- Creative NZ • De Montfort University
Lieu-temps has something of the experimental radio documentary about it, but is none the worse for that, and repays repeated listening in bringing out the intricate detail of its montaged elements. — Adverse Effect Blog, Poland
Tangible mournfulness in a next-to-masterpiece oeuvre. — Touching Extremes, Italy
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15flute, clarinet, violin, cello, harp, percussion, piano and fixed medium
- empreintes DIGITALes
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2flute, clarinet, violin, cello, harp, percussion, piano and fixed medium
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In 2002 I made my first visit to the city of Forlì in northern Italy. It was a moving occasion for me as it was the place where my mother was born and where, as a young woman, she got to know my father who was at that time a soldier in the New Zealand Division of the 8th Army. That was in 1944. My mother followed my father back to New Zealand after the war, where I grew up with many powerful impressions of the places and events of their wartime experiences. But, as vivid and as frequently emotive as my parents’ reminiscences were, 58 years later they all took on a new reality for me on that first visit to Forlì.
In the company of my father (his first time there since 1945), I was astonished by his very precise recollections of buildings, streets and directions around the city. I was also reminded of my mother’s first return to Forlì after 35 years, where she was spontaneously greeted in the street by an old acquaintance who exclaimed ‘I’ve not seen you for such a long time!’
Some things were more poignant for their absence. The farmhouse at Malmissole in the outskirts of Forlì, where my parents first actually met, has gone. The house on via Giorgio Regnoli in Forlì where my mother and her parents had lived after the city’s liberation received a direct hit from a German shell and now a notably more modern house stands in its place. But amidst these and many other reminders, the Forlì soundscape triggered another response. Standing in the centre of the city’s Piazza Aurelio Saffi listening to bells from churches clearly audible over great distances gave me a strong sense of experiencing the sounds as something resonant of the place and its history… that these were ‘voices’ from the past — something permanent, yet alive — evoking a sense of being touched by the physicality of sounds that others had experienced with the same immediacy over many years and through some dark, violent times. Of course, the emotional nature of that visit made me especially receptive to such an idea.
But in response to a flood of expressions of place and identity, and my own inexorable feeling of being at once earthed and estranged in Forlì, these works explore the interaction of memory and experience, narrative and evocation bringing sounds and voices from the past and the present together in imaginary soundscapes.
John Young, Leicester (England, UK) [x-07]
This is Piazza Aurelio Saffi, at the heart of Forlì, a small city in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. It’s a warm September morning and the piazza is crowded with people, watched over by the lofty bell tower of the 12th century Basilica of San Mercuriale.
The bells of the Duomo — the Cathedral of Santa Croce — cascade across the center of Forlì and beyond, echoed by bells of outlying churches and chimes of the city’s clock tower. It feels like these sounds have existed here forever, part of the space, part of the life of the city.
Just next to the tower of San Mercuriale there is a small portico with a memorial captioned Caduti per la Libertà — fallen for liberty — acknowledging many who died in World War II in the struggle against occupying Nazi forces and Fascism. Their pictures, some of them children, are etched into tiles in memory of what people of this town went through at that time.
The year of 1944 saw Forlì ravaged by the bombardments of both Allies and Germans and subject to vicious Nazi reprisals against her people, trapped in a conflict that forced its way into their lives in a chaotic struggle amongst foreign soldiers, partisans and a new wave of repubblichini — soldiers of the Fascist puppet state of Northern Italy. And it was here, from the tall iron lampposts that circle Piazza Saffi that the bodies of La Banda Corbari were hung, a group of partisans executed after being captured by Nazis and denounced by Fascists. Such chilling cruelty, such inhuman actions. These were witnessed and endured in Forlì.
Standing here, in front of the San Mercuriale memorial, we see faces, names, dates. All are reminders that the suffering brought by war is intensely personal and its violence indiscriminate. In the broad wash of time, we so easily lose sight of the individual tragedies, and the little chance events from which life and death hang in the balance, woven within the savage machinery of war. It’s one such story that is remembered now.
Following the armistice between Italy and the Allies in September 1943, the 8th and 5th Allied armies commenced an invasion of the Italian mainland and began to move north from the southern cities of Taranto and Salerno. As armies engaged in bitter combat, a nation was immersed in a chain of horrific destruction that thrust its way through cities and across the land.
