Salvatore Sciarrino : La Bocca, i piedi, il suono


Sciarrino : La Bocca, i piedi, il suono

Xasax Saxophone Ensemble

Royal Museum, Edinburgh Festival


«Silent ritual for 150 saxes»

Jacques Doucelin, Le Figaro, wednesday november 19th 2003

One had to ignore the sick keening of the Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino for acoustic minimalism to imagine that 154 saxophonists summoned by the Autumn festival under the glass ceiling of the former Orsay train station were going to start a sound hurricane!
None of the bronze and marble statues which sleep in the space redrawn by Gae Aulenti did not tremble in front of this barbaric invasion. Only four professional soloists placed in a square in the center of the space were heard really. 150 young people supervised by their professors of the conservatories of Ile-de-France made clawless paw and mouth to speak as Sciarrino whose 45 minutes work is entitled "The mouth, the feet, the sound".

After a quarter of an hour when four solo saxes play pleasantly with god echo, the army of the children priests, all dressed of black, starts up slowly, stealthily, introducing a mysterious rite hardly disturbed, from time to time, by a key noise, a breath in the instrument. They cause a kind of sound fog, the secret of which only Xenakis had, on which four adults prick their interventions relayed by an amplification system.
This premiere is a kind of game, in all acceptions of the word, the slightest merit of which is not to have associated for several weeks these young amateurs with a project which visibly  motivated them ...

even if they hardly contributed to develop their musical technique: they had the illusion to play in the premier league. The composer's other hobby being to imitate the hermit crab by borrowing the name of a colleague or a more famous work than his, will make the demonstration, from this evening at 8 pm, in the village hall of the Musée d'Orsay with songs by Scarlatti, Gesualdo and other Mozart, he transcribed for saxophone quartet.

NB by XASAX : it seems that the author (of the critic) confused the microphones installed by the television broadcast for sound recording with an amplification system reserved to the soloists  ;o)

Concerts Sciarrino at the Festival d’Automne in Paris, Musée d’Orsay 2003

Xasax, Royal Museum, Edinburgh

A serious blow: some of the over 130 professional and amateur saxophonists about to take part in their moment of theatrical magic in Salvatore Sciarrino's The Mouth, the Feet, the Sound. Photo: Raphael Pierre

Something very strange started to happen in the middle of the Xasax Saxophone Ensemble's performance of The Mouth, the Feet, the Sound by Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino.

The four players were positioned at four corners of the vast atrium of Edinburgh's Royal Museum, with a 1,000-strong audience sitting all over the floor, between fishponds, and on balconies. The sounds the quartet produced were completely unlike anything associated with the conventional repertoire of the saxophone: a mist of quiet clicks and calls replaced recognisable notes, creating a mobile, indefinable musical texture.

But then, from one end of the hall, an even weirder noise began, like a torrent of raindrops or a distant flock of birds. It was as if the building itself was responding in sympathy with the saxophone quartet, echoing and amplifying these tiny sounds, and haunting the space.

The reason for this acoustic phenomenon was revealed in a moment of theatrical magic. Dozens of saxophonists, previously hidden off-stage, solemnly started to process through the space, flooding the hall with their own sounds, a collection of sighs and breaths. Over 130 saxophonists, each clad in all-black outfits, made a pilgrimage through the museum following a continuous, circular course around the quartet and through the audience.

The saxophones invaded the hall with their gentle sounds and gestures until the very end of the piece, when the quartet suddenly played loud, repeated notes, abruptly silencing the chorus of saxophones.

The Mouth, the Feet, the Sound was a bewildering piece, both musically and theatrically - more an installation or sonic environment than a conventional performance - but the Xasax's interpretation, with professional and amateur players from all over Scotland, was a unique, beguiling experience.

Tom Service    Thursday August 26, 2004    The Guardian

Edimburgh International Festival Review

The mouth, the feet, the sound

Royal Bank Lates

Music Salvatore Sciarrino (b. 1947-) La bocca, i piedi, il suono per 4 sassofoni contralti e 100 sassofoni in movimento: il cerchio tagliato dei suoni per 4 flauti solisti e 100 flauti migranti. [Composed in 1997]

Performers Xasax Saxophone Quartet: Serge Bertocchi; Jean-Michel Goury; Pierre-Stéphane Meuge: Marcus Weiss + 150 other saxophonists

Venue Royal Museum of Scotland

Address Chambers Street

Reviewer Pat Napier

There is a medieval palazzo outside a remote Appenine town, now a modern art gallery, which has, on the crown of its hill, a modern sculpture garden. On a hot, drowsy September afternoon, with not another soul around except ourselves, it was a magical place to be, to hear the warm breeze gently ruffle the tree leaves and rustle through the harsh blades of spiky, dying grass and to see the sun's subtly-moving impact on the sculptures.

