Archetypes in Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms. Ensemble Phoenix Basel plays Synchronisms for solo instruments by Mario Davidovsky on #neuguitars #blog

Archetypes in Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms. Ensemble Phoenix Basel plays Synchronisms for solo instruments by Mario Davidovsky on #neuguitars #blog

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Mario Davidovsky: Synchronisms | Ensemble Phoenix Basel (

The word archetype (from the Latin archetypum, from the Greek Archetypon, composed of arche- and typos) is also used in philosophical language (in Platonic philosophy it indicates the substantial essence of sensitive things); in psychology and psychiatry it designates the primordial image contained in the collective unconscious, which brings together the experiences of the human species and the animal life that preceded it, constituting the symbolic elements of fables, legends and dreams. In philology, particularly in textual criticism, the manuscript that is not preserved, but can be reconstructed through the collation of the known codes, from which the latter would derive, is said to be an archetype, which would represent the text closest to the original. It is a term with strong ontological reminiscences.

This album, released recently in a luxurious version as a double LP, produced by the Phoenix Basel Ensemble, is the result of the union of a series of musical archetypes, a selection of the twelve Synchronisms created by the Argentine composer, naturalized American, Mario Davidovsky (Médanos, March 4, 1934 – New York, August 23, 2019) between 1962 and 2006.

Davidovsky was born in Médanos in Argentina, Partido di Villarino, in the Province of Buenos Aires, a city about 600 km southwest of the city of Buenos Aires and near the port of Bahía Blanca. At the age of seven he began his musical studies on the violin. At thirteen he began to compose. He studied composition and theory with Guillermo Graetzer at the University of Buenos Aires, and, in 1958, with Aaron Copland and Milton Babbitt at the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood Music Center) in Lenox, Massachusetts. Copland encouraged Davidovsky to emigrate to the United States and, in 1960, Davidovsky settled in New York, where he was appointed associate director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. Davidovsky’s collaboration with the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center continued and from 1981 to 1993 he was laboratory director and professor of music at Columbia. In 1994 he became a professor of music at Harvard. During his career Davidovsky also taught at many other institutions: University of Michigan (1964), Di Tella Institute of Buenos Aires (1965), Manhattan School of Music (1968-69), Yale University (1969-70) and the City College of New York (1968-80).

This double LP therefore pays homage to his figure as an experimenter and composer. I feel a subtle irony in the fact that these pieces, these Synchronism:

Synchronisms no. 1: flute – Christoph Bösch

Synchronisms no. 3: violoncello – Jan-Filip Tupa

Synchronisms no. 6: piano – Ludovic Van Hellemont

Synchronisms no. 9: violin – Friedemann A. Treiber

Synchronisms no. 10: guitar – Maurizio Grandinetti

Synchronisms no. 11: double bass – Aleksander Gabrys

Synchronisms no. 12: clarinet – Toshiko Sakakibara

are pieces for soloists. It is as if, in a certain sense, the Ensemble Phoenix Basel had renounced its choral vision in favor of a set of individual scores each dedicated to an instrument, capable of highlighting the individual qualities of the members of the Ensemble. It is as if the forest has decided to highlight its trees. Perhaps it was a consequence of Covid-19: unable to rehearse and play together, the individual members have, perhaps, decided to focus on music that can be developed individually, to be collected, then, in a collective project. A possible interpretation that brings us back to another archetype: that of an Enssamble who agrees to split into a project which, in the end, always proves to be something more than the simple sum of its individual parts. Ontologies have a high expressive power, since they allow us to adequately encode the knowledge of any application domain, operating at a higher level of abstraction than other competing technologies. An ontological model such as an archetype provides us with constructs that allow, for example, to represent in a completely natural way links of heredity and relationships, even complex ones, between different entities. Like Davidovsky’s music, like his Synchronisms, so complex and fascinating, aimed at exploring all the possibilities offered by each instrument, of which they seem to want to investigate every secret, every possible sonic and spatial ravine. Eric Chasalow, in the brilliant essay that accompanies the double LP, defines them this way “In that constrained environment, where each tiny sound was cut out with a razor blade and spliced to the next, it was necessary to find exactly what one could control to shape musical phrases. As the Synchronisms pieces themselves make clear, and as Mario often explained, © 2021 Eric Chasalow 2 the envelope characteristics – that is, the attack, sustain, and decay of each sound – were key. A phrase could now open up or find closure not just through a series of pitches, but also through a succession of different attacks, from very hard and abrupt to ones so gradual that notes gently appear out of silence. A succession of widely varying articulations can shape a motive that can be developed over the course of an entire piece. Moreover, the live and electronic sounds could modulate one another and become something totally new, joined in one expanded acoustical space; a kind of musical virtual reality. It is Davidovsky’s ability to exploit our expectations about the instrument in front of us — to manipulate the instrument’s normal limitations with wit and sophistication, that make these pieces so compelling.”

Archetypes. Unique creations. Works of a designer who has chosen to create prototypes indicating wide-ranging development trajectories. Concentrations of information and style. “Mario Davidovsky: Synchronisms” is a small masterpiece with high individual intensity, the fourth chapter of a strictly self-produced record production that Ensemble Phoenix Basel has decided to distribute also through Bandcamp.