War Correspondent 1
Now you hear the roar of the bombers, they’re approaching now in from the sun right high above overhead is a Spitfire…
War Correspondent 2
… takes the form of an all out air offensive against their forward positions and this attack is in progress before me as I speak to you. Very large numbers of planes are coming over, giving the German positions… dive bombers have gone and the artillery again takes up the pounding of the enemy forward positions…
War Correspondent 3
And as the shells screamed down and the walls collapsed in gray powder around us we raced back to tell you, on the spot, the full nightmare of the war…
War Correspondent 1
All down the hillside now the pounding grows in a multitude of vicious mounds of flame and smoke… Approaching now the target. Already a cloud of green smoke is rising from the center of the town which is evidently the point to be bombed. And there’s the load of the Boston attack just fell on the town and terrific black smoke is rising in amazingly thick columns spread over the whole area. And the sound of the actual explosions will reach you now.
War Correspondent 4
We passed through village after village and every one of them bore the scars of the twin war machines which had smashed through them in these past few months. In the streets, black with churned up mud, and in the crumbling doorways of windowless, often roofless houses, I saw barefooted, ragged little children, faces pinched with cold and shivering against the cold rain. Often, as we passed through towns, I saw men and women digging in the ruins of their homes for something they might still call their own. … The gathering darkness added the last somber touch to this dismal scene of war. Here men had fought and died, and the air was full of the tragedy. Then, when we were only a few minutes from here, and we entered the approaches to this little town from where I’m talking a little procession came toward us. First there was the Priest striding quickly along in the rain. And behind him came four little boys all about 10 years old. They were carrying a very little coffin on their shoulders, and they were almost running to keep up with the priest. Behind them, coming from the front, a long convoy of 8th Army lorries followed, and didn’t try and pass.
L’albero a cui tendevi
la pargoletta mano,
il verde melograno
da’ bei vermigli fior,
nel muto orto solingo
rinverdì tutto or ora
e giugno lo ristora
di luce e di calor.
Tu fior de la mia pianta
percossa e inaridita,
tu de l’inutil vita
estremo unico fior,
sei ne la terra fredda,
sei ne la terra negra;
né il sol più ti rallegra
né ti risveglia amor.
[Poem Pianto antico, 1871, by Giosuè Carducci]
The winter months of 1943-44 saw harsh weather — and extreme cold transformed the land into a frozen, inhospitable environment. To escape the cold many soldiers abandoned their usual sleeping place of a slit trench covered by a bivouac tent for whatever houses were nearby, bringing them into close contact with civilians. As towns and villages were destroyed, many Italian citizens became sfollati — evacuees — dispersed out of cities and into the countryside.
War Correspondent 1
The heaviest fall of snow so far this winter has just taken place. The whole countryside is now a picture of winter, with bare brown trees and hedges carrying a pattern of snow over the white blanket beneath. The roads are churned to broken drifts of slush and ice, and all movement is becoming increasing difficult. As I speak to you, snow is still falling and it seems certain that settled winter conditions have fallen on the Italian front.
For people caught in the sweep of this war, danger was everywhere. In the sky at night, over many parts of Northern and Central Italy reports of a phantom airplane, dubbed Pippo, symbolized the anxiety of civilians. It came only in darkness, sometimes without incident, sometimes dropping flares here and there, or explosives where a light might be shining. The droning presence of Pippo inflamed the fears of ordinary people — an invisible, looming threat that some were sure was American, while to others it was German, or even Italian. Pippo epitomized the identity of the enemy as something fluid and ambiguous — the destruction brought by strangers, and the menace fermenting within the nation.
In the summer of 1944 a young woman, evacuated from the city, rode toward Forlì on her bicycle, looking for what was left of her family’s house, shattered in one of the first waves of Allied bombing. Along a country road, a black speck floated on the horizon and, suddenly, became an Allied fighter plane whose eyes saw this innocent figure as the enemy. She never knew just how it was that she escaped, but she rode on to find what was left of her home — gutted and strewn with remnants of the life they had left behind. And yet what she saw that day was that the garden had bloomed into a vibrant image of hope.
