Emanuele Torquati and Francesco Dillon

Sound Body Resonances

Emanuele Torquati, pianist (Florence) and Francesco Dillon, cellist (Florence) in a conversation, initiated by Eleni Kamma.

Francesco Dillon and Emanuele Torquati started the concert series music@villaromana in 2010 with experimental, contemporary music. In August 2010 Eleni Kamma, international guest artist at Villa Romana, invited the musicians  to talk about the issues presented as subheadings in the follwing conversation. Dillon and Torquati recorded their dialog in her absence.

Relationship between sound and space

(ET) For our work as musicians it is very important to find a good space for resonance; it is really important to feel the space and how the sound is produced. This aspect varies a lot: it depends for example also on the audience. It affects very much my approach to play the piano. If I am in a dryer acoustics I have to take care of certain issues, if I am in a more resonant space I have to for example take care of using the pedal less and so on. Sometimes it really strikes me to feel the difference between the space when it is empty during the rehearsals and when it is full of people, because it really changes a lot. So I would say the relation between space and sound is very important. It is at the same time a very unpredictable aspect of the performance and it may affect also the way of interpreting the work. Maybe for string instruments it is a little bit different…

(FD) I completely agree with you, but in a way with string instruments it is even more extreme. It is a very crucial part of the job when your instrument sounds full and rich and full of harmonics and when it is really dry or even too much pressure it completely changes the inspiration you get from the sound you produce. It is a crucial aspect on a good concert. Sometimes I fight with the sound that comes out from the hall and sometimes on the other hand you get a really big help from the place where you play. If it is possible to get to know the place where we play in advance we can also make special choices on the repertoire. So there are some kinds of pieces that would work perfectly in a very resonant place and some others that would need some dryer acoustic. We always consider this in our choice.

(ET) My teacher Ian Pace in London always told me to let the sound speak not only in new music but even in the traditional repertoire. So this is also a way of interpreting the music as it is related to the space where you perform. If you play without the awareness of these aspects of course it does not matter if you are in a resonant or in a dry acoustic place.

Good and/or bad experiences

(FD) Regarding good or bad experiences, I have to say that this year for example I was quiet shocked - even if it is a strong expression - by considering that I do not want to record in dry acoustics anymore. There is this habit in classical music that you record in studios which are built just for a clean sound, the resonance is added only afterwards in the post production. I understand now after some experiences that I do not like this idea. I am really looking for good acoustics where to play, because I realized that I cannot play my very best in a very dry, very bad acoustic surrounding. To play with maximum inspiration I need a good sound to inspire me.

(ET) For classical music the place where you perform is very important, maybe more than for other kinds of music, because normally we do not use amplification. From time to time you have to deal with different spaces and it is true that when you have a very dry acoustics you really feel that the sound gets lost; it is a bit like being naked. You do not know what you are doing, because you cannot really relax and listen to the resonance, because the sound stops after some seconds. It is disappointing.

(FD) At the same time we have to say that too much resonance for a certain repertoire could also kill sometimes the music. For example I get more and more bored by concerts in big churches. Music can be really destroyed in big resonance, because the texture of musical work often becomes unclear. For that reason we go back to the first thing we have said about choosing the right repertoire for the acoustics.

(ET) In the last years when some new concert hall is built there are a lot of issues about architecture and how you build the right place for acoustics. Personally, I do not know many details about it. As a musician when I go in a concert hall and I play and feel that the sound is running well, I feel comfortable. I am not so interested in very special questions about acoustics, I am not a sound engineer. When the sound is natural and it does not seem too much elaborated, it is fine for me. I do not look for a special sound, because I try to create my sound by myself. But you can find interpreters with another approach who would take much more care of these aspects of sound and the way how sound is produced. From the technical point of view I am more for the approach of producing the sound with my body, if you want. If I feel good it is fine for me and so I can really interact with the space and the acoustics.

(FD) I have to say, because you were talking about new techniques, new engineering and spaces, that for me I am always astonished to realize that most of these new spaces with amazing techniques behind sound most of the time very artificial, which is very disappointing. In Italy for example we have the great architect Renzo Piano and he built many auditoriums and music halls in the last years that look really amazing. They are beautiful spaces, but most of them have often a big and weird resonance. The sound production as a listener and as a player is very unnatural. This astonishes me, because I realize that centuries ago some music spaces were built without this technical knowledge, without computers, but with a lot of wisdom, intelligence and natural ideas of sound. Today these would sound much better than the new places.

Playing open-air

(FD) Regarding open spaces I would say that for me the first summer concert outdoors is always a little moment of panic; it is a big change and it is very rare to feel really good open-air. It is very important that you have, even if it is outside, some kind of closed space, a cloister or something like that, because you cannot play my instrument, the cello, and I think it is the same for piano, too, without a kind of structure behind you otherwise the sound gets really lost. Every time the impact with outdoor music is very difficult, but then you get somehow used to it.

(ET) You have to find your own approach to it. The first time for me was really scary, but after some time I felt much better. Of course I always prefer to play inside. It is true that if you play for instance in a cloister with a structure behind you it is much better rather than to play open-air without any amplification; as Francesco said, the sound gets really lost.

