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     "Marco Stroppa : A Visionary of Sound Architecture"
by Marina Zlender

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Marco Stroppa : A Visionary of Sound Architecture
by Marina Zlender
Marina Barbara Zlender - born 1969 - art historian and professor of French, 2nd year of Master studies of Anthropology, Media studies at Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis in Ljubljana, Slovenia - since 1997 journalist for contemporary music - participated at Summer courses for contemporary music Festival d'Avignon with invited composers : Toru Takemitsu (1990), George Aperghis, Pascal Dusapin(1994), Marc-Andre Dalbavie, Quigang Chen and Marco Stroppa (1997), and Sofia Gubaidulina (1998) - 1998 assistant for the presentation Course of GRM Tools at Radio Ljubljana with the invited composer François Donato - in 2001 audited a Summer course of contemporary music with Mauricio Sotello and Cristobal Hallfter and participated at the festival in Ljubljana, invited composer Clarence Barlow - generally covering national and European events in the field of contemporary music as Presences in Paris.
      In the works for classical instruments and electronics, Stroppa offers us his vision of spacial music, of "sound architecture". As space presents a certain vagueness in music (and not only in contemporary music), for ambiguity and fluidness, he creates virtual spaces in permanent movement, in order to research relations between real space and virtual ones, between original and transformed sound. By putting together material of classical and synthetic sources in a firm and cohesive form, Stroppa combines them in such a way that they produce infinite combinations of colour nuances, associations and reverberations.
      Beside being a professional pianist and a composer, Marco Stroppa has shown his interest for consistence of sounds early, after having finished his studies of choral music, direction of choir in Verona, of composition in Milan and of electronic music in Venice, he pursued his studies at IRCAM in France, where he worked as a composer and researcher. Having received the Fullbright scholarship, he continued his work at the Media Laboratory of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, where he researched artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. After having returned to Paris in 1987, he was the person in charge of musical research at IRCAM. He stayed in France until 1990, when he decided to dedicate himself entirely to composition, research and teaching. The first command of IRCAM brought to light Etude for Pulsazioni. In 1991, Stroppa presented Due miniature estrose for piano at the Festival d'Autumne in Paris. These two pieces represented the beginning of one of his masterpieces, the first book of Miniature estrose.

      After having successfully set a Summer course for Composition in Szombathely in 1987, Stroppa placed himself sucessfully on the field of education, and since 1997, he's been working as professor at Musikhochschule in Stuttgart and in 1998-99 at the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Lyons.

      One of the first pieces that reveals his research is Traiettoria for piano and electronics, created between 1980 and 1984. Two microphones, put inside piano, reinforce its sound, simultaneously broadcasting it to the concert hall while another sound is recorded on tape and sent into space by a number of loudspeakers, placed around the audience, one of the speakers being oriented back into the piano. Therefore, two types of sound meet, the first coming from piano and the second from the computer, creating a dialogue and contrast to one other. Synthetic sounds, broadcasted by means of loudspeakers, have the character of sounds of "virtual" instruments and are under control of the author who orchestrates them and defines their dynamics and reverberation.

      Stroppa's interest in combining classical and electronic sounds is expressed also in Spirali for string quartet. The sound of a quartet is sent into space by 12 loudspeakers set in a spiral formation to give us the impression of being in the center of the quartet. As a pendant to the innovative aspect of the piece, the author chose a theme from Beethoven's Quartet Mo. 132 to appear in the piece.

      Elet... fogytiglan for fifteen musicians and electronics, was written in 1996. It was conceived as an imaginary dialogue between a philosopher and a poet and is, according to the intention of composer, similar to his two previous works.

      The first piece for theatre, Träume von Fliegen, was written for the 2nd Munich Biennale in 1990. Some years after, he wrote music for a play of Adolfo Moriconi, named ...1995...2995..3695..., a chamber opera or "comoedia harmonica" for actress, bass, tam-tam, computer music, and live electronics. Its enigmatic name has a special meaning, relating the piece to the future. 1995 means the contemporary world, represented by the audience who follows and inteprets the work in the same time as it is performed. The action takes place in 3995 when the two main protagonists, a girl (the actress) and a bass singer, look back in time to listen to an event that took place in 2995. The play was presented at the 46th Venice Biennale International Festival of Contemporary Music, but the electroacoustic part of it was recorded in Centro Tempo Reale in Florence. Another work, Race, is based on writings of Pascal Rambert and was presented on the Festival Octobre en Normandie in 1997.

      His first opera, Proemio, was written in 1990 and is based on Boccacio's Decameron. The main personality, represented by a man's voice (doubled by another voice), is interrupted by six visions of women while he is telling his own "preface." Three of these visions belong to women from history, and the other three are taken from poetry and theatre. To keep the expressive nuances of spoken voices, singers always remain at the limit of chant but never cross the line. Nevertheless, the spoken text is closely related to music throughout the piece.