Why should I talk about this? Because, in the late-night environment of the enormous, cool, airy, simpatico space of this Victorian museum, alongside hundreds of other people, all these memories came flooding back, to be experienced anew. Sounds and feelings I hadn't known were there suddenly took on a new meaning. So what was this powerful music that could reawaken such palpable memories of glorious sun-filled solitude?

Sciarrino's rarely performed La bocca, i pieidi, il suono (or as billed in the Festival programme The mouth, the feet, the sound) and more properly,  La bocca, i piedi, il suono per 4 sassofoni contralti e 100 sassofoni in movimento: il cerchio tagliato dei suoni per 4 flauti solisti e 100 flauti migranti was that trigger, from the pen of the man who's equally as obsessed with pure sound as was Morton Feldman last week in his organ work Principal sound.

Born out of an unorthodox 'outside the box' musical education, there came to Salvatore Sciarrino an outrageous, fantastical, thrilling idea: how about doing a totally over-the-top, event? How about gathering together a mind-boggling number of players, finding a suitable space and letting the sound rip? Or should I say ripple? The emphasis was not on noise but, conversely, on getting as close to quietude and silence as was humanly possible - on an enormous scale. This piece is not his first but one of a growing thematic idea. Last night it was the turn of the saxophones: four alto saxes, later joined by 150 saxes of all descriptions, whose owners took them on a four turn passeggiato around the main hall.

Until they arrived, it was possible to close one's eyes and experience pure sound as the sound waves rippled out into the huge air space, first singly then in growing steps as all four alto saxophonists (placed to form a large central 'sound box' across the Hall) created their minimalist conversation. Their playing pushed their instruments to the very bounds of possibility, in both sound production and technical boundaries.

The musicians on the move created another powerful memory - of imagined sounds, again in an open air Italian environment. This time it was an abandoned, crumbling village on Montefeltro's hillside where a scuplture summer school had been run and was now closed for the winter, leaving several large works outdoors for later visitors to enjoy and experience. Again, the soft wind, the rustlings but now joined by the shuffling, dsusty feet of long-dead ghostly villagers quietly talking to each other.

This was music composed from a deeply analytical mind reflecting on sound and how it disperses into its environment, matching the science of sound with emotions aroused by its impact on the listener's mind, while the body exists in its physical environment. It was not music to entertain an audience. Indeed, several were later heard to make remarks ranging from " I could hardly stop myself from laughing out loud", to "hugely disappointing" and "It was an opportunity missed." Here. when asked what he meant and what he'd expected he said "I don't know and didn't know what to expect but...".

It was music to have come to having done the homework; meditative, contemplative music. Solitary, introspective music, best listened to alone. Brave, inspired music to present to an audience. A once-in-a-lifetime experience to look back on and ask others "Were you there? I was - and it was unforgettable".

© Pat Napier 24 August 2004. Published on

17 Novembre 2003 - Paris

Compte-rendu : Salvatore Sciarrino's iridescent silence

On my right: Romains of the decline by Thomas Couture; on my left a little farther and slightly hidden: the Funeral in Ornans by Gustave Courbet. In the center, a square of saxophonists (the excellent members of the ensemble Xasax, Serge Bertocchi, Jean-Michel Goury, Pierre-Stéphane Meugé and Marcus Weiss) distributed in the impressive nave of the Musée d'Orsay designed by Gae Aulenti. To the program: La Bocca, i piedi, il suono (the mouth, the feet, the sound) by Salvatore Sciarrino.

The first part of the work is faithful to the spirit of the composer and testifies of the aesthetics of extremes dear to the Sicilian. Space and height, light and darkness, wall and horizon, illusion and reality, to resume the categories expressed by Sciarrino, conjugate harmoniously. The sound is indissociably connected to its part of silent shadow : the composer speaks in his text of introduction of an "acoustic magic" appearing in the "limits of silence" -  like time in space.

