An Index of Metals: the final trip

BIT20 Ensemble Artistic Director Baldur Brönnimann is conducting "An Index of Metals" at USF Verftet, Bergen, Saturday March 22nd. Here Brönnimann writes about the sound universe and influences of Fausto Romitelli, and on why this piece can be called the final trip. 

An Index of Metals presents a violent, abstract narrative, denuded of all operatic artifice, providing an initiation rite of immersion and a trance of light and sound.” (Fausto Romitelli)

Rock and electronics. The Italian composer Fausto Romitelli calls his piece  a video opera - but this does not really tell the story of this piece. Romitelli was an outsider within contemporary music. He studied spectral and serial music, but he was always fascinated by popular culture, particularly rock and electronica. The sound of his larger ensemble works have something grainy, distorted and artificial, influenced by the electronic music of the nineties and artists like Aphex Twin, an important figure in contemporary electronic music.


Throughout the piece, the acoustic music, heavily amplified, is melted together with electronic sounds to create a sense of continuous change and a hypnotic sound world. Hence the title referring to the changing states of Metal.


A visual experience. When Romitelli started to write this piece, he knew it would be his last piece. He was terminally with cancer, and wrote at feverish pace to get the piece finished. Some reports say it took him fifty days to complete the work, but some parts were still left in a quite raw state. He was also conscious that he wanted to write a piece that brought his life-long ambitions together: Flux, pop culture, trance, hallucination, sonic transformation and above all an all-immersive visual and aural experience. “Index of Metals” in this sense is not what you normally would think of as an opera - it is an amalgam of images, electronic and acoustic sounds, morphing the written material into an own, new genre.


Crazy Diamond. The piece opens with a slow drone of the opening G-minor chord of “Shine on You, Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd.  This song was dedicated to Pink Floyd’s former guitar player Syd Barrett who influenced many musicians with his new guitar techniques. Barett retired from the band and finally from the outside world, partially due to his drug use, and spent the rest of his life painting at his mother’s house in Cambridge. Romitelli, himself a drug user and close to his death, must have felt a special resonance with the opening lines of the song when he composed “Index”:


Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun

Shine on you crazy diamond

Now there's that look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky

Shine on you crazy diamond.

The final trip. The music moves through different stages of compression, distortion, transformation and through Lekovic’s hallucinatory texts, based on Roy Lichtenstein’s image “Drowning Girl”. In the last vocal movement, “Hallucination 3” (“crucify my heartbeat”), the “Index of Metals" finally becomes what it really is: a contemporary rock opera and the testament of Fausto Romitelli’s final trip.

Baldur Brönnimann,
AD BIT2O Ensemble