The Music of Manfredi Clemente

VaresElectronique presents
a talented Italian composer of concrete music.
Here it is Manfredi Clemente.

How would you define your music?

If we speak of my composing, then I continue to define what I do as ‘concrete music’, which is an expression that from a certain point on I adopted and substituted to the more recent ‘acousmatic’. At the same time I noticed that it started emerging among my peers as well as the younger (although many of them often have a vague idea of what it is). Anyway, in addition to the compositional activity, there are also my other ones: improvisation, which started just for fun in the studies of the University of Birmingham, and field recording, which has always interested me and that somehow blends in both previous.

What are the theories and objectives behind your composing?

It is difficult to define a precise or univocal objective for my various activities… Basically I would say that there is first of a strong fascination with the sound and with what can be conveyed through the sound.
I often compare the act of composing – a term which is considered obsolete on which, however, i want to insist – to that of poetical writing. I think the basic principle of listening, at least when we refer to pieces of concrete or acousmatic music, is the exploration of sound images that the composer is offering to us.
In this sense I imagine a piece as a sum of spaces deployed on a time axis and therefore amenable to exploration… and the ultimate goal which I imagine for music is precisely the exploration itself. Exploring triggers a mechanism of evocation of meanings and senses that are just ours and no one else: you could say, then, that when we listen we explore ourselves. This is the reason why in my little introduction to musique concrète (which I was once asked to write), I used the metaphor of ear listening to itself.
To get back to your question, in composing (and perhaps also in improvising) my goal is to stimulate this kind of listening: my work is first and foremost a means I have to listen to myself, and then a tool that I hope will be useful in the same way for the audience of my concerts or to those who listen privately at home.
Of course, on the side of this there are other kind of thoughts… in the end reaching that goal, I also want to deal with the technical and aesthetic history of music-making in general, and of concrete music in particular. In my life-time, I would like to be able to escape the clichés of certain mannerist experimentation to find even just one expressive solution that can be considered a novelty.
In an interview with a Sicilian journal, Salvatore Sciarrino said a once that art is for everyone, but it does not give itself to everyone.
We will see what will be of my attempts.

And the field recordings?

That is a practice that somehow I conquered slowly. At first I considered it as a way to accumulate material that I could then use in my compositions. Since a few years, though, I tend more and more to record with a landscape approach, so that most of the time I prefer large, airy, ‘long sequence’ takes. Let’s say that soundscape is a way that I found to combine my passion for sound with the pleasure of hiking, especially in Sicily. This is the reason why, imitating others who already do that, I decided to dedicate a section of my site to my soundscape and field recordings.

Where did you come from musically and how you realized your musicianship?

I’m not one of those who can boast an obvious musical talent since childhood, not at all… When I was about 13 I began to study jazz, blues and bossa guitar, becoming then a really bad guitarist. Nonetheless, as a kid, I really liked those genres and in a way or another they marked me. I consumed my brother and sister’s CD’s, always insisting on a few of them: Keith Jarrett in Tokyo (1996) and De Andrè’s concerts with PFM are a couple of the ones that come to my mind, but there were many other things, often absurdly heterogeneous and sometimes rather trash. Anyway, my actual ‘musical origin’ is that of DJing as when I was about 15-16 I started to get interested in reggae and roots music, collect vinyls and organizing partys around the city. Then, rather slowly, I started knowing other genres: I met Dub music, IDM, some excellent underground Dubstep from the first decade of the 2000s (of which I have a good collection in vinyl, especially from the label Tectonic). At the same time, however, I also learned to appreciate the classical and baroque repertoire. Anyway I never managed to consume all my curiosity in a single genre, so that my research has been continuous and exhausting, until my arrival at the Conservatoire (after several years of studies at the College of Biology), where I finally discovered contemporary music, the electroacoustic repertoire and so on… I would say that rather than having a talent, an innate musicality, I’ve been building it over the years, with hard work and with many listenings, studying as much as possible, always with the idea of have a lot to recover.

Present your new work:

After a fairly long period of intense composition due to my PhD in Birmingham, I am in a phase of study of my own “catalog”. I’m trying to understand what I have produced over the past four years, i.e. in the years when my production changed and matured significantly, and in which I also produced those pieces recently published by Denis Shapovalov (Obs). One of my recent works is still to be presented officially in a public concert: I would hope to publish it soon. It is called “Buificazioni” and is a collaboration with the playwright Dario Enea, from Palermo too, inspired by Rimbaud’s Illuminations. He wrote a text in aphorisms which I then set to music, alternating each vocal aphorism with a musical fragment. At the moment I’m working on a piece commissioned by “Audior”, where I picked up the challenge to get inspired by a natural fact portrayed in a photography, something that I had never done before. Last but not least, I will soon be part of a European project on soundscape organized by the GMVL, Amici della Musica di Cagliari and Tempo Reale. I will be involved in recordings on the Sardinian territory. As for more general aspects of my current works, I can say that I’m trying to better control my style, better approaching forms and relations between the parts of the acousmatic writing, trying to reduce them to the essential: I dream about the complex simplicity of some of Pierre Henry as well as Kurtag o Scelsi works.

What is the idea of performance you conceive for your music?

Nowadays there is in electroacoustic music a tendency to adopt ways of performance from other fields, and in particular from the DJing. Nonetheless this kind of practice results in being rather ridiculous when everything that defines the rituals of clubbing disappears. It happens in fact that in order to imitate the DJ one adopts a number of exterior choices that make little sense in electroacoustic music: without asking himself why, one decides to star in front of the public, enlightened, perhaps semi-hidden by some smoke, doing gestures which are unrelated to the production of sound. This does not interest me at all: I do not see it as a nice ‘crossover’, but as a rather sad attempt to gain audience. If we speak of a concrete music concert, then the acousmonium is my ideal solution. Taking care of the acousmonium of the Amici della Musica di Cagliari and playing for four years with BEAST I learned to understand these complex instruments: dozens of loudspeakers (about a hundred in the case of BEAST) surrounding the public, on which one can distribute the sound originally inscribed in a few channels … it is a unique experience, but in which the interpreter is (or should be) set back, suggesting that his work is not something to offer to the eyes. Once again, the physical gesture is not connectable by the viewer to what happens, it does not inform the listener in any way. It is then preferable to encourage concentration on listening rather than on vision: the most effective concerts that I have done happened in total darkness .
In the case of an improvisation set it really depends on the type of concert: sometimes you can be part of an ensemble that also includes musical instruments, and then it is nice to establish the classic frontal relationship with the audience, as at least part of the cause-effect relationship is re-established and certain mechanisms of interaction between musicians return apparent to the eye. But for my solo with no-input mixing board, the frontal position is not necessary; I would just like to have a focused audience.
Overall I am also very interested in the kind of experience I can offer to people listening to my music at home, both on speakers and on headphones. I think this allows to establish a much more intimate relationship with the music. The use of natural dynamics in my tracks is designed precisely to let the listener move closer to the source, to encourage that exploration i was talking about earlier.

Here you can find the website of Manfredi Clemente: