Saturday, 5 May 2018

Giorgio Sollazzi  La Parete Inquieta  Analysis

The following slides are adapted from a power point presentation of an analysis of Giorgio Sollazzi's La Parete Inquieta. There is also a reprint of the overview of Sollazzi's music (the original is now deleted) and links to You Tube pieces, . The music can be heard on a You Tube video of the PowerPoint at

I expect that a score and video will be available, and I understand the composer is completing the electronic reworking of this music.

My thanks to GS for permitting the use of his score and to Davide Ficco for his excellent performance which made hearing the musical logic so much easier.

Clicking on the slides will enlarge the images.


A brief overview of Giorgio Sollazzi’s music.

Sometimes a composer’s shorter pieces are the most interesting, the musical intention is clear and each detail can be savoured for its contribution to the whole.  Like a short story there are fewer characters and situations to which the characters react. When Giorgio Sollazzi shared the work “Tribute to Ives” he offered an insight into his interests in a specific musical character and his own style of writing.
The oboe part played by Roberto Manilla is the dominant factor in the music and the electronics take a secondary role, the additional sounds are sparingly used. The progression of the music grows from a short four note figure to successions of short phrases (which do merge to form longer statements as the music unfolds), these are underpinned by the electronic sounds which contrast the oboe textures and sonority.  There is little interaction between the two layers but they complement each other.  The electronic sounds also mark the progression of the music defining the subsections with sfz chords and a short passage which is a cadence to conclude the tribute.
Where a composer takes his sources for electronic sounds is a personal and private matter, the essential point being how it contributes to the whole.  There are indications though that the material, which adds drama through its use of movement across the stereo image and its tremolo rhythms, is a sample of music (not taken from the oboe) there being sounds which suggest spiccato string sounds, this short passage is highly effective against the legato of the oboe.
Given the title there would be few listeners of contemporary music who would fail to make some connection with the Unanswered Question. The notes to Ives’ score suggest that an oboe may take the trumpet part. There is an immediate connection with the movement of the trumpet phrase and Sollazzi’s oboe phrases which tempt one to ask the question how similar are the two parts. The Ives trumpet part is very limited a five note group with a single pitch modification in the repeat, the Sollazzi phrases, as stated, extend to longer groups until the close where two clear events emerge, a chromatic rise and the fall of a fifth and a descending scale which leads to a closing figure on E, B, C, B which complements the electronic sounds.
When taken as individual phrases there are high levels of similarity in the pitch content of successive phrases which then expand or contract, taking a sample from the 1st main section:
024 69
0245 8
0235 7 (x2)

This may or may not be part of a larger plan in the design of the music, but what it does is to provide a link between phrases as a gradual evolution of a specific figure, and that can be heard.
Formally I hear the music as being in four sections, the solo oboe, the agitated electronic and oboe section concluded by the sfz chord (approx. 1’ 30”), the third section with the spiccato like electronic sounds where the phrases extend, this also closing with a sfz chord, and the final chromatic rise (chord) cantabile section and cadence. Timing these section (approximately) we have two outer sections of 44” and 45” and two inner sections of 54” and 53” giving a total duration of 3’16”.

Listening to “Freud and the Moon” presents in under four minutes a sonic drama. The main argument is a melodic line for a virtual instrument. This solo material presents the first of two levels the second and more complex level being a series of gestures in the form of electronically processed sounds. This contrast taken with the title suggests a programmatic element, an introverted, or at least reflective figure, disturbed by recollections of experiences, both pleasant and disruptive. Freud, as the father of psychoanalysis, fits well into this simple interpretation of the music, Freud being the observer noting the reactions of a patient. Does the music offer the type and range of emotional responses that support this view?
The electronics offer the listener a constantly changing set of sounds, sometimes near vocal, sometimes bell-like, and apart from one fortissimo outburst the effect is subtle, the sounds produced on the edge of our recognition. The musical effect of half-recognised yet familiar sounds is to draw us into the minutiae of the textures. At the very opening the electronic sounds literally call on the listener with a sharp demanding tone and up to the 1.40 mark have a near human quality, this gives way to a more aggressive, explosive passage, after which the music becomes reflective. In this more subdued section sounds are concordant and recollect music that is 19th century in style, almost like listening to an old style gramophone player reproducing a slow dance.
The sense of observing action on a stage is heightened at one point by the use of spatial setting, the music travels as if a procession was in place, if it were a quadrophonic recording I feel certain it would encompass the front to rear of the listening area in its journey.
The virtual instrument has different qualities according to its register, string like tones in the bass and gentle bell-like tones in the upper, the light use of vibrato again suggests a vocal character. Its song, like in many of the composer's works, ranges widely with well-spaced intervals so that quite simple harmonic material takes on a contemporary character.
The question was asked if the music supports a dramatic interpretation, I see and hear no reason to discard the view, indeed I would be tempted to suggest that this would work well in the context of a semi-staged music drama, and should this be one work in a series of such reflections the time scale would be appropriate.

