Osvaldo Coluccino: “When art manages to escape from the excessive presence of the medium, it could reach a touching result”


North Italian composer and poet Osvaldo Coluccino has been creating music since the late 70s, and completed his oeuvre as a poet in 2003. His compositions – ranging from orchestral through chamber to electroacoustic works – have been commissioned by the most prestigious festivals in Italy, and have been presented on stages all over the world. His monographic
releases were published by record labels such as Kairos, Col Legno, NEOS, Another Timbre or Die Schachtel – and now, the latest one by Inexhaustible Editions. Interview about presence, absence, being a composer, being a poet, being a composer and a poet; about misleading classifications of his music and about his compositions in progress.

 

– First things first: your composition Absum was written and recorded in 1999. Since then, your various sounding works were more than less constantly published, but Absum surprisingly remained in your drawer, and got released only now, in early 2021. Was there a particular reason why Absum hasn’t been published before?

Osvaldo Coluccino: “I believe in the quality of the album Absum as much as I do with my other previously released albums. I am only publishing it now, because now a label, yours, asked me if I could propose an album for releasing, so I checked the seriousness of the intent of the label and the affinities of taste, and I thought that it could represent the right welcome for this album. Furthermore, over time I had happened to check the releases of some labels specialized in electronic music, but for one reason or another I desisted from proposing Absum. In any case, I do have in my drawer some not yet performed scores, three unpublished books, and one audio master. Sometimes a composer or a poet or a painter needs demeanor, sometimes waiting, infinite patience, for various reasons, sometimes even after his own death.”

Photo: Osvaldo Coluccino

– The sleeve notes for Absum, written by yourself, have the title “Presence of the work, absence of the author”. How does this sentence refer to the presented work? Can you describe the relationship between the piece and the composer who – as a matter of fact – is you?

Osvaldo Coluccino: “I think when the work of art manages to escape from the excessive presence (vanitas) of the ‘medium’ through which it has manifested itself, when it manages to clear the field from the ego of the human being who has placed himself at the service of its birth (absum, it can be said, is the opposite of ego sum), that is, when it manages to stand autonomously with its immanence, then that art could reach a touching, expressive result. The premise is therefore the hope that the work, in its purity, speaks for itself and of something that concerns what goes beyond, making use of the artist (the human being) as a sounding board, but limiting his presence as much as possible – that is, his exhibitionism and virtuosity, his existential supremacy over the instances of art. Certainly this is a mere postulate, a philosophical starting point, but my hope is that some meticulous listeners, over time, can, with their talents, with their senses and emotions, beyond these premises, perceive the musical potential to that effect. The title could also conceal a latent poetic thought: the human being is not the meaning of the universe – that is, the human being could also ‘not be there’ that things would not change –, the meaning of universe is the universe, made up of many different creatures, many ‘dimensions’ that cannot be known in the ordinary way, and anthropocentrism imprisons, uses, subdues, tortures other animals, and ignores or misunderstands other things. Undoubtedly the artistic fact and its reception is a human fact, otherwise it would be sterile, and undoubtedly the human being is not my target to hit. And obviously it is not a question of overloading the work with importance or sacredness, it is equally transient and perhaps it could be insufficient, but it is my humble task on this earth.”

– As you claim in the liner notes, Absum has a certain link to the genre so-called ‘early electronic music’. Can you tell me more about this connection? Did the genre have great importance to you?

Osvaldo Coluccino: “First of all, it is an album conceived in the mid-90s of the last century, although recorded at the end of that decade, so not so far temporally from the electroacoustic research of classical composers in the 60s-90s (although I don’t feel dated at all this album). Second, I explain this reference of mine thinking about the affinity of style and research regarding fascinating or rigorous sounds, but as a generic and external closeness, as artistry and poetry reside regardless of the eras, and my selectivity makes me find very rare gems.”

– Most of the texts about you eagerly mention that Osvaldo Coluccino is a poet and composer. Can you divide these two creative art forms from each other, or is it effortless to be a poet and composer simultaneously? Both activities might presume different mindsets. Not many poets are publishing remarkable music pieces, and not many composers are publishing acclaimed books of poetry.

Osvaldo Coluccino: “You are right, being a valuable poet and being a valuable composer involve two distinct studies and different talents, and above all, it is up to expert critics and historians of literature and music to decree whether there is objective value or not. It is very tiring to express art in this expressive duplicity, but nature sometimes plays bad tricks, that is, it could unfortunately happen that one is born as a poet and composer. Certainly in my case I have never been able to do both things at the same time: when I was studying literature and writing poetry I could not study and compose music, and vice versa. I feel I am a poet and I will remain a poet even after I die, even if I stopped writing verses many years ago. I had completed my work. From that poetic period, from 1987 until 2003, I still have unpublished books, which are gradually being published. The book to be released within a few months will have the guise of an artist book, made together with one of the leading Italian living artists. I had done the previous artist book, 11 years ago, with another important artist, Marco Gastini (1938-2018) who, for example, is permanently present at the MoMA in New York with an artist book of the 70s.”

– Tell me please about your musical background, and how you came to composing or creating music? What are your earliest memories connected to experiencing (listening to) music, and what are your earliest inputs that led you to compose music?

