Interview with Emanuele Forni by Andrea Aguzzi (January 2010)

The first question is always the classic one: how does it start your love and interest for guitar?

By chance: during high school I was studying in my grandmother’s house on a table in the attic, next to which stood a cupboard and inside an old classical guitar about ‘40 of my aunt. Something got me and I realized that the resonance of a plucked string was in the world what I had been always looking for.

How was born Ceci n’est pas une guitare and why this title so “Magritte” close (beautiful in my personal opinion)?
Genesis goes back to a project of three years ago made at Hochschule der Künste in Bern in collaboration with arts managments by Claudio Bacciagaluppi and Frances Maunder. This event, “Ceci n’est pas une Partition”, included various events:
. an exhibition of selected scores to highlight the evolution of musical graphic signs
during the centuries
. three musicological conferences that hosted, among others, the italian composer
Maurizio Pisati
. a concert of my trio Crossing No. 3.
This initiative has received considerable interest and I was asked to make a record with some music played in concert. So I thought it might be interesting to complement this initiative with a possible overview about what some contemporary composers have devoted to the guitar.
In choosing the repertoire, I wondered: “How is conceived today the sound of a guitar?”. Then I approached compositions by authors with very different “sounds”, from the absolute purity of classical guitar in Takemitsu, until the transfiguration of the electric guitar in Dufourt, where it is still difficult to recognize, listening to, the instrument.

How did your collaboration with the project of Stradivarius’s Guitar Collection start? There will be a sequel?

Stradivarius is an important reference point for those who listen to early music and contemporary art. In my house there are always been records of this label, so when I finished recording the CD “Ceci n’est pas une Guitare,” I sent them a copy proposes for the Guitar Collection. Fortunately, the product was liked.

A record like yours seems to be difficult to place in a specific category, do you think that it can be inserted into the vein of “New Music”? And if it’s so, how would you define the “New Music”?

I don’t think it’s so difficult to place, it is simply a disc of contemporary music. I find interesting the question “What is contemporary music today?”. However, the term “Neue Musik” was introduced in 1919 by Bekker as the title for his lecture with the aim of finding a definition to the various trends of the time: apparently the debate is still valid.

Listening to your record I have thoughht about the following names: Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, Frank Zappa, Fred Frith, what do you think about their music? Do you feel them similar to your way of playing and hearing the guitar?

These are all musicians that I know well having spent much time “with them”: in particular Zappa, unsurpassed for knowledge, instinct and musical intelligence. Also, when I heard for the first time Frippertronics I didn’t change the disk for a week.
There is however a fundamental difference in approach between the my personal practice of music and the characters take the above: I am an interpreter of others compositions, I play sometimes music with improvised parts but the structure is always given me by the thoughts of another person. Perhaps listening it doesn’t apparent immediately, especially on the repertoire of guitar, but the difference is that I’m not tied down to one style having available a score and not only replayed listening. Maybe one day I will venture in composition but until now I just choose the music I play in my concerts, link them together and interpret them.

The title of your album brought me back to the memory of Frank Zappa ,in his autobiography, he made a bit shocking declaration of intents: If John Cage, for example, would say “Now I’ll put a microphone in contact on the throat, then I drink carrot juice and this will be my composition”, that’s his gargling would classified as a musical composition, because he applied a frame, declaring it as such. “Take it or leave it, now I want it to be music.” It’s really a good statement to define the contemporary music?

I can not tell if this is a sarcastic, provocative or insincere statement. In 1963 Zappa brought on television a concert for 2 bicycles, so I shall think this is not sarcasm or controversy.
I think it is possible to put a “composition’s frame” to everything, including gargling, Fluxus and George Maciunas teach. But we have to see if the composition is interesting and valid: this is the story that decides it. Certain compositions survive, others don’t and you can feel that they are already dated a few years after their birth. Both the music of Zappa and Cage is clear that will survive the ruthless assessment of the time

Speaking about innovative composer, what do you think about John Zorn, about his Book of Heads and downtown New York’s music scene so ready to appropriate and re-encode any musical language, improvisation, jazz, contemporary, and noise, music for cartoons?

