Saturday, 12 October 2019

Regina Bastarda

By the Vocabolario dell'Accademia della Crusca published in 1612 ‘bastardo’ means “nato d’inlegittimo congiungimento d’huomo e di donna”, and “tutto  cio che traligna”, that is, who was born out of an illegal intercourse of a woman and a man, or anything which is deviant. Later the 5th edition is quite forgiving, contains an example: a bed too big for one person but too small for two … it is also a ’bastardo’.

In music the expression always appears in two forms: viola bastarda, the instrument, and alla bastarda, a sort of performance. 
The two may happen to be one and the same thing.

Paolo Pandolfo’s new record is about the above and many other relating things.

Since it was established in 1830 the British Royal Geographical Society has aimed at the geographical description of the Isles including the precise definition of the length of the coastline as well.
Lewis F. Richardson attempted to overview the above seemingly less complicated task in the first part of the 20th century but he found himself confronted with weird principal issues due to which he happened to say that to tell what the length of the coastline is “not possible”. The reason was that the smaller unit he chose for measurement the more precise the result was, yet at the same time the length became worryingly big expressed in miles, so much that leaving the 100th step of re-scalings (obviously theoretical) the length of the coastline well exceeded the Earth-Sun distance.

50 years later Mandelbrot came up against the same problem while observing the data of the stock exchange curves, the lightning and the border coastline of Spain-Portugal.
He laid down the mathematics of the above phenomenon in a paper in 1975 known as ’fractal theory’. He came up with a very elegant solution: he wasn’t scared like his fellows in science; he refused to round or to introduce constants, which sweep the issue under the carpet, rather, he pointed out that these systems are ’self-identical’, they preserve their basic characteristics, their rugged nature by each refinement, and this constant ‘fractured’ state is their very essence, hence the name, and this self-similarity can finely be described by not too complicated mathematical functions.

How big deal is it? 
Well, by the old mathematics the fragment of a circle, observed nearer and nearer, becomes more and more resembling a straight section, and, keeping to an infinite resolution the curve becomes a straight line. 

For this a theory, a model, and the reality simply lies in its basics. 
For the world is not like this. 
It is like Mandelbrot’s fractals. When we have a close observation of something it becomes more and more uneven rather than smooth out.

Do we know of fractals? Yes, quite a lot - lightning, broccoli, roots, veins, and music, for example. The halved/sectioned string, the system of sounds are such.

The viola bastarda is indeed deviant; it will not fit in the patterns of musical conduct or behaviour as much as the measurement of shore length in standard mathematics. The instrument, being a viola, is similar to the gamba, albeit bigger - others find it smaller, no real consensus - and its tuning is different too; it provides a bigger grip and possibilities of scales than the ’pure blood’ viola da gamba. The viola bastarda has a deviant stringing, the gut strings are arranged in a special internal plait, and thin metal fibres are added to the ’normal’.

What’s all this for?
Today two things seem to face us with this expectation. One is to perform the intabulations of the old polyphone pieces on string instruments, and the other is that all this should take place with a unique ornamentation/playing method called ‘alla bastarda’.

Indeed, this is why viola bastarda became the Queen of Instruments, Regina Bastarda, the one and only capable of the above.
The Bastard Queen.

What’s this playing method?
It’s a sort of performance in which the ornamentation - used only as a tool today - e.g., diminution and ’passagio’, are given a main role so much that the sounds are almost lead out in their own registers beyond their own boundaries. 
They get bastardised.

Diminution is a weird thing; the record includes a lot.
The word itself means segmentation, fragmentation; a short albeit thickly woven ornamentation among the sounds, loads of sounds with an inner melody, rhythm and structure.

In a word, slowly do we come close to the point, just like when measuring the coastline, ‘B’ can be reached from ‘A’ in a straight as well as a ragged, even fractal way. 
We can get to one sound to another directly or by playing loads of other sounds too.

Little conviction or persuasion is required with the coastline that the nature of the world is other than the straight line from ‘A’ to ‘B’; it is only a rough simplification.

Is it the same with music?
The answer is contained in the record.

Pandolfo did us a favour by making a small choir sing the old polyphone pieces he plays on the viola beforehand just to let us see what has turned to be what.
And what?
Well, something really special which we can think on with our own cast of mind.

Parts of these ornamentations, diminutions are noted down, others are not. That is, it’s nothing but improvisation the way Pandolfo thinks right. He tells us his opinion, what he thinks the story is between two sounds for it’s always the story that counts. 

Of course, we mustn’t think that we may come up with any sort of ideas like pushing in something flashy and the audience will eat it. 
The listeners won’t take the hook; the performer must have the tenet of harmony and counterpoint technics at his fingertips - it is the basic; the system is too strict; one single unfitting sound can tumble everything.

Is it that nothing is between two sounds in the original Vestiva Coeli? 
Does the sound go from ‘A’ to ‘B’?

Well, what’s and what’s not between two sounds is extremely complicated. Of course, there’s always people who say that this is what the notes are for, everything’s written down and that’s it, why stir things up. 
I think the whole thing is similar to untold and unsaid words, yet they’re there. The world is ragged and rough even if we stare out of our heads on a large-scale map.

Razor sharp. Or 'razor-rough'?

And Pandolfo?

Well, he plays in a way that while listening to the adaptation of the over-ornamented and over- diminished old piece, instead of an annoying fragmentation we feel some fine flow when things get into their very place by revealing their hidden genuine selves.

For what they’re borne.

When a flower is blooming.

He makes us bloom.
This word is included in the tractates of some notes when diminution is mentioned.

It’s so wonderful, is it? 
Just like this recording.

Highly, highly recommended.

*         *         *


Thank you for the images.