- David Toop, The Wire 223, July 2003 Soundcheck, page 64
David Toop celebrates the work of Italy’s unsung visionary of interactive computer and telematic music.
Thanks to the late Luciano Berio, Italy has played an important role in the evolution of electronic music. Less Celebrated is the Italian contribution to minimalist interactive computer music in the 196Os. The idea seems crazy until you think of Olivetti, Lucio Fontana (0K, half Argentinean). Memphis design and the industrial audio ambience of Michelangelo Antonioni's films.
Pietro Grossi was a cellist and composer, born in Venice in 1917. From 1967 until his death last year he experimented with digital media: presenting computer music software at the Venice Biennale in 1970 and in the same year organising one of the first experiments in telematic performance through a telephone line between Rimini and Pisa. By invitation of lannis Xenakis, he presented another telematic concert between Pisa and Paris in 1974. Deeply opposed to entrenched ideas of musical virtuosity, copyright ownership and artisanship, he developed software that produced open, unfinished compositions, then distributed these around the world "to be used for various compositional purposes". As soundscape artist Albert Mayr writes in his sleevenotes to Battimenti: "Obviously his intentions were misunderstood and ridiculed (the golden age of plunderphonics was still far away)." His last works were electronically produced and individually unique books derived from his Homeport project of automated visual processes. If we cast our minds back to the excitable 1990s, when Future Sound Of London were hailed as future sound of the universe for their telematic concert between London and New York, or when Koan, software was praised for its services to generative music Grossi comes to light as an unsung visionary. These two releases come too late for him to enjoy that recognition, yet they give a more realistic historical context to concepts that are not so new or radical after all. The (very) limited edition vinyI release on Die Schachtel is more varied and conceptually more interesting. Progetto 2-3 was composed in 1961 at RAl's Studio of Musical Phonology, Milan. His first electronic composition, it explores combinatorial calculations to produce a kind of endless music that would never repeat itself. In fact, Grossi came to realise that his calculations were going in the other direction, though this error doesn't detract from the fascination of the music or the seeding of future possibilities. Again, the basic sounds of sinusoidal waves are relatively pure and regular, though a slightly tremulous quality gives them a character somewhere between telephone dial tones and a medieval portative organ. Collage, from 1969, in a denser and more hectic piece of complex textures that explores the computer's capacity to produce endless variations of source material. Anticipating the file sharing, remixing and anonymity now familiar within the electronica scene, Grossi felt that anybody should feel free to develop these materials as they wished, and they were presented as works by The Studio, rather than under his own name. The third place, Unicum, was composed in 1985, though there are few clues to place it within the timeline of Grossi’s electronic music career. In 1969 he had designed one of the first interactive computer systems, the DCMP, and as a later development, created Unicum on the TAU 2, a polyphonic, polytimbral audio terminal controlled by an IBM mainframe computer. Grossi was clearly more interested in the process of programming endless automatic music than in any metaphorical or sonic elaboration. Nevertheless, there's a weird hypnotic beauty to this work, a fascination that grows with immersion in the brief bursts of energy, frequency swoops and beat frequencies that wriggle and twist within its very limited range. Listening to its unfolding makes me think of fireflies dancing against an opaque night sky. As to why Grossi should be such an obscure figure, despite his prophetic work, the answer may lie with the zeitgeist of the 196Os. Neither dressed up in Indian clothes nor bent on career building, Grossi just carried on quietly working away at his theories. Late in the day it may be, but I’m happy to discover him.
Keith Fullerton Withman - Mimaroglumusic
“seriously high-production-value alert. this isn’t just an lp, no sir. it’s lp in an embossed, foil-stamped fold-out card-weight jacket with a vertical obi, 12” x 12” 4 page booklet (in italian and english), printed vellum inner sleeve with photos and credits PLUS a normal paper one, and (my favorite touch), a printed thick-cardboard ‘rail’ that fits in the spine of the jacket preventing mailer-crush. high wow-factor before you even get to the music on the record itself...
