Symposium/Luigi NONO and Prometeo

Intensive Space

ASADA Akira--We have just heard Mr. LACHENMANN's comments based on his long relationship as a composer with NONO since the '50s, as well as Mr. ISOZAKI's comments based on his relationship as an architect with NONO since the '80s, so what I would like to do now is somehow link these two through a consideration of NONO and space.

Actually, in '87 when NONO came to Japan for the performance of his new work at Suntory Hall, I had the pleasure of guiding him around Kyoto, going to temples and different parts of town together and talking. One special memory that lingers is of Daitokuji temple, with its many sub-temples each with its own rock garden or moss garden. It's a diverse little microcosm all packed compactly into one temple. How was I to describe all those spaces? Well, categorizing very roughly, I started by saying there are extensive spaces and intensive spaces, spaces that spread outward and spaces that fold in on themselves. For example, a city like Paris laid out on the grand axes of baroque city planning displays truly expansive spaces. Kyoto, on the other hand, is a simple grid, not a particularly striking city when viewed from outside, but here and there are small but dense pockets such as the temple I just mentioned folded into the fabric, and these are intensive spaces. I don't know if NONO accepted my explanation or not. However, pursuing these thoughts further, it strikes me that NONO's music is possessed of a deep spatial sense, and that spatiality is if anything intensive rather than extensive.

This seems to have something to do with the difference at Darmstadt since the '50s, as Mr. LACHENMANN pointed out, between BOULEZ and STOCKHAUSEN on the one hand and NONO on the other. A problem that arose at Darmstadt in the '50s was that as the various musical parameters--pitch, duration, dynamics, timbre, etc.--were serialized and summarily structured, it got to where everything merely sounded like dots of scattered sound. How to overcome this was the issue. STOCKHAUSEN and BOULEZ's solution was that of extensive spatial enhancement, creating great fields and rich constellations of these points in a sort of planar or volumetric expansion. But not NONO; as Mr. LACHENMANN has said, he adhered strictly to points-as-points. Peering inside each point of sound, each is seen to be skewed ever so slightly, to possess a completely distinct quality depending on where it resonates from. Or else there will be some subtle interplay with the silence surrounding it. In such a way, by rigorously listening to each single sound in depth, he was rediscovering the intensive space that opens within a point of sound. Thus, whereas BOULEZ and STOCKHAUSEN expanded extensively outward, we can say that NONO looked intensively inward to discover an extremely deep inner space.

Such were the differences that arose when these composers sought to create literally spatial musics. In STOCKHAUSEN's [[Gruppen]], for example, the three orchestras in triangular configuration, when the brass sections hit the same bold harmonic at the climax--not to call it germanic megalomania--he creates a spectacular spatial experience backed with a certain brand of authority, an utterly extensive spatial experience. But STOCKHAUSEN's not one to be satisfied with that; he has to put string quartets on helicopters, he wants to play music in outer space, he has to go all the way to Sirius! (Laughs) [*13] This goes back a bit further, but in the '80s BOULEZ turned out a robust development by placing the orchestra and solo instruments around the audience in [[Repons]] [*14], then modulated the orchestra and soloists or the crosstalk (repons) between the soloists with live electronics. Actually, when you listen to it, you can distinctly hear the contrapuntal reverberations sound-to-sound. Nonetheless, these are strictly extensive experiments. All in all, when you listen to this work, you cannot help feel you are being feasted on a banquet of sumptuous yet somehow sterile sound painstakingly rendered with consummate skill. Though quite frankly, given my own decadent bourgeois tastes, I certainly have nothing against such sterile scintillation. (Laughs)

Still, with [[Repons]], it must be said that this yet sterile product has been realized by the most highly polished technologies and massive budget that afforded an artist who stands at the very forefront of French national cultural policy. Whereas [[Prometeo]], even with its same spatial motion of sound and resonance sound-to-sound, is of a completely different nature. Granted sounds do travel through space. But his was not the pursuit of spectacular effects such as sounds revolving or responding back and forth across an extensive space. Rather, his is more, as Mr. ISOZAKI has said, an enclosed cavern-like space, a dark space both acoustically and visually. Yet the closer we listen, we tune in on the most subtle, seemingly impossible echoes, and moreover coming from places skewed slightly from the sound sources. And as we train our ears, before we know it we find ourselves lost among these islands in a cave. What gives this work this unassuming character is, I believe, the way he uses acoustic technologies.

This has been demonstrated and explained to us by NONO's longtime collaborator Andre RICHARD [*15]. Take, for example, the "Halaphon," [*16] which enables the sound to revolve spatially. But it does not merely spin the sound; that would be like a production at a world's fair pavilion, just some spectacular thrust of sound in extensive space. Whereas with NONO, he might have the sounds rotate right and left at the same time so that you wouldn't even know which way they were turning. For sure the sounds are moving, but not on any clear vector through extensive space; the various movements cancel each other out, unsettle any sense of direction, or else they dissipate in multiple directions, making for a mazelike sound journey within an intensive space.

