(Book of Cold)
Speed may well be the clearest sensation transmitted on first hearing the music of Fabían Panisello. Speed of gesture and thought, as heard in numerous instances: the playful speed of Patterns, Metric Modulation and Hoquetus, three of the Cinco piezas métricas; the flowing and dizzying speed of Light on Water and the somewhat rustic speed of the second half of Sand Patterns from the Tres movimientos para cuarteto de cuerda; the drunken speed of Era veloz and El vino era azul, or the disturbing speed of No tengo miedo ni esperanza and Amé todas las desapariciones, all chapters from the Libro del frío (Book of Cold).
A category sometimes reviled, often confused with flashes of dramatic, superficial brilliance, speed has indeed been a permanent focus seducing composers and public alike throughout the history of music, attested to by the magic, transcendental aura surrounding virtuosity. In music like Panisello’s, however, where the role of metric accentuation is primordial, speed endows the sonorous materials with a condition of lightness and fluidity, preventing the characteristics of the articulations from becoming over-accentuated and weighty. At the same time, it allows for a clearer perception of the changes and evolutions in the musical discourse (rather like observing the time-lapse blooming of a flower). Finally there is a spiritual nuance to speed, making the music aerial rather than corporeal, imbuing it with a levitating effect.
“I like my music to be aerial in nature, landing just at specific moments”, the composer admits. To land is to stop, to anchor, whereas fluctuating in the air is to give oneself up to a continuous state of movement. Speed, ultimately, is the symptomatic expression of what constitutes the true soul of Panisello’s music: movement. All his works can be understood as modulations of movement, flows of diverse events whose rhythms and modalities he offers to the listener’s perception.
The equating of music to movement is so obvious and hackneyed, that to insist on it is of little benefit. Nevertheless, what is in play here is not so much music’s capacity to give form to movement but rather its potential to make itself the image of movement, the receiver and creator of metaphors woven around movement and its mystery. Those sublime and esoteric intimations of movement, Debussy’s Mouvement and Gigues, immediately spring to mind. A formula defining the very notion of movement on which Panisello’s music turns, is a long way off. In contrast, it is to be recognised in a multiplicity of impulses, whose asymmetric combination to a large extent determines the richness and vitality of his compositions.
Movement, as has already been seen, is speed. Yet, it also involves other values, such as flexibility, clarity and multiplicity: flexibility because movement is accompanied by a principle of fluidity, impossible to fit into rigid structures; clarity because movement, far from giving form to anarchic conduct, maintains a precise, albeit unforeseeable, directionality in Panisello, its operational mechanisms proving complex but not therefore arbitrary; and lastly, multiplicity because the aim of movement is to bring distant, different zones into contact.
In Panisello’s music, movement arises as a compound phenomenon, rarely channelled into a single, regular flow. In most cases, it is the sum of diverse impulses, the result of polyphonic superimposition of metric models, some acting independently, some in co-ordination. These cycles are organised on the basis of patterns, rhythmic standards based on numeric variables (with a certain predilection for those founded upon prime numbers). With a treatment differing from that of minimalist composers, here the patterns act as focuses of movement, spaces of micrometric sequencing combined with the field of micropulsation, tools the composer uses to create models of “unstable balance” with a primordial objective in mind, namely, to generate a sonorous flow that enables the listener to capture the individual and simultaneous movements of different elements. The outcome is somewhat similar to that produced by the late Györghy Ligeti, though this similarity is due in part to the shared sources from which both draw, i.e., the lesson of African polyphonies and asymmetric Balkan rhythms such as the aksak.
Cinco piezas métricas demonstrate the forms and modes assumed by movement in Panisello’s music, a compendium of sorts of his favourite techniques, namely, Patterns, Metric Modulation owing to Elliott Carter, and the Hoquetus lying somewhere between medieval and African polyphony. The last of these is an indication of the permanent and transversal nature possessed, in Panisello’s view, by certain musical procedures (specifically those of a polyphonic type). In these Five Metric Pieces, is it not therefore possible to perceive the ideal pursuit, at a remove of hundreds of years, of the sophisticated rhythmic complexity of the ars subtilior? Polyphony, polymetrics, poly-accentuation, polymodality ...the composer’s insistence on the prefix “poly” reflects his demand to work with a skein of possibilities which, within a single system, permit him to attain multiple and diverse levels of organisation, establishing links between them of alternation, opposition, assimilation or gradual transition. On the other hand, he does not make use of this simultaneous field of possibilities to settle in a terrain of perennial ambiguity and uncertainty. Instead, he chooses to move among clearly defined zones, modulating from one to the other with the greatest flexibility, speed and freedom, without at any time loosening the reins of a sonorous discourse with a solid formal base.
