last edited in April 2007    


Il Gruppo was a brilliant and prolific composer's collective exploring extended techniques and new sound sources through the medium of improvisation. Although very much a product of its time, their music remains timeless. They were instrumental in founding a radical tradition of western musical improvisation that owed little or nothing to anybody and created some of the strangest music ever made. They were utterly unique.

from John Zorn liner notes, NYC 2006

This deluxe boxed edition presents some of the most compelling improvisations of this extraordinary improv group active in the 60s and featuring such names as Ennio Morricone, Ivan Vandor, Roland Kayn, Franco Evangelisti, Walter Branchi, Mario Bertoncini and John Heineman. Spanning from free-jazz to total abstract noise and wild electronic sounds, these pieces were recorded between 1967 and 1969 are released here for the first time. The enclosed video DVD, shot in a stunning black and white, is a unique document that captures the rehearsal of the thrilling concert that the group gave in Rome in 1967. It features both english and Italian subtitles.
The cloth-covered box contains three individual digipak, a 72-pages italian-english booklet and a poster. Mastering by Giuseppe Ielasi

GENRE: avantgarde, free improvisation
FORMAT: 2 CD+1 Dvd deluxe box
DESCRIPTION: Deluxe boxed set, three individual digipak, a 72-pages italian-english booklet and a poster
PRICE: 50 euro

:: reviews 




Sentire Ascoltare

Nel 1964 Franco Evangelisti forma a Roma il Gruppo (Internazionale) di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza. Il Gruppo si inserisce nella scia di sperimentazione che caratterizza le avanguardie post-Cage dalla fine degli anni Cinquanta, in particolare Cornelius Cardew e la sua apertura al comportamento/gesto (inserito in partitura tramite grafismi o prescrizioni verbali), inteso come pratica esecutiva che responsabilizza gli esecutori e che ‘subordina’ la composizione all’improvvisazione momentanea.
Il GINC, insieme alle esperienze di Musica Elettronica Viva, di New Phonic Art, del Sonic Art Group o del Theatre of Eternal Music, tenta di risolvere questa discrasia tra compositore ed esecutore accogliendo al suo interno esclusivamente musicisti/compositori, tralasciando la tecnica per concentrarsi sul suono. L’opera non ha più un solo autore, ma risulta come un miscuglio di azioni e microframmenti personali che interagiscono e si sviluppano dialetticamente per confluire in un risultato ai confini del free jazz e dell’alea.
Il sontuoso cofanetto della Schachtel (due CD, un DVD, un libretto di 70 pagine e un miniposter) si riferisce alla seconda formazione (1967-69) del GINC: Mario Bertoncini, Walter Branchi, Franco Evangelisti, John Heinemann, Roland Kayn, Egisto Macchi, Ennio Morricone e Ivan Vandor (nel DVD c’è anche una comparsata di Frederic Rzewski). Il primo CD presenta tre lunghe improvvisazioni: la prima (Kate) concentrata su suoni percussivi e piatti mistico-eterei, la seconda (Es War Einmal) è una lunga suite noise piena di scatti improvvisi, suoni e rumori che fa scomparire molti dei gruppi noise oggi tanto di moda, la terza (Untitled) un delirante assalto al pianoforte che viene decostruito e ripensato in chiave free. Il secondo contiene le prove e il concerto tenuto alla Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna di Roma nel marzo 1967, riproposto interamente nel DVD. Il video è particolarmente interessante sia dal punto di vista pratico - in quanto descrive la preparazione degli strumenti e mette in luce l’estetica del gruppo durante le prove - sia da quello teorico, poiché raccoglie una serie di interviste che rivelano la profondità e i riferimenti storici dell’avanguardia italiana del tempo.
Un documento fondamentale per capire da dove vengano John Zorn, i Boredoms, il free jazz post-Settanta di Anthony Braxton, i Sonic Youth, la No Wave e la pletora di gruppi noise, alle volte purtroppo privi di fondamenti estetici così saldi e coerenti come quelli dei maestri del GINC.

