(Un)Easy Listening? Romitelli – An Index of Metals

We kick off this season’s (Un)easy Listening post by delving into Fausto Romitelli‘s enthralling An Index of Metals. Read on as composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, Philip Cashian, explores this extraordinary work ahead of our performance on Wednesday 8 October at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Find out more and book tickets here.

Fausto Romitelli (1963 – 2004)
An Index of Metals

Paolo Pachini video art
Leonardo Romoli video art
Kenka Lèkovich text

“At the centre of my composing lies the idea of considering sound as a material into which one plunges in order to forge its physical and perceptive characteristics”

Fausto Romitelli’s extraordinary An Index of Metals is a vast psychedelic soundscape that loops and swirls, stutters, accumulates, connects and juxtaposes layers and blocks of sound in a brilliantly unpredictable, but at the same time beautifully controlled way. He described the piece as a ‘desire to create a total perceptive experience’ which he undoubtably achieves.

Listening to the piece through headphones is an absorbing aural adventure with the music constantly twisting and turning in completely  unexpected ways as he combines acoustic instruments with electric guitar, electronics and the female voice. Live, with the extra layers of video and projections (on three screens) I imagine the whole experience will be a real treat in the concert hall!  It’s rare to find a piece that can truly combine electric guitar (as used in rock music) with acoustic instruments without falling into clichés, in fact all the music, to my ears, sounds fresh and unpredictable and is unreliant on gestures or ‘common sounds’ we’ve heard before.

The 50 minute piece is divided into 12 continuous sections which until No.10 (Hellucinations) alternate between sections with female vocals and shorter intermezzi. The first and last sections cleverly frame the entire work quite literally switching the piece on and off : No.1 (Introduzione) is a loop, like a record that can’t quite get going, and No.12 (Cadenza) is a slow sustain ( briefly referencing the opening as it starts) that gradually accumulates before suddenly being switched off.

Sections 3, 5 and 7 feature the female voice and are all titled Drowningirl. The music in all these sections is slowly descending, dragging the voice down. In No. 3 from 4’02” listen out for trilling waves of sound slowly slipping downwards.

In No.5 at 1’35”, 2′ 35″ and 4′ 47″ there is a recurring gesture that glissandos downwards acting as a kind of refrain in the movement.

In No.7 at 5′ 08″ you can hear descending patterns in treated acoustic instrumentals that fall into the  electric guitar at 5′ 59″.

No. 10 (Risingirl) is the most engaging movement vocally and feels like a point of ‘arrival’ in the piece, almost operatic in places. My favourite  moments are the busy flute and voice at 2′ 30″, the two note figure with feedback at 4′ 33″ and the effect of the voice suddenly being  heard as if on the radio or distantly at 5′ 06″.

Speaking as a composer,  some of the subtle links between sections really impress me and are worth listening out for. Like No.4 (Secondo Intermezzo) which begins with little popping sounds moving between left and right over the electric guitar and slowly changing in timbre and moving into the foreground. By the opening of No.5 they’ve transformed into a heart beat.

Further Listening

Karlheinz Stockhausen Aries

Rubens Askenar Testo Junkie

Sigur Rós Takk

Gérard Grisey Talea

Radiohead Kid A

Aphex Twin Tha

© Philip Cashian


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