Then little by little a rustle on the verge of the unspeakable comes to hit this precarious balance set up by the quartet of saxophonists, overlaping it to better underline the impact. 150 saxophonists (professors and pupils of academies and music schools) invest from then on the public space, diluting themselves in the audience, and declining on a pianissimo mode sound effects of great and voluntary simplicity which at no time will make screen.

The wandering of the saxophonists evokes naturally a funeral procession, calling back in it the tragic circumstances (as the composer states it : an "almost" mortal accident) - In which consisted the end of the work. Yet for Sciarrino this "almost" mortal is naturally synonymous of life as well as the "limits of silence" are with him synonym for the borders of sound. The "iridescent" and mesmerizing silence of La Boca, i piedi, il suono constitutes an irrefutable proof of this. Mysterious and solemn.

Erik Verhagen

Salvatore Sciarrino, La Bocca, i piedi, il suono, Paris, nave of the  Musee d’Orsay, le 17 novembre 2003

Martedì 18 Novembre 2003, 18:00

Yahoo! Notizie     Spettacolo    


Sciarrino in the Musée d'Orsay

(ANSA) - PARIGI,  NOV 18th - A "river of sound and persons " crossed the Musée d'Orsay yesterday, chosen by the composer Sciarrino to present his work. For the first time in Paris indeed "The mouth, the feet, the sound", a work composed in 1997 for 4 soloist saxophones and 150 'moving' saxophonists. The public, sitting on the ground between the sculptures of the museum, found itself taken, as Sciarrino wanted him, in a musical universe first of all built around the voice of the 4 sax soloists, then invaded by a long procession of 150 instrumentalists.


    Salvatore Sciarrino and origins of the avant-garde

Since 2000 and the wide cycle which the Autumn Festival dedicated to him, we discovered in France the Sicilian composer Salvatore Sciarrino and the impact of his music. In 2001 and 2002, then again in this November 2003, the Autumn Festival went on broadcasting the work arisen from the imagination of this fascinating solitary and self-taught musician, away from the world and from fashions. "I opposed my music to the commonness of my personal history and of my figure, he writes. I made of the isolation a method choice, I abandoned the metropolis for shadow. To be self-taught, not to be a product of the academy constitutes for me a beautiful merit. Also, my career happened in spite of myself ".
His last musical delivery leans on the exclusive use of the saxophone.

Two concerts are proposed to the Musée d'Orsay: the first one in the Nave on November 17th, both at 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm for the French premiere of La Bocca, I Piedi, Il Suono designed for four saxophone soloists (the group Xasax) and 150 amateur saxophonists, the second on the 19th at 8 pm for the premiere of three recent pieces written for the same Xasax, flexible saxophone ensemble formed in Paris in 1991. On the theme of the origins of the avant-garde, the Musée d'Orsay proposes  a huge programmation according to which we shall meet indisputable interpreters (the pianist Alan Gampel, the violinists Denis Goldfeld, Shlomo Mintz and Raphaël Oleg, the quartet Psophos) in composers' works which contributed to change the course of musical creation in the XXth century such as Debussy, Ives, Strauss, Webern or Berg.

November 17th at 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm, then on November 19th, 20th and 27th, on December 2nd and 4th at 8 pm, on November 25th and December 9th and 16th at 12:30 am to the Musée d'Orsay. Phone. 01 40 49 47 50.

Le Courrier (Geneva) - Published :  March 16th, 2002

The restuck ear, or the reappropriation of sounds
FESTIVAL · From today and until March 24th in Geneva, the Archipelago festival will try to reconcile music, noise and sound, so often separated.

Anatomy of sounds: mouth and feet, too...
MEETING · Three concerts and a public meeting for this "revelation" of sound material by Salvatore Sciarrino.
With La bocca, i piedi, il suono (1997), interpreted on Sunday, March 17th in 18, the pitch is given. The musical universe of the Sicilian composer lands in Geneva in a jingle of saxophone keys. Around a quartet of saxophonists, here Xasax ensemble, a hundred of other saxophonists, each carrier of " small sounds ", come and get involved with the first group. Obviously, the sound of instruments and interpreters is part of the music.
On the same Saturday, some of the "Pagine" the composer transcribed for saxophones will be also played by Xasax. A concert, on Tuesday, March 19th, will allow to listen to several works of his chamber music with the group Alter ego. Pieces from the 80s are programmed, Le ragioni delle conchiglie, Spazio inverso, Trio n°2, and Sonata III for piano as well as more recent music among which Omaggio a Burri and a premiere entitled Immagine Fenicia. To complete the portrait which is dedicated to him, a public meeting with the composer will take place on Tuesday, March 19th.

