of Electroacoustic Music
Professor Bad Trip: Lesson I
This is the first piece of Romitelli’s Professor Bad Trip triptych composed between 1998 and 2000. It was premiered by the Musiques Nouvelles Ensemble on 24 September 1998 at the Musica Festival in Strasbourg. The piece is scored for flute (bass flute), bass clarinet (harmonica), percussion, electric guitar, piano (keyboard), violin, viola, violoncello, 8-channel tape and live electronics and has a duration of approx. 14 minutes.
The cycle was inspired by Henri Michaux’ Misérable Miracle (1972), L’Infini turbulent (1957) and Connaissance par les gouffres (1961), reflecting the author’s experiences with mescaline and other drugs. [Romitelli 2005a, p. 166; Romitelli 2005b, p. 158] In the phenomena described by Michaux, Romitelli found a link to aspects of writing he had been critically reflecting on:
“I think that a certain kind of perception, and therefore writing, derived from the use of drugs, has the power to disrupt our language as “learned” composers, our way of thinking about art.”
(“Je pense qu’un certain type de perception, et par conséquent d’écriture, dérivé de l’utilisation de la drogue, a le pouvoir de bouleverser notre parole de compositeur
«savant», notre manière de penser le fait artistique.”) [Romitelli 2005b, p. 158]
The reading of Michaux led to the attempt to “purify” his experience as an academic composer from the language of contemporary music that he considered to be “distant, cold, intellectual”. [Romitelli 2005b, p. 159] The immediacy of expression that Romitelli found in the realm of popular music and particularly in the aesthetics of progressive and psychedelic rock of the late 60s and 70s, reflects his eagerness to compensate for the consequences of the inherent slowness, detail work and structural thinking in contemporary music writing by re-integrating physicality and gesture as they presented themselves at the first moment of creation. In some manifestations of popular music Romitelli found a key to developing original forms of expression in accordance with the needs of a diverse musical and socio-cultural environment far removed from the “claustrophobic formalism” [Romitelli 2005c, p. 135] of contemporary music:
“What interests me in certain popular music, when it is not yet in the media, is its violent opposition to power, which makes it a kind of alternative to a prefabricated, false and stereotyped world.”
(“Ce qui m’intéresse dans certaines musiques populaires, lorsqu’elles ne sont pas encore médiatisées, c’est leur opposition violente au pouvoir, qui en fait une espèce d’alternative à un monde préfabriqué, faux, stéréotypé.”) [Romitelli 2005b, p. 161]
As Romitelli points out, the Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1979–80) by Francis Bacon were yet another source of inspiration for his own triptych:
“The trilogy is shamelessly inspired by Francis Bacon’s triptychs, in particular
the important series of Three Studies for a Self-Portrait from the 1970s; there is no narrative function, but on the other hand, there is a clear, altered, disturbed but recognisable symmetrical structure […]”.
(“La Trilogie s’inspire sans vergogne des Triptyques de Francis Bacon, notamment de la série substantielle des Trois études pour un autoportrait des années 70 ; il n’y a pas de fonction narratrice, mais il y a, en revanche, une structure symétrique claire, altérée, perturbée mais reconnaissable […]” [Romitelli 2005c, p. 136–137]
The impact of Bacon’s work on Romitelli’s manifests itself again in Blood on the floor, Painting 1986 for eight players (2000). Once more, it is Bacon’s disruptive power and his ability to directly express the violence of global culture – a quality he misses in the narrow “academic” contemporary music world. Romitelli:
“To me Bacon has been able to objectify the violence of the world, he can disturb people’s conscience. The work of distortion and the absolute violence of the colours that emerge from this painting express this violence of cultural homologation.”
