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Stefano Scodanibbio: "John Cage - Dream"

img  Tobias

Therapy for patients suffering from borderline-syndrome will at times include courses for mastering the art of lucid dreaming. Controlling your dreams, the idea goes, can bring you one step closer to controlling your life. Even without suffering from schizophrenia, Stefano Scodanibbio is doubtlessly aware of the seminal importance of intuition and the unconscious. When, at a young age, he decided that the Double-Bass was going to be his instrument of choice, it was still far from being „given the respect and trust that it can be the focal point“, as Jeffrey Roden put it and only a dreamer could even imagine making a living by playing it. Scodanibbio however proved to be the right man at the right time. For two decades, he would co-shape the gradual (and, admittedly, painfully slow) emancipation of the Bass as a solo-instrument not just as a popular performer for palmary premieres, but as a veritable partner for some of the leading composers of the late 21st century as well. Compatriots like Bussotti and Nono would come knocking on his door, as would their international counterparts Brian Ferneyhough, Iannis Xenakis and Terry Riley. For years, Scodanibbio was a regular guest of Giacinto Scelsi, who enjoyed inviting a plethora of inspiring artists  for serious conversation, vegetarian dinner and chamber music. But even among this circle of illustrous figureheads, his relationship with John Cage stands out as special.

This is, perhaps, not something that will become apparent straight away by listening to the disc at hand or just by looking at the milestones of Scodanibbio's career. In fact, his official CV doesn't even once mention the composer's name and up until „Dream“, the only entry related to him consisted in a contribution to the album „Cage in Firenze“, dating back all the way to 1992. The mere fact alone that the sole piece included on that release, „Ryoanji“, makes a second coming on his latest offering, almost two decades after its first interpretation, however, already suggests that he has always remained an inspiration.

That one track, in fact, can be regarded as a sonic document of Scodanibbio's ongoing fascination with Cage's philosophies, aesthetics and materials. Written for Contrabass and Tape, what sounds like a prayer bell is struck in irregular intervals, creating a calm, yet ultimately unpredictable rhythmical pulse. On top of this „metric grid of irregularly patterned beats and rests“ (as Barbara Moroncini aptly puts it in the booklet notes), Scodanibbio adds several lines of gently glistening and grimly glowing downward-bent glissandi, as though gigantic airplanes were threateningly hovering over the peaceful serenity of Cage's garden. Since the score requires the performer to enter into a dialogue with himself,  part of the music had to be pre-recorded prior to the performance. Rather than comfortably resting on a set of prepared backing tapes, Scodanibbio has subjected his takes to a process of constant evaluation to arrive at a state where no two renditions are truly ever the same. The notion that a composition can never truly be considered as „finished“, but always exists as a product of chance, time and space obviously must have appealed to Cage, who, himself, was always looking for new and inventive ways of eradicating the traditional work-character of western music.

The same can be said about the interpretation of the five Freeman-Etudes. Here, Scodanibbio delves into the depths of dynamics, durations and drama with untiring enthusiasm, carving out a  continuum of melodic motives, jagged rhythmical figures and sudden eruptions On the „Concert for Piano and Orchestra“ as well as the closing, six-minute „Radio Music“, the only two occasions here on which he acts as a conductor rather than an instrumentalist, his entire focus is directed towards erecting a transparent stage for the music to unfold on, carefully filling the canvas with cascades of Piano-droplets, bowed and trembling strings, Mike Sovboda's ominous Trombone swells or foggy sheets of white noise respectively. The concert, especially, seems to give birth to new shapes and structures  every single second, as timbral groups form and decompose along a non-linear timeline.

By presenting these eclectic and contrasting materials, „Dream“ has certainly ended up a both challenging and charming composer's portrait. Scodanibbio doesn't try to turn the image of Cage upside down, yet places his theories in a refreshingly unorthodox and surprisingly accessible context. For once, beauty, tenderness, humour and mood are equally important as chance operations, Zen and silence. With the repertoire ranging from 1948 to 1985, this collection furthermore achieves a kind of representative quality typical „Best Of“ samplers could never attain: That of Cage as an artist of many faces and diverse phases and of a real person rather than a somewhat comical caricature of himself. Importantly, too, the supposed breaks in his oeuvre are depicted as not entirely seamless segues rather than radical ruptures, with his astoundingly harmony-affiliated beginnings gradually flowing into atonal writings and from there into a fascinating land of infinite potential.

Even the often-quoted idea of sound and music essentially being the same is already part of Cage's earliest emanations. On the title track, Fabrizio Ottaviucci's Piano circles the same heartbreaking markers for ten minutes to  arrive at a point where their harmonic references hypnotically cancel themselves out. The Contrabass, meanwhile, adds drones of an ephemeral and fragile nature, slowly oscillating between sensitive texture and chordal functionality. The result is of a mesmerising intensity, creating a time-suspending bubble of complete and neverending now-ness and extending the realms of music well into the lands of pure imagination.

It is here that life, death, reality and dream, often held to be each other's counterparts, become part of the same, indivisible reality. For some, this must seem like a somewhat frightening idea. To Stefano Scodanibbio, who has always believed in the power of controlling one's deepest desires and dreams, however, this transcendent state must come as something completely natural.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Stefano Scodanibbio
Homepage: Wergo Records

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