Aurora • Paolo Cognetti

Recorded in the fascinating Chapel of the Holy Grail in the Metropolitan Cathedral–Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia, AURORA is a seven-piece suite for voice, piano, recorder and contrabass: it comprises four versions of El Rey de Francia, an old Sephardic song, and three compositions based on its first melodic element (a perfect fifth), attempting to metaphorically depict the process of re-connection with the inner-self and to encourage attentive and patient listening. The music accompanies a book about René Guénon on intercultural dialogue and diversity, published by Mimesis Publishing in Italy: below is Paolo Cognetti’s introduction to Aurora.

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Aurora: music and an intercultural experience

A creative act can resist against degeneration, to reveal fertile ground on which to undertake a journey of transformation. In this sense Aurora is not a comment on the text, nor an explanation of it, nor a musical background when reading it. On the contrary, it should be understood as the perfect continuation of it.

Aurora unites musicians from different geographic backgrounds, but above all from different cultural extractions, with a truly intercultural vision. It is not a question of joining different cultures together, putting one next to the other, but of making them live together in a continual search for mutual enrichment that does not have to weaken one’s identity. In other words, it is about ‘relating to’, which is completely different to merely being ‘in relation to’, because it implies a desire that soon becomes an endeavour but also provides gratification in the inevitable encounter with otherness.
This is true for relationships between people from distinct cultural traditions as it is for those with more similar cultural settings, but perhaps even more so, for self-relationships. These are an extraordinary training ground in which to learn to recognise the many contradictions, misrepresentations and distortions between what one thinks of being/becoming and what one is/becomes; between the rigidity of prejudices and the infinite and changing richness of life of each human being. In short, where you can learn to meet the Other.
With this in mind, by way of example among the many I could give, I did not ask Ganavya, whose roots are so very distant from mine, to sing a song that is linked to my European roots in an Indian way, but rather to sing it as an Indian. In other words, I did not want her musical tradition superimposed on mine, but rather I wanted her to share in my musical tradition in full faith of her own culture and to herself. Listening to her version, at first I was tempted to correct her because there were too many differences with my mental interpretation of the melody, influenced by performances given by specialists in medieval song. However, I didn’t and I tried to go beyond my expectations to see that there was actually nothing wrong with the way Ganavya sang. On the contrary, I heard new ways of experiencing time, rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre and breathing in her voice. Neither Ganavya nor I got lost. On the contrary, it was thanks to the strength of our identities that we were able to meet and our lives became richer, more intense and meaningful.

El Rey de Francia, which is present in four versions on the accompanying CD, is a piece from the Sephardic tradition. In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain and emigrated to various European countries and to Northern Africa. The fruit of this diaspora was the emergence of a tradition which, on the one hand, kept Spanish as the main language for daily communication and in literature and it preserved habits, customs and a multiplicity of cultural characteristics of Hispanic derivation, thus not losing its identity and origin. On the other hand, it gradually incorporated numerous features of the populations among which it developed.
The text, reported below with a translation, handed down in all probability orally, suggests a collective work and presents multiple aspects of interest. For example, we can see that it integrates different metric structures, expresses a phase of the pronunciation of the Spanish that is still being defined and incorporates a word of Aramaic origin (aharvar).
For these reasons and for its musical beauty, I felt that including El rey de Francia in this project could constitute a metaphor for, and perhaps an active example of, intercultural dialogue.

