Although it was terribly difficult to tear myself away from watching my beloved Ravens pull out a win against the Denver Broncos, I jumped in the car and made it to the on Washington D.C.’s H Street just in time to catch Cornelius Dufallo‘s performance last Saturday. The New York Times heralded Dufallo as one of the “new faces of new music”¹ and has praised his playing on both his acoustic violin and his electronically modified instrument. Mr. Kozinn was right²; Dufallo’s performance demonstrates the ability he has to show how the amplification and effects add to the instrument’s power and beauty rather than detract.
It takes a special understanding of the instruments and the electronic elements to transfigure this style. It must rise above the use of effects for the sake of effects. The supreme difficulty with using loops, delay, and various digital effects is that there is always a static factor present. There is always the lull of an unbroken line. To this taste, there was not enough sonic difference in the collection of pieces programmed for Saturday’s performance at the Atlas. However, they were all evocative, persistent reveries with an assured Dufallo at the helm.
The evening began with Armando Bayolo‘s “Tusch”, coming from the old German for “toccata”, which loops a rising perpetual gesture that Dufallo juxtaposes in real-time with striking double stops as well as soaring melodic lines.
The inspiration for the piece itself was actually one of Bach’s toccatas for organ (BWV 540), which I discovered while reading through Richard Taruskin’s massive Oxford History of Western Music, which I’ve been reading over the last year. The opening of that toccata has a running stream of sixteenth notes over a pedal point that lasts about three minutes and is the most incredible sonority I’ve encountered in a while. So I thought about replicating something similar for violin and electronics, where the violinist sets up a series of moto perpetuo runs that become a contrapuntal accompaniment to his live playing, which, in turn, changes in mood and, thus, the nature of the piece as it goes along. – from Composer Interview #20: Armando Bayolo by Cornelius Dufallo
The return of the rising gesture towards the end of the piece triggers a driving sense to the end of the piece that Dufallo executes with agile sincerity. It is quite clear that Dufallo knows this piece well and is comfortable in performance. It is less clear whether he needs to be so focused on the equipment directly in front of him. Precisely because Dufallo is such an accomplished and exciting performer, it struck me as odd that he seemed stuck behind the barrier of equipment rather than more physically connected to the end of a piece such as “Tusch.”
Dufallo also performed a selection from his début solo album “Dream Streets.” He told the audience he was inspired by the idea that “you get your best thinking done at three in the morning walking home after a gig.” Out of the sixty minute collection, Dufallo played five movements including: prelude, automaton, carillon, cosmic clouds, and waiting for you.These works for electronic violin never lose those the sounds that listeners love about the instrument. There are low, melancholy passages evocative of those empty, middle-of-the-night streets as well as quick, stratospheric passages. From the first notes of the reverb-rich prelude, that sense of urban, nocturnal loneliness.
If “Dream Streets” is a depiction of an urban sense of nighttime loneliness, Paola Prestini‘s “House of Solitude” takes you far away from the city limits into a place of isolation.
Part I HOUSE OF SOLITUDE takes place within a house where three different video panels project three different video images by German video artist Carmen Kordas. The film and sound world hover between the poles of the essential human predicament: the frailty and folly of everyday existence on one hand, and the attempt to attain enlightenment/divinity, on the other. As the work progresses, the labyrinth of life deepens as the multiple violin identities unravel and the sound scape incorporates sounds of everyday life. It is only with the sound of “the hooves of maddened horses” that inspires the protagonist to live with strength. – Paola Prestini, Composer
The films by Carmen Kordas, now living in New York City, added depth and tension to both “Dream Streets” and “House of Solitude.” Especially in Prestini’s work, the constant subtle shifts in the video propelled the art visually in conjunction with the music. The labyrinth metaphor is aurally present as Dufallo begins with a clear, blossoming melody that spins out to subsequent layers of sound and finally reaches the “hooves of maddened horses” at the end.
It is ultimately clear that Cornelius Dufallo is a gifted musicians with passion and creativity to spare. He is a torch-bearer for mixing electronics and live performance in a way that broadens the power of the violin. While not all moments of Saturday’s program were captivating, there was much that inspired and excited the ear. Dufallo played with conviction and sincerity and created a soundscape for the audience to revel in for an evening.