progetto 2-3 (1961) is the sort of resonant long-tone piece that ascends me high into an alpha-state. “...this is the origina of progetto 2-3, six sonic bands whose interval relations were obtained by dividing into equal parts the intervals of extreme frequencies. these were arbitrarily assigned to the first band, and then calculated through a specific computer algorithm. the modality and succession order of intermediate frequencies, like pauses between bands, were controlled through combinatorial calculation procedures: combination, permutation, position, etc...” beautiful grainy tonalities, very hard to fathom this being a ‘relic’...
collage (1968) is, for me, the prize of the record... a murky tape & computer construct of almost biblical proportions. what little of grossi’s music i’d heard until now (mostly later/80s pieces) didn’t quite prepare me for this clangorous freakout... resembling xenakis’ “diamorphoses” on uppers. a key piece from a historical perspective (very little of the milan studio RAI output is currently available)...
unicum (1985) is a side-long gestural piece from a few years later incorporating muted computer-generated fibbles & all manner of mystery noises in an extended trance-out.”
Jimmy Johnson - ForcedExposure
“The three unreleased pieces are from 1961, 68 and 85 respectively, and give a rather complete idea of Grossi's research in electronic and Computer Music (he was the founder of the Computer Music Studio of Pisa as well as one of the very early pioneers of computer music in Europe). They sound surprisingly modern and intense, placing his music at a crossroad between modern electronica, early minimalism and proto-ambient." Limited LP in an edition of 300, lavishly packaged in an embossed gatefold sleeve with bilingual liner notes inserted -- a totally impressive debut release from this label.”
Rolf Semprebon - All Music Guide
Italian composer Grossi began studying music in 1925 when he was eight years old, and played cello for over 30 years with a traditional orchestra, but in the early '60s he had the foresight to view electronic music as the way of the future, and was one of the earliest composers to embrace computer music. This vinyl-only album compiles three of his electronic works from various points in his career, starting off with one of his earliest pieces, "Progretto 2-3" from 1961. The piece is extremely minimal and ambient, consisting of several different high monotones that follow one another, controlled by a computer algorithm. Far more interesting is 1969's "Collage," where Grossi puts to good use his concepts of music being an open process where no work of music is a finished piece but rather something to be manipulated into something else, perhaps reflecting Italy's loose copyright laws. "Collage" is just that, a dense collage of different sounds processed by the computer, with crashes and swooshes, clattering, pulses, and other noises in constant flux. Gritty and bruising, this primitive sample piece predates the industrial music aesthetic a couple years before Kluster's work, and is even harsher and noisier. Side two of the album is taken up by "Unicum," composed in 1985, another ambient drone piece, similar to "Progretto 2-3" and yet far more varied and rewarding, as the shifting tones create an alien topography of sound, with Grossi using far more advanced technology to create his automatic music. All in all, a nice way to sample a composer whose work is barely known.
EteroGenio - Kathodik
I Battimenti, della durata di 30 secondi ciascuno, risalgono circa al 1965 e con la pubblicazione in CD, da parte della ANTS, escono da una circolazione semiclandestina riservata agli addetti ai lavori. Va detto, purtroppo, che parte del materiale che li costituiva è andato perso. Si tratta dell'indagine minuziosa, effettuata con mezzi primitivi e quindi quanto mai difficoltosa e faticosa, sulla combinazione di più suoni sinusoidali - i Battimenti rimastici comprendono combinazioni da 2 a 5 suoni - ciascuno distante dall'altro 1 Hz. Probabilmente i Battimenti erano originariamente concepiti come materiale da rielaborare, questo quando (come tende a precisare Albert Mayr nelle note poste sul libretto che accompagna il CD) non era ancora sorta l'era dei plunderphonics. "Con il nastro, la musica veniva composta direttamente, eliminando il diaframma stesso dell'esecuzione: non più mediazione dell'esecutore nella trasmissione del messaggio musicale. Non soltanto, ma da quel momento il fruitore stesso diventava padrone di intervenire direttamente sul messaggio. Già venticinque anni fa ero in contatto stretto con tutti gli studiosi che si occupavano di musica elettronica, e ci scambiavamo vari nastri registrati che avevano ciascuno un titolo e un autore. E ciascuna volta che ne ricevevo uno ero ben felice di ascoltare ciò che aveva fatto la persona che me l'aveva mandato. Ma io potevo ricavare da quel nastro centinaia d'altri brani, avvalendomi dei mezzi tecnici di cui si disponeva a quel tempo: magnetofoni a velocità variabile, filtri, le forbici stesse. Già si delineava la possibilità di renderci indipendenti dal messaggio, che in precedenza veniva rigidamente fissato su carta pentagrammata e eseguito secondo una prassi ben precisa. Ciascun messaggio fonico inciso su nastro costituiva un punto di partenza per crearne parecchi altri. Con l'elaboratore elettronico queste possibilità operative si sono allargate smisuratamente, portandoci alla totale indipendenza dal lavoro di altri; il calcolatore, direi, ci libera dal genio altrui e esalta il nostro" (Pietro Grossi). Credo che, per chi non l'ha già fatto, questa sia l'occasione giusta per mettere le mani su un altro tassello di quel mosaico che è la musica elettronica italiana. Conoscere il passato per capire il presente e plasmare il futuro è uno degli elementi fondamentali dell'evoluzione umana.