For the original premiere of [[Prometeo]], Renzo PIANO designed a boatlike structure inside San Lorenzo in Florence, and just before that NONO said, "My head feels just like San Lorenzo." Meaning, he was imagining how sounds might travel around the church interior of his own skull. Conversely put, whether San Lorenzo or Akiyoshidai Concert Hall, the whole is a skull--NONO's or again of any of our own--whose interior is the site of a sound pilgrimage that are we following, an extremely deep intensive space experience. That very probably was NONO's thinking. Which I believe was realized in an ideal form for this Japan premiere at Akiyoshidai. NONO himself is no longer with us, but this deeper intent was brilliantly realized by those who knew and understood him well. As a lover of NONO's music, I was thrilled at this opportunity to be on hand for this achievement.

CHOKI Seiji--With this Japan premiere, I conducted with my students a study of NONO's oeuvre centered on [[Prometeo]]. And what struck me was, how virtually nil awareness of NONO there was in Japan. First of all, there's almost no literature on NONO in Japanese. Not that this is a uniquely Japanese problem; no collected works of NONO have come out in Italy whereas they have in Germany in German. Almost all of NONO's early works premiered in Germany. It was the 1960s before NONO's works began to premiere in Italy, from [[Intolleranza 1960]]. NONO had a difficult time working in Italy, so much so that he and MADERNA made a studio in Darmstadt, so NONO himself was something of a traveler or expatriate.

Someone with such a background is probably too difficult to pin down to a single concept in Japan. My own doctoral thesis was a study of the composer BUSONI [*17] who likewise was born in Italy but lived practically his whole life in Berlin. Japan has a hard time absorbing information about composers like these, who resist localizing to some one source of output. With NONO, he was already active in Darmstadt by the time he began seriously composing, and in his later years he based himself in Freiburg. His musics are just barely there in German; we here, however, can scarcely piece together a coherent picture of the composer. Was he a German composer? Was he an Italian composer? Without establishing such a framework, I fear, we Japanese would never come to grips with the likes of him.

And another thing, much of his vocal music is written in Italian, and there was little opportunity to perform it here up to now. It's hard to find out if even his early masterpiece [[Il canto sospeso]] was ever performed in Japan. For sure, two of his most important operatic works [[Intolleranza 1960]] and [[Al gran sole carico d'amore]] [the great sun of blooming love] have yet to be staged here. That [[Prometeo]] should be the first of his major works to be put on here is something of a paradox timewise. But as always, Japan sticks mainly to 19th century operas, and we just cannot seem to break out of the mold. On many levels, there would seem to be no chance of staging NONO's operas in Japan. Conversely put, an "opera for listening" like [[Prometeo]] probably stood more of a chance of being performed.

This is still a question in my own mind, but what made him call [[Prometeo]] an "opera"? Perhaps it's all a big mistake on our part? (Laughs) If we call it an opera, if we consider it within an operatic framework, then it's a gigantic revolution. To have created an opera that eschews any kind of operatic staging or script makes [[Prometeo]] a unique work, if nothing else, in the history of opera. When we watch a 19th century-type opera, we sit in our seats passively taking in the spaces that unfold before us. The post-War operas of POUSSEUR [*18] and KAGEL [*19] do move toward liberating opera, but NONO has broken down open in wholly another way.

While this is definitely a "tragedy of listening," this work shows us that we do not listen with our hearing alone. Rare is the work that shows us so keenly just where we are situated in the concert hall. By the 19th century conception of opera, each individual listener is hearing the songs in an ideal space. Surely no one could possibly listen under these same conditions with even the most advanced CD or record technologies; certainly no other work differs so greatly depending on where in the space you're listening to it or keeps you casting about for where the sound is coming from. This disorientation is not felt listening to BOULEZ's [[Repons]]. In BOULEZ's works, the best place to hear it is where BOULEZ is conducting. Which is why he has to conduct his own works. For though physically [[Repons]] differs according to the listening position, that is not, it would seem, essentially BOULEZ.

Nonetheless, as to NONO's acceptance in Japan, the fact that [[Prometeo]] should premiere here ahead of other more conventional operas like [[Intolleranza 1960]] or [[Al gran sole carico d'amore]] does have the advantage of better acquainting us with the essence of NONO the composer. While listening to a composer's works in chronological order is one way of understanding him, the perspective from culmination back toward the past is perhaps, in a sense, more in accord with the Benjaminian vision that underlies NONO and CACCIARI's texts. Which makes this premiere very thought-provoking indeed.

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