(FD) Do you remember this very bad experience we had together as a duo in one of our first concerts? We were in this Villa Medicea in Artimino. Actually the stage was amazing, the most beautiful place ever, but…

(ET) I think this was more because of the wind…

(FD) Yes, that is true, but also because we did not have anything behind us; it was completely empty. It was so hard to listen to each other.

(ET) In fact, in the United Stated for example they have always outdoor concerts, also big symphony orchestras like Chicago and so on, but they have real open-air concert halls even for summer festivals, such as the Ravinia Festival in Grand Park Chicago which is a very big open-air structure. Concerts outside are very pleasant for the audience, but not so much for the musicians. With structures musicians can handle the acoustics which helps them to perform better. This interaction is very important. I think Europe is still not so developed; I think only in Berlin there is the Waldbühne. It is a really hard task for us to perform open-air; but in the end it is maybe only ten per cent of our activity so it is fine.

(FD) You have to deal with it. Regarding the contemporary architecture and structure that would work for us for sure the ideal material would be wood, because it resonates best. The Romans have already discovered that the amphitheatre shape is the best for sound transmission. And for sure you should have some kind of wall behind you.

(ET) In fact, both of us have played and listened to concerts here in Florence in the big Roman amphitheatre in Fiesole. For the audience it is a very good place to listen to the concert; wherever you are you can really enjoy the music. As a performer you need a little amplification, but it is very convenient, too. Ancient Romans maybe found out a good way to listen to dramas and so on, but not to music. But sometimes even if wood is used for concert halls like in Rome or for the Lingotto in Turin the acoustic is not necessarily so good. It is true that it is the best material, but if it is not used in the correct way it is probably not very helpful; it depends a lot.

Solo /Ensemble

(ET) We are of course also soloists, but we rehearse and collaborate with many people. Francesco and I have been collaborating for three years now; we are really developed a musical relationship. When we rehearse – and this is maybe another part of the experience of being a musician, we do not speak very much. Our way of communicating is very much with gestures and our sensitivity. We really try to create a sort of dialogue by playing. I think it is important if you have such a close relationship with your musical partner to have this kind of approach instead of having a lot of conversations about music which we can have after or before the rehearsal. Music has to speak through itself.

(FD) I agree, but I also think that it can change from project to project. In our duo we realized after three years that we better do the listening first and the words later. We speak when it is necessary, but first of all we try to understand by listening the same way. We very much avoid speaking and play something very slow for example so that we can listen carefully and deeply. We trust each other and we know that we do not need to explain constantly, but transmit a lot by playing. That works for us! It is not always like this, it depends. Sometimes you have a different work where you need to speak, to make points clear.

(ET) The relation between words and making sounds is very complicated; and it changes a lot from time to time.

(FD) Maybe some very technical practising requires more corrections, but when you in search for deep meaning you would go for the sensitivity Emanuele just described

Memorable concerts as listener

(FD) Regarding memorable open air concerts in Florence I would remember not a classical concert, but for example a very spectacular concert by Radiohead. I heard them twice in two very beautiful spaces in Florence. One was in Piazza Santa Croce which has a very nice size for a concert and the second one two years later was in Piazzale Michelangiolo where you had the band playing over the panorama of Florence which was just amazing. It worked really well, because there was such a power from amplification. It was not about natural acoustic anymore but more about the beauty of the space and the power of the music. And you?

(ET) I have not experienced this in Florence, but in Naples in Arena Flegrea where I listened to a Massive Attack concert which was really good.

(FD) I remember very long ago in Maggio Musicale Fiorentino there was a Henry Purcell The fairy queen staged in Boboli Garden. It was a fantastic production and it is one of the memorable concerts. There was a big orchestra, different from the small chamber music productions that we do.

(ET) I prefer to enjoy the landscape without any relation with musical sound.

(FD) But it could also be inspiring. Sometimes it is nice not to be in a conventional place. Not a very long time ago I was in Matera, in the south of Italy. The concert took place in a cave dug by men in the rocks in prehistoric time. Every part of the concert was in a different part of the cave. The natural stage was part of the success of the event and for the sound which was really special.

Art and science

(ET) With regard to the relation between art and science in the early modern period I think it is quiet strong not only in music from the 17th century like Bach or Händel etc., but even in new music. There is the interest for numbers, the relation between them and the differences. Repetitions are very important in new music. Maybe there are two examples we can refer to, one is the British composer Brian Ferneyhouhg and the other the Austrian composer Bernhard Lang. They are very different, but both interested in this relationship between art and science. Bernhard Lang works with relation between music and the structure of repetitions related to computer music and electronics systems. Ferneyhouhg has a strong interest in the relation of music and numbers.

(FD) Xenakis would probably be the best example regarding music and science. We can say that music from and before the baroque epoch and contemporary music has a strong relation to science, but in middle there is the romantic music. The latter would go in a completely other direction. It is more about poetry. I do not see any relation between Schumann music and science; it is about poetry and imagination. It is true that medieval music or even in Greek music and contemporary music share this strong relation between numbers, science and music.