M.Bianchi - IMDbox
Le note di sovracoperta recitano così: "Minimalista dieci anni prima dei minimalisti, pioniere della computer music...etc", ma a noi integerrimi adepti del suono più genuino interessa maggiormente il contenuto incandescente di questo disco preistoricamente oscuro. Grossi ormai si è addormentato nella morte, ma non nell'oblio, e così l'intraprendente etichetta milanese Die Schachtel ("La Scatola") pubblica questo intenso epitaffio, impregnato di archeo-minimalismo e di proto-ambientalismo.
"Progetto" sfugge alle contaminazioni dell'ipocrita modernità ed elabora un primitivismo magnetico molto suggestivo, mentre "Collage" riesce ad irrigare di fremiti elettronici i batuffoli dell'accelerazione infranta. "Unicum", più vicino all'automatismo programmato, irradia una nevralgica carburazione computeristica, nella direzione dei moderni cultori della musica con il calcolatore. Pietro, la tua musicalità gronda prodigiosa giovialità ed eclettica perseveranza, e probabilmente ne rimarremo estasiati...
G. De Simone - Il Manifesto
Un vinile e un cd dedicati a Pietro Grossi, pioniere della musica elettronica italiana scomparso l'anno scorso. I lavori che vengono ora pubblicati sono uno studio intitolato Battimenti realizzato tra il 1964 ed il 1966 e prodotto dalla ants di Giovanni Antognozzi. Sul vinile della die Schachtel compaiono altre importanti pietre miliari: Progetto 2-3 prima composizione elettronica di Grossi, Collage, interessante studio di opera collettiva basato sul presupposto di una musica condivisa», senza pregiudizio d'autore e svincolata da copyright. Sempre sul vinile troviamo Unicum, brano del 1985. Due documenti imperdibili: questa musica prodotta da macchine del passato ci appare di incredibile bellezza e purezza.
pietro grossi’s “musicautomatica” that was recently issued on die schachtel and comes in a really stunning cover of those that always make absurd feel jealous of presents 3 pieces of the late Italian composer. To be honest, I was unaware of his work of course the same holds for lots of people someone can say but luckily nowadays that thanks to the current postmodern trends that stuff is been discovered lying around and the dust is cleared out of it we’re lucky to experience some really unique musics as this lp. the first side including 2 pieces he did in the 60’s at rai’s studio. The first being a piece of early 60’s the 2nd in later both having a superb adventurous minimalist language/fidelity. 2 real diamonds. the second side’s “unicum” is a monstrous piece, “unicum” is a system that grossi invented and works as a kind of scrapbook or so. must be noted that what I admired in his views is his approach towards modern technology and also for his infinite (& around infinite) ideas. wisely the cover artwork has infinite’s symbol to show that. in this way “unicum” can be an endless piece or can have endless interpretations. over here we get an almost 30min piece of a very subtle minimalism which you have to listen careful and see what’s happening, if is happening, and so on. comes also w/ a little but fully informative 4 paged bilingual booklet (at the lp size) around grossi, his lifework and texts. overall a unique moment. limited to 300 so hurry up!