There are many Sollazzi works to hear on YouTube in addition to the six selected on our blog and among these is a short piano piece called “Gem Crystals”. The work opens with a succession of chords over the full range of the piano. Semitone dissonances form a sharp edge to the opening of the music, but as the music progresses rhythmic figures created through repeated notes become more prominent and the music takes on a different character suggesting some of the textures we more readily associate with late Beethoven or even the way that Ives quotes Beethoven. English readers of the blog may be surprised to know that the performer Marcella Coletti was nine years of age at the time, so much for contemporary music being inaccessible. For those who appreciate the range of sounds and rhythms of this work would enjoy his Piano Sonata’s third movement in particular.

There is so much more to explore in this music that I have already exceeded the usual 1K word limit that we impose on ourselves.  I shall leave Nurtan to reply to some of the observations made.

To complete this short overview I will post some answers given by Giorgio to my enquiries over the past few weeks:

"Many UK musicians think of Italian music as very lyrical, is a singing quality important to you?"
I can say that I love "bel canto", Verdi, Puccini etc, we, as Italians, eat the lyric with mother's milk. But I don't compose thinking about singing quality, maybe something enters in my music unconsciously.

"The music I have heard is dramatic, the music consists of many gestures, like an actor on the stage. Do you compose with gestures in mind rather than use a matrix to organise your music?"
I try to work my sounds by means of musical intelligence and sensibility, so, yes there are gestures and a matrix. The matrix can be complex, but I want my listeners to hear emotions in the architecture.

"The music you share on you tube is relatively short, have you written any large scale music?"
Yes, I wrote pieces for large orchestra like "Concerto per tre violini e orchestra", "L'opera della terra e della luna", "Cronolalia" etc. I composed these works during the 1980s.

"It is clear that you appreciate music of the previous centuries, does any one composer influence the way you compose?"
I love Beethoven so much that when I was young I believe - hoped - of being his reincarnation. I 'm not sure Beethoven's music influences the way I compose, but I try to have the same strong sense of expression. Other ideal teachers are Ives and Nono.

"Have you used direct quotation from other composers in your music?"
No, I haven't. I don't like that method because only Berg, Stravinsky or a genius can do it well.

Are there any particular instruments that you favour?”
I particularly love those instruments that have a deep sound like the cello, double bass, bassoon and bass clarinet.

"What is your view of musicians who use FM synthesis?"
I love new technologies and how they open the making of music to everyone.

"I like your use of space in music, is it an important structural part of your work?"
Yes, it is. In the past we had great examples: Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli during the fifteenth century used space so creatively in their music. After Stockhausen I think every composer must use, when it is possible, space as structural part in their music.

Freud and the Moon                                           
Evoked Potential Cult                                          
Forse neanche il futuro (Perhaps even the future)
Piano Sonata the first movement                     
Gelida torre (Cold tower)                                   
For Maurizio Pollini                                             

(highlight the hyper link then right click and go to...)

Thursday, 3 May 2018

What type of listener are you?

This is not one of those multiple choice articles that you find online and in magazines, the intention of the blog is to explore why human beings adopt different attitudes towards music, how psychologists define musical personalities, why certain aspects of music appeal to some and deter others and explore what part our first exposure to music plays in the development of musical personality. For the composer and performer understanding the types can be particularly useful in the planning stage and in anticipating the needs of and expectations of an audience.