(“Pour moi Bacon a été capable d’objectiver la violence du monde, il peut bouleverser les consciences. Le travail de la distorsion et la violence absolue des couleurs qui se dégagent de ce tableau expriment cette violence de l’homologation culturelle.” [Romitelli 2005d, p. 153]
Bacon’s violent expressiveness informs Romitelli’s own aesthetic concern:
“The reality of the world is monstrous and violent; thus my music is monstrous and violent.”
(“La réalité du monde est difforme et violente, ma musique est donc difforme et violente.”) (Romitelli 2005d, p. 153)
Romitelli’s criticism towards homologation of culture and the limitations of contemporary music writing do however not mean that he saw himself outside of the contemporary music tradition, his music having been strongly influenced by contemporary Italian composers, György Ligeti and composers of the L’Itinéraire group that had caught his attention prior to his move to Paris. [Romitelli 2005d, p. 160] Pascal Decroupet’s  analysis of sketches for Professor Bad Trip: Lesson I reveals a strongly conceptual and structural compositional thought making use of processual developments, compositional models derived from the morphologic structure of sound and transferring of signal processing techniques into the instrumental domain, all of which makes clear reference to so-called spectral music.
At the core of the poetic conception of Professor Bad Trip: Lesson I lies the idea of trance. Romitteli approaches this theme through a series of more or less abstract ideas related to phenomena described by Michaux which lead to specific formal concepts, among them “sparizione → riapparizione”, “accelerazione → decelerazione”, “passeggio del multiple a l’unico”, “andare verso le trance → ripetizione”, “distorsione progressiva sfasata”. [Decroupet 2018, p. 16] The idea of a kaleidoscope, a dense polyphonic system of mutually triggering layers, as well as repetition and distortion as the temporal and spectral concretions of the idea of trance serve as the nodes between which the formal movement oscillates. Pitch organisation is equally elaborated, combining intervallic relations to a fundamental (E), morphing processes and the representation of signal processing “effects” (e.g. “distortion”, “echo”, “FM”) with instrumental means. These elements are condensed in two compositional models (beta and gamma) that already exhibit a high degree of complexity and definition and constitute the point of departure for the writing process. [c.f. Decroupet 2018]
Romitelli’s interest in the use of electronics is already manifest in two earlier works, Natura morta con fiamme for string quartet and electronics (1991–1992) and EnTrance for soprano, ensemble and electronics (1995). The electronics of Professor Bad Trip: Lesson I constitute however a paradigm shift compared to the predominant approaches practiced at the time. Romitelli aimed to generate a compact amplified sound typical of jazz, pop and rock live mixing practice. He further developed this in his video opera An Index of Metals for solo soprano, ensemble, multi projection and electronics (2003). In Professor Bad Trip: Lesson I the keyboard using common FM synthesis presets and particularly the electric guitar with its strong presence and various degrees of distortion require a corresponding amplification and equalisation of all other instruments, further merged by the use of reverb.
The content and disposition of the 8-channel tape, combining synthetic and instrumental sounds electronically transformed by various means such as filtering, phase change, distortion and reverse playing, reinforces this approach. The material is structured in sequences that develop from quiet harmonic to massive distorted sounds (“distorsione progressiva sfasata”) [quotes from reproduction in Decroupet 2018]. The sequences exhibit a characteristic dynamic and temporal profile: single sounds feeding in and out (“sparizione → riapparizione”) and slightly shifted in the different track pairs tend to accelerate, overlap and intensify towards the end. After a silence, the process restarts (“accelerazione → decelerazione”). The sequences mirror the formal articulation and the harmonic structure of the instrumental layer.
Smooth attacks and releases are predominant, an exception being the section between bars 220 and 228 preceding the first coda with its distorted violoncello and electric guitar sounds on the fundamental E in a polyphonic texture recalling the idea of kaleidoscope. The first coda, calm and sombre, is again a sequence of expanding and contracting shifted sounds. The second coda closes the piece with slow and bright glissando movements resulting from phase shifts.
