Christian Ferlaino wrote this explanatory text as an introduction to his research. We wish you a good read!
Bad Habits – Liner Notes
“Today, we have reached a point where diversity and confluence occupy central positions in our musical life” […] “The nebulous categories of popular and art blur into a complex and encompassing web of subverted binaries, […] a world in which ‘fragmentation is the essence’” (Ronald M. Radano, New Musical Figurations)
As a folk trained musician and a western improviser I tried to keep these two musical worlds as much separate as possible for years. During my training, I wanted to avoid that the categories of the western music system would influence my understanding of the folk music I was in the process of learning. I chose to undertake a process of learning Calabrian folk music as much as possible consistent with the ancient training method based on enculturation. In my thoughts, preventing contact between the two musics would have helped me to understand profoundly the grammar foundation of the two of them; especially concerning folk music, at the time I felt that its grammar was threatened by of the omni-pervasive western music’s. After many years along parallel, never-touching, paths as a folk and improvising musician, I started to grow the need for harmonising these two musical words. I felt I was ready to engage a research in using this expertise in order to shape a personal musical language, using Calabrian folk music elements into contemporary improvised music. The saxophone solo recorded on this disc could be considered the first coherent published outcome of this research I have engaged in the last few years.
The choice of working on music for solo instrument was motivated by essentially two factors. On one side, I wanted to retain a reference to a common practice in Calabrian music: a consistent part of it is conceived to be played by a single instrument. Although not applicable to every repertoire, the practice of playing music on solo instruments is essential and widespread in the region. On the other side, the choice of working on a solo was motivated by a common and established practice in contemporary improvised music. Solos have been widely used in recent history as a framework for testing and developing new instrumental languages and techniques; it has become the experimentalist’s preferential setting for developing new personal languages. For these reasons, working on music for solo instrument seemed to me a perfect point of convergence for two traditions quite far apart, a possible ground for testing the translation of folk music instances into a contemporary practice for improvised music.
The music in this cd was composed using some grammatical instances of Calabrian music: mainly what could be addressed as limited resources, melodic formula, and modular micro-variation.
As Calabrian folk music, the solo pieces are built on very limited music materials, a short sequence of notes or a handful of music parameters around which the music pivots. These core elements are dealt with as melodic formulas, described by ethnomusicologists as the minimum expressive formation, a partial melodic object which is at the same time structured – its constituents have internal relations – and polyvalent – it can be combined with other materials in order to become a complete actual musical entity. It is a virtual object, a set of potentialities that materialises only with the performance. The melodic formula is a set of variables, in part fixed, and in part still susceptible of definition that works as a complex of breakable-apart elements which are endlessly combined together in meaningful objects. These core objects are perpetually varied, repeated and re-combined during the performance through modular micro-varied improvisation. This process establishes a tension between conservation and transformation of the core material. Two opposite forces exert their power on such music: one centripetal which binds it to memory and repetition, the other centrifugal which pushes it towards innovation and discontinuity. The resulting music can be described then as a perpetual reinvention and re-aggregation of stereotyped elements.
The concepts described above were adopted as the core principles of a prescriptive system that led to the composition of my saxophone solo. While composing the pieces, the main focus was on making music whose functioning reproduced the generative principles of Calabrian folk tradition. The solo was therefore mainly a work on Calabrian folk music grammar. Less attention was paid to the use of elements derived from the folk music vocabulary. The adoption of music material borrowed from Calabrian vocabulary was restricted only to a limited number of cases. As a result, the sonic reference to folk music is in general not very explicit.
Using Béla Bartók’s words: “the effects of peasant music [on modern music] cannot be deep and permanent unless this music is studied in the country as part of a life shared with the peasants. It is not enough to study it as it is stored up in museums. It is the character of peasant music, indescribable in words, that must find its way into our music. It must be pervaded by the very atmosphere of peasant culture. Peasant motifs (or imitations of such motifs) will only lend our music some new ornaments: nothing more”.
The objective of such an approach could be similar to what the Hungarian composer envisaged as the modern musician’s “third way” of dealing with folk music. That is, to absorb and master the idiom of folk music as if it were the composer’s mother tongue. This has been achieved through a close and constant contact with the actors of Calabrian folk tradition: the ongoing work is in fact the result of more than a decade of research on Calabrian music and the experience gained as a folk musician.