Conversation with Matteo Fargion contd. 6 (cultural identity and background)
cultural identity - background
T: My- the point of me asking all that was er because you know, your music is very you, and a question I wanted to ask was um... you know... like stupidly general question , but what nationality is your music? What are you? What do you consider yourself?
M: Well, I'm completely Italian supposedly, but I left Italy when I was twelve and er ever since then as I get older I have- I feel this kind of romantic pull towards Italy but- I haven't been to Italy for quite a long time now but- my children have Italian names but they don't speak Italian, I speak Italian fluently but with an English accent, and um this whole thing of identity is very interesting because I- you know, I lived in South Africa for ten- ten years, I think, eleven years, um, but I certainly don't consider myself South African although my formative years were there from thirteen fourteen right through school, teenage years, university, and then I left South Africa because it was very clear it was such an awful time in South Africa,um, state of emergency and all that, so my decision was- my choice was either I get a gun and join the revolution or I leave because what the hell am I doing writing so-called Western art music while Soweto was burning, and although my wife is South African, it was harder for her to leave, um, you know for me there was no choice I had to- I had to get out. Sometimes I'm very- I do miss the beauty of the country, yeah , the heat, the beautiful sunshine. I've never had really much contact with... So my identity isn't there so I suppose I'm more English than anything else but I- to be honest I kind of fight that because that- there's a kind of bitterness in London, a cynicism, um, I've certainly taken on board, I think.
T: What, you mean generally?
M: Well in London especially.
T: Amongst composers or musicians?
M: Generally, I think English people are very cynical. And insecure, that's the other thing.
T: Do you think they're insecure?
M: No the sort of apologising English thing, the shy English youth as Chris Newman used to call it, "I'm sorry I'm just writing this little thing, you know, it's shit really" for instance, or, "sorry, sorry" you know everybody's apologising the whole time, the music's for instance, artistically a lot of the work is so apologetic, it's neither here nor there, it's not- anyway that's just a very general slagging off. There's parts of me that- I feel my God the whole Italian roots are just disintegrating you know and I'm passionate as you know about food and all those things, you know, that's my identity in a way, and I feel it slipping from me and I suppose my attempts of- for instance, setting in Italian and stuff are- and I read in Italian, force myself even though it's harder for me to read than English, was to keep some sense of myself, and my dream I suppose is to go back to Italy and live there because i think, the times that I've been I think I do change within a week or two become- I start to think in Italian for instance, and of course that's gonna make me a different person, you're suddenly thinking in a different language. I mean a lot of the music I love, I mean , I love Verdi and Puccini and Monteverdi.
T: But you don't have any big flowing lines, in that way...
M: No, but I have a bitter sweetness of Puccini, I think, my music is generally bitter-sweet like Pucinni. Um, and I find that I put on a piece of Puccini and I immediately get tears in my eyes, it's- I suppose I'm very sentimental. Not that Puccini is always sentimental. If I had to think of music that I really- that really really moves me in that very obvious way it is opera nineteenth century early twentieth century, which is so weird when you think of my music which seems so dry and so impassionate for me a lot of the time, wooden.
T: I was gonna say, do you stick any emotion in your music? Does that have any place whatsoever?
M: I don't stick any in, I think there's a sadness to my music that comes across, I mean, it's rather empty and sad (laughs) even if it's kind of jolly... I mean, not all, but... there's a- no, not nostalgia- I mean, I don't want to be sad. It does sound kind of emptiness, but I kind of like that. Recently, I have to confess, I went to the National Sound Archive and listened to- with one of the worst hangovers I've ever had I listened to four hours on the headphones in Janet's office of a selection of Italian folk music from very weird bagpipes to a lot of screaming er you know- well not screaming but wailing er village ladies, and none of it I felt particularly good or interesting or exciting in any way, I mean I thought I might- but I was very sentimental listening to it. It's just that I think it's not very interesting music to plunder in any way. Although I'm also reminded of the Feldman thing that just because you come from somewhere doesn't mean you're interesting. Interesting point again to do with cornering the market, oh yeah I'm writing like South African music, or... but this whole question of roots and possibly the idea that if I became more Italian I might be able to develop my own language more.
T: I was gonna ask you what were you writing before um-
M: University? Um, well my background is I think I had some piano lessons, I know I had some piano lessons as a child but my parents never pushed it even though I think my father's sister was a concert pianist, she died young, um, but it's not- there was certainly no- I was put at the piano and didn't enjoy it. So they let me stop and it was only when I was thirteen or fourteen living in a small village in Yorkshire looking at one of those catalogues you used to get in those days you know that had everything in them, whatever they're called, like mail order things, and looking at a drum set, and saying can I- I remember sitting on the stairs sulking because they wouldn't buy me a drum set and that- i must have been younger, I must have been twelve, and then they persuaded me that a guitar would be a better idea I think cos they were terrified of the noise for obvious reasons, so I bought a guitar and I taught myself, and then soon started with a band and we used to do cover versions of the Beatles and stuff but I never- I wrote one song then, I remember... But I had no idea what a composer was- you know, my father used to play classical music but I never- I hated it, and right up till then I had bands right through school, South Africa, carried on played the bass guitar, and did one concept album with a drummer friend of mine, um, terrible I'm sure, when I wrote one or two songs, and then started getting interested in jazz, um, but when I went to university I'd hardly heard of Beethoven, and it was only because it was in South Africa and kind of small- not a very big department that they accepted me, basically with almost zero knowledge of classical music, so I was a fast learner, I had to work very hard at the beginning.