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Lecture given at Venice by Hans Peter Haller

Thanks to the Experimentalstudio der Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung, Reinhold Braig, Thomas Hummel und Rudolf Strauss, for helpness during the production of pictures and sond examples.


Two compositions in the compository processes of which Luigi Nono stringently integrated an extended function of time by means of sound transformation – sound control.

Both compositions have a common design in contents: Salutation and memory of two composers, to whom he had a special relationship – Salutation of Pierre Boules his sixtieth birthday, salutation and memory of György Kurtág.
The short history of A Pierre points out the characteristics of this composition:
1. The instrumentation with two low brass instruments, Contrabass flute and Contrabass clarinet.
2. Use of electronic instruments to overcome limited time function as a formal element.

It was in the beginning of February 1985. Roberto Fabbriciani flutes and Ciro Scarponi clarinets come into the Experimental Studio in Freiburg, in order to work with Luigi Nono. Roberto brought his Contrabass flute for the first time. We all were exited to listen to sound experiments with this instrument, all important spectral analysers were switched on. But then came the news that Luigi Nono was still busy in the Haldenhotel and would not arrive in the Studio until the afternoon. Since the musicians were present anyway, I asked them to carry out a few sound experiments. For a long time the question of time limit of repetition had been on my mind, of a canonical form, after which the original of the repeating audio signal is no longer entirely present in one's mind. That is, selective listening becomes less discriminating. Of course, it was very important for this experiment, that there should not be an acoustic silence between the original sequence of notes and its repetition, but up to the moment of repetition a continued acoustic information must been heard. The result of our experiment: With a delay of about 24 seconds the previously quoted time limit was reached. The row of tones was identified only partly, but more so than a newly played sound, in other words, no repetition of an audio signal played 24 seconds previously.
The result further experiments showed that this psychological process of listening depends on the sound colour, on rhythmical forms and the location of sound of the replay. So, I have changed the repeated sequences of tones, selected the sound with band pass filters and mixed in some reverberations. The result was stunning: The time limit could be shortened by about half, about 12 seconds. I played in the electro acoustic signal to the original by means of two loudspeakers. It was unavoidable to re-record small parts of this signals, so that there was a hardly audible Feedback, which again created a very diffuse background sound. Nono extended and made even more colourful this sound in his composition by means of very, very soft sound transformation. The following diagram, a first technical sketch, shows this electro acoustic function graphically.

Picture 1

While the two musicians and I carried out our acoustic experiments, Luigi Nono must have opened the door of our studio and listened to the experiments. Suddenly he entered unexpectedly, smiled and said: I did arrive after all.
Then he jotted down the technical and sound results and how they were created. Especially Roberto had to show him his new contrabass flute. Nono studid the individual fields of pitch and sound, put his notes in his bag and said: I must go back to Halden-Hotel and go on working. And that same afternoon and evening, Luigi Nono composed the first bars for "A Pierre", which he rehearsed, corrected and refined with the musicians and technicians of the Experimental Studio the following day.
Back in Venice Nono immediately finished the final version of "A PIERRE", the first performance took place only a few days later on the 26 of march 1985 in Baden-Baden, at the occasion of Boulez' 60th birthday.
So fare the genesis of Luigi Nonos A Pierre. Nono had studied our Sound experiments very carefully and integrated into his new work in an entirely new form. The delay time 12 and 24 seconds were adopted by him. He made use of the fact that the sound of the filtered and little reverberated repetition went an extended layer of listening after 12 seconds.

Picture 2

We know this acoustic process as echo radial, picture 2. With decreasing dynamics of the direct sound and identical intensity of reverberation we psychologically perceive the direct sound more and more diffusely in an increasing distance. This extension of the sound space becomes clearer by the sound transformation of direct sound, selection of sound. Side by side with the original sound of the instruments there are two more sound levels, that are emphasized by their time delay of 12 and 24 seconds. This is not a dynamic, but as mentioned before, a space extension of the sound image.
Nono knew from our experiments in Freiburg, that this could be realized with special musical idea and created a strictly horizontal form of composition.