I think Zorn is a musician of genius, incredibly cool smart and intelligent: guitarists should be very grateful to have available now from 30 years these studies that a very few of us play. With regard to the music scene in the Big Apple, I find it extremely fascinating: in January 2009 I spent 3 weeks in NY for a project with Pierre Boulez and after practice or concerts, we wandered with the other members of the ensemble from club to club listen incredible performance, I even drank a beer with Mike Stern after an amazing set! In the United States have also seen an element that I find very intriguing young American composers have the intimate knowledge of the different facets of the music of today: the new music made in the USA, filter just the knowledge that in music’s history existed Vivaldi as well as Beck or Syd Barrett. I think this is the element that truly distinguishes the U.S. and Europe in terms of composition. I remain a supporter of the deep cultural background that you breathe in the great European musical institutions, often far more complete and thorough than the U.S., but I also believe that only in a few isolated reality emerges that element of profound knowledge and metabolism of the current music scene. In the Italian Conservatorio is difficult to borrow a lute but asking an electric guitar is unimaginable. Funny paradox: the operas of which I attended in NY are among the most conservative I’ve ever seen!

What does improvisation mean for your music research? Do you think it’s possibile to talk about improvisation for classical music or we have to turn to other repertories like jazz, contemporary music, etc.?

Improvisation is crucial to always find new inspiration or motivation to be surprised. Like all practices, however, must be grown, studied and elaborated. Being a good improviser means having assimilated a style so well that you can varied it at your will because the dictionary is internalized, or you risk being repetitive or just a copy. Unfortunately we can’t do everything and the mere fact of assimilating a musitian’s style is a very long studio. In Basel, I met Rudolf Lutz, an incredible improviser, notably in the late Baroque style: I think he has assimilated many of the scores of this period and then fails quietly holding court for hours with his harpsichord in a so original way, but he has studied a life to do that, leaving aside other practices. I am reminded of another interesting example: I recently played with a famous jazz musician of Milan just one point I proposed a Romanesca (a standard music for Baroque with a basso ostinato on which to create decreases). He told me at the end of the concert that he wasn’t able to find good ideas for that music because ita was a closed form closed too short and too repetitive. That statement made me think: who is studying improvisation in a certain style, may not be comfortable in a different style. Who know what Parker would have created an Indian raga?

You are graduated at ‘Hochschule der Künste Bern with Elena Casoli, what was your experience at this school? What are its features than an italian Conservatory?

Experience in Bern was very educational and gave me the opportunity to discover sound worlds that I never could deepen in an Italian institution. When I started working on the contemporary repertoire, I realized that my interest was attracted by the transformation of sound: being able to play a guitar so that it couldn’t immediately recognize all its features, so electronics. With the crucial help of Elena Càsoli and a section of “Musik und Medienkunst” I managed to play so many scores that it would have been impossible to do in an Italian Conservatory for logistical issues, provision of materials and in certain cases of skills. Elena was very stimulating for the repertoire and the guitar part, while working as a team with the department to find the best solutions for the electronics. Have a studio for tests, laptop for studying, sound cards, audio interface, cables, software … Who work with electronics knows the problem. Not to mention the quality of lessons and the dedication of teachers to the activity of the students. In Italy, I remember teachers who spent hours on his cell phone, this would be simply inconceivable in a Hochschule.
I was amazed by your versatility as an instrumentalist: guitar, classical arciliuto, how do you manage this fleet of guitars?

…. studing! it is clear that the integration of a new instrument is very complicated and it takes a lot of time, it is also clear that one can not have a virtuoso technique on 10 different instruments, but with a little patience, you can get a good control on different instruments using different techniques. There is obviously a downside: there are guitarists who have in the repertoire (and memory!) 20 standard concerts for guitar and orchestra, still I can’t do this.

Would you like to talk about your own guitars?

I believe that all music is tied to a particular instrument suited to exploit the nuances related to the composer’s thought and style of an era. I try to use the specific instrument asked in the score or the one that shall get closer and better, so as to recreate a specific feeling. I am not fond about transcriptions other than those authorized by the author and I find very hard to hear or play something that does not take into account the instrument for which music was written: it would be like playing Hendrix with a Gibson or a baroque lute. The sound is an essential part: If we don’t take into account this parameter we risk losing something or simply to add a foreign taste, or even just alleging misleading. I own a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, a Fender Telecaster and a Parker Fly Mojo, as a classical guitar Masaru Kohno, 1977, Roberto de Miranda of 1986 and a Cuenca r50 of 2000; as acoustic guitar a Robert Taylor No. 110 of 2001. For ancient music I use an old Venus model of arciliuto made by Andreas von Holst in 2001, a theorbo Magno Tieffenbrucker’s model always by Andreas von Holst in 1997 and a medieval lute made by Richard C. Earle in 1985. I also play a charango by Sabino Huaman 1999, a banjo and a well-made bouzouki made by an unknown luthier. For the amplification of electric guitars I favorite a Twins Reverb Fender and Marshall tube head and speaker. For the amplification of the classic (in certain contexts essential) I still have not been able to find something that satisfies me. I would be very grateful to him who knows how to give me a good and practical solution

