September 23, 2020

Stefano Giannotti and SMS played TEB's "Water".

Stefano Giannotti is an Italian avant-garde musician/composer/arranger/conductor since the beginning of 80's. He's playing and arranging also TEB tunes. I had an interview with him in 2011, you can read about his long career and his ideas about music and the TEB here.
After a first arrangement of "Water" in 2005 with Vaga Orchestra, in 2019 he arranged a new version of it and he conducted (playing with) a young ensemble called SMS who performed it live. Here's the really exciting performance:

Confirming the love for the TEB music, this important event induced me to contact him again for a new interview about his work on the tune. This is our conversation...

.How did you come up with the idea of forming the SMS Orchestra?
The SMS Orchestra is a modular group of students born around 2014 at the School of Music Symphony of Lucca, with the name of Laboratorio OTEME; because it could be confused with OTEME (the ensemble I manage since 2010) we changed the name: SMS means School of Symphony Music. The former idea was to form a group of students playing the guitar and other instruments with voices, which if necessary, as then sometimes is happened, could join OTEME.
The problem of training nowadays is more and more urgently felt, since especially in Italy there is little space for contemporary music, let alone experiments of hybridization between rock, avant-garde and contemporary music! Previously, at another school of music, I had conducted a similar experience with the Vaga Orchestra.
Over the years many members have changed, but for some time a stable nucleus has been created: it must be said that many of them started from very young, from the middle school, grewing up together within this experience.
Today the SMS Orchestra is around 13/14 musicians ranging from 15 to 40 years old. At the same time, some composers were born in the band and their compositions were included in our repertoire. The SMS Orchestra performs mostly arrangements of experimental rock music or similar: we play Residents, Tuxedomoon, Third Ear Band, Battisti/Velezia, Sylvian, but also Bruno Lauzi, Bowie, Baroque and Renaissance music, Battiato's Aries, Peter Gabriel, etc.
Stefano Giannotti nel 2019.
.Why did you decide to arrange and perform TEB’s "Water" again, after your first adaption in 2005?
"Water" is one of my all-time favourite tunes. I think it is nice to allow young people to discover tunes like this, which I knew when I was 17. If teachers don't let them know this music, hardly nowadays young people will reach it alone.

.How did you wade into the original version? What are the motivations related to the form/structure of the music that led you to rethink it in this way?
I think the most interesting thing about "Water" is the bass. It’s definitely the Third Ear Band's tune that seems more "composed" and less improvised. I find really amazing how the melody leans on the cello; basically, the melody is built by a single cell that is repeated throughout the song at different heights, sometimes with alterations of some intervals. The various mutations of the cell are connected by free parts, very short so that the theme becomes really omnipresent. The bass line creates moments of tension and relaxation, above all the turns of the chords are used intelligently, in particular the first respondent. Then, on the third chord of the melody, there is a FA# played by the oboe on the natural FA of the cello - like a punch in the ear - which melts immediately into a wonderful consonance on the fourth. The real prominent role in the piece, in my opinion, is just the cello that acts as a "fixed song", as in the original counterpoint and the oboe is "opposed" to it. My basic idea was to interpret that cello "false notes", those microtones originated from an oriental mink, as they were semitones: so if a note stands between a LA and a descending LA, I assume it as a SOL#. Being on the bass this SOL# creates a new chord, which was perceived in the TEB's tune and in this version becomes clear. The great thing is that it sounds very similar to the original, despite having forced several chords.
Well, I hope I didn’t say things that were too complicated!
.What do you think about the original composition? Do you think it was written or it was a work in progress in the recording studio?
I think it’s in between. I think there is a theme that was born from improvisation, then step by step it was built inside the group, especially by Minns and Smith; but who knows... surely they did not try it once, as it could have happened to other tunes played by them.
School of Music Symphony in 2020.

.Which elements of the TEB form are inscribed in your music?
The oboe! I fell in love with the oboe thank to them. For many years I conducted a trio/quartet, the Ensemble Il Teatro del Faro, formed by oboe/English horn, electric guitar and cello, plus various objects, tapes and electronics. Our work was more experimental and moved in totally different fields (musical theatre, radio-art, performance), but occasionally opened to phrasing and atmospheres influenced by the Third Ear Band.
.Do you think there is still room today for experiences such as that of TEB?
Sometimes you hear world music, rock-ethnic and similar genres, but the Third Ear Band remains a unique case in the history of music. I think the difference lies in their simplicity and - forgive me - not professionalism as instrumentalists. Today the world-music bands are made by very competent musicians, TEB players were little more than amateurs, but that’s what makes them unique and indescribably magic. They didn’t have to show anything to anyone, no kind of virtuosity, they just start with sound, they create circles that slowly widen and you find yourself wrapped in a total sensory experience. Many ethnic-folk groups sound very stereotyped and corny. Not the Third Ear Band, for some mysterious reason their music force you to listen to them finding new dimensions: think of "Egyptian Book of the Dead", but also of pieces like "Live Ghosts"... this kind of music always opens new worlds. I don’t know if there’s room today, but I think there’s room for everything, the thing you need is just to have a little more imagination.

.What kind of music do you listen to these days?
I love Bach's Cantatas, Frank Zappa, especially his orchestral pieces, David Sylvian, Battisti/Panella, Robert Wyatt, David Bedford, the Third Ear Band (although I don’t listen to it often), Alvin Curran, Steve Reich, Tuxedomoon, Gong and Daevid Allen, Ravel’s Bolero... I can hardly stand the contemporary music, although I admire the ideas... the ones I like most are John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

.What's about you
r future plans?
I am finishing a radio-drama for the German national radio SWR, I will go to produce it in their studios in Baden-Baden in February 2021, if the COVID pandemic will allow us. Last summer I've published "A Greeting to the Clouds", the new OTEME CD, so I’m promoting it. I also have other projects in Poland and Germany, but it will depend on the pandemic situation. With the SMS Orchestra, we will start again in November, maybe with a project between folk and sound experimentation. 
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