Playing the piano irremediably leads romantic artists to yield to the temptation of improvising music. Since 19th century, many composers were in fact involved with the composition form called impromptu: quite a romantic concept, if you consider that Schubert and Chopin were the first ones publishing them.
Nowadays the terms composition and improvisation are most generally used to designate different, or even diametrically opposed, musical activities. But this does not mean that the second is less important than the first one for a musician: one cannot clearly deny that the work of organization and the architectural structure of a musical composition is the result of quite a unique and sophisticated approach, while improvisation requires a more profound and almost philosophical preparation, perhaps even a peculiar state of mind.
As a matter of fact, it has always been a sort of impulsive inspiration without (apparently) studied care that led me to improvise music on piano. I remember that actually the first attempts were not so enjoyable and artistically remarkable… But there was absolutely no doubt that there was me inside that chaotic bunch of notes, holding my ardor and my young fury, and it was obvious that it really took me some years to express myself in a satisfying and full-grown manner.
Yes, just some years… An essential attribute of improvisation is definitely the chance to manage it as a group activity, an idea historically conceived and accomplished in the modern tradition of jazz. In this practice musicians use several scales and modes in order to create harmonies and melodies giving a coherent character to their improvisation. Of course, apart from the fundamental lesson drawn from jazz improvisation techniques, it has been experimented in many other genres through some different practices: even in contemporary music, since the 1950s, improvisation has started gaining more and more interest among several composers and performers.
Well, if you definitely want to explore improvisation as a group activity, you need the right people to play with, in order to create something really satisfying… The opportunity arrived for me to put me to the test, when I finally met Steven Brown from Tuxedomoon in November 2000: in fact, after that meeting, the dream to have such an important guest in the Sturm project could, little by little, become real. I can never forget that night, when Tuxedomoon played a gig at Riolo Terme theatre (a small village near Ravenna): I remember I gave Steven a copy of Né l’être… éternel and soon after he showed to be very interested in my project and in its philosophical links (e.g.: the Austrian painter and architect Hundertwasser and his spiral-houses), and so he was glad to give his precious contribution for the recordings of the Sturm CD in 2001!
I will always remember the night of the 19th of March 2001: after two days spent in rehearsal room in Ferrara, Steven and I were ready for a studio session in order to record the tracks where his participation was planned. So we made our way toward Gianluca Lo Presti and his Loto Studio located near Ravenna: we arrived there just after twilight, because it was planned to have a session that night, during which we had to make improvised music together. During the two days in rehearsal room we had time to work not only on Steven’s parts in the compositions involving him, but even to try to gain in understanding of the musical sensitivity of each other while playing improvisations. So we decided that Steven had better to play soprano saxophone, maybe the instrument on which he could improvise at best, because of its characteristic timbre and obviously the style making Steven’s way of playing instantly recognizable. Gianluca was waiting for us, armed with his guitar (just been transformed into an exquisite guitar-synth) and ready to join the brand-new formed duo: I really didn’t have any doubt about his creativity and his natural vein for improvisation, having tested it during some rehearsing sessions for live gigs since a year. So the strange trio could start his musical adventure: the aim was to freely record several minutes of music, in order to select four short extracts (namely, the so-called intermezzos). I believe that in a few minutes some kind of magic invisible forms took shape amazingly and became almost palpable in the air. As three spellbound creatures we played some (almost endless) improvised tracks, flowing out of our fingers and minds as rivers of stars in the Milky Way. I felt there was such a harmony in our musical agreement, that it looked absolutely natural to play together for more than an hour with no interruptions, just following continuously the inspiration that each one of us were giving moment by moment, and this was more incredible if you think we had never played all together before… It seemed that our brains were linked with an invisible thread, each one of us knew exactly what the others were thinking, each one of us knew the right role to play, without risking of being inappropriate or playing something clashing with the other instruments. Gianluca and I at once realized we had unquestionably found a trump card, that is, a great improvisator as well as an unconscious “director”, able to create magical waves with his extraordinary saxes and to decide how to weave the sonic threads together. Surely Steven’s creative contribution had become important and astonishing as well, because he knew the very deepest nuances of music, in a spiritual sense: I can say you have definitely much to learn from him, who has so intensely lived music all through his life.
Some months later, after the lesson of improvisation given us by Steven, Gianluca had also the opportunity to work with Blaine L. Reininger - the dark companion of Steven Brown in Tuxedomoon since the beginning - for the Sun and Rain project, much focused on improvisation, and released on CD in autumn 2001. Since then, he could have more and more opportunities to develop his improvising skill, initially with me during live concerts and studio sessions (for instance, a personal piano/guitar improvised cover-version of the Tuxedomoon track Egypt was released on L’Art et la Mort in 2006), later also in solo conditions (two years ago he founded the project Nevica Noise, the debut album of which will be out in 2016).
As far as my activity is concerned, piano improvisations constantly take a relevant place during live performances. Lately I am working in refining a new type of improvisation, conceptually peculiar because it is based on the idea of double: so Le piano et son double was conceived as a sort of “double improvisation”, to be performed at two separate moments and with two different techniques. As a matter of fact, after having developed the techniques of string piano since some years, I have made the decision of using them during live improvisations: so this double musical entity consists of a previously video-recorded string piano improvisation, where I make use of several tools like brushes, rubber hammer, guitar picks, glass beads, palette knife and others, and of a second “keyboard piano” (more conventional…) improvisation. In live conditions I have to face my alter ego playing in front of me: this inevitably leads to a comparison with my duality, with my “dark side”, the one I am normally used to hide, but often ending in failure. So this video contact can make me react, by making me have fun with this duality, almost mocking at my double, although this implies mocking myself somehow…
Improvisation will definitely never abandon me. The multi-faceted experiences of my life have shown that it will always play a relevant role in the never ending process of self-discovery.