War Correspondent 3
This is the story of a little Italian farm. Which, just for a day, found itself in the front line. At that moment it was simply point 098524, where two German machine guns had to be cleared up. It had no human personality as it were. It was just a map reference that would be passed and forgotten by the end of the day. Inside, the whole family were sheltering in a deep cellar. The walls were still shaking from an occasional shell dropping near at hand. On a rough bed, the old grandfather was lying wounded in the leg. He’d been wounded by one of our own lads who’d mistaken him for a German when Grandfather had come hobbling out of the door to welcome us. And Grandmother, aged 70, was holding his hand. The old lady produced two pathetically soiled letters obviously read and re-read a hundred times. They were from her grandsons, prisoners of war in Sardinia. Was there any hope that she could see them again? And as they talked, I realized the immense hope that the ordinary, simple people of Europe feel…
War Correspondent 1
Well, that is a New Zealand tank just entering Florence. Today is Friday the 4th of August and New Zealanders, together with South Africans on the right flank have reached the goal of long endeavor and fighting after many hard weeks of action… It’s really quite difficult to carry on any kind of connected commentary. People are gathering around the microphone, I’m being constantly patted on the back and presented with flowers. There’s great shouting and excitement and really one can only convey a very scattered picture of this tremendous occasion. Bottles of vino are being produced from everywhere. And the New Zealanders of course are taking every opportunity of the… er… opportunity to slake a thirst, which has grown over the dusty road and particularly during the last 2 nights of hard fighting.
Pressing on to the north, following their involvement in devastating battles at Orsogna, at Cassino and in the battle for Florence, the New Zealand Division of the 8th Army was among the forces advancing along the Adriatic coast in September 1944, approaching the so-called Gothic line of German defense which stretched across northern Italy from La Spezia to Pesaro. Heading north from Rimini on the Adriatic Coast, this eventually brought the New Zealanders to Forlì. Amongst these troops was Alex, a gunner in the New Zealand 5th Field Regiment. Over 60 years later, he recalls passing through Piazza Saffi for the first time.
We went through Forlì, right through the square, and right up and through the big archway and then we turned right and went down to Malmissole. The Germans hadn’t been long gone. We went through the Saffi and there was… the Germans had strung up a lot of Partisans from… on each of those posts, those lampposts. There was a big sign, a big painting up on the wall, I think it was like a poster, just down by where the church was, showing a New Zealand soldier — like a Maori it was too, he was a Maori — with a baby in his arms and the blood dripping from it and underneath written ’this is the enemy: beware’.
Allied troops and partisans had liberated Forlì on the cold and misty morning of November the 9th 1944, after a night battle for the Forlì airfield. Yet it remained a perilous place. One BBC war correspondent described his experience in Piazza Saffi when he arrived there on that day.
War Correspondent 5
Eventually we found ourselves in the main Piazza or square, a beautiful place in a rather gloomy, sinister way arcaded on two sides with a fine Romanesque church with a tall tower right opposite us. San Mercuriale we were told it was. And I was just remarking to a colleague that the church along with the rest of the city seemed to be entirely undamaged when swish, bang, a shell from a German field gun, a 105, exploded slap in the middle of the square. This was followed by five or six others, though we didn’t wait to see them burst.
In fact there had been many civilian deaths and terrible destruction around the town as a result of Allied bombing raids in the preceding months, and in the wake of the German retreat. Under the Nazi occupation, scores of people — partisans and those accused of supporting them, Jews and other innocents caught in reprisals — were put to death, while many others were deported to forced labor camps in Germany and its remaining territories.
The night before the Allies’ entry into Forlì, the city lay coldly silent in fear of another air raid. Then, in the small hours of the 9th of November, the silence was shattered as the retreating Nazis carried out their earlier threat to blow up the city’s prominent towers, including the municipal Torre civica, and the campanile of the Duomo, whose falling bells shattered the great wooden beams below. By some grace, the tower of San Mercuriale was spared.
One family named Fariselli had, like so many others, been forced to escape the city’s dangers as the tide of the war overtook them in 1944. They had lived close to the railway station, a key bombing target, and with their home destroyed in an air attack the parents, Euclide and Maria, two of their daughters Tarcisia and Imelde as well as Imelde’s small children, Giovanna, Giorgio and Carla found refuge in the outskirts of Forlì at the home of the Strocchi family in the farming area of Malmissole. Soon, German troops were also staying in the farmhouse — and this was to plunge the family into torment… One soldier, handling a machine gun… incomprehensibly triggered it and, in one shocking instant, took the life of Imelde’s little boy.