SILENCE IS GOLD " I am here and now: what do I hear ? All my compositions come from this question ". The works of Sciarrino are as the receptacle of the secret sounds, those whom we hear even in the silence of an empty room where "our breath still refuses us the silence". Sciarrino often seizes the ambiguity between a furtive, bare music, and the exhibition of mechanisms producing sounds. It is particularly clear with La bocca but also Omaggio a Burri.
It is the work which becomes attached to the materiality of the sound more than to the musical form. The color, with him, is not conceived as a simple sound effect, but determines the structure of the music. In this approach often described as intimist, Sciarrino questions constantly relationships between sound and silence, looking for the balance between rustles and sound brightness.
Born in 1947 in Palermo, he began to composing self-taught, though afterward completing his formation. Later, he himself taught in Florence, Milan and Perugia: he will give a composition class during his stay in Geneva , at the Conservatoire.


Town Hall of Plainpalais: sunday March 17th, concerts at 6 pm and at 8:30 pm; tuesday March 19th, public meeting presented by Jacques Nicola, 19 hours and concert at 8 pm.

Saxophone, instrument du 3ème millénaire; cette journée réunira les classes de saxophone des quatre écoles principales de la région (Amiens / Saint-Quentin / Abbeville / Beauvais);

à l'Auditorium Henri Dutilleux, 3, rue Frédéric Petit à Amiens (80000), (tel : 03 22 91 57 83): Les Saxophonistes de la région,

- se produiront pour faire entendre leur vision de la modernité, sans distinction de style, et dans les contextes les plus variés;

- pourront visiter une exposition d'instruments, accessoires et partitions;

- pourront participer à des Master-Classes de quatre professeurs renommés:

*    Jean-Michel Goury, professeur au CNR de Boulogne-Billancourt,

*    Mareus Weiss, professeur à la Musikhochschule de Bale,

*    Pierre-Stéphane Menglié, professeur au Conservatoire de Lausanne,

*    Serge Bertocchi, professeur au CNR d'Amiens, qui sera l'hote et l'initiateur de cette journée.

Dimanche 25 mars 2001 à 18h30 au Musée de Picardie, 48 rue de la République à Amiens (80000), (tel: 03 22 91 36 44):

- en première partie, Concert par Xasax, ensemble de saxophone modulable formé de quatre musiciens qui joueront trois oeuvres récentes dont ils ont fait la création: Approaching the Arches of Corti de Elliott Sharp (rock), Equis de Bruno Giner (contemporain), et Mobile Herbarium de Barry Gury (jazz);

- la deuxième partie réunira Xasax et tous les participants à cette journée pour la création francaise de - La Bocca, i piedi, il suono - une oeuvre pour quatre saxophones solistes et 100 saxophonistes en mouvement de Salvatore Seivarrino; (ce compositeur italien, qui a été l'hote principal du Festival d'Automne à Paris a choisi cette formation gigantesque pour un pari osé: écrire une musique tout en douceur, qui permet de mettre chacun en valeur, ainsi que l'espace particulier du Musée de Picardie);(renseignements: Bruno Caudelle au CNR d'Amiens ou Serge Bertocchi)

La Bocca au Musée d’Amiens, 25/03/2001

“Le saxophone, instrument du 3° millénaire” avec XASAX, ensemble de saxophones modulableMusée de Picardie à Amiens le Dimanche 25 mars 2001 : Création Française de “La bocca, i piedi, il suono” de Salvatore Sciarrino Salle principale du Musée de Picardie à Amiens. Quatre solistes (XASAX), quatre lumières bleues autour du public plongé dans l'obscurité. Une musique toute en douceur, silences et résonances. Une écoute qui se concentre sur l'intérieur du son, sa qualité particulière. Le calme s'installe, s'istille dans chaque auditeur.Apparaît la rumeur, indistincte au départ, mais qui s'amplifie peu à peu à l'extérieur de la salle. Comme un élément naturel : pluie, grèle. Et se met à "parler", comme une foule. Et tous ces saxophonistes qui entrent et se répandent dans la salle, apportant chacun une petite lumière, une petite note délicate... Pendant que le quatuor élabore une sorte d'horloge musicale en spirale autour du public, chacun des cent "saxophonistes en mouvement" se mue en véritable soliste pour les quelques personnes qui l'entourent. Au terme d'une grande accélération, tout se fige. Noir. Le voyage insolite en compagnie de XASAX, Sciarrino, des saxophonistes de Picardie et ... du silence, aura duré près de quarante-cinq minutes. Qui s’en est aperçu ?



