from the Bandcamp Web page for the album being discussed
At the beginning of this month, guitarist Giacomo Fiore released his latest self-produced recording. The entire album is devoted to a single composition by Michael Pisaro entitled “black, white, red, green, blue.” The recording is only available for digital download and streaming on a Web page created on Fiore’s Bandcamp site. The download includes a PDF booklet that provides a brief explanatory essay.
The score was inspired by the opening couplet of “Voyelles” (vowels) by the turbulent (and short-lived) nineteenth-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud. That couplet is included in the booklet and is also cited on the Bandcamp Web page:
A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels;I shall tell one day of your latent origins
For the record, the vowel content of each of the French color nouns has much richer phonology than any the English translations; but the full text of Rimbaud’s poem almost deliberately seems to ignore that phonology.
For his part Pisaro departs from the phonology of either the French text or its English translation. The composition amounts to a study in sonology, in which the sounds for each of the five sections, separated only by brief pauses, arise from different extended techniques for playing an electric guitar. In “order of appearance” these techniques are single strokes of individual strings with a percussion mallet, swells created by a volume pedal, plucked dyads, sustained tones, and rolls created by a pair of percussion mallets. Overall the composition is distinguished by its quietude, allowing the attentive listener to appreciate not only the overall structure but the many subtleties of fine detail.
The performance also requires alternative tuning, described as “quasi-just.” This allows intervals involving the seventh harmonic, the first natural harmonic in the series to depart significantly from the pitches of equal-tempered tuning. Each of the performance techniques creates its own palette of resonating intervals in which the 8:7 ratio is distinctively evident. Nevertheless, the effects of all emerging intervals are delicately subtle; and the recording techniques deployed by Lanier Sammons probably contribute as much to the listening experience as Fiore’s performance techniques. In other words this is a composition that is likely to have greater impact when experienced through this recording than might be encountered when the work is included on a concert program.
I would like to include with a personal observation. The very first mallet sonorities of the composition reminded me of the richly sonorous tolling of synthesized bells encountered at the very beginning of Edgard Varèse’s “Poème électronique” (electronic poem). Varèse created this pioneering all-electronic composition a few years before Pisaro was born, but the first commercial recording of the piece would have been available to Pisaro by the time he was growing up. There is evidence that Varèse was interested in synthesized vocalization, but I am not sure how well-versed he was in phonology. My guess is that Pisaro was not aware of the presence of Varèse’s “ghost” in his own music; but, for my part, I find it almost impossible to listen to any music without thinking about historical contexts!