Erika Dagnino - Stefano Pastor

Cycles,  a cura di Anthony Barnett


 Cycles is a remarkable work, with literary and psycho-philosphical groundings and overtones, by a remarkable violinist, Stefano Pastor, in equal collaboration with poet Erika Dagnino.

 Pastor has, of course, a European sensibility—he and Dagnino are, after all, Italian—but his innovative improvisational conception is rooted in the development of the jazz tradition; it is not a eurocentric classical derivation.

 I shall not say much about either the music or the words, which, with attention, will sound and speak for themselves. And attention is in order—in the order and the chaos.

 But, do you know that you are listening to a violin? It sounds uncannily like a soprano saxophone; on other recordings Pastor has also evoked the sound of the shakuhachi. But these are no gratuitous imitations but logically sited explorations of inherently discoverable qualities. There is a noble tradition of making the violin sound like another instrument, more than whistles and canaries. In a Caprice Paganini requires that it become a hunting horn, an instruction all but ignored by many virtuoso interpreters though not, for example, by that champion of new music Paul Zukofsky. On a broadcast transcription, Eddie South turns his violin into a precursor of the oboe: the ghayta or zurna, the shawm of Algeria. Stuff Smith makes a trumpet of his phrasing, in fact a whole brass section talking to a reed section. Seifert, following on from Ponty, transposes Coltrane. Mat Maneri takes a micro-tonal cue from Joe Maneri’s alto. And Pastor. All utterly violinistic.

 The text of Cycles is prefaced with two quotations from Samuel Beckett. In fact, they are the work’s starting point. And nothing could be more appropriate for the to and fro of chaos and order. Here is Beckett speaking in an interview: “What I am saying does not mean that there will henceforth be no form in art. It only means that there will be new form, and that this form will be of such a type that it admits the chaos and does not try to say that the chaos is really something else. The form and the chaos remain separate. The latter is not reduced to the former. That is why the form itself becomes a preoccupation, because it exists as a problem separate from the material it accomodates. To . nd a form that accomodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”

 Is that why Dagnino’s writing accompanies Pastor’s music only on the page? That Pastor’s violin takes the sound stage only with some drums by Maurizio Borgia and some overdubbed percussion by Pastor himself ? For whatever reason, this is the successful strategy. No poetry and jazz here, thank the gods. And I ask you. Just how often has that ever worked? Mingus’s “Freedom”, ok. But the poets, almost always no. And I say this as the author myself of Poem About Music, twice performed with exceptional musicians: interesting but failings. Why? Because, ultimately, there can only be writing round about music. For the rest, only music about music. Yet Dagnino’s writing is here too, equally.

 Anthony Barnett

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