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  • Antonio Forte

Working remotely.

A couple days of rain brought the temperature down a little to where it was comfortable to be out and about, moving around the town without being drenched in sweat. A fellow house mate, ceramicist and writer Monica Tong, and I decided to go for a hike in the mountains shortly after breakfast. There was no set plan besides the possibility of checking out some of the old abandoned mulini or molini (mills). The Italian word for mill, molino, comes from the Latin molinus, which is also where the name for the region of Molise comes from (although we were hiking in Campania, which takes its name from the Latin campus, meaning 'open or flat place; plain; field;' etc.).

[Caption: What treasures one finds within the mountain forests: Uno scrigno del tesoro (a treasure chest), (photo credit Monica Tong). Interesting trees and their angles. Overlooking Padula and the valley below. An ancient stone structure. Un guscio di lumaca (a snail shell). A child's lost shoe.]

At one point early in the hike we decided to 'just go up,' leaving the trail behind in our search for a way downwards into the narrow valley, the distant sound of running water and tinkling cowbells guiding us. And then we came to a cliff which stood between us and our intended destination. At that point we shrugged and decided to continue up in the opposite direction into the pine and cypress trees. There was very little underbrush to impede our ascent, and the farfalle (butterflies) seemed to invite us onwards and upwards, ceasing their flitting about every so often to refuel at the wildflowers.

[Caption: The cliff drops off at our feet, blocking the route to old mills in the river valley below.]

The further we ventured up into the bosco (forest), the more I could feel the stressors of the previous ten months dissipate, dissolve--I always welcome a good calm dissolution--and otherwise get whisked away by the sweetly scented mountain breeze and rhythmic calls of crows and songbirds. The remaining rain clouds were providing pleasant, increasingly intermittent shade, but were quickly giving way to the Campanian sunshine. Suddenly my ears caught some rustling in a nearby tree. There was something dark clambering about. An unknown shape twisted itself around branches and down a trunk, to skip effortlessly across the pine needle covered floor to the next tree. It was a black squirrel. In that moment I was reminded of a quote from the photographer Frederick Sommer:

'The legato of one squirrel holds a forest together.'

[Caption: The legato of one squirrel.]

At one point we stopped for a snack break, munching the small pere (pears) I had brought in my small blue zaino (backpack). After we tossed the skeletal remains of our pear cores into the ferns growing in the shade of the cypress tress (even squirrels need snacks), I stooped to pull out my field mic to make a field recording. There was an intriguing rhythmic dialogue happening between a gravely-sounding crow and some melodious songbirds that I wanted to capture.

[Caption: A brief pause to make a field recording. (Photo credit: Monica Tong)]

We made our way back down, and eventually found a telephone line. It made sense to follow it, and it brought us right back to the trailhead and the paved road from which we had started our climb. Feeling refreshed, relaxed, renewed, and inspired, I was excited to get back to the house, to my studio, and of course to the piano.

[Caption: In and around the mountains above the town of Padula.]

Once back at the house, I set myself to composing, holding in my mind the experience of the morning, the grandeur of the mountainsides, their vistas, and their sounds. I had been working on the beginning inklings of a new string quartet, based on one of the first nights at Casa Costantinopoli, fumbling around with the seemingly endless number of light switches and their illogical layout. The house itself is like an M.C. Escher drawing, and as one can imagine, so too are its light switches. While flipping the plethora of toggles scattered about the walls of the Casa, I stumbled upon one which lit up the front entryway in a pale yellow glow. Thankfully there was glass in the door between myself and the entryway, as my curious switching had disturbed a small pipistrello (bat). I watched as it flew back-and-forth directly in front of me, between the door and the glowing yellow orb at the opposite end of the vaulted ceiling corridor.

[Caption: Il pipistrello (the bat) of Casa Costantinopoli.]

The composition began with a quasi-serialist process of assigning numbers to the letters in the word pipistrello, and assigning numbers to eight notes (there are eight different letters in pipistrello: e, i, l, o, p, r, s, and t). Each letter in pipistrello can therefore be translated into a musical note, and thus the basis for a melody. The eight notes chosen represent two different 'tetrachords,' or group of four notes stacked on top of each other, similar to the two tetrachords that combine to create the Western major scale. The two pipistrello tetrachords are: c-d-e-f# and g-a-b-c#. The scale may be considered an octatonic scale (only eight notes), or two 4-note whole-tone scales separated by a semitone. Next, I generated a random sequence of the numbers 1-8 which determined the Prime Row in an 8x8 Tone Matrix: 4, 1, 3, 5, 8, 2, 6, 7; or, f#, c, e, g, c#, d, a, b.

[Caption: 8x8 Tone Matrix, with Prime, Inversion, Retrograde, and Retrograde Inversion directional arrows (top). Original number matrix (bottom).]

The intention behind the direction arrows for P, I, R, and RI, was to base each of the four parts of the string quartet (violin I, violin, II, viola, and violoncello) on the same Tone Matrix, just with each voice following a different direction to create the pieces own melodic/harmonic language. Though I will continue to pursue this process in order to finish the quartet, I suddenly was inspired to re-channel my efforts into a simpler piece for solo piano. I realized that, starting in each of the four corners, moving 'forwards' (that is: P starts on f# and moves to the right; R starts on f# and moves to the left; I starts on b and moves down; and RI starts on f# and moves up), eight chords are created, covering the perimeter of the Tone Matrix. For example, the first chord consists of two f#'s, one b, and one c; the next chord consists of c, e, g, and b, which happens to create a Cmajor7 chord. Using a Tone Matrix represents many possibilities of how to employ serialist techniques. The one I am describing is just one of many possibilities, and is one I have developed myself over the years in various iterations/permutations. Moving on with the compositional process, an 'ostinato' in the left hand on g continues throughout the piece, while the right hand alternates between a short melody (composed in a more 'intuitive' manner, not involving the Tone Matrix) and the chords derived from the Tone Matrix.

[Caption: Tetrachords/scale used as the basis for serialist composition (top left). Preliminary sketches (bottom left and top right). First draft of the piano piece (center).]

Based on the recent encounter with the pipistrello, and invigorated by the morning's hike in the mountains, I made a connection back to the Samnites. Several of the extant inscriptions found throughout my research are prayers of gratitude, giving thanks to a particular deity 'for a favour given.' The very same phrase, using the same grammar, is used in each case. Phonetically, using the Latin alphabet, 'for a favour given' is thus:

braateís 𑇐 datas.

[Caption: Read from right-to-left, 'for a favour given' written in Oscan.]

braateís 𑇐 datas is the title of this piano piece, and is a way of saying 'thanks' to the bat for eating all the zanzare (mosquitos) that would otherwise attack us as we entered or exited the Casa Costantinopoli.

[Caption: Rough draft of my composition braateís 𑇐 datas.]

Stay tuned for the next post.

The Lucani(ans) & Lots of Pots.

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