I am going to begin with a universally accepted fact amongst listeners, music is communication and if it fails to engage, even for a moment, it will not reach out to audiences. Though human beings have a limited attention span nothing draws renewed focus on a piece of music than a fault. Having said what we intuitively understand let us move to something a little more obscure, how psychological profiles determine musical preferences. The bold print titles in the table below indicate the four types of listener, the genres of music appealing to each musical type is wide. The table offers a few examples:

Reflective & Complex:

Art music
Contemporary classical
Jazz (post 50’s)

Intense & Rebellious:

Heavy Metal

Upbeat & Conventional:

Film track

Energetic & Rhythmic:


Psychologists add to the mix three personality traits which glue the person and the music together, openness to experience, conscientiousness and extraversion (defined by Costa & McCrae 1992), they are as follows:

Openness to Experience: refers to active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, and preference for variety, intellectual curiosity and independence of judgement. 

Conscientiousness: denotes strong will, determination and purpose.

Extraversion: refers to Sociability, liking for people and large gatherings, assertiveness.

This blog will focus on the two personality traits which most directly concern practicing musicians. Openness to experience and extraversion. The former classification is the one with which contemporary classical musicians would identify most readily. It is also a powerful influence on other styles in which complexity plays a part such as modern jazz and some types of electronica. Don't confuse openness with universal stylistic acceptance, (consider for example comments made by Jonathan Harvey in a BBC interview where he singled out his feeling of repulsion with repetition in popular music).

One significant feature discovered from studying openness amongst individuals is that those with a low level of openness (listeners who gravitate to a specific style) like to have the same music repeated while those high in openness preferred a regular input of new works. Those readers living in the UK might reflect on their experiences of the output of Radio 3 and compare it to Radio 1 and 2 when it comes to repeats of music, and then extend that reflection to stations like Classic FM. (I must add here that I find a determination to uncover novel or rare works doesn't necessarily improve the quality of a broadcast, nor does repetition of music with a single style make for a poor programme).

To communicate well with an audience the composer often provides hooks which offer an additional opportunity for reflection and comment. Open listeners respond particularly well to such cues. While programme notes and scores may offer visual clues composers are a little more inventive; in George Crumbs “Voice of the Whale” the use of subdued blue lighting in the auditorium creates a theatrical ambience. In one performance of “Ludwig Van” by Kagel I saw multiple pages of music pasted around the concert hall (projectors were in their infancy), the theatrical cues extended to the appearance of Beethoven made up as Frankenstein's creature! “Ludwig Van” is interesting in the context of this blog in that it has no original music but permits the open minded listener to engage with familiar complex forms in an unfamiliar context, thereby extending the degree of openness offered.

In addition to the music being embellished with analytical information open listeners show a preference for many themes over a single theme in music, this leads us towards the notion of open listeners gravitating towards music of greater complexity. Taken at face value this would suggest that a monophonic Haydn movement would rate less highly than a work with two contrasting themes, but this is to undervalue the degree of inventiveness and variance provided by the composer. Orchestral light music makes a virtue of the single theme design.

The second type of listener is an energetic extrovert and goes under the term psychological term extraversion. This preference leans towards more conventional harmonic language driven by dance rhythms. Repetition is welcomed by such listeners and the type of listening is less focused in that it can just as easily be background music or music that co-exists with another (usually physical) activity. Such listeners are content to hear chains of different themes and changes of mood as long as the music plays faster, repetitive rhythms. The question of pace is particularly important in recognising the difference between 'open' listeners and extroverts. In many cultures work songs are still a vital part of daily life, I referred to the tradition of beating cloth in the Shetlands in a previous blog, this co-operative venture is one example of the function of energetic extraversion in society.