The sequences coming from the four speakers in the front of the venue are complemented by two further pairs of shifted sequences coming from the side loudspeakers (two at each side). They act as composed side reflections, the whole setting forming a strong reverberating space. Written in the score as a progression of chords, the tape merges with the amplified instruments, thus serving to consolidate a “powerful, compact” electronic sound. [cf. Romitelli, Nota Elettronica, p. 2. S. Sources, below]
1. Performance materials
Remarks: Facsimile of manuscript
Information about specific instrumental techniques is written directly in the score and the instrumental parts. The latter are not written by hand, but computer edited.
There are two versions of the score. One version includes the notation for the tape part. It is written in conventional notation on three staves located at the bottom of the score and corresponds to a reduction showing its pitch and rhythmic structure. In the other version these staves are empty.
Neither of these two versions contains information related to the diffusion system, amplification, synchronisation or the performance of the electronics. This is included in a separate document (s. below).
b) Other Materials:
– CD ROM
Contains a 9-channel audio track, eight channels corresponding to the tape part. The ninth channel contains a click track that may be used by the conductor to synchronise with the tape. The click track is additionally given in MIDI format.
The audio files are WAV @ 44.1kHz/16bit
The click track doesn’t match the tempo indications in the score. The recording of the ICTUS ensemble corresponds to the tempo values of the click track, so that these have to be regarded as the correct values. The following table shows the divergence between score and click track:
|Bars||Tempo Score||Tempo click track|
Fig. I. Divergence between score and click-track.
About the tape:
The tape consists of eight sequences on eight tracks. The tracks are organised in pairs of different durations. Tracks 1–4 start after 1:05 at bar 7, tracks 4–8 enter inaudibly in bar 22. Tracks 1 and 2 contain the electronic coda and are one and a half minutes longer than the rest. The following table summarises the sounds characteristics for each section of the tape.
|1||6–56||1:06–3:28||2:22||Synthesiser and metallic pitched sounds; dynamic rise and acceleration towards the end|
|2||68–92||3:47–4:51||1:04||Similar to sequence 1 with slight transformations|
|3||112–136||5:39– 6:39||1:00||Variation from section 1 with fast oscillations, very intensive towards the end|
|4||136–186||6:39–8:18||1:38||Further development of the previous part with long, continuous sound waves|
|5||194–199||8:26–8:57||30:00||Compact, intense and powerful increase of intensity (bar 194–99)|
|6||202–220||8:58–10:04||1:05||Falling glissandi, waves of sound expanding and contracting regularly, rise in intensity and acceleration towards the end|
|7||220–230||10:05–10:48||43:00||Climax on the fundamental E with distorted sounds of violoncello and e-guitar, “kaleidoscope”|
|8||230–end||10:48–14:00||3:12||Coda 1, calm and dark sound waves in all tracks; coda 2 with slow phase shifts, only in tracks 1 and 2|
Fig. II. Formal distribution according to Decroupet 2018.
Title: Prof. Bad Trip: Lesson I NOTA ELETTRONICA
Author: Fausto Romitelli
Date: 30 May 2001 (sent)
File: Romitelli Prof. Bad Trip lesson 1 NOTE ELETTRONICA.pdf [sic]
Remark: copy of a fax print, 3 pages, handwritten.
The document contains a diagram showing the position of the speakers and their connection to the instruments, their reverberation and the diffusion of the tape. It also contains precise explanations about the amplification, the reverberation of the tape, the click track, the type of sounds to be programmed into the synthesiser and some additional information for the electric guitar.
As mentioned above, the only source with information by Romitelli about the electronic part is the handwritten “Nota Elettronica”.
Ideally, the setup consists of eight loudspeakers. At least four have to be used. (s. Figure II) The eight tracks are grouped in stereo pairs 1–2, 3–4, 5–6 and 7–8 and routed from front to rear. The amplification must be done only with the front speakers. The back speakers are intended for reverberation of the instruments.