Other Music

Just in from the always beautifully presented Die Schachtel label, a two-CD and DVD package housed in a linen slipcase devoted to unheard recordings by the legendary Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, a group whom it's always been frustratingly hard to pin down on disc or LP despite their powerhouse line-up. The GINC was a performer/composer ensemble with revolving members active from the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s; the recordings and film collected here are from what is arguably their greatest and most innovative era which spanned the years 1967-1969, when the core group consisted of Franco Evangelisti, Ennio Morricone (yes, that Morricone), Roland Kayn, Mario Bertoncini, Ivan Vandor, and John Heineman. Usually mentioned in the same breath as another great electro-acoustic improvising ensemble, AMM, who were navigating similar terrain to that of the GINC, each member brought their own composing and improvising sensibility to bear on a collective effort that is never less than totally engaging. They performed a totally unique melange of free improvisation, with white noise, analog electronics, extended technique, and a knowledge of composition that encompassed centuries worth of developments, from the Renaissance on up to the latest innovations of Stockhausen, Cage, or Xenakis. The DVD features a 45-minute-long black and white film of a performance given by the group at the Gallery of Modern Art in Rome in 1967. [MK] (Reissued 2006)


some estimates: Ennio Morricone has scored more than 400 films. He's one of a handful of truly iconic film composers, immediately recognizable to fans across the musical spectrum, from jazz to rock to classical. And yet, somehow Morricone has never won an Academy Award. No matter how much weight you accord the Oscars, that's an insult, but Morricone's taken his numerous slights and losses with good humor. In a 2001 interview with The Guardian, Morricone quipped (via translator), "If it was up to me, I'd win an Oscar every two years!" With the Academy no doubt hedging its bets, at 78 he'll receive a consolation prize this year-- an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar, mere weeks after he makes his U.S. live conducting debut.
While Morricone-philes continue to unearth unheard or forgotten scores from the legendary Italian composer, musical archaeologists have been discovering, digging up, and dusting off a relatively obscure period in Morricone's career, a stint spent in the improvisational 1960s collective Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, whose experiments with musique concrète informed Morricone's scores.
Composition is just very slow improvisation, goes the saying, so maybe it's no surprise to hear so many parallels to Morricone's often wonderfully strange film works in Azioni, a 2xCD/DVD collection. At the same time, while Morricone may be the most famous alumni of Il Gruppo, he's not necessarily the most important. Indeed, he's just one of several prominent, talented voices dedicated to deconstructing themselves and diving into dissonance, among them (at least for these 1967-1969 sessions) Mario Bertoncini, Walter Branchi, founder Franco Evangelisti, John Heineman, Roland Kayn, Egisto Macchi, and Ivan Vandor.
In the companion DVD-- which features interviews and invaluable footage from a 1967 performance in Rome-- Evangelisti is asked how audiences react to the group. He responds, "Some are shocked, some others pleased, and some even think that we can't play the instruments." That the same reaction has been provoked by everyone from obvious predecessors like John Cage to Il Gruppo's later contemporaries in AAM through such heavily, proudly indebted followers as John Zorn really says it all.
But watching Il Gruppo, say, huddled over a piano, pulling and scraping at its strings is a bit like reading spoilers before seeing a movie, so better to dive into the previously unreleased music first, while it all remains a sonic mystery. At any given time over the course of the two generous discs it's impossible to tell just how many hands are at work, let alone what they're up to. What's remarkable is that amidst all the action it's generally easy to hear different voices. Bowed metal, bird calls, breathy trumpet bleats (courtesy Morricone), and plodding pianos are among the more recognizable of the sometimes whimsical, often spooky sounds, yet there's clearly a method to the madness.
Evangelisti (who died in 1980) called Il Gruppo "the first group in the world made up totally of composers," but that could be said of virtually any improvisational group. Still, this is an act whose members know better than to step on one another's toes. There's space in the racket, pauses to allow the sounds to sink in, or maybe to grant the members a chance to imagine what comes next. They're clearly thinking on their feet, aided only by their eyes and ears. Maybe that's why their music remains just as challenging and enthralling today as it must have been at its inception.
Il Gruppo remained active throughout the 70s-- Morricone "conducted" them for his score to 1971's Gli Occhi Freddi Della Paura, and the similarly unearthed Musica Su Schemi captures a performance from 1976-- but it was during this exciting late-60s period that the group was really onto something, unleashing their music Ids and heading into parts unknown.


