Zeno Baldi : Balancing the weight of sounds

zeno baldi

Zeno Baldi is an Italian composer.

He has written works for acoustic instruments and a variety of electronic devices. He is also active as a performer and sound designer for mixed media.

His music has been presented at festivals such as London Ear Festival, Rondò (Milan), Firenze suona contemporanea, MATA (New York), and in venues like the Fondation Royaumont, Le Centquatre (Paris), Teatro Ristori (Verona), Teatro La Fenice (Venice), Fondazione Spinola-Banna per l’Arte, Piccolo Teatro (Milan). Collaborations with soloists such as Marco Fusi, Heather Roche, Manu Mayr a.o., Ensembles (Divertimento, Mdi, Linea, Zeitfluss, Ex Novo a.o.) and Orchestras (OPV, Teatro la Fenice).

The Italian label “Stradivarius” recently released his first monographic CD, “Bonsai, performed by Divertimento Ensemble.

Upcoming projects include new works for Schallfeld Ensemble (with the support of Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung), for Quartetto Maurice (commissioned by Associazione De Sono), for (and commissioned by) Ensemble Hopper.

Baldi has completed music composition studies at Kunstuniversität Graz (with Klaus Lang) and at Conservatorio “G.Verdi”  in Milan (with Gabriele Manca).

His scores are published by Casa Ricordi. 


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer? 

When I was about 10 or 11 years old I was introduced by my first piano teacher to the music of Debussy, studying some of his easy pieces, and I think a new sort of curiosity arose inside me. I began to have a strong desire to understand these new colors and harmonies I was playing, trying to observe and analyze them as best I could. I think I have just kept feeding that curiosity since then, and at some point it was just clear to me that I wanted to dedicate my (musical) time entirely to composition.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time? 

Yes, there have been many, for sure.

I spend a lot of time on listening to quite heterogeneous music, so I guess the influence could be a mixture that is chronologically, geographically, stylistically very differentiated. This also includes, for the biggest part, music that has been performed, recorded or produced without a score behind it.

I think it is difficult to judge what or who has really been influential or relevant for one’s own work, but I’m sure it changes a lot over time, at least for me. Sometimes a specific quality of a single sound can be more influential than a whole in-depth study on a certain composer, work, or technique.

How do you approach the question of “form” especially for longer works? 

When starting a new project, I might have a general idea about it, but I tend to keep it flexible, shaping it during the process.

I believe that even sounds have their personality and this provides the awareness of the time that they need. There are sounds that need more time to tell their story. Others are more chirpy, rapid. I try to respect every sound’s time… (Eliane Radigue)

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process?  What other technology, if any, do you use? 

I would like to have a regular schedule for writing, but I didn’t learn to do that yet, unfortunately! It also depends a lot on which stage of the piece I’m into…

There is a first part of work, usually lasting months, consisting of listening, collecting abstract ideas, reading articles or books about a certain topic, writing down a few words (rather than notes). This helps me focusing on the path I want to take for that certain work. Besides more abstract ideas, I try to get access to sounds, in the most concrete way. That means, I try to work directly with musicians, collecting recordings, editing simulations on my laptop, double checking microtonal results with the help of software, recording improvisations on an instrument, and then listening and selecting a few good seeds to be developed. When I feel that I more or less have reached a balance between the conceptual ideas, structure plans and sound material, I feel I am ready to properly write. That goes through subtraction, drafts on paper and annotations of all kinds. The final score written in notation software is really just the last step of a long chain.

Besides software, I often work with different kinds of electronic devices such as: pedals, modeling percussion synthesizers, loop stations, sequencers, contact microphones, sampling machines (modifying/combining sounds from different contexts, like a note of an Indian Shehnai or the echolocation clicks of a dolphin…). 

Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip. 

“Mold” (2018, for 6 instruments) was co-commissioned by Divertimento Ensemble (Milan) and Opus XXI (Hamburg), sponsored by the Ulysses Network Creative Europe. 

Mold (noun):

  1. pattern, shape, matrix, form, mode
  2. fungus, dry rot, must. A downy growth on the surface of organic matter, caused by fungi, especially in the presence of decay

The primary interest behind this composition is the fragility of sound, considered and investigated as a dynamic phenomenon, unstable and changing also in situations of apparent static nature.

The ensemble and the conductor are asked to mantain a particular concentration, in order to control extremely precarious vibrations (of strings, of air stream, of pressure), to focus their attention on tiny movements, on shadow zones / intermediate states of sound matter, at the border between beatings and rough intervals that melt into unisons.

The title alludes to both meanings of the english word. Concerning the second (fungus), it especially refers to the physarum polycephalum (slime mold), one of the simplest single-celled organisms – with no brain nor nervous system, able to solve complicated problems with a surprisingly simple intelligence, based on the interaction with the surrounding space.

Mold has been premiered on May 8, 2018, at Conservatory “G.Verdi” in Milan, within the 2017/18 Concert Season of Società del Quartetto di Milano.

Divertimento Ensemble, Sandro Gorli (cond.)
Live recording: Maurizio Sanfelici 


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