “This electronic music is intended as a sound track for ambients. It develops over a duration of one year's time. The sound events change imperceptibly but continuously, in relation to the months, days, hours and minutes. Every instant has its unique music, which merges with the light, and the air of the ambient.” The original is 60 minutes long. 13:41


2. Lorenzo Ferrero, “Immigrati” (1971) from Musica Elettronica - Computer Music (1972 Compagnia Editoriale Pianeta). The third major Italian electronic music was the Studio Di Musica Elettronica located in Torino and founded in 1964 by Enore Zaffiri. This piece was recorded in 1971 after they had acquired and EMS Synthi. 6:22


Teresa Rampazzi, Gruppo Nuove Proposte Sonore (NPS), Padua

1. Gruppo NPS (Rampazzi, Marega, Chiggio, Meiners, Alfonsi), “Ricerca 4” (1965) from Nuove Proposte Sonore 1965-1972 (2011 Die Schachtel). Monophonic track revolving around a group of sound objects that were manipulated using tape editing and processing. The reverberation of this work was created by putting a loudspeaker in a stairwell. There is also the unwanted thud of a door still in the work. 5:46


2. Gruppo NPS (Rampazzi, Marega, Mazurek), “Modulo 4” (1965) from Nuove Proposte Sonore 1965-1972 (2011 Die Schachtel). Monophonic track revolving around a group of sound objects that were manipulated using tape editing and processing. Experiments on signal impulses and their changing attacks and decay. of 3:48


3. Gruppo NPS (Rampazzi, Marega), “Freq. Mod. 2” (1965) from Nuove Proposte Sonore 1965-1972 (2011 Die Schachtel). Short bands of frequencies modulated by low-level signals abd brief, “violent impulses.” 6:26


4. Gruppo NPS (Rampazzi, Gracis), “Insiemi” (1965) from Nuove Proposte Sonore 1965-1972 (2011 Die Schachtel). A more lyrical, rather than systematic composition process is shown in this work. Adjectives such as calm, cathartic, and conflict were used to describe the outcome. 7:33


Opening background music: Pietro Grossi, “Unicum” from Musicautomatica (2003 Die Schachtel), excerpt.


Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.

See my companion blog that I write for the Bob Moog Foundation.


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Electronic and Experimental Music

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