Picture 3

At first sight, the score look very simple, but whoever studied the excellent introduction to A PIERRE in the Ricordi - score will have noticed that Nono demands for almost each note an individual form of interpretation: from whistling to whistle - sounds. For that reason, I can very much recommend the study of these texts in three languages - Italian, English and German.
Nono creates sound structures full of contrasts which - according to pitch - vary from peaceful to aggressive tones and sounds. In addition to this, the composer used a sound transformation for the instruments. This transformation- a small sept and a triton lower - was steered by a yery slow vibrato, which led to a variable control of pitch. In order to avoid a siren effect, this transposition must be controlled very softly. This richness of sound pattern of both instruments sounds together with sound selection in band pass filters and sound transformation creates very intriguing new sound spectres, which - as shown in picture three - can be heard in Nono's horizontal form of composition in all subtleties and various levels of sounds.
Certainly, Luigi Nono had already used similar sounds material for instruments in "Amendes Klarsein" or in "Prometeo", but together with the final technical legend as shown in diagram 4, the composer realises a completely new musical expression.

Picture 4

The individual values for the dynamic control and time of reverberation are indicated in relative percental values and must be adapted to the individual acoustics of the concert room. Nono's dynamic ranges from 5 pianissimos to forte, where the eruption to forte appears only once. Most of the time the volume varies around the pianissimo. Nono developed further my basic conception of my experiments to avoid the audible canonical repetition. Based on the continually repeating fermatas of about 6 seconds the rigid sequence of repetitions of 12 and 24 seconds is dissolved completely. Thus Nono prevents a periodicity within his music which often is found to be very much differentiated and unrhythmic, the inner form of which is composed as a function of time. Therefore, sound direction must be so transparent that the listener cannot verify what is being played originally or what is played in by loudspeakers. Two loudspeakers placed behind the soloists were provided for a performance. Later, Nono placed two additional loudspeakers at the back of the auditorium- above all in large concerts halls - with the explicit note "ad libitum". Also, the volume of these 2 additional loudspeakers 3 and 4 – after experiments with the composer – must be controlled separately from loudspeakers 1 and 2. Diagram five shows the relation of dynamics between the loudspeakers.

Picture 5

There has been the reproach that Live-Electronics, electronic sound transformation would be attributes of a composition, that had been added after the completion of the work. I think that there are no more typical compositions than A Pierre and Omaggio a György Kurtag by Luigi Nono, that defeat this reproach totally. In both works, Nono included in his compository process Live-Electronic as an equivalent material side by side with traditional mechanic instruments or voices. Both works would lose their musical substance without the electronic extension.
We are going to experience this above all in the review of Omaggio a György Kurtag. For this now I have prepared a small example with flute solo. First, you will listen to a couple of bars from "A Pierre" without Live-Electronics, then the same part with electronic sound extension:

The sound examples are in mono. Full download is necessary before listening.

sound example 1 (Martin Fahlenbrock, contrabass flute)
sound example 2

There tow examples show clearly that without the electronic sound trans-formation, sound extension, an instrument, a part of the compository substance is missing. As I mentioned before, from the Freiburger Experiments Nono knew exactly the sound results of double repetitions, original and transformed. He composed the notes of the instruments with view of this results, thus creating a perfect harmony between mechanic and electronic instrument. I do not deny that there are compositions, for example Emmanuel Nunes: "Wandlungen", that can be performed with and without Live-Electronics. However this is not possible with Nonos works created in collaboration with the Experimental Studio. They demand a balance between the sounds of traditional instruments and sounds of electronic transformation. Consequently it is not possible to arrange neither in the instrumental nor in the vocal and technical parts without destroying the sound that the composer had aimed at originally.

