Francesco Di Fiore with Prologue 1 from Quiet Rhythms
I met William Susman in 2011, in the Netherlands, for the first time. I was in Middelburg to attend a performance of my music by ensemble Piccola Accademia Degli Specchi. On tthe same occasion, the ensemble performed the beautiful suite Camille by William.
I was already familiar with William’s music thanks to composer Matteo Sommacal, my dear friend, who invited me to listen to his works. That was a fantastic discovery; William’s music world is absolutely fascinating, very original, personal, with a precise identity and so different from any other music or composer.
From left to right composers Francesco Di Fiore, Douwe Eisenga, William Susman, and Matteo Sommacal in the lobby of Zeeuwse Concertzall, October, 2011
Recently I had the honor to perform a selection from Quiet Rhythms for solo piano, in the Netherlands, at the same venue (Zeeuwse Concertzall) where William’s music and mine was performed in 2011. On that special evening in Middelburg, four composers were present attending a stunning performance in a unique gathering. In some spiritual way, I wanted to recreate that special event performing William’s, Matteo Sommacal’s, Douwe Eisenga’s and my music as well. Four different composers, four different experiences, four different sound worlds but one same language spoken.
Italian Composer/Pianist Francesco Di Fiore
Approaching William’s music has been a very singular experience. When you think you have a clear idea of a composer’s purpose suddenly you realize that something is hiding behind it, and behind it, again and again, and so on. I will keep playing William’s music for a long time, as it piques my curiosity and I have so much to learn from him! - Franceso Di Fiore
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Listen to Francesco Di Fiore perform Quiet Rhythms and watch Valeria Di Matteo’s video by clicking here.
Italian Video Artist Valeria Di Matteo
When Francesco Di Fiore decided to perform William Susman’s piece Quiet Rhythms in his Piano Solo project, I was so thrilled to make a new video for it as I already knew William’s music and I loved it so much.
From Valeria Di Matteo’s Video for Quiet Rhythms – Prologue 1
Creating this video was quite natural to me. William’s notes often painted some kind of non-defined geometrical images in my mind and I already had the idea of a video entirely shot inside a piano, also inspired by a beautiful set of close-up images shot by Francesco himself inside his piano.
The result is a first part, Prologue, in black and white, quite linear, abstract and geometric; Action, the second part, is more narrative showing a journey inside the piano. This instrument is so beautiful as a still object but there’s also so much life inside it to show while a piece is being performed and usually no one can admire it during a concert.
From Valeria Di Matteo’s Video for Quiet Rhythms – Action 1
Geometry, order of the shapes, harmony and colors of materials were to me the perfect subjects for this remarkable piece of music. - Valeria Di Matteo
Watch Valeria Di Matteo’s video and listen to Francesco Di Fiore perform Quiet Rhythms by clicking here.
Terry ‘Coyote’ Murphy in Native New Yorker (2005)
The story for me is about loss and hope told through powerful visual symbols and traumatic events. Coyote walks us through New York City showing us both “everyday” and life-altering events that take on a new meaning in the context of a Native American guide.
There is a clear and brilliant symmetry to this film. The mystical and metaphorical image of a soaring eagle appears at the beginning and end of the film. The eagle represents spiritual and revered elements of both the Native American and U.S. American culture. The film opens with a symbolic and prescient shot of the Twin Towers approaching the island by water. The film concludes pulling away from the island, again by water, with a close-up of Coyote. However, over his shoulder, where the Twin Towers once stood, there is now an empty void.
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Native New Yorker won many awards including Best Documentary Short at The Tribeca Film Festival and appeared at over 25 film festivals. The Tribeca Film Institute now distributes Native New Yorker
September 16, 2012 The Moondance International Film Festival at The Tribeca Cinemas gives Native New Yorker a reprise screening. It won Best Documentary Short at Moondance in 2005.
Filmmaker Steve Bilich and the 1924 Cine-Kodak camera used to film Native New Yorker (2005)
The film has an incredible emotional arc and I tried to echo that emotion in the structure and sound of the score. The layering of rhythms and the incessant drive of the music reflect the energy and the many facets of New York City as well as the motion and pace of the images created by Steve. In addition, the “flicker” caused by the use of that old 1924 Cine-Kodak suggest a tempo and pulse.
The instrumentation of the score is inspired by the abundance of New York City street musicians seen in the film. Violin and guitar buskers appear as well as drummers. The piano is an homage to the musicians who played in so many of the first movie houses. Native American chanting, as well as Middle Eastern vocalizing, reflect emotion, characters, action and events both on and off screen. The breathy sounds of the native flutes are emblematic of the life force present and shared by all cultures.
A scene from Native New Yorker (2005)
When I compose music for any film, I try to make an organic connection to what I see and hear on screen. I listen for music that may already be in the film or, perhaps performed by one of the characters using a particular instrument. I then develop my melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic material as well as instrumentation based on this pre-existing music.