Let us move on to the matter of pace and how it affects the emotional world of those who incline to “openness”. Such listeners often describe highly intense responses to sad and slow music, and their descriptions of the music often note sensations of peace, awe and melancholy. Works with direct cues to emotional response can be hugely popular, Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” with its readily grasped composing intentions (dynamics and register) is such an example, and shows us the role that age, association and place has in developing the response we have, all of these factors add to our listening preference.

Even though our genetic makeup directs us towards a preferred listening style each person is an individual and no definition will work for all listeners. This pull towards belonging to a group is intensified through education and the society we live in and acts as a motivating force on the choices made by the composer before a single note of music is written.  

There are studies on gender differences in approaching music and the alterations in our perception of music as we age (from cradle to grave). These issues will be of considerable interest to particular composers but lies outside the range of this particular blog. Having said that writing for a particular age group as the Who did with their rock operas demonstrates their inclusion of group identity, gender issues and sonic preferences with lyrics and music. Understanding the wholeness of their intention demonstrates an intelligent and emotional understanding of their audience, all of which plays a part in the huge popularity of their music. Smashing their equipment on stage can be seen as more than a theatrical whim when considered in these terms.

If you enjoy listening to complex music are you in an elitist group? I would argue against the notion, belonging to such a group often arises from family preferences, genetic predisposition, education and social factors, but listening to complex music is a preference which may occur and be developed in all sectors of society and different cultures.  Some listeners will experience (and be content) with a limited stylistic range of music while others will extend their initial experiences by listening to associated styles and periods. Listeners with specialist and refined experience of music could be described as elitist whether the content is complex or not.

To explore how casual listeners can be drawn towards listening to complex music we need to consider coincidental and structured exposure to music.

Coincidental exposure.

Examples of coincidental exposure to music is widespread thanks to media such as radio, television and film. Takemitsu cites American radio broadcasts of jazz as significant in the development of his style. As for television I have lost count of the numbers of teachers who use arrangements of well-known works popularised by advertising to hook pupils onto performing and appraising. Film music has become increasingly adventurous in its use of contemporary sounds including 12 note music and texture driven works.

Any system of collecting and playing music will be shaped by the experiences of the person selecting the materials and it can be delightful to have ones knowledge expanded by a well-informed librarian or radio presenter. Radio 3 the UK serious music radio programme has “Late Junction” as a flagship of diversity and it is essential listening for loosening the straitjacket we sometimes climb into of our own accord. Once we integrate the sounds of street performers, carnival, recordings of natural and industrial sounds there is no shortage of examples to stir the most important characteristic of all learners, curiosity.

Structured exposure.

Hearing by design can have positive and negative values, church attendance will encourage specific types of listening (and performance). Certain societies value specific instruments and styles of music, in Wales the harp is highly valued and the combination of recitation and harp, accompaniment in Cerdd Dant is a highly refined and competitive stylistic medium unlike any other to my knowledge. One insight into musical education in my experience arose from listening to an Irish musician who explained that he had learned the pipes from an early age by watching the movements of his father's hands. It seems that some of us will have experienced a fair input of music pre-birth and this may shape our preferences; having being adopted from a very early age into a non-musical family I sometimes wonder about the nature/nurture argument and pre-birth experiences.

The effect of cultural identity and our desire to belong to that group will influence a number of factors, the scales and harmonies and tuning we prefer, the blues, four part harmonies of hymns, the rhythms of gamelan, pentatonic scales and so on. 

Once the listener is familiar with one style of music there is the possibility that curiosity will draw the person into new areas of listening, and it may be that the new areas will exploit degrees of sophistication and be more demanding in scope, design or intent. Most of the styles of music mentioned above are sophisticated, (the four part harmonies of hymns), some are complex (rhythmic organisation of gamelan), and some will appeal to a specific audience (Cerdd Dant).

As with the use of learning styles in education one must recognize that age and experience widens the crossover between the categories outlined in the table at the opening of the blog. A perceptive listener will recognise that great works of art may cover all the areas identified. For the cynical this could be seen as a case of hedging composing bets for recognition, for the less cynical a demonstration of the wide ranging humanity of certain composers. It may well be that one listener may take initially to the rhythmic play of the second movement of Beethoven’s Op.110 and another respond to its lyricism while a third could take to the intellectual contrapuntal writing, given time and exposure to the music each individual may come to recognising the power of the interplay between the elements.

