Chrome Attic: an interdisciplinary and multi-media approach to interpreting and performing chromatic keyboard repertoire from 16th & 17th century Italy
Chrome Attic is an interdisciplinary and multi-media project combining my research, harpsichord performance, and photography in a scholarly and performative exploration of chromaticism and chiaroscuro, the dramatic use of light and shadow, contrasts found in both music and visual art. I focus on 16th and 17th century harpsichord and organ repertoire from Rome and Naples, highlighting works by Trabaci, Mayone, Macque, Frescobaldi, and Michelango Rossi. I seek connections between keyboard chromaticism and its vocal counterparts, especially the evocative chromatic madrigals of D’India and Gesualdo. Similarly, I draw upon the bizarre and innovative chromatic pieces for viol consorts that flourished under the patronage of Cardinal Barberini. I find parallels between radical musical devices that exploit a bold harmonic language and the use of tenebrism, dramatic illumination that evokes the intensely-charged emotionalism in the paintings (as in the lives) of Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi. I create and present new, contemporary photography using chiaroscuro techniques. Through my engagement with split-keyed chromatic keyboards, including a sabbatical visit to the impressive Studio31+ in Basel, Switzerland—which houses a fascinating collection of modern reproductions of early keyboard instruments, each with more than twelve pitches to the octave (19, 31, or more than 38 pitches)—I consider how these revolutionary and daring experiments in micro-tonality and multi-tonality influence our interpretive decisions when choosing workable tuning systems for performances of these chromatic compositions. I contemplate on what is gained or lost in translation by performing on enharmonic keyboards versus fully chromatic ones with split keys, each option rendering intervallic relationships differently. Bringing historically informed performance into the 21st century, I embark on a hybrid approach to music-making, employing microtonality and a visual lens. In this way, artistic interpretation and musical expression become multi-dimensional, producing a rich and colourful soundscape for performer and audience.
Conference description: The Sixth Annual Conference of the School of Performing Arts, University of Malta, considers hybridity in relation to performance, in particular the making, reception, and study of performance as practices emergent from heterogeneous sources.