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‘Passeggiata’: a paradigm for the times in which we now live

Isolation | Terry Trickett

Tuesday 19 May 2020

We are now caught up in a complex metabolic whirlpool where systems of free-living equilibrium have collapsed to a radically disordered state. Viruses like Covid-19 are not free-living entities; they are parasites which invade and inflict harm on life as we know it.

Cosmologists believe that such chaotic states are an inevitable consequence of life on earth where, at intervals, we must suffer the consequences of parasitic disorder. Such thoughts were not in the back of my mind when, last year, I created ‘Passeggiata’, which is based on Luciano Berio’s Sequenza IXa for solo clarinet, but on reflection and although there is no comparison in terms of scale or impact, the piece does appear to represent a composer striving to present music as a continual compromise between order and chaos. When you think of it, all music is concerned with selecting, molding and refining notes and phrases that enables complexity to seemingly spontaneously generate order and beauty. Berio, as one of the last century’s most experimental composers, gives some insight into how this magic is achieved. My own contribution, in producing a visual interpretation of Sequenza IXa is to hold up a mirror to a piece which, retrospectively, appears to provide a paradigm for the times in which we now live.

‘Passeggiata’: a paradigm for the times in which we now live

Berio wrote Sequenza IXa In 1980, midway through his life-long exploration into the idiomatic potential of instrumental sound. It makes extreme technical demands on the performer and, at the same time, invents a musical language that gives the clarinet a completely new mode of expression. In the piece, Berio explores, at length, one specific harmonic field but avoids repetition by springing constant surprises in terms of speed, pitch and rhythmic variety. It slips easily between moments of orderly quiet and bursts of hectic notation when virtuosity becomes an essential element of the Sequenza’s theatricality. All in all, it’s an exercise in musical discovery that has required me to dig deep in finding visual imagery that seeks to enter the mind’s eye of the composer. My approach has been to place some reliance on the use of Deep Dream artificial intelligence, inspired by neural networks in the brain and nervous system, to produce pictoralist imagery that, at least to my mind, reflects Berio’s journey of musical discovery. The resulting images, slightly out of focus and dream- like, provide moments of equilibrium and calm in an other-worldly ‘passeggiata’ in and around a mountain village in Liguria – the province in Italy where Berio was born and lived. By contrast, the visual patterns that I’ve used to ‘train’ my dream-like images are given free rein in providing a visual interpretation of Berio’s moments of surprise when he weaves fast and furious note patterns which collapse the piece, at intervals, into a radically disordered state.

Of course, I can never know whether or not my images convey an accurate impression of the visual mental imagery that Berio experienced in his mind’s eye when composing Sequenza IXa; it’s only in my imagination that I’m putting myself into the mind of the composer. Often the creation of Visual Music demands taking such creative leaps into the unknown where, as in Passeggiata, I’ve tried to produce intimations of a natural world familiar to the composer. If, in the process, I’ve succeeded in adding to the emotional impact of the piece and aided an audience’s understanding of a formidable work, so much the better. For me, in the light of today’s parasitic invasion, a visual interpretation of Passeggiata reveals not only a work of art but, also, life itself poised precariously on the edge of chaos. When life becomes unbalanced, as now, we search for ways to restore it to a natural state somewhere nearer the order we remember although, inevitably, still finely balanced on the edge like Berio’s Sequenza IXa.

For a performance of ‘Passeggiata’ click here

Terry Trickett words and image
The Architecture Club member