“Are there any Neapolitans in the audience?” Piers Faccini’s question might seem out of place when put to a small audience in the basement studio of Modern Art Oxford, but reflects his upbringing and his eclectic musical tastes. Born to an Italian father and English mother, Faccini was raised in France speaking all three languages. He met his musical partner for this gig, the cellist Vincent Ségal, while at art school in Paris in the ‘80s. The two have recently released an album together that reflects their shared passions and influences, a strong relationship that was reflected in this gig.
Faccini’s background has imbued him with a dedication to a range of musical influences, from Neapolitan traditional song to blues from southern USA. His linguistic fluency allows stunning flexibility between songs, his Creole accent and imitation of early twentieth-century popular Italian singers being particular highlights. While often branded as ‘world music’, an unfortunately common term, Faccini’s aims clearly follow his passions. He has sought out music that he enjoys and has reproduced it, incorporating a plethora of elements into his own songs, creating a rich and diverse style. His soft voice carries great expression, allowing clarity and diverse timbres to reflect the lyrics and beautifully complement his and Ségal’s performance.
Ségal’s cello playing was especially interesting; in such an ensemble you might expect a cello to perform an accompanying role, but this was not the case. While at times Ségal added a bassline, the majority of his performance acted as a second vocal line, in duet with Faccini; the guitar was the accompaniment to both voices. While his attempt at a baroque passage lacked technicality and phrasing, Ségal’s skilful application of extended techniques – especially harmonics, modal microtones and pizzicato with multiple fingers and hands – created rich and fluctuating timbres, often unrecognisable as a cello, mistaken for a flute or voice. The impeccable musicianship and close performing relationship between the two performers – a skill often missed – made for a musically-pleasing performance by two passionate musicians.
Early on in the gig, Faccini made the point he felt very strongly about live, acoustic performance because ‘we don’t listen anymore’. The concept of ‘liveness’ - as opposed to ‘mediatisation’, the presentation of music through technology – is ideologically loaded, but is increasingly politicised in the anti-technological quest for authenticity. For Faccini, this was manifested in the absence of amplification during this performance, allowed by the intimate environment. He got the audience to ‘listen more’ by following art music traditions of distancing the listeners and establishing authority through solely illuminating the stage area in a black room and implicitly demanding silence. For me, this was not the ‘natural’ or ‘traditional’ context for the duo’s style of music, but a politically fabricated construct derived from canonical traditions, a desire to situate their music in an outmoded concert practice. In doing so, Faccini is not engaging more with the audience, establishing a reflexive musical product, but situating his music outside its context, a highly problematic act.
However, the practical sonic bonuses of acoustic music greatly benefitted the duo. My musical tastes arise almost entirely from the sound qualities of certain timbral and tonal combinations. While timbres can often be accurately reproduced in recording (and often generated through electronic means) the beautiful and rich overtones that arise from certain intervallic and harmonic relationships are often missed through the sampling processes used in digital recording. When these overtones matter to the music, particularly when longer tones are used, they can only be fully experienced live. Altered by the room and accuracy of intonation, the acoustic phenomena that arise from skilled musicians allow a more visceral and engaging musical experience. This makes a difference in Faccini and Ségal’s music because of their close relationship. The range of the cello and Faccini’s voice were very similar, allowing rich potential for dissonance and complex harmonic interplay. This part of the performance is lost on their recordings, but is not so aligned with Faccini’s ideology.
Despite the appearance of this rather lengthy rant about false ideology, I really enjoyed the gig. Faccini and Ségal clearly love playing together, and the music that they have chosen and written. That kind of enthusiasm, combined with high levels of musicianship, is infectious and makes for great music. Faccini and Ségal were good performers, both when playing and captivating the audience with anecdotes during interludes. Their music is widely available (in recorded form) and is worthy of an engaged listener.