A similar approach is also to be seen in Panisello’s treatment of harmony. For more than a decade, the harmonic spectrum – the succession of harmonics produced by the vibration of a sound – has provided him with a fundamental tool embracing diatonicism, chromaticism and pentatonism. From this standpoint, the spectrum becomes a sort of sonorous genome able to generate multiple systems that can modulate from one to another while maintaining a recognisable auditory physiognomy.
The faint trace of traditional music emerging in the second half of Sand Patterns, with its ostinato rhythm and the raw sonority of the strings, the almost expressionist tessitura of Light on Water, the surprising ending of Song, literally quoting a traditional Japanese melody, the pseudo-ancient echoes of Sancta Maria – even in a restricted overview of a single hearing, the diversity of the
sonorous scenarios may disorient the listener and create a false impression. These pieces are not the work of an eclectic but rather of a composer who has provided himself with an organic, coherent system, which at the same time allows him a high degree of flexibility in the handling of his tools.
The Libro del frío (2011) adds a further problem, namely, a quest for a profound link between the substantially abstract structure of Patterns, Hoquetus and Metric Modulation on the one hand, and the semantics of the poetic text on the other. The presence of the verbal element is nothing new in Panisello’s catalogue; he has always declared a strong inclination toward haiku-like poetry characterised by intense, concentrated images. His use of poems from Antonio Gamoneda’s Libro del frío is in response to this criterion.
If the choice of instrumental resources – flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano – appears to evoke the antecedent of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, the soprano part makes use of the very broadest range of vocal techniques, which in addition to chant as such, include parlato, sussurrato and Sprechgesang. That the word is the driving force of Libro del frío is evident from the extreme cohesion of Tengo frío, where the piano sounds like the voice’s harmonic resonator. On the other hand, Era sagaz en la prisión del frío establishes a relationship, much like an antiphon, between the soprano and the instruments. Certain words or groups of words generate sonorous figures that are taken up by the instruments to create a sort of semantic and musical double counterpoint.
The development of Gritan las serpientes may be understood as a deconstruction of the initial figure in the first bar. A further peculiarity: at the end, the whole text is repeated parlato over the accompaniment of the instruments, pianissimo. Amé las desapariciones contains the sole aksak-type structure (polarised around a D), while the voice’s role is almost percussive. Amé todas las pérdidas closes the cycle in another style, by way of confession. Over the piano’s static, frozen chords, the piccolo plays stridently and almost continuously (with the violin limited to filling the gaps so that the flautist can breathe), while the voice moves serenely in the middle register.
Thus Panisello ends his particular Winter’s Journey. If the Three Movements for String Quartet and Five Metric Pieces reflect upon the flow of time using abstract musical models, the Book of Cold adds a further, what might be termed, biological perspective. It is no coincidence that the texts chosen configure a sort of image of the poet – not in any strictly chronological order but rather in a manner that is deliberately cross-sectional, traversing infancy, maturity and old age, laying bare his desires, impulses and disillusionments.
In some ways, Fabián Panisello represents a prototypical figure of the present-day musician committed to the most advanced aesthetics of his or her time. As conductor of Plural Ensemble he is engaged in unflagging work, devoid of sectarianism, to defend and divulge the repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries, ranging from the founding fathers (the Second Viennese School, Stravinsky, Bartók, Ives, etc.) to the most recent generations. As a composer, the teaching of Francisco Kröpfl and Bogusław Schaeffer and the approach to figures of the calibre of Elliott Carter, Franco Donatoni, Brian Ferneyhough, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luis de Pablo, have provided him with a broad perspective of musical creation in recent decades. Such credentials have not, however, prevented him from diverging from certain attitudes – both aesthetic and ideological – which still abound in circles of the so-called avant-garde and start with a tendency among such devotees to lock themselves up in ghettoes in the name of stylistic intransigence raised to the category of mythical-religious truth. Panisello’s fascination with African polyphony and Balkan rhythm (music of great directness even though underlain by highly complex organisation) and the integrating volition of his harmonic sensitivity reveal an aspiration to a language which, while able to speak immediately to the listener, on successive hearings can also to open up to new and more subtle levels of understanding. Although his stance is not close to the postmodernist credo nor answers to the suggestion of stylistic eclecticism, it can nevertheless be asserted that Panisello has discarded the binding weightiness of dogma to embrace the aerial lightness of movement which impels but does not retain, which moves but does not force. Movement understood more as modality than as content, willing to admit anything that is ready to be borne along by it.
Libro del frío
II. Tengo frío
Tengo frío junto a los manantiales. He subido hasta cansar mi corazón.
Hay yerba negra en las laderas y azucenas cárdenas entre sombras, pero
yo delante del abismo?
