INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST: PIER PAOLO BERTOLI
Aggiornato il: apr 14
Hi, tell us a little about yourself, your studies, your passions.
There´s a song sang by Billie Holiday titled “Me, Myself and I”, I don´t know if you know this one, it´s just a kind of funny rhythm changes love song. I have been carrying it along with me for a while now. It´s a kind of earworm that comes up whenever I have to start speaking about myself, it sounds in my mind and makes me laugh. Because still I am kind of resilient when it comes to make up a story about myself. I have the feeling I am going to lie, and of course I am going to lie, or at least to tell just part of the truth. But ins't it always this way? Well, there you go.
I think I really started becoming freaky about music one day when I first moved to Bologna. We where in a park and a friend played a song for me on the guitar, it might have been the wine, or the song that was really sad, but I started crying honestly. It was like the german says überweltigend (something like if the world falls on your shoulders), it was my Fatima. At this point of my life I was musically disable, not really able to clap a rhythm nor to sing a melody, but I had my path to follow. Since then I have just been learning. I don´t know what I did before, if I have ever learned anything, but it seemed to me music was teaching me all I had to know. I moved to Berlin and started studying with different people, I dug mainly into composition, jazz and literature. I had some really great teacher and still I am learning alongside a great master called Tino Derado who's concretely expanding my ways of thinking and perceiving music. Seriously, many times in the past I thought I could learn anything on my own, after all in the internet you can find all you want and there are tons of books about music and learning. But it's really another planet to learn with somebody who knows. Definitely having a great teacher is one of the best things that can happen to you in life.
Well a part form learning I have been playing lots of concerts. Mainly touring with our band Maurizio Presidente! trough Europe for quite some years. With this band we did really a great job and this group is probably the reason why I became an accordion player. We wrote some very cool music and made many people dance, which is just perfect. Beside Maurizio Presidente! I have been collaborating with many other bands and projects in and around Berlin. I composed music for a puppet theater piece and a storytelling audioguide tour. Published a little book of poetries called A cento all'ora sulla circonvallazione del senso and a short story book together with my girlfriend about Cuba and our times there called Tiquitin Tiquitan.
Right now, after releasing my first single Brucia where I have been experimenting with effecting the accordion and combining sang and spoken words, I am working on some preproduction material for Menifà Trio, Pippo Miller and Duelo. Three projects that we started during those absurd times and that will hopefully survive the pandemic. After that I am also collaborating with Folkadu – a trio of jewish contemporary and old music and with some bands and singer songwriters like Madlen Strange, Claudio Melis and Currao for their song releases.
Authors or works of the past from which you draw inspiration or admire.
Starting from literature where, if compared with music, it's easier for me to pick something from the shelf, I would scream three titles: Rayuela of Julio Cortazar, Journey to the End of the Night of Cèline and a collection of poetries of Chlebnikov translated by Paolo Nori called: 47 poesie facili e una difficile.
Regarding music, as I said, it is not easy to choose. I have been always listening to a great deal of stuff and found inspiration here and there. And music it's somehow the most popular of the arts, it belongs not just to those who have the privilege to study and experiment, but literally to everybody. So that a field recording of working songs of the women of Burundi has just so much art and transformative power in it like that Epitaphium of Stravinsky.
So to draw a line I think that what I have enjoyed the most so far is all the music that has some Africa inside: like Jazz, Brazilian Music, many Latin American Music styles, the cuban Rumba and the Toques de Santos, Flamenco, Nord and West African music, but also some of the great songwriters of the last century like Atahualpa Yupanqui, Jacques Brel, Fabrizio de Andrè, Piero Ciampi, Chico Buarque and some contemporary genius like Stefano Bollani and Hermeto Pascoal.
Tell us about those works of yours that you think are important for the language you use.
I would say my most emblematic pieces are Brucia
and Una briscola in Tre.
If I was to draw a line between them, I think it would come to four things: the ex-temporaneus - impromptu poetry, the harmonic research, the necessary confrontation with the tradition of the accordion and its repertoire and the will to stretch and open up the song form.
Whereas Brucia is a call to action, an imperative to live or at least to try to live to the fullness every moment which is given to us, Una Briscola in Tre talks about the longing for Identity, actually more for Identity Cards, that are absurdly necessary to feel like a human to be able to live in this bureaucratic world. (bureaucratic from the French, but also from the German: bereau / Büro: office. So to say: the power of the office, of the schreibtisch, the desk, the stamp, the state representative over the life of other people.)
So to keep on the comparison: with Brucia was an all of a sudden, everything came just in the form it was supposed to be, I had nothing to do, but to unravel it, to give it a shape. Whereas around Una Briscola in Tre I have spent almost six Months. If in the first piece I let myself no restriction and developed something which is rather unique, mixing effected accordion sound, a 5/8 groove played on the instrument and a very open form. In the latter I have tried to write something which is more in the tradition of the french instrumental music for accordion, with some harmonic twists and this sang part which strangely doesn't really play the main part in the song.
Your final thoughts on the current situation of art, how you feel as an artist in this historical period.
Well the question now is if one is supposed to talk about the pandemic circumstances or not?
As, I suppose, we all are aware and touched about the situation we are living in and we might be even a little resistant towards the narratives connected to it. I would try to focus on some other aspects which are as much presents and threatening as the pandemic.
Number one is: assumed that more than 50% of the work of an artist is it's media engagement, which is to say, telling to the “world” that you are still existing and active in your field, the question is: if the average attention time of the people on the internet is between 3 and 15 seconds for each post, why are we giving for free to the careless web all the genius and marvelous things we do? and moreover, does it really make sense? I mean to literally give away the most precious results of our work just for some likes or barely for the people to know that we still exist and do great things?
And number two is: if everybody is always listening to music in every circumstance, music which is recorded and produced to the maximum, let's say music that is perfect: no mistakes, everything pitched and corrected, how is the attention of the people changing? How are the expectations of the people going to a concert transforming by time? Will the public still be able after all to understand what is so great about live music? How long will the people be able to resist at a live concert without talking or watching in their phones? Will there still be a need for live music and musicians at all?
Unfortunately we don't have much power to change all the processes that are taking place, or at least I don't feel so naif to believe that the next platform of awareness will now appear on the web and that everybody will immediately jump on it. So what are we supposed to do? If art would be honest as it's should be, how would everything really look like?