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Luciano Berio, Constants (1991)

[…] Previously, I referred to the research made by Simha Arom in the field of African music, and in particular the Banda Linda of Central Africa amongst whom he lived for a period of time, also learning their language. Listening to the recordings he made and to his explanations was for me a very moving experience. That was in 1975. Without going into technical details, (Simha has published extensively on the subject), I would only like to remind you that in that community we find groups numbering up to forty members: each one plays a kind of long wooden horns producing only one sound, a single note, articulated on a single basic rhythmical module, that occasionally undergoes variations and minimal temporal shifts. When all the participants are playing, the sound that reaches our ears is something we never heard before: it is something between a cathedral of sound and an implacable musical machinery, both complex and rigorously coordinated at once. We all know that creativity - be it individual or collective - cannot function without rules and formal criteria. Random approaches can be interesting and significant on a small scale of events (in fact in one way or another, they always accompany us even outside the musical experience). Random behaviors, on the other hand, in my opinion, cannot lead to meaningful ends. What is the principle, then, that governs the collective musical behavior of the Banda Linda horn players? There is a pentatonic melody that nobody actually plays: its notes, its pitches are instead distributed among the various players. Each player plays only one note. The melody, as such, is therefore never heard, but its character and "spirit" inhabits each segment of this impressive sound "installation".
Naturally, I took musical possession of that procedure. The fact that it is curiously and distantly related to the serial procedures of the '50's found me predisposed and, so to speak, well programmed for its assimilation. In fact, I experimented the various possibilities of assimilation and transformation of these procedures in one of my musical projects - Coro of 1976 - which is, in effect, a choir, an ensemble of instruments and voices, of different texts, of different techniques and different expressive characters (it is a work that I like to define as "my musical Jerusalem"). As I was saying, in Coro many varied techniques interact. Some of them are characteristic of certain musical cultures of oral tradition (Sicily, Yugoslavia, Scotland etc.); and it is mostly with these that the heterophony of the Banda Linda enter into a relation of reciprocal transformation. With, therefore, the Banda Linda have accomplished quite a long journey, interacting with musical procedures and techniques of different cultures thereby modifying the functions of their "sound machine", mostly through rhythmical deductions derived from the original, given modules. Thus, I transformed them into something quite different.
You must know, however, the the Banda Linda had already made another long journey, without knowing it, and it is quite likely that they never will. This procedure of segmentation, subdivision and rhythmic distribution of the "implicit", hidden melody had already been experimented in Europe in the XIII and XIV centuries. I am referring to the practice of "Hoquetus", a rhythmical, "hiccuped" fragmentation between two or three different voices of a given melody: a well known pre-polyphonic compositional technique that tends to give a melody a further time organization.
And with this I wish to conclude. For me, to have mentioned the Banda Linda, Coro and "hoquetus" has been a bit like throwing a bottle into the sea with a cautious message in it: which is that history can give us, every now and then, timid but concrete signals of the existence of innate organisms, that through the centuries appear to produce embryos of a universal musical grammar useful, perhaps, for a constructive communication between cultures. A constructive and peaceful communication.

LUCIANO BERIO, Constants (1991), unpublished. By courtsey of the Luciano Berio Estate and the Paul Sacher Foundation. For the Italian version see Costanti (1991), in Luciano Berio. Scritti sulla musica, a cura di A. I. De Benedictis, Einaudi, Torino 2013, pp. 292-97, in particolare pp. 295-96.