As the world stood still for one family, the conflict continued around them as the Allied pursuit of the German army and civil war scoured the country. And then, as winter drew near, it was in front of the Strocchi farmhouse at Malmissole that the New Zealand soldier Alex found himself looking for shelter with the rest of his battery in November 1944. It was here that he met Tarcisia.
We arrived in the sort of courtyard you’d call it, where it was cobblestones. And the Sergeant Major said to me “Well, go up and there and get a room for us.” So I went upstairs and there were three or four rooms. There was a passageway down the middle and there were three rooms there and three rooms on the other side. So I got that one, I went and got that room and there were a lot of grapes hanging up, I remember that, and I remember tasting them — they were quite good, they were green grapes. And then I walked over to this other room where there were windows on all of them but on this other side there was nothing. But I walked over to this other room and had a look out the window because there was … a lot of people down below, turning around and mucking around, you know, people. So I looked out the window and who should be sitting on the window at the end but this beautiful girl, you see, so I just looked out the window and sort of said to her “Buongiorno”, and she said “Buongiorno “. Didn’t know what to say, I said “Vuoi una sigaretta?” and she replied “No, non fumare.” So, I just sort of smiled at her again and she smiled back and I thought, by gosh… that was it. It was just love at first sight.
Not long after Alex and Tarcisia met, her family were able to move back into Forlì — Tarcisia with her parents to a house close to Piazza Saffi, and Imelde and her children to an apartment on the other side of the town. Alex’s regiment were now in action at Villanova, between Forlì and the city of Faenza to the north. In the following months, Alex and Tarcisia met whenever they could and almost straight away one of those meetings was to change their lives forever.
Of course what actually happened, with the bombing… Imelde and Carla and Giovanna, they went with their cousins, there were quite a few of them, into this big apartment place. I never ever saw it. But they were — I believe — they were on the fifth floor. They had gone two days before Tarcisia and her mother and father left, and they went to via Regnoli and Tarcisia told me where they were going and told me it was 38 via Regnoli. So she said “Would you like to come down?” By this time we’d moved up to Villanova, so she said “If you’ve got… would you come down one afternoon?” so I said “Yes I’ll come down tomorrow.” So I got down there and she told me this afterwards that her mother had said to Tarcisia that morning “Well, this afternoon we’ll go round and see Imelde and see how they’ve settled in, and Carla and company.” And Tarcisia said “Oh do we have to go today?” and Maria said “Why?” She said, “Well, that soldier that I like is coming down and he’s going to come and see me.” And her mother said “Oh well, OK, we can go another day, don’t worry about it, it’ll be alright.” So I duly arrived and Tarcisia was there and gave me a glass of wine. Her mother was sitting in the corner, knitting away, knitting away. And I spent just the afternoon with her, you know, cuddling a bit… and then I left and of course I had to walk to the square to get my truck and I just went straight out, straight through the big archway, which is blocked off now. Well I got past, just through that archway, and I saw this plane, or I heard it, and saw it. And I just saw the bomb coming out. It was an enormous thing, it looked to me like a great big 44 gallon drum and it was just turning over like that as it flew down — and about that height which, had I stayed where I was, it seemed to me it would have dropped, more or less… but I took off, it actually carried on a bit further where the apartment was — hit this apartment…
I never thought anything about it. I heard it explode and all the rest of it, the big noise and I’d got back to Villanova. Next morning I went down to see Tarcisia again and, oh, she told me the great tale you see about it and she said that she was just going round to the hospital see and she told me that Imelde had died, she was killed outright but Carla was still alive and so was Giovanna. So I went round to the hospital with them and Carla was, she was still sort of… I don’t think she knew where she was but her eyes were clogged up and they were trying to clean her eyes a bit. But Giovanna was just lying there and she had a cut on her head about that long from there right back and just all exposed. I said to Tarcisia “Why don’t they, you know, do something with her?” and she said “They seem to think she’s going to die.” So I went round and saw one of the nurses, they were nuns and this nun could speak English and I said to her “What’s, why are they not?”… she said “We’ve got nothing, we’ve got no bandages, we’ve got nothing.” Well, she said “What we’ve got, we’ve got very few, we are only using them for people who will not die and she said I’m sorry but that little girl is going to die.” Which she did the next day. They were crowded, packed in. There must have been five hundred people in that little hospital and there were five hundred people in that apartment.