Figure III. Handwritten disposition by Romitelli (“Nota Elettronica”, p. 2.)
Amplification and reverb
In order to amplify the instruments a minimum of 12 microphones is required (one for each instrument including the kazoo and four for the percussion). Two Lexicon units are required for reverberation (one for the instruments and one for the tape). However, there are no indications regarding the specific model, settings or routing and mixing of the reverbed tape tracks.
The click track has a pre-roll of two measures (16 beats) and stops at bar 235 where the tape continues alone.
A Yamaha SY99 is described, but other synthesisers could also be used. Three different pre-sets are needed:
1. “Electric bass” (without sound decay) or “Hammond organ”. Pitch bend range is six semitones
2. “String ensemble”. Pitch bend is twelve semitones: intonation a quarter tone higher.
3. The same, but normal intonation
Concerning the “string ensemble” Romitelli specifies:
“ ‘String ensemble’, without vibrato and equalised or filtered in such a way to cut off the high frequencies and remove the typical “string ensemble” timbre, to obtain a sort of neutral, no-timbre colour.” [“Nota Elettronica”, p. 3]
Pedal volume and E-bow are required. Concerning the sounds, Romitelli writes:
“Different levels of distortion should be used during the performance (according with composer or on guitarist’s free choice).” [“Nota Elettronica”, p. 3]
Tom Pauwels, who premiered both Professor Bad Trip and Trash TV Trance (2002) for electric guitar under the guidance of the composer, specified the instruction in an e-mail communication to guitarist Samuel Toro Pérez:
“About the sounds, there’s not much of secret recipes there. I had three sounds, one clean with a light chorus and some phase, then a sound with light distortion and a third more massive sound (dist, compression) + a cello bow for the last drone, it’s mostly up to you what to add where, Fausto was always very open for new ideas & sounds. So be creative and try to make an ensemble sound that can still breathe with all that action. So sound nr 2 with light disto and maybe some compression is very useful when playing all that high arpeggiated bluesy material, make it heard, but do not overwhelm the sound of your acoustic colleagues.”
[Tom Pauwels, e-mail from 2 January 2019]
The concert took place on 18 January 2019 at the main concert hall of ZHdK. The piece was performed by the ensemble Arc-en-Ciel with Simeon Pironkoff, conductor, Leandro Gianini, sound engineer, and Carlos Hidalgo, sound projection.
Sound projection and amplification
We used two separate sound systems: the first for reinforcing the sound and the second for the tape. The system for the amplification was composed of three speakers d&b Y10P for LCR (Center is double d&b Y10P,Y7P), two subwoofers d&b Y-Sub 18”/12” Cardioid (LR) and three small loudspeakers d&b 4 S for filling the front stage.
The system for the tape was composed of eight Meyer Sound UPM-1P speakers.
Using two separate systems provided more flexibility with respect of the placement of the speakers, especially those used for the tape. We tried to integrate the sound of the e-guitar and the synthesiser into the ensemble by avoiding personal monitoring and treating the guitar amplifier and the synthesiser monitor as acoustical instruments.
The amplification was realised with hard panning, cross delays and equalisation to enhance wideness and localisation and to better complement the acoustical sound of the ensemble. Instrument distribution and panning are described in the following table. Cross delay was around 20-30 ms. The cross-delay signal was reduced in gain and filtered with a high shelf at 6 kHz -3dB.