I saw you playing a Fender Stratocaster from you “customized” with the bridge pickup Symour Duncan and maybe also with a Floyd Rose bridge, why these changes? Did you need a little ‘more than … grit? The Seymour Duncan is a nice pick up for quite saturated sounds …

For the pick up is a matter of flexibility, I loved all the Strato’s sounds but I found the first pick up a little bit anonymous so I prefer to change it to have a choice to play in different ways. In fact, when I discovered the Parker, I learned what I needed. The bridge has been rather a choice: there are songs that require wide trips with the vibrato bar and I immediately think that Floyd Rose was suitable for this use.

In an interview with Blow Up Magazine you quot Third Stone From The Sun by Hendrix as one of your favorite tunes, why this choice? Third Stone is one of the most cosmic and psichedelic pieces by Hendrix …

I have always been interested in art by the sublimation and fantasy. That piece of Hendrix I think it’s one of the brightest and clearest examples of these two aspects: it is a piece of 60’s rock but can be seen as an ideal prototype of other genres such as jazz, blues, fusion, hard rock or ambient;Instead the “fantastic” part doenn’t need any explanation in the case of Hendrix.

Listening to various non-official records (eg session with John McLaughlin and Larry Young) and reading the autobiography of Miles Davis, I got the idea that Hendrix was ready for a new “evolutionary leap” and that only his death has deprived the electric guitar of a figure equal to those of John Coltrane on soprano sax and Miles Davis on trumpet, what do you think?

Like all genres is clear that his artistic career would develop into a new development but honestly I can not say in which direction. It would be like asking which way it could have gone Coltraine after Giant Steps, who could predict a trend like the one that led him, after a year to A Love Supreme? Maybe even the same Coltraine.

Do you listen to other genres outside classical and contemporary music?

I’m totally omnivorous, from Tuck Andress to Pastorius, by AC/DC to Van der Froos by Gismonti to Redman, by Manu Ciao to the Vibrazioni, from Eric Dolphy to Django Bates, from Aphex Twin to the ORB or the Ozric Tentacles.

What do you think about the discographic market crisis, with the transition to digital downloading in mp3 and all this new scenario?

Problematic, especially for those who make music not just for the masses. We are in a transition period, the market has not yet moved definitively on digital media and are not yet clear what new points of reference that will replace the majors. Previously the major record companies could also produce music for niche as they enjoyed the income from the big names. Also they managed to secure a remarkable quality of the finished product. Few homes currently produce CDs that do not warrant the return of at least the cost of production and therefore often asked artists to cover these costs. In theory, should be the artists themselves to bypass the record label and promote their music, but I do not think that type of “MySpace” is the definitive answer because you are still unable to cover all those skills from the past. The free market of the Internet creates enormous opportunities for the public to decide what should be rewarded with sales and what not, but at the same time does not help those things actually necessary for the music of tomorrow, namely the research (or testing). We can not run the risk of dropping into oblivion the new Ligeti or a future Nono: we must find some “social ways” which currently I still can not identify. Very few sponsors are currently interested in promoting registration of a certain quality in the world of experimental research then how can we know the new names of contemporary composition? Only with the committees of songs from concerts that often run at once? I think not.

Please tell us five essential records, to have always with you .. the classic five discs for the desert island …

My tastes are changing rapidly in listening to music so I can advise the last five incisions that fascinated me: Café Zimmermann (Charles Avison), Henri Agnel (Istanpitta: Danses du Trecento Florentines), Luca Francesconi (Etymo), Airto Moreira (Creek) Andreas Scholl (An die Einsamkeit). I’m too curious to dwell forever on 5 songs that I believe are the best ever.

What are your five favorite scores?

Also for scores we can say the same as listening to the music: I fall in love easily and therefore the better score is almost always the last played. Currently I find amazing the music by Domenico Mazzocchi (Monod), Benedetto Ferrari (Monod), Moulin Etienne, Gilles Binchois, Kaija Saariaho (L’amour de loin).

With who would you like to play?

With too many people! Paolo Fresu, Flea (Red Hot), Paco de Lucia, Keith Jarrett, Dave Matthews, musikFabrik, King Crimson, Philippe Racine, Sergio Azzolini, Il Giardino Armonico, Claudio Abbado, Jordi Savall, Nigel North … there are too many fortunately.

Thank you very much!