Interview with Alexandre Rodichevski: between ars mathematica and ars musica
16 April 2011
A fragment from the video Fractales by Alexandre Rodichevski
between music and mathematics has long been established. The 20th century is
undoubtedly that which brought about the most extreme consequences, and has
transformed it into a scientific approach to music (Pierre Boulez graduated in
mathematics like Philip Glass, Xenakis was an architect,
and Messiaen an ornithologist). You are a scientist.
How do you use mathematics and scientific tools in relation to music: as a
source of theme-inspiration – with reference to your CD titles, like Ars mathematica – or
as a tool for composition?
say, above all, as a tool for composition. An example of this is the way I used
π (Greek phi), basing myself on its decimal representation and
subsequently transforming it into music. However, throughout my compositional
activities, the experimental phase (or mathematical, as you prefer to call it)
is only the last step. In Minutes ‑ for example – I
composed the pieces according to the absolutely traditional rules.
Minutes was your first CD, but – so it seems – not your
first composition. When did you start composing music?
During my university days. I was boarding in a youth hostel with some
classmates, who – like me – were attending the scientific faculties. Together
we participated in a group experiment and composed an opera.
Libretto and music?
opera was called Terror and talk
about – to be precise– the theme of terror in the political world.
referring to Robespierre’s France?
setting was absolutely Russian: more precisely about Russia midway between the
19th and 20th centuries. We wrote in secret, basing ourselves on very limited
tools, like a piano of the hostel, a guitar and percussion, not only in the
sense of instruments but also vocals.
Has the opera
ever been staged?
were the ‘80s: the theme we had chosen was decisively still risky. Terror remained an experiment, an
overwhelming attempt which allowed me to approach music from a creative
viewpoint. For a long time however, it remained an isolated
experiment and was not pursued.
At this and
the succeeding phases, what were your reference points at the musical level?
to Pink Floyd assiduously, or rather, to some songs of Pink Floyd… I’d say to
more than one group or artist in particular I was struck by some songs, some
rock pieces of the ‘70s. As to the classic, I really loved the Russians:
Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, but also Mussorgsky, Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Besides these, also Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart.
extensive range: Western, Slavic…
it is a rather abstract distinction: in fact I think that Russian music has
always fixed its gaze on the artistic panorama of the West.
I can’t say
they influenced me in a particular way. Once in a while I listened to some
pieces of Messiaen, and found Xenakis
quite interesting: what surely intrigued me was their link with the scientific
field… though I did not identify myself with them as they always appeared to be
distant from my own way of perceiving things.
from Pink Floyd to Tchaikovsky. This automatically leads me to your first CD, Minutes, in which you made use of a
heterogeneous musical style, packed with elements belonging to the classical
repertoire and pop music. To this regard, a spontaneous question comes to mind
as to what relationship flows according to you between these two musical styles
– the culture thread and pop music – which we always consider as two rigidly
separate worlds… at times even from the hierarchic standpoint.
I would put
aside the distinction between the cultured thread and pop, and consider instead
the “classical” concept.
you prefer to establish a distinction that is merely chronological, not
No, in the sense that it comes spontaneously for me to recycle – pass
the word – the concept of “classical,” giving it, however, with a different
connotation from the one commonly known. The classics are not for the composers, but
for the pieces which – for some precise reasons – embodied a
certain significance in the development of music. A classic piece for me
may be a sonata of Mozart, likewise a song of the Beatles. As far as my
compositions are concerned, it would be, however, impossible for me – even if I
tried – to classify my music “in one block”: when I outline a piece, most of
the time, I know that the result may be classical or pop, indifferently.
about Alexandre Rodichevski the scientist. What in
your music, may I ask, has emerged from your Siberian roots?
little, I think. The titles of my pieces in most cases are not linked to my
life in Siberia. Furthermore, the particular history of my country as a whole
makes it difficult to determine what the Siberian identity consists in.
because of the strong link with Russia. What about Matrioska, one of the pieces of
your CD Minutes?
in that case the reference is evident. In the piece I tried to recreate the
impression of a roundabout dance of matryoskas: I
even let my father who lives in Siberia listen to it, and he himself told me he
found it fits with the type of image I wanted to represent.
talk about your CD Cosmologies. I think it configures
like a kind of macro-vision of the life of the Universe… as a time-dilated equivalent
of Minutes: a day of the Universe. Cosmologies brings out the existence of
three universes ‑ physics and humans – pervaded by a kind of
astonishment. What role does the Divine play in your cosmological vision?
Cosmologies represents the reflection of a typically
scientific vision. Not surprisingly the titles of the pieces – the themes – are
conceived in a problematic and not assertive way: through complementary
therefore, is inexistent…
presence of the Divine instead, can be perceived in two instances. In the short
musical theme at the start and end of the CD, I narrate about the solitude
before creation (Big Bang) and after
the destruction of the Universe (Big
Crunch). And this is the first “moment.” The second is seen in the piece Five Elements where I allude to the
fifth element: the essence of which, as the old philosophers believed,
constitutes the Soul. The piece is a homage to the
thinkers of the past for the conception of the world.
Elements of Quietness is your last CD. From the stylistic point of view, one perceives a
marked change compared to the preceding CDs.
right. The theme of The Elements of
Quietness is characterized by an intense formal experimentation of which ‑
in reality ‑ some traces are already found in Cosmologies: I am referring especially to the piece Two Constellations. In that case I had
already experimented on a new compositional method. I had used the coordinates
of a constellation, then transformed in a sound expression: a procedure similar
to what I used in π (Greek phi). In The
Elements of Quietness I did nothing else but extend and strengthen this
compositional method, transforming certain frequencies into musical expression;
in this case, however, unlike the previous experimentations, we can say that I
almost did not elaborate the final result – except for, obviously, the
Have you also
made experiments in the field of fractal music?
(from the CD Ars Mathematica)
I used the methods already known in the ‘90s, of music derived from the Thue-Morse fractal sequences. My invention in this field is
instead a composition based on the Peano curve.
You defined Minutes as “short musicals." For
your piece Fractales
you created a video. All of this highlights the importance of the link between
music and image: is this an aspect you are thinking of developing in the
element is undoubtedly very strong in my compositions. It stands at the roots
of the creative act itself, in the sense that very often ‑ just when I am
composing – I see a certain image. Take for example, Fall into Hell (a piece of Cosmologies).
While creating it, I spontaneously imagined it as a ballet. The link between
music and image is an aspect which I would like to develop of course, not only
in the field of theater or cinema but also – and
especially ‑ in relation to the world of dance.
question: what type of instruments do you need for your compositions? Do you
think that in the future you will write music for traditional instruments?
instrument I use is the computer. I have a piano at home but I do not use it to
compose. The sounds I draw inspiration from mainly refer to real instruments
(especially in Minutes), and in my
musical scores you find references to pianos, percussions, and piccolos. As to
the future… who knows?