P O W E R S   O F   D I V E R G E N C E

N ( A M A R I L L I   –   1 )

b y   l u c i a   d ' e r r i c o

n(Amarilli – 1) is part of the artistic research project Powers of Divergence, generating music performances that creatively diverge from conventional readings of the graphematic codification of musical scores.

     Powers of Divergence starts from the unbridgeable gap between the clarity of the semiotic codification of notation and the irreducible materiality of sound and gesture. It consists in a series of performances, each of which takes as departure point a given piece of notated music from the Western tradition (the "primary work"). An innovative possibility of relation to the musical past is constituted: instead of "recreation", "reproduction", or "reconstruction", performance is considered as a way to reflect, through practice, on the commonsensical limits of the interpretational approach to scores, in order to move beyond them.

     The "primary work"functions as the generator of affects, of vectorial forces that impinge upon the here-and-now of the performer, and not so much as something to be literally mirrored in performance.

     The sonic and gestural outcome is therefore neither the objective enactment of the internal relations expressed by the score, nor the result of the subjective self-expression of the performer. Rather, it issues as a third state, one of suspension and non-representation, where performer and work are mobilised towards each other.

     Performances do not try to approach through internal relations the unity of the sound expressed by the scores, but they constitute musical simulacra (in the Deleuzian sense as formulated in Logic of Sense) that sever the link with such original, through the materiality of sound and of performative gesture. Performance becomes radical departure from the scores taken as starting point. Sounds and gestures are trying to maintain a link with the "original" scores, but a link that is built upon sensation, affect, a form of encounter that exceeds both the (supposed) objectivity of the sign and the (supposedly existent) subjectivity of the  performer. What I am after is, as for painter Francis Bacon, a "resemblance through non resembling means": resemblance as product and not as producer.

     This implies also a work on the methods of performance: a research on how to elude representation and the wielder of the sign (meant, as Saussure explains, as solely mental) through an insistence on materiality, and on its irreducibility, excess and ambiguity. For this reason, my project involves a reflection on notation and on modes of inscription that happen directly in the body and in sound.

In particular, n(Amarilli – 1) addresses as primary work the song Amarilli mia bella by Giulio Caccini (1602). The starting point for its sonic and gestural re-enactment is the extremely forceful rhetorical structure devised by Caccini. Through the use of very simple relations created within the proto-tonal structure of the melody and harmony, Caccini delineates a scenario of extreme physicality, sexuality and violence. This powerful potential, usually blunted by interpretative and executive approaches, is brought to the fore in my practice through sounds and gestures different from those encompassed by the score and by its surrouding performance tradition.

     The song has been divided into six parts, or vectors, each of which portraying a different relation between the two characters in the song: the singing voice (lover) and Amarilli (beloved). The melodic gesture underlying each vector is sketched in the graph, where the two coloured lines stand for the two extremes in the melodic range: the red line is the body singing voice (G note), the blue line the body of Amarilli (D note).

     Each sketch is followed by the corresponding lines in the lyrics of the song, and by its "interpretational" rendition. After that, a verbal account of the rhetorical structure is delineated, loosely inspired by McClary's essay "Towards a history of harmonic tonality" (2007).

This exposition presents two possible sonic re-enactments of the primary work, but most importantly it offers a way of relating to the song that differs radically from interpretation. The material here displayed is open for potentially infinite re-enactments, in sonic performance, but also in any other form of performance and material inscription.

Two possible sonic re-enactment of Amarilli mia bella. The markers show at which position the vectors intersect with each other

vector 1

vector 1

The two notes enclosing the melodic range, symbolised by the red and blue lines, describe a physical space: the D (blue) is the shining, yet distant, world of the beloved one, of Amarilli; the G (red) is the opaque world of the singing persona, its appearance often coinciding with the words “mia”, “mio” [my] etc. The D, first element of difference in the harmonic series, is uncompromisingly other than the G, yet it belongs to some extent to its projection. In the first two phrases, the singing voice is reaching for Amarilli, trying to “throw” melodic phrases at it and to drag her closer to himself. Three times the melody lingers on the D and then it is dissolved into a different descending melody, each with its own varied affective nuance – the first time twisted, as if tormented, in the harmonic contour; lightening up on a C the second time, with the word “credi” [believe], as if illuminating the lover’s sincerity; lingering on the Bb, as if to rejoice Amarilli’s beauty the third time.

V E C T O R   1   –   d i s t a n c e

"Amarilli, mia bella,
Non credi, o del mio cor dolce desio,"


"Amaryllis, my lovely one,
do you not believe, o my heart's sweet desire,"

vector 2

vector 3

vector 4

vector 2

vector 3

vector 5

vector 4

V E C T O R   2   –   d e s i r e

"D'esser tu l'amor mio?"


"That you are my love?"

On the fourth phrase a stronger gesture is accomplished: the pitches presented at the beginning are sung in a descending line, from D to G: with the words “d’esser tu l’amor mio” [that you are my love] the singer is trying to materialise his wish to draw closer two worlds previously presented as distant – the incredulous beloved, the passionate lover.

vector 5

vector 6

V E C T O R   3   –   s u s p i c i o n

"Credilo pur: e se timor t'assale,
Prendi questo mio strale.


"Believe it thus: and if fear assails you,
Take this arrow of mine.

In the middle section, the repeated A conglomerates into a static membrane lying between Amarilli and her lover: the membrane of suspicion, against which the singer continuously directs his voice in the attempt to undermine it with his sincerity. The verbal text itself becomes corrugated by harsh consonant sounds (‘cr-‘, ‘pur’, ‘-mor’, ‘pr-‘, ‘str-‘).

V E C T O R   4   –   l a c e r a t i o n

"Aprimi il petto e vedrai scritto in core:"


"Open my breast and see written on my heart:"

In a recalling of the successful attempt to draw Amarilli close to himself (what happened in vector 2), in the climax of the section the singer starts from the D pitch – the open sound ‘a’ emphasising the pathos of the moment – to descend and break the membrane of doubt. But what happens is the unexpected break not only of it, but of the interiority of the singer himself: the “proto-leading tone” F sharp weakens into a F flat, and the melody leads towards the diatesseron low D. In a “moment of profound erotic surrender” (McClary, 2007, 99), the singer is opening his breast to show the inscription on his own heart. The gesture is of incredible violence: Amarilli has taken the blade of a dart to lacerate the body of the lover, and now she is contemplating his open chest, where the D, perhaps the sign of the possibility of similarity and union between lovers, pulsates.

V E C T O R   5   –   p e n e t r a t i o n

"Amarilli, Amarilli,
Amarilli è il mio amore.


"Amaryllis, Amaryllis,
Amaryllis is my beloved.

Straight after that, the singer starts protruding again towards the distant and beautiful Amarilli. The leading tone that introduces to his own interiority is the starting point of an ascent that happens through three slow and painful fits, the physical effort of which is also underscored by the use of secondary dominants; until he reaches the D passing through the C sharp as if it were a key of access to the interiority of Amarilli.

V E C T O R   6   –   r a p t u r e

"Amarilli è il mio amore!"


"Amaryllis is my beloved!"

The ending figuration, a sort of melisma carrying the liberating force of a conclusive amen in a sacred chant, sees the access to the interior world of Amarilli: for the first time we have a pitch above the diapente, the E, suggesting erotic rapture.