When Webern moved from writing in a late romantic style as in “Im Sommerwind” and the “Passacaglia” to the intellectual works like his Piano Variations Op. 27, he lay down a challenge to his original audience, while both types of music would fit into the reflective/complex category the demands on the listeners attention are steeper, partly through changes to the time frame, different approaches to repetition particularly regarding rhythm (a parameter which permits the sharing of listening categories, so that e.g. Holst’s “Mars” gets adapted by progressive musicians King Crimson in “The Devil’s Triangle” off 'In the Wake of Poseidon' ).

For some listeners the advent of more intense and complex music has been a wonderful opportunity to associate with likeminded musicians, and for a select few the opportunity to represent that group as its spokesperson. There is a danger that the identification of modern music with a particular group leads to distrust, and music (like mathematics) is wrongly labelled “difficult” and a painful experience to be avoided. Reading regularly made negative comments about music which is now a century (+) old demonstrates how powerfully group dynamics can affect our choices.

Experiencing emotional responses from sound and music.

In examining the responses from listening to music one will come across several psychological accounts regarding our reactions.  A psychological model has been formed to account for our emotional responses, it is given the memorable title “The BRECVEM model” (Juslin & Västfjäll). A detailed introduction can be read at:

In order to simplify the classifications I have added in italics possible responses when listening to the opening pages of Beethoven’s first symphony.  I wouldn't describe these as part of my internal dialogue, but nevertheless could be forming part of my listening experience.

Brain Stem Reflex:

The brain receives a musical signal and considers that a response is required, music is taken at its basic level of sound input. The orchestra’s forte on the opening chord surprises me, my attention is drawn to the music.

Evaluative Conditioning:

Music is associated with positive or negative feelings. At the Allegro con Brio (after a pulse acceleration) my sense of excitement and happiness is intensified by the strong steady downbeats and the spring in the dotted quaver-semiquaver figure.

Emotional Contagion:

The listener identifies with the emotion presented in the music and then simulates the emotion to “resonate” with it. This “resonance” involves both physiological and psychological reactions. At bar 52 the oboe theme alters my perception of the mood of the symphony and through the change increases my sense of involvement with the music. I feel that the oboe sound perfectly matches my involvement and my mind wanders a little to reflect on this observation.

Visual Imagery:

 Association of image (internal or external, real or imagined) with music. The cantabile tone of the oboe melody and the perky staccato accompaniment associates an image from a World War I film of a girl singing while deftly moving between her patients in a hospital ward.

Meyer (1956), “it seems probable that ...image processes play a role of great importance in the musical affective experiences of many listeners”

Episodic memory: Association with personal/social memories, significant life events. The oboe melody at the point of contagion reminds me of my friend who played the oboe who died some months ago.

Musical expectancy:

Prior knowledge of music creates expectations which are denied, (some psychologists identify this as creating negative reactions, and I would contest this, to the experienced listener the denial or surprise factor should be a positive, even humorous stimulus).  After the short three quaver figures at bar 69 I am expecting the music to start moving to the dominant but the sudden switch of dynamics and harmony take me by surprise.

Musical expectancy refers to those expectancies that involve syntactical relationships between different parts of the musical structure (Narmour 1991; Patel 2003).

Aesthetic judgement:

Individual evaluation based on message or meaning, the quality of the composition (craftsmanship), originality of design etc. From the opening statement Beethoven has used his knowledge of harmony to keep us in suspense to make the rhythmic acceleration a striking feature.

Having these categories to identify what initiates a reaction (emotional or otherwise) will be of more use to those studying our behaviour than those wanting to direct their composing skills in a particular direction, but they are nevertheless categories with which a composer should give some consideration, they are the bedrock of what bring about an emotional response.