Here, outside Forlì’s Duomo, Alex and Tarcisia met on Easter Sunday in 1945, and it was not long before they decided that Tarcisia would follow Alex to New Zealand after the war. They were lucky, and able to grasp the promise of a new life together. Love provided the fortune that allowed them their future, but a future that carried with it the agony of loved ones lost. Yet today in Forlì, across the space of the main Piazza, in the dark reverberation of her churches and sharp echoes of her narrow streets the Duomo’s bells have risen out of destruction and speak of all that the city witnessed, to give a voice to all those souls for whom time was made to stand still.
Some recommended items
In the press
Ian Canadine, Adverse Effect Blog, October 17, 2009Lieu-temps has something of the experimental radio documentary about it, but is none the worse for that, and repays repeated listening in bringing out the intricate detail of its montaged elements.
Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes, September 1, 2008Tangible mournfulness in a next-to-masterpiece oeuvre.
JV, Gonzo Circus, no. 87, July 1, 2008
Vittore Baroni, Rumore, May 1, 2008
Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy, no. 58, May 1, 2008
Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, March 1, 2008… with grace and style […] a very unusual electroacoustic epic, touched upon with sensitive fingers.
ASB, De:Bug, no. 120, March 1, 2008
Tina Manske, Titel Magazin, February 21, 2008Beeindruckend.
Frans De Waard, Vital, no. 614, February 12, 2008Haunting stuff, absolutely beautiful.
John Young is an electroacoustic composer from New Zealand, though currently based in the UK. In Lieu-temps he uses field recordings, narrative framing, radio samples and oral history, interweaved with drones, electronics, detuned piano and other tools of the electroacoustic trade, to relate the story of how his father, a soldier with the New Zealand army, first met his Italian mother, during the Second World War liberation of her hometown, Forlì, by Allied forces. Young mixes his ingredients effectively and movingly to draw out his major theme of how personal and world-historical events are inextricably entwined, and how chance can play such a huge role in dictating the outcomes of human lives. The repetitive use of chimes from the belltowers of Forlì, together with contemporary commentary from war reporters on the scene, works particularly well in evoking the feel of time and place which is vital to the project. Lieu-temps has something of the experimental radio documentary about it, but is none the worse for that, and repays repeated listening in bringing out the intricate detail of its montaged elements.
As soon as the sign “Forlì” was spotted on the cover I got curious, as understanding the perpetual attraction of distant visitors for that socio-cultural quagmire called Italy — by far one of the most overrated countries in the globe in every sense, except perhaps the splendour of some of the landscapes and a few historic/artistic sites — keeps making a living as a perplexing matter in my mind. Still, this audio DVD is much more significant than that type of scrutiny, depicting how the shock of war (in this case, WWII) and the might of an everlasting reciprocal devotion often intertwine branches. John Young’s father Alex was in that city in 1944, a soldier in the New Zealand contingent of anti-German allies. Right there he met Tarcisia Fariselli — “love at first sight”, as Alex himself explains — who became his wife, following him after the end of the conflict. The crossroads of these destinies is movingly portrayed by a son who, admirably, devoted a huge endeavour to the circumstances during which his parents began to share a life. In Ricordiamo Forlì, Young utilized their voices, tapes of onsite reports from that era’s transmissions (from the archives of BBC and Radio New Zealand) and extraordinary field recordings of the city, the most frequent being the tolling bells of the churches, which the composer feels as “something permanent, yet alive” communicating a strong emotional message to a man who had listened to these recollections since he was a kid but only in 2002 was able, together with dad, to inhale the air of the place where it all happened. The set’s design, despite its intensely dramatic suggestions, sounds at times like an amazing fairy tale (also due to the essential presence of Franco Bianchini’s narrating voice) as Young magnificently delivers the blend of complementary sensations underlying the account through a vast range of breathtaking sonic structures, so striking that the great amount of spoken word segments never challenges our endurance; on the contrary, one’s impatient to know “what happens next”. The piece emerges as an intense acousmatic journey, utterly worthy of the 1st prize won at the Bourges International Festival in 2007. Another affecting composition for small orchestral group and electroacoustics, Arrivederci, closes the record with a touch of class by the Stroma ensemble, whose responsive reading of the score meshes with the ever-present sound of a bell — processed or less — closing a circle where grieving memories seem to claim the protagonist’s role, even when love is central in the unfolding story. Tangible mournfulness in a next-to-masterpiece oeuvre.
