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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Domo Arigato, Franco Battiato

One great thing about making friends from other continents (¡Hola, David!) is discovering just how provincial the United States can be. Half the time, a household name in Europe gets zero recognition on these shores, and vice versa. Case in point, Italian crooner Franco Battiato, who if you've heard of him at all you probably know from the cover of "Ruby Tuesday" off the Children of Men soundtrack. But his crossover career has taken an exceedingly strange path, from prog rock to new-wave synthpop via the classical avant-garde. The nearest point of comparison I can think of in Anglophone rock would have to be Brian Eno, with his Roxy Music/Devo/U2/Music for Airports career, if only Brian Eno had also been the lead singer and songwriter of all those bands in rapid succession, while simultaneously aspiring to a relatively mainstream concert-music career. According to Wikipedia, which never lies, Battiato's L'Egitto prima delle sabbie actually won some kind of Stockhausen prize for piano composition, for reasons that will probably be clear as soon as you listen below. I couldn't find a thirty-second soundbite online, but when I finally got ahold of the piece, I discovered that thirty seconds would hardly do the piece justice—it's a rich and subtle work, and it demands the same kind of deep, deep listening as a Stockhausen piece. It also takes up one whole side of the record, so it'll take forever for the sound file to buffer in this widget, but patient listeners, as usual, will be richly rewarded: (Note that it's easy as heck for a clever surfer to download this file rather than deal with the widget, but I'm begging you not to, just because the cost of importing the album via Amazon or your local indie shop is shockingly low, and anyway the second piece on the record is basically every bit as good as this one and completely different.) But this doesn't give you a hint of Battiato's (if you love cultural stereotypes) very Italian gift for melody. It's a gift and a curse, I guess, based on my YouTubing of his pop and classical material—in his most web-disseminated work, anyway, he's the middlebrowest artist I've ever seen, seldom slipping below a certain level of craft and seldom rising above a certain set of musical conventions. Just in case you thought I was kidding when I talked about posting clips from the Eurovision Song Contest, here's "I Treni di Tozeur" by the 1984 Italian delegation, Franco Battiato and Alice, demonstrating a very different side of Battiato's compositional career: They came in fifth. If the music seems corny or superficial to you, dude, you haven't watched enough Eurovision Song Contests. Most of the contestants don't, say, quote Die Zauberflöte. (Battiato's oeuvre is studded with classical in-jokes; he also has a techno song called "Bist du bei mir," and a cover of "Beim schlafengehen" from the Four Last Songs.) Here's the band that beat them out for first, Sweden's Herreys, singing "Diggi-loo diggi-ley": Heh.

8 comments:

Marc Chan said...

Thanks for posting the Battiato! Definitely falls under the wish-I-had-written-that/ why-hadn't-I-heard-about-this-before category(s). It's like Sunday in the park with George meets Morton Feldman. =) Great blog by the way - thanks again!

Marc

Anonymous said...

Dersu said....

You forgot to mention his unique personal style and amazing contributions to contemporary dance!!

Straussmonster said...

If the music seems corny or superficial to you, dude, you haven't watched enough Eurovision Song Contests.

I was in Helsinki in 2006 when Lordi won Eurovision. It was one of the most hilarious and awesome things I've ever seen, to be honest.

anon said...

Marc Chan: You're right there is more Morty there then our beloved king of all inter-galactic media.

Eurovision has niche for picking interesting talent, even if it's controversial. Anyone remember the Teapaks?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_h_rLKTLvs

Maury D'annato said...

Our Cleveland Correspondent and I were watching Music Idol from Bulgaria (local version of Eurovision? I'm not extremely versed in Eurovision) and found this delightful clip of Nevena Tsoneva singing, lessee if your comments section will accept this: Излел е Дельо Хайдутин, which I assume is also atypical. Tried to imagine an American singer pulling out Barbry Ellen. Anyway it's kind of fantastic, freakish overuse of reverb notwithstanding. The ornamentation--so piquant!

Maury D'annato said...

"...an American singer" on American Idol is what I specifically meant.

Grrg said...

My friend Talia is being flown by her employer to Belgrade(!) to report on this years ESC. She's already picked her favorite: Ukraine FTW!

Dan Johnson said...

Thank you Marc! Anon, in my defense, I'll point out that sometimes Stockhausen sounds an awful lot like Feldman, too. What's more, this reminds me a lot more of Stockhausen's minimalist-influenced output—e.g. Stimmung, Klavierstück IX—than what I've heard of Feldman's, which is not so repetitive and not so obsessed with resonance and overtones. But you're right, it's a very Feldmanesque gesture.

And Eurovision... holy crap. Lordi is completely awesome, yes. I love how they are both the Europop gold lamé kitschfest and its exact opposite.

I have a vague recollection of the Teapaks controversy and gotta say I like the song. Are they the Fishbone of the 21st century?

Ukraine, if I were to judge every nation based solely on Eurovision, would be my favorite country in the world. What's with her vibrato? Is her voice sped up or something? Whatever the case, I love it. I'm 100% with your friend on this one, Grrg. But do you recall Ukraine's other grand Eurovision accomplishments?? Greenjolly! And this last year, the Ukrainian pick was one Verka Serduchka, of whom I would never have heard except I stumbled upon her whilst googling Greenjolly but boy howdy am I ever glad you did.

And finally, Maury, one thousand thanks for that Bulgarian clip. I'm guessing, based on brief glimpses of logo, that this is the same 'Pop Idol' franchise that spawned 'American Idol'? But—damn, that girl SANG it. A bit surreal to see a bit of the Sublime overcooked in pop-contest fashion. Note to Paula Abdul: American Idol needs more monody. Also, drones. Let's get on that.