Could there have been a more appropriate imprint to unearth previously unreleased documentation of Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza's most important line-up than the superlative Italian label Die Schachtel? The label is named after one of Gruppo leader Franco Evangelisti's most powerful pieces, and they've spent much of their time digging for gold in Italy's underground – for example, their Marino Zuccheri reissue. Better yet, the Die Schachtel commitment to quality packaging means Azioni is a joy before you bung the first disc into the player, a gorgeous cloth-covered box housing two CDs, one DVD (all in digipak), a poster and a book. The latter includes an essay from Evangelisti, further commentary by Gruppo members Walter Branchi and John Heineman, and an excerpt from an extended study by Daniela Tortora.
For those who have been on the lookout for the Gruppo's music, but who are unprepared to pay excessive prices for rare LPs, Azioni comes as manna from heaven. It's a perfect complement to the Ampersand reissue of Musica Su Schemi and the Editions RZ compilation of tracks from the outfit's 1960s and 1970s albums. Perhaps some day, some enterprising label will reissue those titles in full: 1966's Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, 1967's The Private Sea of Dreams, the 1969 album issued as part of Deutsche Grammophon's Avant Garde series, 1970's The Feedback, and 1973's self-titled album. There's also the Dagored reissue of Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to Gli Occhi Freddi Della Paura, in which you can hear Nuova Consonanza get as close as they ever will to playing, umm, "funky". (It's an astonishing listen, easily one of Morricone's best soundtracks.)
Evangelisti formed the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza in 1964. The line-up was mutable, and at various points featured the aforementioned Branchi, Heineman and Morricone, alongside Roland Kayn, Ivan Vandor, Mario Bertoncini, Egisto Macchi, Jerry Rosen, Antonelli Neri, Giovanni Piazza, Giancarlo Schiaffini, and for a time, Musica Elettronica Viva founder Frederic Rzewski. There was indeed some overlap between the aesthetics of Nuova Consonanza and MEV, though one suspects the fundamental difference lay in MEV's desire to completely reject their entire history as academically trained composers (to paraphrase Alvin Curran). The Gruppo, under the guidance of Evangelisti, drew instead on their dual status as composers and improvisers to enact a kind of instantaneous composition (but thankfully without the hippie airhead vibes of, say, the latter-day Damo Suzuki). Significant among Evangelisti's tactics was his encouraging the Gruppo to practise to strengthen the group's internal resolve and their ability to think on a dime. You can hear the results through all of their's recorded output, and it's central to the works collected on Azioni.
The first CD collects three pieces from the sextet of Bertoncini, Branchi, Evangelisti, Heineman, Macchi and Morricone. "Kate" focuses on percussion, sounding out this territory with playing that can shift on a dime from apposite to opposite, if you will. "Untitled" feels relatively open-ended, though it reaches a point halfway through where the piano all but swallows the listener, dropping you into its guts via spectrum-sweeping extended technique. This is surgical music, but not in any clinical sense; rather, this is what Evangelisti calls the "traumatic" (ab)use of traditional instrumentation, open-heart antics performed on instruments, at times splaying them across the recording tape. This approach also allows for great intimacy, as in "Untitled", where breaths whisper through valves while bowed metals ring out, bringing one of the Gruppo's most suggestive performances to a close.
