The Treccani encyclopedia defines the fragment as follows: “Mutilated part of a literary work that has reached us. Following the loss of ancient codices, only fragments remain of many works of Greek and Roman antiquity. Many have been brought together in collections, including: Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker by H. Diels (1903); Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker by F. Jacoby (1925); Oratorum et rhetorum Graecorum fragmenta by K. Jander (1913) etc.”1
Why am I talking about the fragment in a musical context? Because recently I listened again, with great pleasure, to two guitar’s music records that seem to have a lot to do with the poetics of the fragment: “Fleurs d’X” by Fabio Selvafiorita and “Opposite” by Taku Sugimoto.
Two albums very different from each other, in terms of inspiration, setting and style, but which can be traced back to a common aesthetic form: the fragment.
Let’s start by talking about Taku Sugimoto. Taku Sugimoto is absolutely unknown to the mainstream media, but this Japanese guitarist has become a legend in avant-garde circles. He has reinvented himself from head to toe a couple of times already, going from being a psychedelic / noise rocker character to ultra-minimal and free improvisational forms.
He is one of the key artists in what has been dubbed the “onkyo” movement, Tokyo’s own form of Berlin reductionism – music built on silence instead of sound. Sugimoto reversed polarities and explored increasingly quiet areas in music. He gradually disassembled his playing, first going through a period of playing short, unstitched tonal lines and then moving on to more extreme techniques, playing the body of the guitar or slowly running his fingers along the free edge. It might be tempting to connect his music with Loren MazzaCane Connors’ acoustic experiments, but I think it is only a spiritual and not an aesthetic commonality: in Sugimoto there are no references to the blues.
In 1998 he released this “Opposite” which has become one of his best known records. Swiss jazz / avant label Hat Hut released it in 1998 on their affiliate hatNOIR, giving Sugimoto his first real exposure outside of Japan. On these 20 tracks, twenty fragments divided between pieces for acoustic and electric guitar, Sugimoto seems to explore the various spaces that can coexist between a note and its resonant tone, using strange intervals and an oblique arrhythmic phrasing. His sense of time and his harmonic invention are the keys to reading his music, particularly in the acoustic pieces, where Sugimoto explores polytonality while leaving room for the vibratory space itself, creating a series of microtonal reverbs that are gradually absorbed by space that draws around the individual notes.
“Opposite” is a disturbing, patient, peaceful and beautiful recording. It has been over 20 years since this record came out and, in some ways, Sugimoto has become a very different artist in the following decades, taking unexpected paths. However, the patience and art he learned here remained vital to his sensitivity through all of his transformations, and the taut and often pungent beauty of “Opposite” remains a key text for understanding his music. More importantly, the years have by no means dampened the sophisticated potential of this music.
“Fleur d’X” by Fabio Selvafiorita2 is, however, a very different record. If “Opposite” is a record based on improvisation, “Fleur d’X” is made of compositions that reflects the dualism of composer and interpreter, where the interpreter is Elena Càsoli. Recorded for the Italian independent label Stradivarius in 2015, this cd provides for the listening of forty-four pieces with durations ranging from a minimum of 23 seconds to a maximum of two minutes and 50 seconds, which the composer himself, Fabio Selvafiorita, defines as fragments : “With the title Fleurs d’X I wanted to collect a series of short and very short pieces for solo guitar written during the summers between 2007 and 2012. To date, gathered in three notebooks, this corpus of musical fragments records sudden deja-vu, elaborates intuitions caught in purely occasional moments, returns echoes of a musical memory always poised between enchantment, dream, fracture and distance.”
The result is a collection of musical “almost haiku”, light in their structure but complex in their execution precisely because of their brevity and expressive synthesis that force the interpreter, a Càsoli perfectly at ease and inspired, to a considerable effort of concentration and creative focus.
Selvafiorita fishes in his memories, in his readings, in the echoes left by other musicians and other composers, elaborating fragments with the title itself often exemplary as “Theme for Jim Hall”, “Choral Epitaph for Luciano Berio”, “Stillstand (stasimon for Lennie Tristano) ”testifying to a plurality of inspirations, listening, frequencies and emotions.
Both records express their content through sound splinters, twenty fragments for Sugimoto and forty-four for Elena Càsoli’s guitar, fragments that were born in this precise form and did not arrive through the mutilations of history and which represent privileged moments of pleasure and intuition.
As photographs, they show us a way to grasp a wholeness, a more complete and complex vision that remains hidden in the fragments themselves and in the spaces that surround and connect them. In this case it becomes necessary to talk about style using metaphors, using fragments as metaphors themselves. Here I allow myself a slight skepticism: metaphors are essential to thought, but we should use them without believing too much, if the metaphor used had been another, the conclusion would have been different. If I had talked about miniatures instead of fragments this post would have been of a different nature.
The pleasure of listening always remains: these are flashes of intuition created by single frames that invite the creation of a personal narrative. These records need to be listened to calmly, even in a casual way but not superficially: these splinters, often so catchy and melodic, run out of steam but leave their aura, their breath ringing in our ears for a long time.
I leave you with a comment taken from Susan Sontag that seems to best summarize when I write here: «I think there is something very precious in the form of the fragment, which indicates the gaps, spaces and silences between things. On the other hand, it could be said that the fragment is literally decadent – and not in a moral sense – because it is the characteristic style of an era, a civilization, or a tradition of thought or sensitivity. The fragment presupposes a wealth of knowledge and experience, and is decadent in the sense that everything behind it allows one to proceed by allusions and comments, without having to be explicit. It is not a form of art and thought suitable for youth cultures, which need to be very specific. But we know a lot, we are aware of a multiplicity of perspectives and the fragment is a way to recognize it.”3
2Graduated in musicology in Bologna with a thesis on computer-assisted composition, he founded a video production and post-production company, studied electronic music at the Scuola Civica in Milan with Alvise Vidolin.
3Susan Sontag, “Odio sentirmi una vittima”. Intervista su amore, dolore e scrittura con Jonathan Cott, il Saggiatore, 2016, pp. 73-74