      The first book of Miniature estrose for piano was finished by 1995 and was played at the Festival Musica in Strasbourg. As we already mentioned, the first two pieces were finished already in 1991, for the Festival d'Autumne, interpreted masterly by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, an ingenious French pianist, specialising in contemporary music, professor in Paris and Cologne, and a close friend of the author. Miniature estrose is a subtly, precisely and brillantly written masterpiece which reminds us of a goldsmith's work. The author explains his choice of title by comparing it to majuscules in illuminated manuscripts and Indian miniatures. The word estrose has many nuances in italian; it indicates fantasy, creative intuition, inspiration, genius and at the same time extravagance and strangeness. The whole work consists of three parts: one part is dedicated to the Easter Island and to rituals of its ancient culture, another part to traditional forms and techniques, and the last part is a collection of pieces written in modern and freer techniques. Some elements of each piece correspond to different parts and create different aspects through which we can classify them. None of the elements has a fixed position in the whole and each can be played according to the preferences of pianist, being freely combined in performance. When they're played in the preestablished order or in a manner familiar to the listener, they awake in his memory associations and allusions, a certain "travelling in time", evoqued by memory and associative imagination. This associative process is the effect desired by author.

      Every piece expresses a certain musical idea which reappears as an echo in another one and associates them. To play the double game, based this time on musical memory, a certain number of keys has to be pressed in a silent chord with the tonal pedal before starting to play each piece. While the pianist is playing the piece, the played sounds create interactions with the reverberations of the open strings whose keys remain pressed so that the pianist finds himself in front of another instrument that Stroppa named "piano d'amore", an allusion to a baroque viola.

      First book of Miniature estrose consists of 7 pieces. The piece Moaï has the name of giant statues of Rapa Nui, as the last witnesses of the first culture of Easter Island. Ninnananna clearly aludes to a lullaby, sleep and dreams, but is in fact dedicated to the state just before falling asleep, when everything is possible, when rational control is disappearing and a sudden memory announces a dream. Innige Cavatina is a subtle game between sounds and reverberations. Based on Beethoven`s Cavatina op. 130, it echoes it by some principal notes that create together with the rest a charming, sparkling musical lace. Birichino is a lucid, lovely illustration of meaning. Passacaglia canonica is written more strictly, with rich palette of colours. Each motive is associated to a certain canon in opposition to others by differences in rhythm, stroke, and reverberation. The piece is interrupted from time to time by sounds of other miniatures in order to create a permanent tension between a strict form and its turns. Anagnorisis I depicts the most dramatic moment in Greek tragedy, the moment of Oedipus`s revelation. It`s written in five different cycles, preceeded by a prologue and ending in a long epilogue. The central part of it is an interesting game of "photographic negative", where notes in fact represent pauses. At its drammatical and emotional peak, the epilogue begins, calming and announcing the ambiguous feeling of the Ninnananna piece. Tangata Manu describes an old custom of inhabitants of the Easter Island. Four gods in competition must descend from the rock of Rano Kau to the ocean, to find a sea-swallow`s egg. The one that finds it first wins the race. The piece was written for the 70th anniversary of Luciano Berio and deals with flying from different aspects: acoustic, aesthetic, physical, mythological and spiritual one. To commemorate the occasion for which the work was written, Stroppa interjected some themes from Berio`s opus into the piece.

      A real jewel, the Little i for flute and chamber electronics, was written in 1996, inspired by a poem of e. e. cummings. The title is suggestive by its double meaning (i standing for "me" or "eye"). Again, it relates a classical instrument, the flute, to electronic sounds, coming from two sources. Together, they suggest the intimate relationship of a chamber trio, with some exchanging of solos. The piece has a dynamic form of an arch in order to articulate the instruments' sound in different ways. Special attention was paid to the position of the flutist as he appears on four different parts of the stage, as well as to the disposition of loudspeakers in order to create an echo, to multiplicate and differenciate sounds from classical and electronic sources.

      One of Stroppa's recent works, Zwielicht for double-bass, 2 percussionists, electronics and 3-D space projection, was performed for the first time in Cologne, in 1999. According to the composer's presentation, it describes the twilight, the light of the sky between daylight and darkness. He compares it to the sounds of instruments as well as to electronic sounds. The second sounds surround the audience and present the twilight by being more than a simple sound and yet not a complex acoustic form. Besides these sound characteristics, the piece also explores its projection into space. Coming from numerous loudspeakers that are placed on the stage in the hall, sounds create geometrical acoustic forms by various directional combinations among the speaker placements. The formal and temporal divisions of the piece refer to the idea of the golden mean, so often followed by the alchemists. At the same time, the multi-formed structure of Zwielicht reveals the various dimensions and relationships within the personality of the individual as a symbolic psychological dimension.

      Closely connected to modern technology that corresponds to his lucid and vivid spirit, but a humanist in soul, Marco Stroppa creates music of the future, music for posterity, but in a noble humanist spirit: music for man.

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