Let us now listen to one section of "A Pierre" by Luigi Nono in a recording right after the completion of the composition, which was realized in the Freiburg Experimentalstudio (Roberto Fabbriciani kontrabass flute and Ciro Scarponi contrabass clarinet).

sound example 3


The first performance of "Omaggio a György Kurtág" on the 10.6.83 at Firenze was a disappointment for many listeners.Was it really a first performance?
Nono was working at "Guai ai gelidi mostri" and "Prometeo" in that year. A lot of experimental rehearsals took place with the singer Susanne Otto, the instrumentalist Roberto Fabricciani, Ciro Scarponi, and Giancarlo Schiaffini in the Freiburg studio, one of these rehearsals was the concert in Firenze. The composition "Omaggio a György Kurtág" consisted of musical threshold values, which Nono had indicated for each interpreter in pitch, sound spectres and dynamic.The composer had also given some suggestions for technique of sound transformation, which, however, had nothing to do with the final version of "Omaggio". It should be mentioned, that Luigi Nono, Alvise Vidolin and myself - with cooperation of the musicians - had given an introduction concerning the electronic sound transformation at the beginning of the concert. I should like to say that the performance was a working concert under the title of: Composition in progress. Nono did not profit from this experience in concert until in his composition "Post-Prae-Ludium Donau" 1987 for tuba solo and live-electronics. In this composition, for the musician, threshold values, pitch, sound spectre, rhythmical structures, tone scales, volume and above all, time structures had been defined. The intervals have to be filled by the interpreter by improvisations. Exact sound functions and programs for the electronic are indicated.
What I am going to say now refers exclusively to the version of "Omaggio", that was performed for the first time in Torino,on the 6th of June, 1986.
At the beginning of my lecture I wrote: compositions, into which Luigi Nono had stringently integrated an extended function of time. For A Pierre, Nono applies a delay of acoustic signals in time, repetitions without feedback. Although these determine the composition formally, the basic idea for "Omaggio a György Kurtag" was a completely different one.
Nono had communicated his first sketch in a letter to me:

Picture 6

What does this mean?
1.) The music should be like signals, words, fragments in the air, in
space to György Kurtag.
2.) Concerning the use of electronic sound transformation Nono writes:
Always new, never rigid, but
changing of the spectre, band pass filter,
change of the space sound, various sound positions ( 4 loudspeakers), sound movements, ( extended to 6 loudspeakers during rehearsals),
Changing of the feedback means different feedback at the delay of the signals.
3:)Sometimes instruments only, nothing but the original instrumental and voice sound.
4.) And again with live-electronics.
In order to understand better, we will have a look at picture 7, the technical legend, which I recorded in this form during rehearsals in Torino.

Picture 7

In order to avoid misunderstandings, I named the programs with combinations. All four of them are delayed by 3 seconds, with and without feedbacks. Dependent on the dynamic of the feedback, the input signals of the instruments and voice fade out differently. At the maximum a mixture of sounds in the delay equipment can be stored acoustically over a longer period of time, feeding back the partially horizontal scales of the overlapping original sounds, compressed and changed into a vertical structure of sound. In his letter, Nono calls this: change in feedback, that means volume of feedback. The change of the sound spectre - Nono can not only hear them in the rehearsals, but also see them three dimensionally on a screen and take down precisely - these sound mutation is achieved by three possibilities:

1.) splitting up of the sound spectre into its individual partial tones. We know these selections from the first repetition on A Pierre.
2.)Transposition of spectre in a harmonizer. For "Omaggio" Nono chose the transposition of a triton and an octave lower. Mixed with the original sound, a new sound spectre is created, dependent on the volume of transposition.

On the one hand, the sound space is changed by various classings with the output signals to the 6 loudspeakers, on the other hand by a sound movement &'150; remember to combination three. The sound movements are realized in three various slow directions of movement with a universal sound space control equipment, the halaphone and are precisely defined by the composer. The individual movements of direction are controlled by means of loudspeakers.
From the very beginning, Luigi Nono had a very precise idea of the use of the electronic sound transformation for his composition, which then was made more precise during rehearsals, Let us compare once more the picture 7 and 6.