|Piano H 1||Piano low||Piano H 2|
|Vl||Vl delay -3dB|
|Vla delay -3dB||Vla|
|Cello delay -6dB||Cello||Cello delay -6dB||x|
|Fl delay -3dB||Fl|
|Kl||KL delay -3dB||x|
|Synthesiser L||Synthesiser R||x (only when bass sound)|
|Vibra delay -9dB||Vibra|
|Glockenspiel delay -9dB||Glockenspiel|
|Marimba delay -9dB||Marimba|
|Bass Drum delay -9dB||Bass drum||x|
|Gong 1 delay -6dB||Gong 1|
|Gong 2 Delay -6dB||Gong 2|
|Water Gong Delay -6dB||Water Gong|
|E.Git||E.Git Delay -6dB|
Fig. IV. Instrument distribution and panning
Performing with a large amplified ensemble obviously entails addressing quite a lot of acoustical problems. It is essential for the sound engineer to work together closely with the conductor in order to obtain a good balance and the right character. For example, at the beginning of the piece the flute and the clarinet play sforzatos in imitation starting in bar 7. To obtain the same effect on both instruments it is necessary that the player emphasises his/her playing and deliberately plays closer to the microphone. The bass clarinet in particular is sometimes difficult to amplify. No pickup into the mouthpiece was used, but it might prove more effective than the microphone technique that was used in this performance. Using three microphones for the piano was very effective with an LCR System, allowing for a rich and wide sound.
Microphones patch list
|1||Violin||Clip DPA d:vote 4099|
|2||Viola||Clip DPA d:vote 4099|
|3||Cello||Clip DPA d:vote 4099|
|4||Bass clarinet Hi||Sm58|
|5||Bass clarinet Low||Sm58|
|8||Piano Hi L||C414|
|9||Piano Low C||Schoeps MK4|
|10||Piano Hi R||C414|
|15||Bass drum||Schoeps Mk 41|
|16||Gongs||Clip DPA d:vote 4099|
|17||Gongs||Clip DPA d:vote 4099|
|18||Synth L||DI BSS AR 133|
|19||Synth R||DI BSS AR 134|
|20||Water gong||Clip DPA d:vote 4099|
Fig. V. Microphones patch list
Three stereo Lexicon PCM plugins (host software “Live Professor” by Audiostrom) with a “Large Hall” preset were used. Two stereo engines were used for the tape. Front speakers and back speakers had slightly different reverb time settings (1.6s-2.0s), pre-delay (40ms – 7ms) and EQ (hi-shelf on the back speakers -3dB).
The third stereo engine was used for reverberation of the instruments on the back speakers. Due to the natural reverberation of the room this reverb was rather soft and almost inaudible.
An FX channel was used to emphasise with a Delay + Verb effect violin and viola for bars 1–5.
During the rehearsals we noticed that some musical moments could be emphasised by changing the tape dynamics according to the dynamics of the ensemble. We enhanced the dynamics of the tape by going softer when the music was softer and louder in the fortissimo passages.
As mentioned, the tempo indications in the score differ from those in the click track. The tempo indications in the click track are assumed to be correct. It is linked to the tape file which is consistent in pitch and corresponds to the tempi used in the recording by the Ictus ensemble, which was realised in collaboration with Romitelli. Most probably, Romitelli corrected the tempi during the realisation of the electronic part. While the provided click track in eighths proved impractical, it was possible to convert this into a click track in quarters for the conductor and the guitar player. In this performance, the click track level was driven manually, following the dynamics of the piece. This could also be automated. The click track was diffused through an Aviom system and in-ear headphones. The level of the click was reduced in bar 202, increased during the crescendo starting in bar 222 and again reduced until the end, starting at bar 230.
A Yamaha SY99 was used. The description of the sounds is not precise. Much freedom is left to the musicians and the conductor. The equalisation of the “String ensemble” sound aiming to achieve a “neutral no-timbre colour” as specified by Romitelli (“Nota Elettronica”, p.3) is left to interpretation.
There is no clear indication on how to apply to the music the different levels of distortion described in the composer’s “Nota Elettronica”. The score contains just an indication of “più distorto” in the crescendo between bars 221 and 227.
The approach for the e-guitar in this performance was to control the amount of distortion by use of an expression pedal instead of having to switch between different distortion sounds. This setup allowed the player to move smoothly and continuously between a clean sound and the maximum distorted sound. The amount of distortion was marked by the player as “minimal amount”, “maximum amount” or a percentage value, these indications referring to the use of the expression pedal.
