Fanfare Magazine
Paul Ingram

DI PIETRO Multiples: Prison Dirges. Chorale Injured Bird/Multiple. Dead Sleeping Soldiers. Tears of Eros (Torso version B/Multiple). Deconstructed Fountain from Ravel with Derrida Watching. The Lost Project: Wave Fugue with Electronic LOST. Chamber LOST2 for Christian Boltanski. Mobile Phone Dreams B with LOST2 · Rocco Di Pietro (electro-acoustic realizations; acc; pn; keyboard; voice), dir; Barbara Adams (voice); Avant Collective · UNIDENTIFIED LABEL (2 CDs: 109:25)

                “What can you do with a sleeping audience?” asks Rocco di Pietro, claiming not to care whether we’re there or not. Fanfare readers might on the contrary claim to be more awake than most, when it comes to new releases like this double CD introduction to his work. Yet there can be few more intelligent and thought provoking voices in contemporary music than di Pietro’s. His ideas and introspective writings go into poignant territory, where others fear to tread.

                Di Pietro worked with Foss, Feldman, and Maderna, and his book Dialogues with Boulez (Scarecrow Press, 2000) is credited with being the only one that captures its subject’s tone of voice, and lines of thought. It wasn’t written in a comfortable, or easy manner, di Pietro’s life then being damned difficult, down, and broke – the occasional Boulez interview in Chicago seeming incongruous in that context. He’s worked in various non-creative or non-musical jobs, which he calls “white-washing,” including the Prison Service. How to be an artist, or oneself at all, when society says no, is a central theme. It’s that old quest for something that feels real, despite everything, that links him to musicians across the genres.

                Lately he’s called himself a musician without notes, a sound researcher; but as usual from an artist with integrity, the musical results of this abstraction are intensely personal. The background to the pieces on the first of these CD’s is of the electro-acoustic variety: washes of sound, including electronics, birds, insects, and then the ocean, in Soldiers. This, however, is the New Age with its skin flayed off. Dirges presents spoken life-accounts from those who’ve hit bottom, in stir. They are well-nigh unbearable, thoughtful indictments of us all, read from typescripts in a calm manner; commentary from di Pietro’s expressive accordion. This may recall Partch and others but it leaves you well out of the zone.

                Having softened us up, but inflamed our sense of social outrage, and personal helplessness, di Pietro’s next two absorbing electro-instrumentals prepare us for the X-rated rondo that is Tears of Eros. It’s the final part of a trilogy for radio, interspersing Bataille’s writings on love, sex and unknowing with the processed, recoded sound of many men and women together on the home stretch, love-making-wise. The punctuating sound between the sections is a lot like the little bell Stockhausen used in Telemusik, and the repeated coupling noises end up seeming mysterious and abstract in the context of the words. This is a far cry from Let’s Get It On. Try headphones, however, for a unique 11-minute electronic orgy inside and around your head, with intellectual musing thrown in. Deconstructed Fountain offers relief from all the intensity, however existentially ironic, and di Pietro’s seven minutes of attractive, rolling keyboard lines suggest someone should ask him to write non-ironic film scores now.

                Eros probably means the Multiples CD in not for children, but The Lost Project is all about them. Musically, it’s a vigorous “overture” for piano and background, followed by two 25-minute suites for ensemble, in five movements each. The thematic material derives from the musical notes contained in the names of lost or missing children, identified on official cards. Each of the 10 pieces is named after the appropriate child. The great French artist Christian Boltaknski’s name is invoked by di Pietro because of his various “lost” projects, whether assemblages of lost property or the distribution at stations of photos of children “lost” in the Holocaust. His installations of lights, photographs, and filing boxes must be the most involving reminders in the visual arts today of mortality, of human evil, and of the lost child in us all. These conceptual aspects get much more emotionally entwined than they might in di Pietro’s work; the way the mobile phones ring at the start of the second suite, then grow into voices, and the piano responses are alarming and rivet the attention. You have to think about your world, the child issues, and respond to the art at the same time, while trying to compare what you’re doing with the regular musical modes you engage in. The world seems a different place after the music has stopped. The groups are hot improvisers, notably Brian Casey on trombone – and things sometimes tend gently towards contemporary jazziness. I guess it’s a modernist project, uncomfortable and “free,” but the textures can be beautiful. The emotional tug is surprisingly strong; the sense of horror, aloneness, and sometimes panic is powerful. But you do need an ear for semi-improvised group work and not-always-pretty things like this in general.

                Boltanski said, famously, with regard to commissioning institutions and galleries: “They give me money and I give them nothing.” The reference was to the impermanence of his works – and us! If you pay your money and I listen to di Pietro’s CDs, especially Multiples, then you’ll certainly confront nothingness, not to say joyless despair, at some stage. But the vortex of notes, words, and ideas sucks the listener into its heart. Some part of the true blood and bone of modern life echoes from your loudspeakers. Rocco di Pietro is onto something, and it is recognizably human by nature.

Paul Ingram

Fanfare May/June 2004