Aurora would also like, once again on a metaphorical level but also in the way it is enjoyed, to bring about the process of reunion with the Self, through the recovery of attentive and patient listening.
It is very difficult to contradict the idea, which has become almost a cliché, that today in the era of communication, we are witnessing a progressive impoverishment of communication itself. And this is, in my opinion, even more evident when it comes to communicating with the deeper levels of one’s own or someone else’s character. There is a widespread inability or unwillingness, or even fear, to do so and we prefer to float along on the surface, navigating in the safe waters of quantitative and objective considerations, which apparently don’t compromise or expose us to risks of any kind. And in my opinion, it is even more serious if writers, musicians and painters avoid these dimensions, as it is we, in our cultural tradition for at least a couple of centuries now, who should be more at ease in them than others.
In the musical field, it is my belief that a process of impoverishment of the aesthetic categories is taking place which, more and more often, means that they coincide entirely with the compositional techniques of a work. In short, what matters is the material, the processes to which it is subjected and the forms in which it is organised, in a perspective of total secularization of music. In other words, music is reduced to the ‘physical part’, as if, mutatis mutandis, one wants to show a human being only with his external features.
It is in this framework that the four repetitions of El rey de Francia must be placed, in an effort to represent a path of reconciliation towards a state of greater completeness and unity. The first, interpreted on the piano, the most mechanical of the instruments, expresses the greatest distance between the human being and sound; the second, on the double bass where the musician’s fingers are in direct contact with the strings, reveals the possibility of a closer relationship with the vibrations; the third on the recorder, suggests a further passage, because the breathing is the raw material, so to speak, which is then shaped through the instrument; and finally the fourth, the vocal part, where the unity between the human being and sound is harmoniously achieved. This occurs in a context where the elements become more and more related to each other: the piano commences alone, then the double bass begins and it is played with its soundboard in direct contact with that of the piano, in which the strings are left free to vibrate, so that the two instruments resonate together. Together then, they give support to the theme when the recorder begins its rendering, positioned inside the soundboard of the piano. To conclude, all three instruments collaborate with the vocal part in the fourth repetition in an ideal of mutual listening and fruitful cooperation (it is among other things, to clearly demonstrate this ideal, that this is musically-speaking, the most elaborate of the four).
Another important aspect of this project, which I mentioned above with the phrase “attentive and patient listening”, is what I call the ‘sound behind’. With some important exceptions, mostly in the context of so-called contemporary classical music – a rather controversial definition in my opinion but which I use for clarity of expression – our musical culture tends to emphasize the active part of sound: its birth and first evolution, the attack. In this way, both the effects that it produces around itself – and in this we can highlight a kind of musical counterpart of the marked individualism so characteristic of our society – and its passive part, the second evolution and conclusion, its decline, are left out. For those who frequent concert halls, the applause that starts, too often, before the true conclusion of the music, to the utmost annoyance of the performers and despite their unequivocal signs: hands suspended, breath held and their eyes still closed, is a good example. In this way, the inability to both listen carefully and patiently and to let the music conclude in its natural way without having to grasp or suffocate it at any cost, as well as the removal of the ‘death-event’ from our lives, is clear.
In all its seven pieces, Aurora, albeit in different ways, tries to emphasize these aspects, both by pushing towards the resonances of the individual instruments and those generated by the interactions between them and with the environment – which is both conditioned by the sound and also conditions it – and by respecting the final phase of the vibration.

The first interval (distance/relationship between two sounds) of El Rey de Francia is a perfect fifth and it assumes, in relation to that need for a reunion with the Self that I mentioned earlier, a particular importance in the whole project in its evoking an ancient and original experience.
It regulates the relationship between the pieces by creating two directions: one, for ascending fifths, turned towards the heavens, in the four versions of El Rey de Francia, the other, for descending fifths, turned towards the earth in the other three pieces.
In particular, for LuminescenzeAurora and Da una grigia nuvolaglia indifferente, the fifth also represents the generating centre from which each element originates, although intertwining and compromising, so to speak, with other experiences. However, it is not a static centre, because I wanted to give it the possibility of a path of emancipation, which starts from the rigidity of the structures of Luminescenze – to which the unpredictable and interacting relationships between the vibrations of the instrument are the counterpart – up to the relative freedom reached in Da una grigia nuvolaglia indifferente. Here the piano, in its machine-like essence, seeks humanity through its search for a song, while the double bass and the recorder somehow become its resonances, in a luminous embrace that once again pushes towards a collaborative ideal and that anticipates a bare expression of twelve ascending fifths at the conclusion of the experience.

A final aspect that characterises Aurora, is the strong desire to integrate imperfection at various levels, seen as one of the fundamental traits of the human being. The recording itself represents a first example of this, because the very nature of this project requires a live hearing in close contact with the environment and with the musicians. However here, we have tried to give back the sound experience as much and as honestly as possible, so as to be able to share it with a larger number of people.
Having specifically chosen therefore, not to record it in a studio, constitutes a further element of imperfection, which was again desired and sought in such a way as to guarantee the absence of control over the individual performers in the same room and the presence, in terms of sound – of the ventilation system and creaking benches – of the place itself, where the unfavourable microclimate has in turn influenced the sound of the instruments and the performances. Finally, the compositional writing is characterised by a certain degree of uncertainty and the performers are constantly required to react with respect to what they hear happening inside and outside of themselves, so as to define the various aspects of the performance in that very moment. It is therefore the whole experience that I wanted to emphasize more than just the musical aspect, once again to have a greater completeness and unity.

It will now be clear that the aesthetics of this project are rather far from any formalism: they are based on the conviction that music can influence the human being on many levels, pushing one towards more or less radical changes in relationship with oneself, with others and with the world, in the belief that music has much to do with life. It is therefore a research that I, first and foremost, have undertaken by creating Aurora, the meaning of which I hope to have transmitted not only and not so much with this presentation, but above all through my music. And it is for this reason that the choice of the recording place, carried out at night when the conscience state is less alert, fell on the Chapel of the Holy Grail in the Cathedral of Valencia, Spain, a place of great symbolic value and extraordinary energy, which welcomed us in its sacred embrace.

 

Music composed by Paolo Cognetti

Voice: Ganavya Doraiswamy
Contrabass: Priscilla Vela
Recorder: Beth M. Schofield
Piano: Paolo Cognetti

Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Pablo G. Schuller
Assistant Sound Engineer: Ian Kagey
Digital Delivery: Songtradr and Kanjian Music
Photography: Lupe Palacios
Artwork: Sara Fortino and Paolo Cognetti

Special Thanks:

Valencia Cathedral
Clemente Pianos
Berklee College of Music, Valencia Campus
Francesco de Benedictis

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