Distortion was applied as follows:
Bar 1: minimal distortion
Bar 56: small distortion increase
Bar 62: maximum distortion
Bar 67: minimal distortion
Bar 130: distortion increase
Bar 143: 50% distortion
Bar 149: 60% distortion
Bar 155: 60% distortion
Bar 156: decrease distortion to 40%
Bar 164: minimal distortion
Bar 166: distortion increase
Bar 188: minimal distortion
Bar 194: 60% distortion
Bar 199: minimal distortion
Bar 221 to 227: crescendo minimal to maximal amount of distortion
Additionally, two other effects were used selectively via a normal pedal switch.
Foot Switch 1 (FS1): Chorus + Reverb, (Bar 7 until bar 33, bar 65 until 127, bar 199 until the end)
Foot Switch 2 (FS2): +9db Gain, (Bar 229 until the end)
E-guitar setup (edited by Samuel Toro Pérez)
Fender “American Special” (HSS) guitar
Line 6 HX Stomp Multi FX processor
Boss FV-50H volume pedal
Roland EV-5 expression pedal (circuit modified for HX Stomp compatibility)
Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb Amp
Line 6 HX Stomp patch
|FX Loop L
|-37.1 dB thresh
38 ms attack
200 ms release
+7 dB level
+6 dB knee
|0.0-(-)4.5 dB send*
0.0 dB return
|1.59 Hz speed
0.0 dB level
8.0 ms predly
117 Hz low. C.
3.7 kHz hi. C.
0.0 dB level
Fig. VI. Line 6 HX Stomp patch.
It is recommended that performers plan enough time to practice with the click track and to use the midi click track to customise their own version. Properly setting the type of sound, subdivisions and volume of the click track will facilitate the performance.
Markers were added to the session in order to facilitate the rehearsals.
The sound types, distortion and levels used for the synthesiser and the e-guitar are quite sensitive. The musicians and the conductor must be aware of this issue and try to achieve a good integration of these sounds with the other instruments.
Lanzilotta, Pierluca (2015): L’“elettronica” dans l’oeuvre de Romitelli. Professor Bad Trip, Audiodrome et An Index of Metals. In: Arbo, Alessandro (ed.): Anamorphoses. Etudes sur l’œuvre de Fausto Romitelli. Paris : Editions Hermann, p. 189-202.
Decroupet, Pascal (2018): Le son kaléidoscopé. La révélation audible du son incurvé dans “Professor Bad Trip Lesson I” de Fausto Romitelli. In: Dissonance No. 143 (September 2018), p. 15-23.
Michel, Pierre (2005): Professor Bad Trip (Lessons I, II, III). In: Arbo, Alessandro (ed.): Le Corps électrique. Voyage dans le son de Fausto Romitelli. Paris: L’Harmattan, p. 51-78.
Romitelli, Fausto (2005a): Produire un écart. Entretien avec Eric Denut. In: Arbo, Alessandro (ed.): Le Corps électrique. Voyage dans le son de Fausto Romitelli. Paris: L’Harmattan, p. 163–170.
Romitelli, Fausto (2005b): Entretien avec Véronique Brindeau. In: Arbo, Alessandro (ed.): Le Corps électrique. Voyage dans le son de Fausto Romitelli. Paris: L’Harmattan, p. 157–162.
Romitelli, Fausto (2005c): Professor Bad Trip: Présentation. In: Arbo, Alessandro (ed.): Le Corps électrique. Voyage dans le son de Fausto Romitelli. Paris: L’Harmattan, p. 135–138.
Romitelli, Fausto (2005d): L’insurgé. Entretien avec Omer Corlaix. In: Arbo, Alessandro (ed.): Le Corps électrique. Voyage dans le son de Fausto Romitelli. Paris: L’Harmattan, p. 151–156.