Romitelli’s work illustrates a new musical regime under which the work is no longer conceived principally as critical organizations or structures, but rather as acoustic devices. Their structure is discovered by diving into the material, zeroing in, awakening resonances. This new paradigm can be perceived in Romitelli’s work: a yearning for continuity (by conceiving melodic objects in terms of ebbs and flows); the importance of acoustic fusion (through integrating electronic and acoustic sounds); and prioritizing an experience that is at once personified (electric guitar acts as a signal, a “hook” in pop-music theory) and efficient (the process is necessarily intelligible, the form articulating itself through parts and sections).
The author, a long-time collaborator of Fausto Romitelli as musical director of the
Ictus Ensemble, gathers his memories to paint a picture of an eccentric and uneasy artist
who struggled against his era and was eager to derail it. The use of rock music in
Romitelli’s works is seen as the intrusion of a “foreign agent,” deeply distorting the
acoustic landscape. The sonic landscape, which his generation decried, is hence inclined to
subversion: glimmering imagery undermines solidity, radiant metamorphosis gives way to
freefall. The production of the two recordings, dedicated by Ictus to Romitelli, is minutely
detailed, marking the transgressive, jarring moment when contemporary music entered the
“post-Sgt.-Pepper” era under the twin standards of Romitellian unnaturalism and electric
guitar as a bridge to electronic music.
The exploration of the inharmonic aspect of sound by several composers from
spectral music trend and by Helmut Lachenmann no doubt played a crucial role in later
generations’ acceptance of noise elements as legitimate compositional material. Composers
such as Franck Bedrossian, Raphaël Cendo and Yann Robin did not consider saturated sound as
sound pushed to the limit, nor as a critical lens for viewing the “beautiful music”
inherited from the Romantics, but rather as the substance of legitimate music. For them,
excess, in sound and in energy, was a challenge to be addressed compositionally. But
assembling a palette of playing styles and timbres was one thing; bringing energy and
coherence to the work was another. One of the main goals of this article is to show how,
starting from a largely commonplace vocabulary, these three “saturationist” composers
articulated a language that truly sets them apart.
In a short ‘vox pop,’ written for Circuit in 2010, on the subject of the ‘future’ of new music, I proposed that new music — or the version of it tightly intertwined with what was once thought of as the international avant-garde, at any rate — might today be better thought of as a sort of subculture, akin to the spectacular subcultures of goth and punk, but radically different in that they developed from the ‘grassroots,’ as it were, while new music comes from a position of extreme cultural privilege, which is to say it has access, even now, to modes of funding and infrastructure subcultures ‘proper’ never have. This essay develops this line of enquiry, outlining theories of subculture and post-subculture — drawing on ‘classic’ and more recent research, from Hebdige and Cohen to Hodkinson, Maffesoli, and Thornton — before presenting the, here more detailed, case that new music represents a sort of subculture, before making some tentative proposals regarding what sort of subculture it is and what this might mean for contemporary understandings of new music and what it is for.
This investigation, consisting of thoughts and reminiscences from Marie-Annick Béliveau, Julien Bilodeau, Sylvain Pohu, and Lorraine Vaillancourt, with the participation of Jean-François Laporte and Jimmie LeBlanc, draws links between Fausto Romitelli and Montreal’s new music scene. The connection follows an arc that began at Royaumont in 1997, where Marie-Annick Béliveau and the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (nem), under the direction of Lorraine Vaillancourt, were invited to premiere Lost, a pivotal work in the composer’s oeuvre. Romitelli and Vaillancourt met again in Lyon in 2004, some months before she led the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice in Audiodrome – Dead City Radio, and then performed Lost again in Montréal, in 2005. In Royaumont and elsewhere, during the early 2000s, Romitelli met many Quebec composers whose work he admired, including Jean-François Laporte and Julien Bilodeau. In 2009, the Codes d’accès production company presented the North American premiere of An Index of Metals, followed in 2012 by the Montreal premiere of the Professor Bad Trip cycle. The testimonies collected regarding these various connections illustrate the force with which Romitelli’s work resolves the difficulties of dichotomies both familiar (popular/highbrow, acoustic/electroacoustic, consonance/dissonance) and more surprising (new generations versus old, metropolis versus backwater).