Picture 6

Picture 7

Spectre - combination 4, 5 band pass filter

spectre - combination 1 and 2, sound transformation

Combination 3 -space - classing of loudspeakers, sound movement
Reverberation ( 12 + 50 seconds)

Feedback - delay three seconds with various feedback

Corresponding to his technical sketch Nono composed the voice and instrumental score:

Contrary to A Pierre predominantly vertical form, above all to realization of the long reverberation and the sounds compressed by feedback.

Picture 8

In picture 8 we see the first page of the handwritten score with supplementary notes of sound control, first performance, Torino. In bar 9, marked in green, the accord of the brass instrument is reverberated artificially for 50 seconds. Of course, the intensity of this accord - pianissimo - will shorten the reverberation very much. The duration of the reverberation depends on the intensity of the input signal. Therefore, Nono does not indicate an exact duration, but he bridges this technically inexact reverberation by a fermata. But what can be heard, nevertheless, is the sound volume, which corresponds to the size of a geometric room of 50 seconds. Therefore it is important, that only delay equipments with a controlled space volume are used. The above mentioned fermata allows the sound control to variably shape by fading the reverberation time according to the size of the concert hall. The sound intervals realize Nono's sketch. "like signals to György Kurtag" Where as we find a shorter sound interval in bar 13, Nono employs the first version of a sound interval by delay with feedback for the alto in bar 14 to 17. The prescribed tempo is a quarter note equals 60, the delay time with feed-back 3 seconds. With a half dot note of the alto, this results in a repetition with a simple feedback. The equally short fadeout function of the feedback is marked in red . The original sound of the voice is transposed in the delay one triton lower (Combination 1).

Picture 9

In the bars 18 -20, Nono employs the second version of sound interval by delay with feedback. However, formally seen, this version is completely changed compared to bar 14. The original sound of the brass instruments is again delayed three seconds with a feedback and a transposition of a triton lower. The result cannot be heard immediately, but is played back in bar 23 -27. This acoustic effect can be called an echo with a long reverberation, i.e. the sound intensification of bar 18 - 20 can be perceived only 20 seconds later. A compository idea, that combines two time functions in one complex: duration of repetition with feedback and duration of echo. In example 4, We will first listen to the enlarged sound space and over dimensional reverberation.

sound example 4

The feedback was faded out. In the following example, we will listen to a delay with feedback, form one without shift in time. I would like to call your attention to the transposition into a triton lower.

sound example 5

The third version, the compressed and transposed original sound with play back shifted in time. The feedback is slowly faded out, there is a natural fading by dissolution of sound density. This technical procedure ist particularly important for a performance.

sound example 6<

These sound examples are continually changed - as we know from the technical legend - throughout the entire work. Thus the composer realizes his concept: "Something is continually and differently flexible"

The remaining voice and instrument part remains unchanged without sound transformation. By this, Luigi Nono emphasizes the function of live-electronic, the sound intervals create new sound and time dimensions. Quote of the composer: Out into the cosmic space to the universe, other spaces, other earths, other abysses, other fantasies. (End of quote).
With these two works, "A Pierre" and "Omaggio a György Kurtág", Luigi Nono discovered new layers of sound, which he could realize by the help of modern technique, the electronic sound transformation. Although different in instruments, different in the form of composition, both works have a common meaning, a common spiritual concept.

Let us listen to "Omaggio a György Kurtag" twice. During the first replay, I will show you the score on the screen, in order to demonstrate what I meant to show. before. Then we will listen to the short piece, about 15 minutes, we will listen to Nono's music, without being distracted by visual impressions. This work by Nono was published in a very good edition by the publishing House of Ricordi. I am using a copy of the original score, as I used colours for all the functions of live-electronic during the rehearsals for the first performance in Torino .

Example 7 (with screen)
Example 8 ( without screen) Please listen to example 7 and 8 from the CD "luigi nono 3", AUVIDIS FRANCE, MO 782047.