Osvaldo Coluccino: “I would not like to force readers to my too long memories, I can say trivially: one is born as a poet or composer or painter, then one develops through many delicate, personal passages, and I can say that as a child I listened to music with emotion. My first musical creation dates back to when I was 13 (I was a classical guitar student); at 16 I felt a change of gear in my soul, my first notebook of poems was born (but I was also performing as a rock musician in Northern Italy); at 24 I had changed my musical field, in truth I had been traveling in parallel in the other field for years, studying classical composition, for example the score of Bach’s Matthäus-Passion, and those of the last piano sonatas and the last Beethoven quartets.”

– Your ouvre as a composer is highly varied and complex. You have been composing electroacoustic music, music for acoustic objects, for soloists, chamber ensembles, orchestras or large ensembles, and even for vocalists. How did this diversity come about?

Osvaldo Coluccino: “I like the complexity of art in general and of every era if it is synonymous with mastery, magic, depth and wealth, to be discovered slowly over time and with dedication, because a lot of time and dedication was required of the artist. As for classifying my music, the matter is more linear than it may seem: for about 30 years my musical genre has been only one, that is, ‘classical music’ (modern classical, contemporary classical), for about 30 years performers who play for example the music of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, also play my music, and in classical theaters, and there ditto my electroacoustic music is performed. I do exactly as in the past centuries when classical composers composed for soloists, chamber ensembles, orchestras, vocal ensembles, just as in the twentieth century the classical composers ventured also into the electroacoustic branch – Varèse, Maderna, Nono, Stockhausen etc. –, and in the century 2000 also venturing into the ‘acoustic objects’ branch. Certainly classical music, of every century, is alive only when, in the time in which it is born, it presents research and experimentation. I don’t like the various labels that someone sticks to my music on various websites. I respect all types of musicians, but I have to say that my genre cannot be ‘free improvisation’ as I write note by note, silence by silence; and in the case of electronics and objects, I take care of elaborations or editings or notation until I am exhausted (for example in 2020 I composed for about four months almost every day full time the 18-minute piece for piano and electronics that will be performed in Leuven by an esteemed pianist in October); it cannot be ‘electronic’ because I don’t compose only this; it cannot be ‘minimalism’ because there is micro-mobility, subtle changeability, research about sound, and because the obsessive repetitiveness is absent; I am not a follower of Feldman. There is no doubt that I am a multifaceted artist, in the manner of certain personalities of the Renaissance (and in the early 90s I also painted, and for example now see this triptych inside the Absum album cover), but regarding the genre, I repeat, it is sufficient to indicate contemporary classical or modern classical.”

– Can you highlight some of your other compositions you are working on, or have been working on in recent years, but haven’t been published yet?

Osvaldo Coluccino: “I am now working on a three-piece album for solo instrument and electronics with three renowned European musicians, the first piece will be performed at two major European festivals in the autumn. I recently composed the first of my last string quartets, and I would like to compose the second one, and sooner or later hear them in concert. I would like to receive a commission to compose two pieces for large ensemble and to complete the three-piece album and release a disc (listen to the first one on YouTube: Destato nel respiro, performed by Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna); and I would also like to receive a commission to compose the third piece for orchestra (listen to the first one on YouTube: Archeo, performed by the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, the second one is already written but is waiting for a valuable performance).”

– Let’s go back to Absum a little bit: for most of the piece you used electronics, but two of the parts are featuring blown objects, a pair of violins and magnetic tapes. What exactly is going on in the music, and how did you execute these self-recordings in 1999?

Osvaldo Coluccino: “For Absum V I wrote a score for two violins and played them personally: a traditional use of the violin, with a bow, but from a writing and in a performance from which an uncommon timbre emerged. Therefore in the recording the two violins are natural, that is, their sound, even if atypical, is exactly that of the violin and not the result of an electronic manipulation. Of course, to these natural sounds are added bewitched sounds as the result of electronic processing. It’s always multilayered music. In a different way but with the same principles, I played and recorded the breaths of Absum IV and the related sound metamorphoses were born.”

– Recently we have been exchanging emails about setting up a Bandcamp page for your audio works. On one hand I can feel that you try to keep distance from it, but on the other hand you seem to be also somehow curious about it. Are you interested in trends of online music distribution, to see what are the pros, what are the cons, or is it something that not a composer should deal with?

Osvaldo Coluccino: “I can say for myself: I feel blocked and limited in certain practical and technological things in constant change, I think it is also the consequence of a soul wounded by various events and tired by the creation that has been protracted for a long time. Sometimes a certain type of artist might like to be assisted in certain practical operations for which he is not suited (especially if he proceeds left alone, and also considering that he is a highly exploited worker, and almost always paradoxically he is the only one who does not collect a cent from his efforts as creation, realization and expenses for them, when his works are part of a public cultural event paid for by entities, or are goods for sale albeit of little value etc. It is a world of which few people know the dynamics, cruel and unfair in an inconceivable way). But to return to the sense of ‘absum’… the man has already said too much, and he aspires to step aside.”

László Juhász
April 2021