I reviewed another John Young phonogram some years back on empreintes DIGITALes; La limite du bruit, and my brief introduction then fits just as well here, ’scuse me: John Young (1962) is one of those prolific and talented New Zealand sound artists, whom we have come to appreciate very much. Personally I raised an eyebrow over his humorous and discerning electroacoustic text-sound piece Sju, which recently was released on a CD called “New Zealand Sonic Art 2000” from The Music Department of Waikato University in Hamilton, New Zealand. That piece deals with the different pronunciations of the Swedish word “sju”, which means “seven”. It is very hard for any English-speaking person to pronounce the word in a sensible way, but even within Sweden there are at least two major ways of pronouncing it — in fact according to social class, usually! — and a number of minor deviations from those major ways. John Young discovered the peculiarities of this word while residing in Sweden for a while some years ago, and hid deliberations turned into a little masterwork! Though born in Christchurch, Young has a mixed background, inherited from an English father and an Italian mother. His musical career took off more seriously with a doctorate on the manipulation of environmental sound sources in electroacoustic music. He then continued in the UK at the studios of the University of East Anglia, studying electroacoustic composition with another New Zealand émigré; Denis Smalley; renowned wizard of the audios, who has meant more than most for the furthering of methods and ideas in electroacoustic music. John Young has lectured at the Victoria University of Wellington and at De Montfort University in Leicester in the UK. He has also been a visiting composer at a number of institutions, such as the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada and EMS in Stockholm, Sweden. His focus has been mainly on the acousmatic aspect of electroacoustics, predominately on forms based on the distinction between recognizable natural sounds and computer-based studio transformations.
Of late John Young is also combining electroacoustics with acoustic instruments. Last year — 2007 — Young was awarded First Prize at Bourges, indeed for the main course on this [disc]; Ricordiamo Forlì.
Track 1 (14 subtitles): Ricordiamo Forlì (2005) [53:32]: In Piazza Aurelio Saffi / Interlude 1 / Bitter Storm / Ancient Tear / Winter / Pippo / The Garden / A Little Italian Farm / Interlude 2 — Florence / Forlì — November 1944 / Family Story / Once in Malmissole / The Bomb / Epilogue.
Yesterday, when I listened through this [disc] for the first time, I was quite surprised and mighty pleased, for a couple of reasons. First of all, I always enjoy a kind of art that has it in it to surprise me, to give me something that I hadn’t expected, and which made me think in directions that opened new areas of life to me. This is an ideal artistic situation, but very rare. Perhaps this revolutionary feeling in perception of art — art as the distillate of life; the purest essence of life — was more common in earlier days (I’m speaking about myself), in days when I discovered great electroacoustic works by the gurus of France, like Bernard Parmegiani, Luc Ferrari, Jacques Lejeune, François Bayle, Jean Schwarz and so forth and so on. You can’t find many “epic” electronic or textsound pieces nowadays — but John Young surprised with his Ricordiamo Forlì — and he had the guts and got the label permission to venture into his own family history, which in his case was significant also for a much broader sense of history — so the second reason for my happy surprise was the daring generosity granted by empreintes DIGITALes, because extended sound art like John Young’s in excess of fifty minutes Ricordiamo Forlì falls well outside of common label ground, in this case. Perhaps a task like Young’s would be more natural as the winner of the Prix Italia Radio Art Prize, or being aired on the Kunstradio broadcasts of Radio Österreich. However, here it is on empreintes DIGITALes, and I couldn’t be happier at it than I am, as this might open the door into textsound and sound poetry too, on the famous Canadian label, which has so much credit and power, with which it can act any way it wishes, and be gravely listened to!
I believe I got my first taste of Ricordiamo Forlì in the best way possible; in a dreamy state, because I almost fell asleep as I listened to the work, lying back on my bed, listening in full measures, and letting my fantasy roam. The catch phrases, of course, are the various church bells, which come at you through the wind of time, through layer after layer of absentminded decades.
The background of Young’s sound work lies, as I stated, in his family history and in the history of the 20th century Western world. The booklet is in fact a short story, relating a visit in 2002 — his first one — that John Young made to the City of Forlì in Northern Italy, which is his Italian mother’s birthplace, and the city where his father — a New Zealand soldier of the 8th Army — and his mother met. Young’s mother joined his father-to-be back to New Zealand after the war, and young John later grew up there. On his first visit to Forlì, John traveled with his father, which naturally brought on very special atmospheres. This was his father’s first return since 1945, but in spite of the many decades, his father vividly recalled the city; it’s buildings and streets. John also recalled his mother’s first trip back after 35 years, when she was spontaneously greeted in the street, just naturally picking up where she once left.
