Enrico Malatesta - Musician, Italy

“Landscape Hypothesis”


Enrico Malatesta (*1985 Cesena, Italy) is a percussionist active in the field of contemporary music; he studied classical percussion at the “Bruno Maderna” Conservatory in Cesena and his personal activity and research is aimed at the redefinition of the role of the percussionist in different contemporary areas. Besides his ongoing solo projects he’s also active in performing works from the soloist repertoire of the 20th Century by J. Cage, M. Feldman, K. Stockhausen, E. Brown, P. Corner. He frequently works with the percussionists Christian Wolfarth and Seijiro Murayama, and he is founder member of the percussion ensemble ‘Glück’; he also works with musicians like Giuseppe Ielasi, Renato Rinaldi, Robin Hayward, Burkhard Beins, Michael Vorfeld, Ingar Zach, Manuel Mota, Philip Corner, Vinko Globokar, Luciano Maggiore and performs concerts all over Europe, Japan and South Corea. Since 2007 he works with the theater company Teatro Valdoca.


Enrico Malatesta-solo 22/02/2012@Sant’Andrea degli amplificatori-Teatro S.Leonardo-Bologna from Sant’ Andrea degli amplificatori on Vimeo.


LS: Listening to your music and considering the didactic work you are doing for your workshops, it seems clear that among the aspects that interest you most there are the detail of sound, the generative process (which happens through gesture) and the study of the acoustic space with which you interact. What are you interested in considering as the landscape? Could you try to define it in your own, personal way?

EM: I think it might be useful to start with a short terminological premise.
The landscape is the particular physiognomy of a territory, determined by its general features and it is thus strictly connected to the observer and to the way it is perceived and experienced.
In general the environment is the context, the surrounding within which and/or with which a physical or virtual element relates.
A place is a spatial area, be it real or imaginary.

So, i am interested in the landscape as a continuous summation of events created and modified by listening. I’m interested in the subjectivity it implies; it’s a personal representation, because the listener has the possibility of organizing the activities that surround her according to a morphology, creating sonic relationships and conjunctions starting from her own sensibility and intuitions.

The landscape is a personal action made possible by the environment, and it makes us able to create the places where to operate.

The awareness that every place of a performance owns an autonomous sonic activity, and that in this I participate, completely transformed my musical attitude, the qualities of listening and my approach to the instruments, and they became means to modify the possible sonic boundaries and relationships; my activity is in fact a medium through which I have the possibility of modifying what surrounds me.

I’m interested in considering my instruments as small environments, and I articulate my sonic production in a gestural motion that exploits their potentialities in terms of dimension, structure, matter quality and surface.

In my mind the place of the performance and the gestural expressiveness interpenetrate, creating a sonic motion that further widens the possibilities of redefining the landscape. I talk about sonic motion because I don’t think there is any separation between performer, performed sound and environment, and it is this physical continuity of gestures, both in staying and in acting, and also in listening, that allows me to generate sound.

I’m interested in looking for sonic possibilities that employed every possibility of the gestures and of an idea of continuum where to create new polyrhythms, intentional and non-intentional; the relationship between me and the environment begins with the fact of occupying the space, and that we both offer possibilities of modifying the landscape.

The sonic motion is an instrumental approach that accepts the interpenetration and the polyrhythms between my sonic practice and the activity of what happens in the various places of the performances.

The concept of polyrhythm applied to dynamics is fundamental, since it is a constant; by working on the production of sonic events, we have to welcome the fact that they will articulate with each other on a dynamic level (volume, duration, decay, reverberations) in relation to the environment where we are taking part, bringing out particular characteristics of it that go beyond our musical intention.

I believe in the necessity of taking the environment as a model, that is to consider the instruments, the body and their mutual activity as a summation of events that express themselves in a space (place of the performance) informed by continuous polyrhythms.

Our sonic activity belongs to us in its being interpenetrating with the places: in my work for solo I present material coming from a sonic interest, from my memory and from my musical taste; but I’m aware that my offering will autonomously become compatible with the environment generating the place of the performance.
The environment is able to receive and, indeed, to employ the intentional presences, offering the listener new possibilities to define the landscape.

Our thought, from which we take solutions to develop new sonic conditions, widens the possibilities of the environment, which is a set of non-intentional sonic events interpenetrating in absolute polyrhythms. The environment is the base upon which we always work, consciously or not.
The landscape is thus a precise consequence generated by listening and by our sonic intention, and these activities allow us to continuously modify its parameters. It comprises details that we compose with listening and that add up and overlap continuously, in a non-intentional way.
I think of the landscape as the process of listening.


LS: Could you try to describe and tell about some of these ‘little landscapes’ (for example the cymbal, the tambourine, …)? I think it would be interesting to read from your own words about the way you perceive and experience that landscape.

