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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.

Fabio Ciminiera on Jazz Convention

La ricerca di una possibile sintesi tra l’animo dell’improvvisatore radicale e il percorso del musicista cresciuto sul repertorio della musica tradizionale calabrese. Christian Ferlaino spiega così la genesi delle nove tracce che costituiscono Bad Habits, un lavoro in solo sassofono senza compromessi e scorciatoie. I temi prendono le mosse dal materiale folkloristico: cellule sonore e linee melodiche vengono trattate secondo le “regole” dell’improvvisazione e il bagaglio musicale del sassofonista per avviare un filo narrativo davvero molto particolare e suggestivo. Il punto di partenza resta riconoscibile e costituisce, in fin dei conti, un solido riferimento tanto per l’esecutore che per l’ascoltatore nel filo narrativo del disco. Il sassofonista non reinterpreta brani né ripercorre melodie per intero, utilizza solamente spunti o elementi minimali del linguaggio musicale della tradizione: sono però i tasselli costitutivi di quel linguaggio, elementi che riescono a darne, anche in questa modalità informale, il senso espressivo.
Le cattive abitudini del titolo, in definitiva, possono essere addebitate ai lupi della copertina – e, ovviamente, del proverbio – oppure allo zampognaro come afferma il primo brano – intitolato, appunto, Le cattive abitudini dello zampognaro. Se si vuole, però, manifesta il senso di un lavoro estremamente rigoroso, condotto in totale solitudine e senza ricorrere alle possibilità offerte della tecnologia: grazie alla dedizione di Ferlaino nell’applicare i vari interventi e alla sua profonda appartenenza al linguaggio, il patrimonio sfruttato mantiene la sua coerenza mentre si offre come punto di partenza per una nuova avventura musicale.

Mauro Verdi on Sands Zine

Se vi interrogassi sulle cose più importanti avvenute nel 1969 sono certo che nessuno di voi citerebbe la pubblicazione del doppio LP per solo sax alto di Anthony Braxton intitolato “For Alto”.
Andreste così a incappare nei miei pesanti rimbrotti, dal momento che reputo essere quel disco una delle opere musicali più importanti del secolo scorso. C’erano già stati, nevvero, strumentisti che si erano cimentati in esecuzioni per solo sax, ma si trattava di esperimenti occasionali laddove nel disco di Braxton c’è una progettualità che apre al solo strumentale, non solo relativamente agli strumenti a fiato, nuove prospettive. Aggiungerei infatti che la pratica del solo strumentale, in precedenza appannaggio soprattutto di tastieristi e chitarristi, dopo quel disco finì con l’essere applicata a ogni tipo di strumento musicale, cosicché quasi tutti gli strumentisti, mi sto riferendo all’ambito dell’improvvisazione, si sono prima o poi espressi utilizzando questa formula.
È quindi assai significativo questo lavoro che, dopo quasi mezzo secolo, ripropone con freschezza quasi inalterata proprio un set di improvvisazioni per solo sax alto.
In “Bad Habits” Ferlaino azzarda con successo una commistione fra la tradizione musicale della sua terra d’origine, la Calabria, e gli stili della musica improvvisata contemporanea, come sviluppo di una ricerca da lui effettuata presso la Reid School of Music di Edimburgo. Questa particolarità è un elemento di originalità e freschezza che sta indubbiamente alla base della riuscita di “Bad Habits”, ma non è comunque un elemento né sufficiente né risolutivo.
Il solo strumentale, venendo meno la ricchezza timbrica e d’incastri tipica delle improvvisazioni d’insieme, abbisogna da parte dello strumentista di alcune qualità in grado di sopperire alla povertà della formula. È qui che entrano in gioco i meriti di uno strumentista che sa tener perfettamente testa all’impegno che s’è preso: completo controllo di ance, tasti e del proprio respiro, grande fantasia nella ricerca delle soluzioni ritmico-melodiche, conoscenza approfondita degli stili che hanno fatto la storia della musica improvvisata, sono tutti aspetti che hanno ultriormente contribuito alla riuscita di un progetto tanto ambizioso quanto audace.