This whole story and this set of sonorities keep mixing times passed and times present in a magic way, which we sometimes can experience in art. I recall another time, in the 1980s or 1990s, when all viable 78s were re-released on CD, bringing a temporal depth to available phonograms. I recall how I fell in love with an opera singer from the 1920s — Maria Ivogün! — my feelings traveling back and forth on the lucid Stig Dagerman bridges of Birgitta Suite. This music may sometimes shift your mind through the filter of time, making past and present quite simultaneous; all places here; all times now! Some properties of John Young’s major work on this [disc] allow for this transparent simultaneity, dissolving the irons of chronology into the stuff that dreams are made of. John Young himself talks about bringing “sounds and voices from the past and the present together in imaginary soundscapes” — and it can hardly be explained in better words. This characterizes the splendid fluency and magic of Young’s work, through this many facetted, bottomless sensation of timelessness.
A very personal trait of Ricordiamo Forlì is the story that John Young’s father — as I suppose it is — relates to the listener inside this sound work, explaining the event on a day when John Young’s mother-to-be was supposed to have joined her mother to see her aunt and her cousins, at which time she however pleaded with her mother to be able to instead go and meet the soldier from New Zealand, whom she liked. She ended up seeing this soldier, Young’s future father, and that day the house of her aunt received a hit by a German bomb, killing two out of the three relatives. In the booklet it is explained that Alex Young indeed participates from a 2005 interview, but it is also stated that the main narrator is Franco Bianchini.
John Young deliberates quite a bit on the sonic atmosphere of the city that he finally got to see. He says: “Standing in the centre of the city’s Piazza Aurelio Saffi listening to bells from churches clearly audible over great distances gave me a strong sense of experiencing the sounds as something resonant of the place and its history… that these were voices from the past”
When I listen to this long work of more than 53 minutes, in 14 named sections, this is what I feel, this almost ghastly experience of time and history as one long NOW — and I believe this is the best way, the most honest and respectful way to experience time, to regard our fellow sentient beings, because whenever anything happens to anyone, it happens smack dab in the midst of that person’s here and now, and nothing else really happens or exists.
The swing of a magic wand gets the music going; a crowd is stirring — and the narrator begins his story, to begin with painting a picture of the town and its history, at first in clean talk, without too many electroacoustic embellishments, but soon enough John Young utilizes his skills, letting distant church bells talk back at you from behind quavering filters of time. The most lucid and meditative, alienated keyboard notes rise out of the cracks of bygone days. Various sounds rise from strangeness right up to the commonest everyday sonic expressions, only to veer off again into strangeness and alienation, but oftentimes in exceedingly beautiful sonorities.
The narrator continues his account of the developments of the war, locally around this part of Italy, by Forlì, more and more surrounded and sucked-up in Young’s electroacoustic swell, which seems to work hands-on with time as such, illusionary, in a melancholy mix of old newsreels and old men’s recollections; this violently disturbing air of danger, fear and dark sentiments.
A woman talks in Italian on the backdrop of a thin piano speaking to itself in the corner of a large, desolated hall of the civil society, while one army has left and the next one hasn’t yet arrived, and time holds its breath. Young utilizes his electronic sounds with grace and style, underwriting the sentiments of the days. This whole idea is quite devastating, quite moving: a very unusual electroacoustic epic, touched upon with sensitive fingers. I haven’t heard anything as unusual and original in contemporary sound art since I first came upon Jean Schwarz’s Quatre saisons in the late 1980s. Brittle piano tones give way to isolated chimes of giant bells deep inside hiding.