With "Es War Einmal", the sextet move between moments of fragile repose and all-out assault, reaching a high level of density around nine minutes into the piece. (A similar section appears just after the twenty-minute mark.) Though those moments are galvanising, one is drawn more to airier, less programmatically intense passages on the recording. When the cloud cover clears at the thirteen-minute mark to unveil bird calls and harmonics scraped queasily from lone strings, the metaphoric breath of fresh air shifts the music closer to a European take on the Art Ensemble of Chicago. (This comparison, coincidentally, also arose while playing sections of Azioni to Will Guthrie, who immediately latched onto the percussion in "Kate" as some kind of continental parallel to the AEC.) Towards the end of "Es War Einmal" brass and strings enter into an acutely responsive dialogue that could only come from studious, "prepared"- or, at least, "exercised" - improvisation.
On the second disc, the Gruppo divides into variously populated cells. The trios and quartets tend to zoom in on one specific area of exploration. On the two recordings of "Fili", Branchi, Bertoncini, Evangelisti and Heineman dedicate their energies to a thorough investigation of the internal workings of the piano. It's slow and ponderous, a product of deliberate study as opposed to uncharted spontaneity. The Heineman, Morricone and Vandor trio shoot brief pulsing tones into "Trix 3 (prove concerto '67)", only to scratch its eyes out with lip smacks, breaths and bruises for trumpet. When the full line-up converges on "A7" and "A7-2" - this time around, with Kayn and Vandor in tow (but without Macchi) - they move into polyglot territory, stretching out even further than the first disc into extremes of volume and density. Yet it's never too much; these composer-performers share an ability to load their performances without cluttering. In other words, this is not your usual scratchy, desiccated improvisation - not that there is anything inherently wrong with scratchy, desiccated improvisation, but its regular lapses into rote disconnection can make for a grinding listen, which is not something that you could say about the Gruppo's music.
It can, however, be a grind to watch. Azioni's DVD component, a forty-seven minute documentary by Theo Gallehr titled Nuova Consonanza: Komponisten improvisieren im Kollektiv, makes for great historical viewing: finally, a chance to see the outfit in action, rehearsing for a 1967 performance in Rome. Once the sense of discovery starts to fade, you're left with some staggering music, some less-than-staggering interview fragments that sometimes verge on self-importance, and one golden moment where Ivan Vandor drops the mask for an all-too-human plea for, well, "contact". It's especially hilarious given the context, and pricks the bubble of experimental music in a slyly charming fashion. I'm happy I've seen Gallehr's documentary, though I'm not exactly rushing back to the TV and DVD to watch it again.
In his review of Azioni in The Wire, Byron Coley ponders what, if anything, separates this work from similar recent releases in the field, arguing that "it's not easy to hear how this material is too different from what a similarly outfitted group of improvisers would do today". Well, that's perhaps the great victory of Azioni, though I'd make that claim with a caveat of sorts. While any of this music could be recorded and released by a gaggle of improvisers in the here and now, I suspect any review would immediately try to carbon-date the players' listening habits almost forty years - everything would sound "like the Gruppo". (Or MEV, or early AMM, or....) Yet another justification for the ongoing relevance of this music in our schema. Azioni was 2006's most potent, historically necessary archival issue, and a timely poke in the eye for those who reduce the history of "composerly" improvisation to the giants of abbreviation, MEV and AMM.–JD

