Music is one of those creative forces we sometimes barely notice but cannot truly live without. All music, from classical to thrash punk, is a celebration and‚ expression of life… it has the power to bring us to tears, say what we can’t – and, most importantly, uplift us. The music we really love or has inspires memories becomes the unique soundtrack to our lives.
But how demanding is it to work full time as a musician? Italian pianist and composer Paolo Cognetti lives and works in Florence, Italy. He spoke to Creative Mapping recently about his life and work.
“Trees do not bear fruits in every season, why should it be different for human beings? Arvo Part, an important Estonian composer, often says, ‘ Wir haben zeit.’ We have time: especially in this present age, and in western countries we all need to learn again to wait.”
ABOUT PAOLO COGNETTI
CM: Tell us a little about your background?
I was born in Catanzaro, a little town in the south of Italy, but I spent most of my life in Florence.
CM: Where and what did you study?
I studied in Florence at the “Conservatorio Cherubini‚ I got a diploma in piano in 2006 ….. and I’m currently getting a diploma in composition.
CM: Tell us more about your music?
I don’t care about genres, being original, new etc. I just want to be faithful to who I am. I was sixteen, in high school, when I heard for the first time the well-known Greek aphorism ‘know thyself’ and I thought, superficially, it was the simplest thing in the world. It’s pretty ironic that I fully embraced the sense of that maxim, considering it as the most important goal in life.
CM: What do you enjoy most about creating music?
I love the excitement that I feel in the moment of inspiration. I love the strong morality of the writing which always requires difficult choices. I love the joy of contemplation when the job is finished.
CM: Do you ever experience creative blocks?
Trees do not bear fruits in every season, why should be different for human beings? Arvo Part, an important Estonian composer, often says “wir haben Zeit’, we have time. In this present age, and in western countries, we all need to learn to wait. Of course, (unfortunately) sometimes a composer has specific deadlines and can’t afford to wait for the right idea, in this case they should be more like a craftsman and use all their technical skills to create something which, at least, works.
CM: Do you collaborate with other creatives?
Not too often, but I really like it when it happens and I (really) hope the chance to collaborate with other artists will increase in the future. As far as two successful collaborations (of mine): first, in 2009 I composed the soundtrack for a short theatre performance based on “Gomorra‚ (Roberto Saviano) commissioned by the Province of Catanzaro and performed to introduce a convention about the Mafia. And in 2010, I composed the soundtrack for a theatre piece “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof‚ directed by Marco Lombardi.
The work about Gomorra was…. an actress (Daniela Vitale) and myself. After reading the book carefully, we made a selection of excerpts: firstly we de-composed and then re-composed them so to fit our poetic idea. We decided that at the dramatic climax, silence would be the most effective expression. I finally composed the soundtrack, which consisted of mixed recordings of various sounds of Napoli, white noise and a crescendo based on a tarantella rhythm, always being in touch with the actress.
Working on “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”‚ was both simpler and more difficult:
simpler because there was a director and I only had the responsibility of the music; difficult because the show was longer, more complex, for the number of people involved and the very nature of the Williams’ play. After reading the script I watched some rehearsals and then I met the director to determine, scene by scene, each piece of music. Then I composed some sketches and, in conclusion, the final score.
CM: What makes a successful collaboration?
My philosophy for successful collaborations is in one word: selflessness. If you truly understand you are part of a team, you are open-minded and ready to confront, everything works fine, no matter how many problems you come across. If you only care about yourself and want to impose your ideas on the team you make everything difficult and complicated and most likely the collaboration not successful.
CM: How do you promote yourself?
Essentially through the web and live concerts. On my website you can find information about who I am, events, previews of my tracks, links (for example, to my Facebook page), contacts etc.
Is this successful? Well, my piano solo project has just started, so let’s wait and see!
CM: Influences and inspirations when composing?
Everything I listened to, watched, read, enjoyed etc. over the years is taken into account. I don’t think my music (or whoever’s) can be the result of certain experiences. I believe that they act as guides giving us the opportunity to get in touch with our deepest nature. My perspective on life is subtractive, not additive.
CM: What does the creative process involve for you?
It varies a lot, depending on many things. In general, I must say that very rarely do I write something in one go. I usually write a sketch down and then I work on it later (sometimes years later) or I have a sound in mind and start looking for it. But, really, there are no rules.
CM: What’s the behind-the-scenes process?
Well, behind the scenes of my solo piano music there’s just me composing, practicing and performing, the studio where I record my tracks (my promo album was recorded at the Limehouse Recording Studio in London) and, most importantly, all those people who constantly give me their love and support: my lovely partner, my family, my friends and last but not least, my producer Saverio Cresti.
CM: Which of your compositions are your favourite?
This is like asking a mother which is her favourite child: they are different but I love them all. I see my solo piano music as a diary: every piece reflects where I was at a specific time of my life. For example “Immobile di Fronte all’Abisso” (“Still in Front of The Abyss’) is about the feeling of being inactive, incapable and unworthy, like someone who is walking by an abyss thinking about what to do and never having the courage to jump confidently.
“Rinascita” (“Rebirth”), the first track of my promo album, reflects the opposite attitude, a strong wish to put myself out there, to turn into reality a pure virtuality. My solo piano works are about sharing these experiences, even if music itself, in my opinion, cannot convey specific emotions of course. I believe that, in a given spatial and temporal framework, people can relate to it, getting in touch with their personal life experiences (too often forgotten) in many mysterious ways.
CM: What would you do if you weren’t making music?
I’d be an engineer, struggling to figure out what doesn’t work in his life and I would end up pursuing music!
CM: Anyone out there you’d like to work with in the future?
I actually don’t have specific musicians, producers etc.. I’d like to work with – but I’m really interested in film scoring.
CM: Tell us more about your environment and where you live?
I live in a little town called Bagno a Ripoli in the wonderful hills which surround Florence, Italy – just a few miles from the centre. I love this location because I’m close to the city and I can go there really quickly, but I’m definitely not in the city so I save myself from pollution and noise. I get the best out of both situations.
CM: How do you manage your time as a musician?
Depends on the projects I’m working on, the number of students I have as I (also) teach piano in a music school ‚ lessons in Conservatorio etc.. I must say that the city, which is pretty small, is seldom involved in my time management. I usually travel with my scooter, which considering that the public system is really inefficient, is the fastest and cheapest means of transportation here.
CM: What about Florence inspires you?
I live in a peaceful town, its quiet – the sounds of nature (and) the simplicity of the people who live here let me easily reach that particular state of mind from where inspiration arises. In spring and summer I like to ride my bike at the end of the day, and there’s nothing more beautiful and inspiring than Florence’s skyline at sunset.
CM: Any favourite international music events you like?
CM: Favourite films, books, musicians?
This is hard‚ my list could go forever, but if I were stuck on a desert island and I had to choose, say, three films, books and musicians/bands‚
Die Hard with a Vengeance (John McTiernan)
Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick)
Bananas (Woody Allen)
Italo Svevo, La Coscienza di Zeno
Paulo Coelho, Manual do Guerreiro da Luz
Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise
Elio e le Storie Tese
Type O Negative
CM: Finally, your favourite places to hang out?
I don’t have favourite places where I hang out. If I’m with the right people everywhere can work!