Turning to the inputs of sound, music and silence, a brave person might introduce the philosophical question of whether the listener's emotions are contained within the composition or the person, or shared between both. Why do some pieces of music create a particular emotive response (joy, sadness, laughter or tears), or in some cases a succession of responses or even a succession of different responses on different occasions? It may occur to some readers to enquire if we need to make a distinction between experiencing a single sound (or succession of sounds) and a planned relationship of sounds experienced in a composition to experience emotional responses.  The question is particularly pertinent after John Cage broke down the conventional relationship between sound and structured music and recordings and presentations of sampled music become compositions in their own right.

So, is the emotion in the music or the listener? One school of thought is that music emulates characteristics that resemble or suggest human reactions (alternations of pp and ff,  tremolando strings, string glissando sighs come immediately to mind). The process of decoding such events and developing them into a narrative has already been considered in the previous blogs on motivation, but it is vital to recognise that some hold the view that the judgement of the listener is considered not only as vital but more important than the structure (the composition).

Some believe that there is a shared function between structure and appraiser. Process theory responds to the Juslin & Västfjäll table provided above, and suggest that music creates an immediate response preparing us for action which is felt as emotion. The number of reactions, and possibly different reactions arising from a piece of music, may create within us a sense of conflict and even create uncertainty, what we might commonly describe as a mixed response, so that our emotions “morph” over a period of time. I can’t think of a better example than Nielsen’s 5th symphony as a model for this type of reaction.

If we move out of the field of music for a moment and consider a drawing of a face as a circle, two dots and a curved line, we know that the result can bring about a response. The greater the craftsmanship in producing the image the deeper our involvement and emotional response, so for me the Mona Lisa holds more interest than a computer emoticon. In one input I can say “that is a happy face” in the other I have ambiguous feelings about the smile and a number of other factors in the painting. As a child I might have had different responses to which image I preferred and this is even more pronounced as an infant.

When listening our emotions are enhanced through a combination of additional factors to the sounds we hear. The notion of structure, e.g. the use of arch form or a set of temporal proportions, may have a bearing on our responses. Are we consciously aware of these additional elements, does one have the structural formation of a poem like Do Not Go Gentle in mind when listening to it being read? Another element is the manner of performance, this includes areas such as accuracy, virtuosity and then fuzzy considerations such as warmth of tone and the way a performer gesticulates. Both performers and listeners will respond to the environment in which the music is played and this may appreciably enhance or destroy the experience.

We are now encroaching on Nurtan’s statements that people perceive music through their own individual characteristics and preferences partly based on personality and partly based on education. Both of us share the view that like a well-crafted watch a piece of music must show integrity in its design. To appreciate why we might like one time-piece over another we might open the case as well as look at the movement of the hands. Of course Nurtan may own a timepiece by Masahiro Kikuno based on a "temporal hour clock", and I a period piece Micky Mouse watch. That we can appreciate and enjoy these different objects is of course is a good thing. 2

1.       Nurtan’s comment:

One consideration that is difficult to include as a part of perception of music and the psychological reaction one might expect is the tuning of the instruments and the pitch we associate with a given frequency. For example, there is a significant difference between the modern Western tuning based on 440 A and Baroque turning which may range from a semitone above to a semitone below 440. There are cultures in which the music is based on Pythagorean tuning which is very significantly different in perceived sound than well-tempered scale. There are cultures that use only instruments in which one of the most important notes in the well-tempered scale, the tonic-fifth relationship does not exist. It is reasonably well established that we perceive music as a combination of its components. If one of the components and its perception is based on cultural considerations then it would be logical to assume that the interpretation of music is also culturally mediated. I think the essential rhythms of a language and the sounds of simple songs such as a lullaby are learned from in utero to the first six months after birth. These are permanent and form the foundation of music and speech even though at the time of learning they are not interpreted and can be expanded through "ear training". These considerations raise many very significant questions in the perception or interpretation of music, for which cross-cultural data do not exist. However, we can say with confidence that even among those who cannot differentiate tones a musical statement elicits a psychological response.


Fortunately or unfortunately Nurtan owns a very non-descript timepiece that was purchased some 15 years ago to replace a similar timepiece that was at least 20 years old. Perhaps in five years he will attain the level intricacy and sophistication required for a Masahiro Kikuno watch; but, he still will have to find his reading glasses to tell the time.