Bajo las águilas silenciosas, la inmensidad carece de significado.
III. Era sagaz en la prisión del frío
Era sagaz en la prisión del frío.
Vio los presagios en la mañana azul: los gavilanes hendían el invierno
y los arroyos
eran lentos entre las flores de la nieve.
Venían cuerpos femeninos y él advertía su fertilidad.
Luego llegaron manos invisibles. Con exacta dulzura, asió la mano de
IV. Era veloz
Era veloz sobre la yerba blanca
Un día sintió alas y se detuvo para escuchar en otra edad. Ciertamente,
negros, pero en vano: vio a los duros zorzales alejarse hacia ramas
afiladas por el
y volvió a ser veloz sin destino.
V. Sobre excremento de rebaños
Sobre excremento de rebaños, subo y me acuesto bajo los robles musicales.
Cruzan palomas entre mi cuerpo y el crepúsculo, cesa el viento y las
Hierba de soledad, palomas negras: he llegado, por fin; éste no es mi
lugar, pero he
VI. Intermedio I
VII. El cuerpo esplende
El cuerpo esplende en el zaguán profundo, ante la trenza del esparto y
destinados a los membrillos y las sombras.
De pronto, el llanto enciende los establos.
Una vecina lava la ropa fúnebre y sus brazos son blancos entre la noche
y el agua.
VIII. El vino era azul
El vino era azul en el acero (ah lucidez del viernes) y dentro de sus ojos.
Suavemente, distinguía las causas infecciosas: grandes flores inmóviles
lubricidad, la cinta negra en el silencio de las serpientes.
IX. Gritan las serpientes
Gritan las serpientes en las celdas del aire. La ebriedad sube desde las piernas
femeninas y tú pones tus labios en sus líquidos.
Coge la flor de la agonía. Aún
hay humedad en la ceniza que amas.
X. Intermedio II
XI. No tengo miedo ni esperanza
No tengo miedo ni esperanza. Desde un hotel exterior al destino, veo
negra y, lejanos, los grandes párpados de una ciudad cuyo dolor no me
Vengo del metileno y el amor; tuve frío bajo los tubos de la muerte.
Ahora contemplo el mar. No tengo miedo ni esperanza.
XII. Amé las desapariciones
Amé las desapariciones y ahora el último rostro ha salido de mí.
He atravesado las cortinas blancas:
ya sólo hay luz dentro de mis ojos.
XIII. Amé todas las pérdidas
Amé todas las pérdidas.
Aún retumba el ruiseñor en el jardín invisible.
The Book of Cold
II. I feel cold
I feel cold by the springs. I have climbed and now my heart is tired.
Black grass on the slopes and blue lilies among the shadows, but
what am I doing before the abyss? Under the silent eagles, immensity
III. He was wise in the prison of cold
He was wise in the prison of cold.
He saw the portents in the blue morning: the hawks clove the winter and the streams were slow among the flowers of the snow. Feminine bodies came and he noticed their fertility. Then invisible hands arrived. With exact sweetness, he grabbed his mother’s hand.
IV. He was swift
He was swift upon the white grass
One day he felt wings and stopped to listen in another age. Surely black petals beat, but in vain: he saw the hard thrushes move away toward bran- ches sharpened by winter and was once more swift without destination.
V. On herd dung
Walking among the dung of herds, I climb and lie under the musical oaks. Doves cross between my body and the twilight, the wind ceases and the shadows are humid. Solitary turf, black doves: I have arrived at last; this is not my place, but I have arrived.
VI. Intermission I
VII. The body glows
The body glows in the deep hallway, before the wicker braid and the cupboards for quinces and shadows. Suddenly, the plaint sets the stables ablaze. A neighbour washes the funeral clothes and her arms are white between night and water.
VIII. The wine was blue
The wine was blue on the steel (Ah, the lucidity of Friday) and within her eyes. Gently I distinguished the infectious causes: great, immobile flowers and lubricity, the black belt in the silence of the serpents.
IX. The serpents cry
The serpents cry in the cells of air. Inebriation rises from feminine legs and you place your lips in her liquids. Take the flower of agony. There is still dampness in the ash you love.
X. Intermission II
XI. Neither fear nor hope
I have neither fear nor hope. From a hotel outside destiny, I see a black beach and, distant, the great eyelids of a city whose pain does not con- cern me. I come from methylene and love; I was cold under death’s pi- pes. Now I watch the sea. I have neither fear nor hope.
XII. I loved disappearances
I loved disappearances and now the last countenance has left me.
I have crossed the white curtains: now there is only light within my eyes.
XIII. I loved all the lost ones
I loved all that was lost. The nightingale still resounds in the invisible garden.