During the last months I’ve had the pleasure to spend some time with Egle Sommacal and there are some thoughts I can’t get out of my head since I met him. The subtractive attitude that let you catch the purest and more abstract perception of emotions, the lacking meaning of words and the fleeting beauty of the sky beyond the city where you live your everyday suburban and domestic life.
When and how did you start playing?
I’ve had a primitive approach to the instrument: my older sister had this classical guitar and when I was fifteen I started playing with it. For about a year I just strummed the low E string, mesmerized by its sound.
I often think to myself that my life would have been better if I'd have played just for the love of it.
It has always been quite hard for me to learn new things! First I learned them the wrong way by reading some little books like "Learn to play guitar in 24 hours" and stuff like that, and then I learned them again the right way.
I’ve always had the allure of written music; I’ve had some theory and solfeggio lessons too.
Which elements do mark your musical language? Which kinds of music do influence your style?
I don’t know exactly which elements characterize my music, maybe the research of the essential, maybe the allure of some harmonic and rhythmic choices and maybe some "landscape" character too, I really don’t know.
As far as I can tell about influences, I’ve always had a great curiosity, I have a great interest ininterest ininterest ininterest in all kinds of music, and I still have it…even if I’m fifty years old!
I’ve always listened to many guitar players (Fred Frith, Marc Ribot, Kenny Burrell, Bill Frisell, Hans Reichel, Gabor Szabo and Jim O'Rourke, John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Sir Richard Bishop etc.), of course, because I’m a guitar player, but it’s been a while since I started listening to music for other instruments: piano, string quartets, several chamber groups, I really enjoy when some contemporary composer experiments with unusual ensembles.
In your music, what is the relation between technique and emotions?
I usually try to express a certain kind of emotion in my song, you know, a mood.
But instrumental music needs a sort of a "technical push", that’s inherent in its nature I guess, especially if you consider "popular" (ethnic) music. And I try to put some technical excerpts in my songs, to make them more interesting to play and to listen. As obvious as it could sound, it’s always a matter of balancing technical skills and feelings, form and substance.
When I think about your music I don’t care if you’re a guitar player, because you don’t show off your technique like some others usually do. It seems to me that you are a composer who plays his own compositions and wants to recreate the original feeling they have on the album.
The things I do are not hard to play, I just try to rhythmically deconstruct the melody rather than accelerate the left hand.
I have great difficulty listening to and playing music with very fast notes sequences because I can’t scan them, and I think this limit of mine certainly influences what I produce.
In my songs there are almost no improvisation so what I usually try to do on stage is to play the best performance to recreate the original composition.
A song like "Nuvole sopra la Bolognina" explains everything you just said, I guess. Am I right?
Yes, that song features a split-fingerpicking pattern: an odd time signature on the treble strings and an even meter on the thumb picked strings.
I took the inspiration by a Philip Glass’ piano score. I played the guitar as if it was a piano.
Egle Sommacal - "Nuvole Sopra La Bolognina" (live video)
I am really into dynamics. In pop music, nowadays, there are no dynamics anymore. Dynamics are, or were, an essential and powerful color in musician’s creative possibilities.
In pop music now we have compressors to create a sound without dynamics, to create the right sound for a car or housekeeping listening experience: a "pianissimo" would be hard to listen, a “fortissimo” would bother your neighbors.
Listening to music is not an exclusive experience anymore, I guess. It’s a sort of an "accessory" experience: we keep on listening to music, but just when we’re doing some other things, and the nowadays music producers know it well and produce music to fulfill this new purpose. And I think we’re losing something.
What is the main peculiarity of your music?
It’s hard to tell...it’s something about melancholy, abstractionism and contemplation (not in a religious way, of course!)
It reminds me of the title of your second record "Tanto non arriva" (that means something like “such a long time”)
Yes, I was thinking about the feeling you have when you wait for something to come, like "Waiting for Godot". Something accomplished in the non-fulfillment.
How do you write your music? What is your creative process? For example, do you start just strumming your guitar or do you write the music score?
I usually start writing a new song with a simple chord or an arpeggio or something, and from that melodic center I develop the whole song and put some other parts together. It could also be an exercise or the part of a score I study, you know, written music that gives me the inspiration. Sometimes I just strum for fun my guitar and the song come out.
Do you usually play for a long time when you’re practicing and composing? For example, Fahey once said that long sessions would lead you into a sort of a trance, enhancing the connection with your own subconscious and rousing your creativity.
Uhm, I’m not doing this practice anymore lately, I’m doing it less and less, and I miss it. But I have a wife and other things to do; I can’t and I don’t want to do my own stuff and give up everything else. Nevertheless, Fahey says something really beautiful and it’s wonderful when it happens to you. Unfortunately it happens to me just once in a while…
Registato da Roberto Passuti
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allo Spectrum Studio, Bologna 2015
Artwork Yard Press
Registato da Roberto Passuti
powered by bandcamp
Do you ever compose using other instruments?
Rarely and with lousy success, but in last few years I really got into writing and composing with "Finale", a music notation software. "Finale" is not really another instrument, I know, but it gives me the possibility to approach music differently, in a more open-minded way. I find it both funny and instructive. To be honest, I don’t use it in a conventional way, but it’s ok…
I recently read Fahey's book "How bluegrass music destroyed my life". That title…reminds me a lot of stuff. Did music save or destroy your life?
I often think to myself that my life would have been better if I’d have played just for the love of it. It would have been better if music would be just an intense but limited passion. Maybe I’d be more satisfied if music wouldn’t be my job, you know, having other interests and play for the love of it.
But that’s not what happened.
Photo of Egle Sommacal - Live @ The House of Rock - Sassari 24.01.2014 by Antonello Franzil