I am a composer, researcher and, eventually, vocal, objects and electronics performer. During the past ten years, I have lived in four countries, and this ‘nomadic’ experience has made me resignify my identity. Being immerse in different cultures, geographies, and languages has taught me that we are not fixed beings, predetermined by labels of gender, race or nationality. Identity is a very personal discovery and construction at the same time; it is a process of understanding of our bodies, needs, feelings, curiosity and desire for learning through a particular (and very complex) social, political and economic environment. We are in continuous transformation, we change our minds, sometimes we adapt, and sometimes we escape.
Moreover, I truly believe that in this process we can find each other and recognise common dreams or ideas to work on together. This is what Illuminate Women’s Music means to me. An unexpected and magnificent coincidence, an opportunity to know talented colleagues and their music, which I would probably not have listened to in other scenarios. It is also a space to contribute to building a society that actually represents and respects how diverse we are.
In some way, the responsibility of knowing and expressing myself has led me to develop very particular perspectives to approach (and appropriate) notions and concepts from which to compose my music. In fact, I have been obsessed with timbre for a long time, and I have felt committed to researching on it to try to define it and use it as a main compositional resource. Consequently, suelo seco (Spanish for dry soil) is based on the exploration of texture as one of the semantic dimensions of timbre, from which I develop the experience of dryness as an opportunity to study the timbral fragility. This piece, commissioned by Illuminate Women’s Music, pushed the boundaries of my own tendencies towards aesthetic delight. Having a skin condition of high sensitivity, dryness can even become painful; nonetheless, what I pursue in this timbral exploration is an attention to extremely subtle details of touch: the levels of roughness of the interacting surfaces, the noise of friction between materials. As a result, my compositional approach to texture responds to a more explicit tactile experience, an intimate relation of contact with the sound sources, which also includes working with everyday objects found at home.
In the exploration of different kinds of friction, I work on unconventional instrumental techniques, thus cello and piano are approached as resonant boxes for the strings, and mirrored sources of sound, that is, both instruments respond to each other as mutual extensions of their timbral conditions. Three specific textures of the dry soilinspired me to structure this composition: first, the perception of dryness in the surface, granular but almost homogeneous, it is soft, condensed but not static; second, the cracked soil, broken and separated, hostile and crumbly at the same time; finally dust, the remains, multiple particles that drift in the wind and fall down to the soil again forming fragile layers ready to scatter at any impulse. Therefore, performers are invited to approach their instruments as dry soil territories and move on them to discover new textural identities.
Each section presents a timbral experience composed from the action of friction with particular objects: a paper sheet, a toothbrush, a piece of polystyrene, bow hair. These elements are used to rub the strings at a determined speed, direction, and distance for the displacement with the intention of generating a specific quality of dryness (see figure 1). As a consequence, the transition through the three sections of the piece is developed from the physical interaction between the instruments and the properties and conditions of the objects that ‘touch’ them, the pressure imposed, the resistance experienced, the impact of the contact itself (see figure 2).
Furthermore, the experience of dry soil is explored in timbre from the perception of inharmonicity and noise as dynamic entities. This association allows the exploration of timbral consequences like the hisscreated by the gentle friction of two surfaces, or the roughnessgenerated by the resistance in the displacement when there is a high level of grip between them. However, in more spectral terms roughness is mostly attributed to the presence of the higher partials (especially after the 17th partial), which are closely spaced and interact by ‘beating’ against each other. Thus, overtones are generated by ‘touching’ the strings at specific points, especially when rubbing or bowing, contributing to the perception of different levels of this harmonic dissonance.
Generally, the textural experience of dryness in this piece requires attentive listening in order to discover the almost unperceivable, minimal expression of timbre produced by friction. Loudness is thus explored principally at its lowest levels, as a direct consequence of the materials selected and the kind of interaction developed for each technique. Consequently, amplification in this piece works as a microscope: rather than intensifying the sound, it is conceived as a magnifier of the inside of timbre, its movement, its structure, and its behaviour. It is a resource by which to appreciate the inner nature of dryness and its transformation through the physical interaction.