Because Native New Yorker is a “silent film”, the emphasis was on creating a link between my score and the visuals. Unlike my other film scores, there was no actual “indigenous” music heard on screen that could inform my themes. So, I took another approach based on the many musicians seen in the film yet not heard.
Native New Yorker (2005) A film by Steve Bilich. Music by William Susman
I went to a shorts screening at Sundance in 2002. They screened a portion of what was to become “Native New Yorker”. For a few minutes, we watched, stunned, a close-up of Coyote while over his shoulder images of the Twin Towers burned in the background accompanied by music from Mozart’s Requiem. It was very startling and moving as well as somewhat surreal because we were watching these images through the lens of a silent film era camera. It was an extraordinary moment I think for everyone who saw those images that day given 9/11 had happened only a few months prior.
I approached Steve after the screening and suggested that if he expanded the film it would benefit from an original score that would add “commentary and context”. We stayed in touch over several years. He completed the film in 2005 and I scored it in about two weeks. He liked my approach and went with it.
A conductor who was to give the first performance of Trailing Vortices, my Fromm commission from Earle, met with me a few months before the premiere. His first comment was, ‘Your music is nothing like Earle’s’. ‘Uh, huh right should it be?’ I asked. We did not hit it off. ‘Is the selection of a composer for a commission based on if the commissioner feels you cop his style sufficiently, or on a deeper intrinsic value, something one sees or hears below the surface of the notes?’
Trailing Vortices (1986) was premiered at the Aspen Music Festival
Earle could see and hear something that goes to the core structure of sound and the potential of an individual passionate about moving the language of music forward. I have come to realise that it was not mere luck, but instead being at the right place at the right time and with the right score. The stars lined up for Earle and me. I am grateful to have known him.
Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375
Robert Rauschenberg-Estate (1963)
When I went to visit Earle at his home in Rye, we had lunch together with Susan. (This was in 1986 and I presented to Earle my recently completed Fromm commission Trailing Vortices.) She served a delicious homemade soup. Afterward, Earle showed me their art pieces.
It was not so much a collection as a series of masterworks, many of which had been given to him off the floor of the studios of luminaries such as Robert Rauschenberg. He knew many artists early on and they often collaborated. Earle surrounded himself with art.
Earle inspires a constant desire to look outside of music for new ideas, look around, keep your eyes and ears open. Mix it up a bit. Make some soup.
Watch this excellent video Elegy for Robert Rauschenberg
“This elegy is dedicated to the memory of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) and to the memory of his friendship with my late husband, Earle Brown (1926-2002), whose music has been intertwined and juxtaposed here with images of the glorious Combines.” – Susan Sollins-Brown, Executive Director, Art21
After receiving the Fromm commission, I was invited to attend Paul Fromm’s 80th birthday celebration. At 25, I was the youngest to receive this commission and one of the last while Mr Fromm was alive. Paul Fromm was a refined gentleman – very old school. He built a successful wine and spirits distribution company in Chicago and supported contemporary music like few have.
A concert and reception was given in honour of his 80th birthday at the University of Chicago. Earle was in Europe. The concert consisted of a few composers from the University of Chicago and elsewhere who had from time to time received Fromm commissions.
After the concert, Mr Fromm was “fêted” in a room next to the concert hall with a blend of peanuts, M&Ms, swill champagne (why not pour one of Fromm’s?), and spongy cake. Mr Fromm was gracious, while Maestro Sir Georg Solti was unable to attend. (I was told he had been invited) I marvelled at the absurdity of it all. (It was bewildering why the Universitiy’s composers and Music Department did not pay tribute to Mr. Fromm with an after-concert birthday reception befitting his lifelong generosity towards their music) From time to time, Earle was invited to teach at various forward-thinking institutions. The University of Chicago was not one of them.
Bruno Maderna’s legendary recording of Earle Brown’s “Available Forms I (1961)” recorded in 1967
What happens when Available Forms I or II is recorded? A result somewhat like the Calder sculpture that does not move at the Hirshhorn: it takes on a fixed shape in space and time. Listening to a recording of Available Forms I or II, or to any of Earle’s open-form works, many times will elicit an unintended through-line. So, optimally the work should be performed a few times during a concert.
Here is an alternative approach to experiencing this work: with today’s computer technology, a website similar to Earle’s homepage, http://www.earle-brown.org/, could show the score and the listener could click on different sections (that had been recorded by a real orchestra or spliced from existing recordings) and thus act somewhat like a conductor telling the musicians which section to play and when.
(As of this posting on WordPress, Earle Brown’s Novara was recorded by the ensemble Alarm Will Sound. However, it was not recorded for a one-time linear experience. The various sound constellations in the score were recorded separately. These “sound objects” will ultimately be manipulated via a program allowing anyone - and not only a conductor – to “collaborate” with the musicians and composer. An accessible graphic user interface will allow even a novice an interactive experience to shape the ordering of the piece and sculpt the sound in much the same manner one can move a Calder mobile and alter its shape.)
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