Chicago reader

Last year the fantastic Italian label Die Schachtel released an elaborate box set—beautifully packaged with 2 CDs, a DVD, and a thick booklet—called Azioni that featured some powerful, rare recordings that showcased the ensemble’s grip on extended technique in the improvisational setting. (They may even predate similar discoveries made in England by guitarist Derek Bailey with the Joseph Holbrooke Trio.) There’s little surprise the general public knows nothing about this phase of Morricone’s career—where he was mostly playing trumpet—because it’s pretty out there. (On the other hand, I don’t know why GDINC aren’t more famous among fans of experimental and improvised music—maybe their academy training cursed them in such eyes.) Conventional elements like melody and fixed rhythms weren’t concerns of the group, who instead explored texture, dynamics, and careful interaction, but if you’re open to this sort of thing I’d say this item is worth its hefty price tag ($58 from this mail-order source). Once you hear it you’ll cringe even more knowing that Morricone would choose to be represented on American TV by a gloppy, overwrought tune sung by Dion.


Some brilliantly abstract percussive improv from legendary sixties outfit Gruppo Improvisazione Nuova Consonanza, who among its members counted a young Ennio Morricone. But don't expect any of that cinematic desert twang, this is way more far out, a series of lengthy improvisations that range from clattery percussive soundscapes assembled from all manner of rattles and shakers and struck and bowed metal, chaotic and densely tangled, to haunting whirls of electronic glitch, skronky horns, pounded piano and weird tape experiments, to droney spaced out free jazz, but always retaining a wide eyed innocence and a penchant for kicking up a seriously noisy racket, even the softest moments often interrupted by a loud clang or some shimmering high end scrape. Recorded between 1967 and 1969, most of this sounds like it could easily have been recorded this year, some mysterious outfit from Finland or Japan, recording in the forest, releasing limited cd-r's. But it's also very much of it's time, a little bit academic, very later sixites / early seventies. Noisy as all get out, but incredibly captivating and strangely lovely at times. Two whole discs jam packed with some mesmerizingly freaked out free music exploration.
Also included is an amazing DVD, a gorgeous black and white concert film, documenting a live performance in Rome from 1967. Subtitled in both English and Italian. And it's all region. All of the discs are in similarly designed digipaks, and along with a poster, and a thick book packed with liner notes and photos, are housed in a super striking cloth covered box, with embossed white swirls and embossed text! Amazing.