EM: My work aims at articulating as many sounds obtainable from the activity of the instrument in use as possible, creating performing techniques that consider every potentiality of it and the new spaces which it’s possible to shape.
I consider every instrument as an environment, or a set of sonic possibilities that i can continuously redefine employing gestural motions, time and dynamics, which are fundamental elements for the performance.

The cymbal, for example, is not for me a sonic unit, but a sonic integrity; this means that it’s possible to get from it various sounds (also very different from each other in terms of duration, intensity, timbre, height, …) while preserving a continuous consistency and pertinence, since they are all part of the same environment.

The musical instrument is consistent and exact, and as this it should be exploited in all of its sonic possibilities.
The instruments can be considered as environments with characteristics that can be disciplined in specific solutions; the circularity of a cymbal and its complex metal structure are important factors upon which we can act with gestures that continuously modify the space and the consequent sound.
The modification of the space is a consequence of the sonic motion and it allows us to widen the possibilities of each instruments singularly examined.
More specifically, I try to study modalities that allow me to get a little orchestra out of a single instrument, which means that I want to employ all of its characteristics, and this brings me to reduce the quantity of the percussions that I use, but at the same time to widen exponentially their possibilities by working on gestures, on dynamics, on time and on listening.

A cymbal is a complete sonic environment, and every possibility given by its details can be disciplined through techniques that exploit a specific part of it, articulating from time to time different landscapes.

I consider a motion that allows to bring back the sound to the surface of the instruments and to their spatial and matter quality, before than to their identity.
The percussive gesture is commonly a point, and in this case the gesture is a motion to place (for example the knocker crossing a space to hit the surface); instead I try to work on a gestural expressiveness and on techniques that allow me to spatialize the instruments, I search for a motion for the place, which is to say to employ everything the instrument can give to produce sound in terms of space, dimension, shape, material and surface.
For example in the repetition of a circular process (which could be generated with a polystyrene disc and the leather of a drum) we are able to create complex sonic textures by working on the modification of elements like pressure, the polystyrene’s angle, the width of the gesture and thus of time; every combination is going to be solid, since it can be traced back to a specific physical flow, precisely defined from the beginning.
Gesture is a sound that can be orchestrated.
The sonic motion is an instrumental condition of the performer’s presence which is solid, but open to welcome the intentional and non-intentional interpenetration with the environment.
Motion is a macro rhythm of which we can continuously modify the parameters, and it permits to greet the environment and to align with it.

I’m not interested in repetition in an explicit sense, but instead in maintaining a flow (motion) which allows me to add up all of the sonic details derived by gestures.

I’m looking for a condition that allows me to employ a series of sounds with a single gesture, continuously adding up in a flow, and this doesn’t necessarily imply a relation with repetition.
In general, one limit of percussions is that they are considered as hit, and thus as point; i prefer to consider them for their geometry and to use them with circular motions to maintain a sonic flow that allows me to be solid and to work rhythmically on the details.
Rhythm is the distribution of accents in time, and the circular motion allows to work on a basic rhythmic structure (which is precisely the circular motion) able to receive a following work which enhances the polyrhythmic character of the gesture.
Gestures are made up from additions of sounds and the gestural activity is unavoidable during the performance.



LS: The ‘non-intentionality’ you are talking about brings me obviously to think of John Cage, and to his coevals who defined it in different ways, even though starting from a common ground. Cage developed strategies to make his music non-intentional, because for him (as earlier for Aristoteles, and for others) art is ‘the imitation of nature in her manner of operation’. So how much, and what, is there of non-intentional in your gestures and in your music? Or maybe your connection with the non-intentionality of the landscape is closer to that of a living being which extrapolates a form (i think of the circular gesture, for example) from that non-intentionality?


EM: The non-intentionality I’m talking about is not necessarily related to my practice, which is indeed intentional and generated by thought, by the reflection upon the topic of sound, of percussions and by discipline.
Specifically, the non-intentional component of my music comes out in the fact that as a performer I accept and contemplate that my sounds don’t belong to me after the instant when I generate them; my whole intention expresses itself in the gestural motion that creates the conditions for my instruments to express some characteristics rather than others, as they orchestrate according to my thought but allow themselves to be modified by the environment and by the parameters created by every person while listening, defining the subjectivity of the landscape.

I consider every instrument as a means to express on a dynamic level all of the characteristics of what surrounds me.

But first of all I’m a listener, and as such I’m interested in delving into the complexity of the environment and of the dynamics, taking the everyday experience and the non-intentional activities as ideal models, trying to extrapolate forms and new possibilities of attitudes for the percussions; I have the highest intentionality in creating sonic conditions that are a projection of my intimacy as a listener.
Listening aligns us with the environment, and the sonic motion expressed in the performance makes us able to define new landscapes.


Bestiario Vol. 2 (Side A)
Bestiario Vol. 2 (Side B)


Enrico Malatesta Blog

Interview curated by Francesco Bergamo

Translation by Francesco Bergamo