Ensemble Dal Niente Brings Professor Bad Trip to Chicago

The impulse to merge the worlds of popular and art music proves alluring to many composers. However, there are numerous issues that arise including whether or not one can achieve aesthetic cohesion.

The music of Fausto Romitelli (1963 - 2004) navigates this problem in a compelling way. This is due in part to the intense physicality of his music. His use of electric guitars and effects pedals do not come off as a cheap nod to popular genres, but instead complement the aggressive and chaotic textures to which these instruments are applied.

The Ricordi web site provides the following quote from the composer:

"At the centre of my composing lies the idea of considering sound as a material into which one plunges in order to forge its physical and perceptive characteristics: grain, thickness, porosity, luminosity, density and elasticity. Hence it is sculpture of sound, instrumental synthesis, anamorphosis, transformation of the spectral morphology, and a constant drift towards unsustainable densities, distortions and interferences, thanks also to the assistance of electro-acoustic technologies. And increasing importance is given to the sonorities of non-academic derivation and to the sullied, violent sound of a prevalently metallic origin of certain rock and techno music."

For those in and around the Chicago area this week, you have the rare opportunity to experience a live performance of Romitelli's music. Ensemble Dal Niente will take on Professor Bad Trip (1998 - 2000) at 7:30 this Thursday at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park (pre-concert talk will take place at 6:30). Scored for a  mixed ensemble of winds, strings and percussion (including electric guitar and bass), Professor Bad Trip is a piece that is uncompromising in its technical demands. Speaking to the difficulty of the violin part in particular, Austin Wulliman, Dal Niente violinist, remarked, "As far as the individual challenges are concerned, Lesson One (the first movement) is basically a violinistic tour-de-force. It's highly virtuosic writing, but very cleverly laid out in almost all cases. He clearly laid out the chords on the fingerboard very carefully, although he seems to have very little regard or care about making string players navigate high positions constantly."

Technical difficulties, however, did not seem to overwhelm Wulliman's initial impression of the piece: "The number one reason Dal Niente programmed Professor Bad Trip is that each individual ensemble member that heard it was immediately carried away by and totally blown away by its sonic impact. We knew we had to play it as soon as possible."

I suspect that many people, regardless of musical tastes and allegiances, will likely be impressed by the visceral intensity and expressive force of Professor Bad Trip. For a preview, check out this clip of Ensemble intercontemporain performing Lesson II (electric cello cadenza at 3:35).