More about my work: https://micheleabondano.com/
Some of my pieces: https://soundcloud.com/michele-abondano
More about my obsession with timbre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5Z4MUQAxKM
In my practice, I often work with storytelling and look at how concepts or life stories can be seen from different perspectives. Fitting to the ethos of Illuminate Women Music, the stories I have been drawn to in recent years are those of women composers. When exploring these stories, I like to see how music can hold the space for contradictions and ambiguity. This can be seen in my choral work Clara,written on Making Music’s Adopt A Composer 2018/19 in partnership with choir Ex Urbe, in which I drew on the composer-pianist Clara Schumann’s diaries. I was particularly struck by her own description of the composition process in which ‘one wins hours of forgetfulness’, that was a stark contrast to her internalised misogyny which believed ‘A woman must not desire to compose’. I was intrigued by this unresolved ambivalence Clara expressed, which led to the composition of the first movement: ‘Composing gives me great pleasure’. Using a double choir to demonstrate Clara’s internal conflict regarding her own identity as a composer, the work gives an insight into what it may have been like for Clara to navigate the C19th gendered ideologies surrounding female creativity. Below is a recording by the choir Ex Urbe and harpist Angelina Egerton, conducted by Benjamin Hamilton:
For more information about the project, please see the interview to hear reflections from members of Ex Urbe and myself:
Following this project, I began to think about how and why the stories and works of women composers are not acknowledged in mainstream classical music. Often the assumption remains that there were very few active women composers in the history of classical music, despite there being a vast array of evidence to the contrary. As part of a Jerwood Arts Bursary in 2019, I was able to work with Elizabeth de Brito from the Daffodil Perspective to identify three C19th women composers all active in the Parisian music scene – Augusta Holmès, Marie Jaëll and Clémence de Grandval. The research period allowed an understanding of the key obstacles each of the selected women composers had faced – self doubt, pseudonyms, emphasis on beauty - and an insight into how this may have impacted how their compositional output was considered beyond their lifetimes (see more here: https://www.chloeknibbs.com/projects/ruinsi). Using the metaphors of ruins and erosion, I considered these obstacles to each be ‘erosion factors’ that eroded the narratives and works of the three selected women composers. This led to the composition of the electroacoustic work, Ruins, in which ‘erosion factors’ were placed in juxtaposition with recorded extracts of the composers’ works:
Due to the nature of Ruins, I wanted to see if the work could exist in another form and how a visual element could enhance the experience of the work. Earlier this year I was able to undertake a mentoring period with sound artist and lecturer Linda O’Keefe, which allowed me to learn a range of techniques including granular synthesis. These techniques allowed me to return to the first iteration of Ruinsand develop the way sonic disintegration was used, and how this could develop the concept of a ‘sonic ruin’ of the works and life stories of Augusta Holmès, Marie Jaëll and Clémence de Grandval. Alongside this process, I collaborated with designer Denitsa Toneva to explore how C19th aesthetics could be paired with the audio elements of the work, leading to the creation of an online audio-visual installation. A fitting example of these pairings can be seen in how the sketch of the glove is paired with a recording of pseudonyms, looking at the connection between shame and societal expectations. The Ruinsinstallation can be explored below:
With Ravelled, written for Illuminate Women Music’s Season II,I decided to explore my own experience of grief. The work considers the definition of the word ‘ravelled’ (to tangle; to disentangle; to tease out; to fray) and the contradictions of seeking emotional resolution but becoming further entangled by oneself. This manifests in the work through lyrical and vulnerable cello melodies accompanied by shifting harmonies, arpeggiation and extended pedal sustain, portraying a sense of dissociation and lack of resolution.
It has been a real pleasure to work with our performers Ivana Peranic and Rachel Fryer for this series of concerts, and to get to know work by Amy Beach and Rebecca Clarke along the way. Please see details of all upcoming concerts of Season I and II here: https://www.illuminatewomensmusic.co.uk/whats-on-2021-season-i-and-ii.html