It's taken me a long, long, long, long time to get around to reviewing this because it's a hefty package to crack. Two CDs, a DVD, a 72-page booklet and a poster. I've owned it for a few weeks now and I still don't feel like I know any more about it than I did the day I first heard about it. What I can tell you about Il Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza is that they were an open-door collective of composers-performers formed in 1964 at their core by founder Franco Evangelisti, Mario Bertoncini, Walter Branchi, John Heineman, Roland Kayn, Egisto Macchi, Ennio Morricone and Ivan Vandor. Also floating through their ranks at various times and dates were Frederic Rzewski (present on several notable recordings), Carmine Pepe, Larry Austin, John Eaton, William O. Smith, Giovanni Piazza, Jesus Villa Rojo, Antonello Neri, Giancarlo Schiaffini, Alessandro Sbordoni and probably a whole bunch more I don't know about. Il Gruppo continued a few years after Evangelisti's death in the 80's but seemingly fell apart with no one willing (or able) to take the reins of the project. Most involved however seem to agree that Il Gruppo's true period of growth and innovation was from 1968 to 1972, so this set is bound to contain some seriously choice cuts.
Disc one consists of three pieces, a 7-minute one called "Kate", a 25-minute one called "Es War Einmal" and an 18-minute one that's simply untitled. The lineup for all the tracks is Bertoncini, Branchi, Evangelisti, Heineman, Macchi and Morricone. I haven't read the booklet cover-to-cover yet but I'm unable to find out where these recordings are taken from. From Evangelisti's archive I'm guessing. All I know is that, like everything here, they've never before been available in any format. Despite the fact that the musicians work with conventional instruments (piano, strings, brass and percussion), they play them in such unconventional ways that it's perpetually difficult to be entirely sure of what you're hearing. Add to that the prevalent use of non-traditional instrumentation (sheet metal on "Kate" for example) and it really is a mixed bag. GINC's sound falls somewhere between Harry Partch's noisemaking inventiveness and AMM and MEV's pioneering electro-acoustic chatter. "Es War Einmal" is pretty sparse for the first half and slowly grows into a frenetic, busied whirlwind of sound from all directions. Dig the percussion seemingly devised from hitting anything within striking distance, or the sound of somebody (Morricone, if I remember what I saw on the DVD correctly) blowing into some kind of reed mouthpiece, or Heineman's strangled horns, or the heavily prepared and abused piano, or the oddly charming birdsong near-solo. The ending sounds almost cartoony, walrus hornwork, skittery percussion and bowed strings colliding playfully in a mini-tornado of improvisational wizardry. "Untitled" takes a similar form only with quite a few more bouts of silence and tends to get downright musical, especially with the crescending horns and strings as the piece nears its conclusion. It's all very active but at the same time somewhat relaxing. Like I just want to put it on and let the sounds bounce all over my body. Like friendly jellyfish with big smiles on their plasmic non-faces.
Disc two features everybody from before plus Ivan Vandor and Roland Kayn, but not everybody appears on all nine tracks. The group functions in trios (according to Evangelisti's "rules" for the group, Il Gruppo could not perform with any less than three members present - no solos or duos) all the way up through septets. Four of these tracks are taken from a 1967 concerto; "Trix 3" and "A5-4" are based more on extended tones and skull-scraping brass drones while "Fili 2" and "A7-2" are quite cacophonious in contrast with the former shadowed by a lurching piano undercurrent and various brushstrokes over top while the latter moves from near free jazz territory into classic horror film soundtrack moments of spooked out gut-wrenching ambience. As for the other numbers, "Fili" loads up on strained string and piano-gut ratcheting before dropping into the static-laced, dimly lit "Concreto" - very reminiscent of AMM and Keith Rowe's work with shortwave radio frequencies. "A5-3" is another example of GINC's noir diggings, aside from a few saxophone squawks near the beginning and the sharp near-sine wave tones of the conclusion it's another brood-fest. "A7" tangles up the best of both worlds, starting off ominously before launching into an outrageous calamity of jazz-inspired activity. The same can be said for the beginning of the CD-closing "Trio", featuring Branchi, Heineman and Vandor, whose horns are put to great effect. The group benefit greatly from the added space as they appear to play cat-and-mouse with the audience, launching a full scale attack on their instruments before receding into the shadows and preparing their next onslaught. This up-and-down style of playing offers no real beginning, middle, or end - perfect on the whole not only to Il Gruppo's sound, but seemingly their philosophy as an entity as well.
The DVD is a 45-minute black-and-white film by Theo Gallehr and depicts Il Gruppo in various candid stages - in interviews, setting up, recording, working with eachother, and performing onstage. The players showcased here include Bertoncini, Branchi, Evangelisti, Heineman, Kayn, Morricone, Vandor and Frederic Rzewski. It's interesting to watch the composers interact and perform spontaneously as it is to see them preparing the piano by tying horsehair around the strings and rubbing the interior with empty plastic bottles and vaccuum cleaner attachments. Italian and English subtitles and provided, but unfortunately these only seem to come into play when a member is being interviewed and are woefully absent when the group is conversing amongst themselves as they set up while the camera rolls. Too bad. In all honesty I probably wouldn't recommend the DVD if it was a standalone purchase, but it's invaluable as part of this set.
As if two CDs and a DVD wasn't enough, Die Schachtel also put together a thick booklet containing some great photos as well as a brief introduction from John Zorn, a biography by Daniela Tortora, an excerpt about Il Gruppo from a 1991 book about Evangelisti, a letter from Walter Branchi to Evangelisti, Macchi and "friends in music and life", and a personal footnote from John Heineman. These appear in both English and Italian. The only thing it seems that hasn't been translated into English for unknown reasons is an enclosed interview with Mario Bertoncini. But if you can read Italian, have at it. And as if all that wasn't enough, the discs come in their own digipak style cases housed inside a lavish, sturdy, cloth-covered box. And there's a poster. Die Schachtel really went all out on this one and their efforts should not go unappreciated - I tip my hat to them not only for unearthing this music and bringing it to the forefront but by making it look so darn good at the same time. I've already heard people pegging this as the release of the year...certainly a contender, but at this point it's a runaway for the best discovery of the year, period end of story.