An Index of Metals

Video-opera for soprano soloist, ensemble, multimedia projection and electronics, 2003

Music: Fausto Romitelli
Texts: Kenka Levkovich
Video: Paolo Pacchini, Leonardo Romoli
Musical informatics production: Stefano Bonetti and Paolo Pachini
Ekaterina Kichigina, soprano
Studio for New Music Ensemble
Conductor — Igor Dronov

As a part of Festival NET (New European Theatre)

A co-production of Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory and Meyerhold Theatre Centre with support of Ministry of Culture of RF and Italian Institut of Culture, Moscow

It’s difficult to describe the opera An Index of Metals. It is still searching for the right label. Romitelli wanted to call it "a light show" - a characteristically Sixties’ expression. That’s typical of Fausto's cutting irony. In the end we decided on "video-opera". It’s a strange opera, actually. The singer (a soprano filtered with electronics) is involved in the musical ensemble, like an instrument. And the "character" is, simply, light: the light on the three screens, playing with materials, twisting them, sublimating them: all kinds of metallic materials, from copper to mercury.

The original idea, as it was explained by Fausto Romitelli and Paolo Pacchini – and as I understood it – is condensed in one word: synaesthesia. They spoke about the "limits of perception", "hallucination", "trance", a "magma of flowing sounds, shapes and colours" which "takes possession of the body". The variations of material in the movies (variations of grain, texture, viscosity…) are supposed to "fuse" with the music: variations of harmony and timbre, from purity to absolute dirtiness.

That's the project! The words! But in fact, Romitelli's music is much too sophisticated to fulfil this promise. This music doesn't "take possession of the body" – at least not completely: it speaks to the intelligence, memory, "melomany" – in spite of what Fausto wished. I think that his inflamed declarations about "trance" were a rebellion against a kind of "humility" in the world of contemporary music – humility, maybe cowardice, maybe laziness. It’s so easy to write "studies on time", or "tributes to Webern" or essays, sketches, works in progress… Fausto had an affirmative mind, he wanted to take the risk of a "work" ("une oeuvre"…). For him the megalomania of Sixties’ psychedelic rock was not a regression, but an access to break with the cowardice of our times. (In the same way that Nerval and Hugo searched for "grandeur" in virtual middle-age).

This also explains why his music is so original. The first virtue of an artist is courage. To duplicate the so-called 'avant-garde' posture is no longer courageous; while, on the other hand, to take refuge in over-sophisticated and ironic erudition is a symmetrical renunciation. Fausto tried to filter his times. "Filter" was his favourite word, an obsession of his. For a "filtering" process, you first must grab the raw material, dirty your hands. That's why he didn't hesitate to work with artificial sounds, viscous/vicious atmospheres, electronic rubbish. "Nature is lost", he said. All places in the world, all words, all sounds, have already been filtered by an anonymous hand. There is something deeply paranoiac in his music (don't forget that his master was David Lynch); Fausto's sounds are persecuted by a monstrous Matrix.

Concerning the second moment of the process, the organization of the material, in his case there is something absolutely touching. He was such a tender heart, playing at being a mauvais garçon (a thug, a black jacket). He spoke about distortion, "trash music", etc…, but his hand was unable to write an ugly chord. Read his scores on the piano, forget the triple forte dynamics and the pedal down: it's almost like a work by Debussy!

"Index" is definitely not a piece about the "limits of perception". It's a requiem. His last piece was a requiem. Impossible to avoid this link: the finale of "Index" shows multicoloured garbage, spinned in a recycling machine – Requiem for the Material itself; a farewell to existence, to sensibility, to the splendour of material life.

We do a lot of connecting music and visual arts but there is a lot of misunderstanding about that. Also about the place of technology. "Breaking the limits" is the contemporary obsession, which will make all of us completely stupid, exhausted and lost in a definitive no-man's-land. Our first responsibility is to protect the limits of our beloved ‘worlds’: the World of Music, the World of Literature, etc… "Musique savante", "Musique écrite", "Musique classique" : the words designate a certain World where Sound runs the risk of being Letter and then finally resuscitates as Sound. Try a "cross-over" (as they like to say) of pop and classical music: you lose pop and you lose classical. It's similar with pictures, videos and movies. Romitelli's music, despite his vociferous statements about "Trash Music", plainly belongs to the World of Classical Music. There’s no technological optimism in this music, no piety about the "unlimited resources of electronics", no "global village", "infinite network" … the modern theology, in other words. Just the opposite. Please, allow me a touch of pleasant theology as well. Romitelli was a musical Neo, introducing a virus into the Matrix - hmm, of course, with a touch of dandyism that poor Keanu Reeves will never be capable of.

Jean-Luc Plouvier