How the HN System® Works


At a certain point in my life, I felt the need to define a way of creating music (an operative style more than an aesthetic style) which would enable me to compositionally organise, directly from the written page, not only sound events but also the experiential intensity(*) with which to tackle these sound events at the moment of their performance.

My musical imagination tends to proceed not through the creation of sound images but rather through the creation of irreducible units of sound images and performative images. I am not interested in the acoustic fact in itself; I am not interested in the executive act in itself(**). I am interested in the dynamics of the relationship between these two. And these dynamics, in their turn, do not interest me in themselves but in the possibility they have of arousing in the listener – and in the performer – a palpable sensation not only of the here and now but also of a subtle and profound affective resonance. The compact union of performative act, sound event, perception of the here and now, and affective resonance, constitutes what I call an experiential image.

In order to compositionally organise such experiential images, I needed first of all to create a notation which did not concentrate exclusively on the audible form of musical ideas. The system of notation I devised in response to this need is the methodological fulcrum in what I then called HN System(***), a practical platform for the articulation of my compositional imagination as well as my rapport with the interpreter.

The rapport consists in this: rather than instructions to produce a given sound, I instruct the interpreter to carry out a physical process – that is, to perform a physical action and to do it in a certain way, according to parameters expressed in graphic symbols in the score. In practice, the interpreter is given instructions to produce a certain sound, but the details of these instructions concentrate more on the bodily act and its perceptive and proprioceptive dynamics  than on the resulting sound. Sometimes the details are numerous, web-like, intrusive. On other occasions, however, the score is limited to a few symbols that concisely specify the practical work to be developed with the interpreter: practical work that is always a fundamental moment in my modus operandi and has as much to do with the action’s strictly bodily aspects as with its subtleties connected to the interpreter’s perception of sound and of his or her own actions, in the here and now of the performance.

HN is in fact the abbreviation of hic et nunc, or ‘here and now’.

I control each sound event with precision because I radically tamper with its emission and its articulation. But in reality, the aim is to succeed in controlling – or, more than to control; to interfere with – the experiential intensity of the interpreter’s executive act, in an attempt to raise this intensity to its highest pitch. This heightened excitation, in its turn, is the vehicle for the attempt to stimulate – by means of a process of experiential contagion – the maximum arousal of intensity in the listener’s receptive action.

Admittedly, a sound event experienced with great intensity by the performer is not always experienced by the listeners in the same way.

The gamble starts right from the most concrete moments of the compositional invention; from the conception of this or that sound event, or this or that physical action. To put it simply, it is necessary to devise truly beautiful actions and sounds: actions and sounds which in themselves emanate a force so great that they dictate to the composer the forms which they require in order to really shine, so great that they completely satisfy the formal and conceptual needs that existed before their conception, so great that they arouse an enthusiasm for performance in the interpreter and, finally, so great that they seduce the listener and their sensual and emotional attention.

Crucial then is a sort of projective impetus on the part of the interpreter, his or her ability to remain free of the snares of bodily concreteness which gives life to the sound event. (The perfection of this ability is one of the focal points of my work with the interpreter). Crucial too are the scenic (or, equally, anti-scenic) circumstances in which the performance takes place. For example, I hardly ever use a stage. And, to give another example, I usually work in almost complete darkness in order to discourage the literalizing and banalizing tendency – “Oh, so that’s what he’s doing!” – of visual perception.

But what is crucial above all is the exact moment in which each sound event occurs, or rather what precedes it, what follows it and what happens simultaneously to it: this or that sequence, this or that polyphonic overlap or non-overlap of audible events stimulate the emergence of this or that specific and precise symbolic load. And it is exactly this symbolic load which constitutes the intensity of the listening experience.

By ‘specific’ and ‘precise’ I do not mean that the symbolic charge must be reducible to a specific and precise meaning, a meaning which can be circumscribed and explained. 

That would be of little interest.

The symbolic load of an aesthetic bomb is its ability to trigger explosions of meaning. The more uncontrollable, defiant of explanation, and fathomless they are (as when you find yourself between two mirrors facing one other), the more significant they are.

To conclude: the parametric fine-tuning and then the performative success of each executive act are important. Equally important, however, is the compositional organisation of the entire device, the spatial and temporal distribution of the explosive charge.

This is my hypnotic attack for the listener’s sake.


(*) Experiential intensity, not necessarily expressive intensity. Experiential intensity – that is, the interpreter's intense perception of the here and now: the burning awareness of one’s own and others’ performative action, of the unfolding of sound, of the listeners’ receptive concentration – can be ignited by an ‘extrovert’ pressure which produces ex-pressive intensity but it can also burn inwards as im-pressive intensity or embody infinite other forms of intensity that it would be futile and, indeed, impossible to classify. 

(**) This is not gestural music! I am not interested in the visibility of the physical action. I am interested in its intensity. I am not interested in sounds which reveal to me the physical actions which generated them – a banal burp would be the perfect response for this purpose. I am interested in sounds which reveal the intensity of those actions, whether ‘extrovert’ or ‘introvert’. At times, it is by hiding it in the secrete, subterranean passages of sound that the action best reveals its inner force. And to hide the action in the depths of sound, sound must already be endowed with its own profound intensity, which resonates beyond the action that creates it. At other times, of course, this encryption does not seem necessary. At yet other times it is by stripping the action completely, revealing it entirely in sound (the scream is the clearest example of this), that, paradoxically, the action gets out of the way, allowing its pure intensity – when it exists as not all screams are intense – to command the listener’s attention.

(***) The invention of the HN System dates back to the early 1990s and its name appeared a few years later. The system is in a state of continuous change, reflecting the transformations in my compositional requirements.

Copyright © 2006 Dario Buccino

Photo © Marina Luzzoli