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Sleeping Dogs Lie 06: Walter Marchetti

Natura Morta is the term for still life in Italian; it translates literally as “dead nature.” Marchetti’s eponymous work is based primarily on Vexations by Erik Satie, which Marchetti performed in its 20-hour entirety with Juan Hidalgo. Both vast and very brief, Natura Morta is a continuous variation on a very simple, lullaby-like tonal theme. The one-finger melody is played without accompaniment, while the sustain pedal is held always down, allowing bell-like resonances to accumulate. With such spare music, the listener’s mind inevitably starts to grasp for more, and finds it in the local environmental sounds, which embroider themselves onto the piano line. This has a strong effect of making the listener feel totally exposed by the music, as if many figures were suddenly pointing at him. It is this that Umberto Padoni meant when he wrote of Natura Morta: “on its long wave the listener who has a free consciousness and an open heart is projected into the linear uniqueness of his own identity.” In other words, Natura Morta works to evoke and place the listener within the narrative of his or her own life, highlighting each moment as it passes.

The music possesses only slight melodic interest. Marchetti approaches composition for the piano with the same dead-pan documentary disinterest as he does his many field recordings. But via its almost idiotically simpleminded, distracted lyricism, Natura Morta acquires a fairly intense pathos over the hour that it requires to perform. This pathos builds up in the same way that nostalgia favorably colors so many past events to which one might have been indifferent at the time.

Natura Morta was performed in concert with heaps and heaps of fruits and vegetables piled upon the closed lid of the piano. That probably explains the muted quality of the sound that persists in the recording of that performance despite the sustain pedal being constantly down. Although the produce has metaphorical meaning (the weight of death and life, mingled together), there is also clearly humor in the gesture; this style of irreverence is typical of Marchetti. ~ All Music Guide

01. Walter Marchetti: “Natura Morta” (from “Natura Morta”, Cramps, 1989)

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