- Sonic Commentary: Bonus Ghost Tracks
WHEN NIC COLLINS asked me to compile the audio companion to an issue of LMJ dedicated to “Memory and History,” the first thought that dawned on me—together with being flattered by his invitation—was that he had obviously turned to the “history guy” side of me more than to any other of my musical selves. A conversation followed with Nic, where I started to realize that maybe I had been wrong. When separated from one another, and literally taken, the very concepts of “memory” and “history” may suggest other meanings: “memory” could also be intended as a memory unit of a piece of hardware (think of how memory size had marked the development of music made with samplers, etc.) and, of course, “history” could be any history—of persons, things, ideas, machines, communities and so on. However, tempted by all these possible directions and, at the same time, reluctant to play around with concepts with a “too-much-smart” overly affected attitude, I had to surrender to the fact that my first impression had already started to orient, even if not too consciously, my criteria of choice. Only, I decided to revert—or subvert—the memory/history theme by focusing on different possible takes: oblivion, for instance, in both objective and subjective ways. Secondarily, I thought of activating my personal memory in connection with something that I would bring out as historically meaningful even if it had gone more-or-less unnoticed when it happened. Memory became the main theme, and, in all cases, history would be implied as a natural consequence. So, I determined that I would collect some rather obscure materials that I had come across in the remote or near past that could fit the theme in various ways.
Most artists, especially composers, tend to quickly leave behind what they have just realized once they start to concentrate on a new creature. I have often observed—also as a musicologist—that, especially when many years go by and the artist happens to stumble upon one of her/his early work, almost or entirely forgotten as it would be, they experience the surprise of an exciting discovery. That is why I started to casually to ask some musician friends to activate their memories and each make an effort to recall something that they had produced in some remote moment of their career that was now, metaphorically or not, collecting dust somewhere. So, we have here artists who happily decided to brush such dust out of the music and found it beautiful or far more interesting than they expected. This is the case of Elliott Sharp, with a piece created some twenty years ago when he had just started to use ProTools—which, by the way, is the most recent piece in the collection, from 1994. It is also the case of Carl Stone, with a piece of the mid ’80s, which for a few years had been circulating only on demo cassettes. Carl had been unhappy both with the piece and its uncontrolled circulation, but—in another demonstration that sedimented memory can produce “wrong” recollections—he now finds the piece perfectly acceptable and has therefore made a new mix for the occasion. Also, for Claudio Ambrosini, this was the occasion to bring back to life, so to speak, an early exercise in electroacoustic composition that had a complex musical and theoretical background. Listening to the piece after 40 years was something that surprisingly, he admitted, ignited a reflection upon his present music.
A special case in this group is represented by the track of Arke Sinth, an ensemble of four musicians and artists from Padua active in the years 1972–73, who subsequently went each his own way: computer and sound engineering, video art, theater, psychology. They all have been acquaintances of mine for many years, and two have become friends. It was a few years ago that one had mentioned in conversation an early experience in group composition and performance that he considered important for his artistic upbringing. He was still regretting that its life had been too short but, after all, those were times...