The misfortune in the shape of a giant German bomb, destroying the family, is told by Alex Young many, many years later — and the story, inside John Young’s sonic and compositional wizardry, seems to swell like a terrible wound right out of the heart of time, again and again, that metallic bomb always hurrying down through these layers of air, these strata of chronology, time and again, and by the end of the day two sisters are always dead and an airplane pilot sits down to dinner. It is impossible to understand the events of a life, of any life — but John Young’s way of telling this story from the late days of the 2nd World War, in this incredibly delicate and touching, beautiful and horrible way, brings life and time so much closer…
Track 2. Arrividerci (2005) [15:35]
This second and last work on John Young’s new [disc] is an unusual one too, in this empreintes DIGITALes environment, since it’s an all-out modern chamber piece. About half way Young blends deep church bells into the music, suddenly rendering the composition quite wider and deeper implications — and he succeeds very well in this mixed-form composition. It is very hard not to have the music appear jagged or abrupt or simply unfitting, when you all of a sudden start to change the chamber ensemble atmosphere with electroacoustics or extraneous sound objects, but once again Young proves his excellent skill and sensitivity, pulling this off and achieving yet another enchanting sound world.
Young explains: “The core sound used in the work is a recording of one of the bells of Forlì’s Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Croce, which dates from the 15th century. Hearing their chimes amongst the bells of many other churches in and around the centre of the city evoked for me a sense of the timelessness of such sounds and their interaction in space — a physical architectural presence that extends beyond living memory”
John Young’s new [disc] on empreintes DIGITALes has already come to mean a lot to me, and his sound art has thrown me into thoughts and meditation I wasn’t expecting. I love it when art brings me the unexpected and pulls me on up ahead into new ways of thinking.
Der Neuseeländer John Young besucht mit seinen Eltern den italienischen Ort Forli, die Heimat seiner Mutter. Für die Eltern ist es der erste Besuch seit 35 Jahren. Young verarbeitet Field Recordings von Dorfplätzen, Kirchengeläut, Bewohnern, konkrete Klänge und Radiostimmen aus der Nachkriegszeit zu einem spannenden Musique Concrete-Hörstück, in dem er als Erzähler die Kriegsgeschichte aufarbeitet.
Forlì ist eine kleine Stadt im Norden Italiens. Der Komponist John Young fuhr im Jahr 2002 dorthin, um auf die Suche nach Spuren seiner Familie zu gehen; seine Eltern hatten sich mitten im Zweiten Weltkrieg hier kennengelernt, als Youngs Vater mit der neuseeländischen Armee dort als Soldat stationiert war. Sein Vater reiste mit ihm und konnte sich noch sehr gut an Gebäude und Umgebung der Stadt erinnern. Young überkam das Gefühl, hier könne man, zum Beispiel im Klang der entfernten Kirchenglocken, den Sound der Vergangenheit hören im Sinne der tempi non passati. Lieu-temps ist der Versuch, dieses Gefühl in eine Soundcollage zu überführen, eine Mischung aus Familienerzählung, geschichtlicher Abhandlung und musikalischem Hörstück. Young verwendet dafür Interviews mit Zeitzeugen, Sounds der Umgebung, historische Korrespondentenberichte und eigene Kompositionen mit elektronischen und akustischen Instrumenten. Lieu-temps findet im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes in Raum und Zeit statt. Besonders interessant dürfte die Aufnahme für Besitzer von Surround-Sound-Anlagen sein, denn sie kommen in den Genuss, mitten in der Emiglia Romagna zu stehen, während mächtige Stürme über sie hinweggehen oder neuseeländische Panzer zur Befreiung rumpeln. Beeindruckend.
There is John Young, who undertook a travel to Northern Italy with his parents — his mother being from that area. His work is based on field recordings made in that place, voice material from locals (perhaps his parents even) and voices from broadcasts about the war — the period in which John’s parents met and left for New Zealand. Now this is the way to do it. The voices and sounds tell us a story, about war, about a place, about memories in a very concentrated manner. Some of his processings are perhaps empreintes DIGITALes alike, but he uses it in the right combination with the spoken word material. Haunting stuff, absolutely beautiful. Radioplay like, cinema to the ears. A long piece, but interesting to the very end. As a sort of ‘bonus’ one also gets a piece for ensemble and electroacoustic music, which is nice, since the two are quite separated here and make interesting interplay.
Robert Normandeau and John Young will present concerts at the 7th Cultural Exchanges 2008 festival at De Montfort University in Leicester in February (England, UK). On February 27, 2008, Normandeau will present 4 works: Spleen, Murmures, Ku…Friday, February 1, 2008 / In concert
empreintes DIGITALes is releasing one CD and two DVD-Audio: Elsa Justel (Argentina / France): Mâts (CD-Audio) John Young (New Zealand / England, UK): Lieu-temps Andrew Lewis (Wales, UK): Miroirs obscurs…Monday, December 10, 2007 / New releases