La Bocca ...

Sat 19 Jun 2004     email articleMusic

Graeme Kay

AS LIVE PERFORMANCE experiences go, having more than 150 saxophonists tootling quietly past you in their stockinged feet must rank as one of the more bizarre. But that is what’s in store for Festival audiences on 23 August, when France’s Xasax Quartet performs the UK premiere of The Mouth, The Feet, The Sound, by the Italian avant-garde composer Salvatore Sciarrino - with a little help from a small army of recruits from all over Scotland.

Sciarrino’s intriguing 40-minute work was last performed in November 2003 at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, as part of the Festival d’Automne: the event’s artistic director for music, Joséphine Markovits, maintains a constant idea-swapping dialogue with Edinburgh boss Brian McMaster.

The piece is designed for performance in a large, open space; in Edinburgh, the ideal venue is the Royal Museum, with its central atrium and tiered galleries. McMaster feels that Sciarrino’s saxophone extravaganza should appeal to the Festival’s cultural commandos - open-minded people willing to risk a late-night fiver to experience something new.

Sciarrino was born in Palermo in 1947; as a child he was a gifted painter but was drawn increasingly to music. Through study and intense experimentation, he rose to become one of the most respected Italian composers and teachers. Like Luigi Nono, he’s driven by a desire to innovate: his output embraces all genres and his music theatre pieces in particular veer towards the surreal.

But to realise The Mouth, The Feet, The Sound, there remains the not inconsiderable problem of recruiting 150 saxophone players to join the Xasax Quartet. That task has fallen to Josef Pacewicz, associate principal clarinet of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and a wind teacher at the RSAMD in Glasgow. "The first 50 were fairly easy," he says. "I started with pupils and colleagues. Then I widened the net to include teachers, amateur players and some jazz musicians from Perth and Dundee.

"The members of the Xasax Quartet will be placed at separate locations around the museum," he explains. "They play for about 20 minutes: it’s minimalist music - small, short sounds - and the score is detailed and specific. Then the saxophone ‘choir’ (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes) begins a kind of amorphous drone made up of contrasting effects; nothing’s very loud.

"Sciarrino is quite specific about the order he wants things in, but ultimately he’s looking for a blended sound. You shouldn’t be able to pick out individual saxophone voices, at least not till the procession."

The procession is, in a sense, the climax of the piece - the moment when more than 150 men, women and children will emerge from the shadows, unshod, to move and play among the audience. With so many points of musical focus circulating around the ears, the effect is sure to be stunning. The task of marshalling the saxophone choir falls to four specially recruited ‘managers’.

"Towards the end," adds Pacewicz, "the offstage performers stand still and the sounds build up; at the end the quartet are almost in unison. They play eight repeated block chords, in harmony - then suddenly stop."

Pacewicz is excited about the project and thinks audiences will enjoy it too. "I hope Sciarrino will help bring the possibilities of the saxophone more into the public eye," he declares, "and perhaps even into the more mainstream programming at the Festival."

Home    Tuesday, 14-Dec-04 

About the Festivals

The mouth, the feet, the sound 

Wed 25 Aug 2004

The mouth, the feet, the sound

Susan Nickalls


THE prospect of 150 saxophones playing in the atrium of the Royal Museum was clearly a tantalising thought for the hundreds who lined the galleries and floor. However, the first 30 minutes were something of a disappointment, given that they were dominated by just four of the instruments.

Placed in the middle of the atrium, the saxophonists from the Paris-based ensemble XASAX produced a series of subtle noises which were almost indistinguishable from the creaks of the building and the sound of distant fireworks. A composer well-known for the lyricism of his electronic music, Salvatore Sciarrino here opted for creating acoustically what he could have produced in the studio. Silence also played an important part and the piece was quite sparsely scored. Although very minimalist, the effects were mesmerising as the saxophones fluttered like butterflies and honked like geese.

These sounds were picked up by the 150 extras, who made an appearance 15 minutes before the end, meandering through the audience making the occasional percussive noise on their saxophones. The soft padding of all these feet added yet another acoustic dimension to the composer’s curious soundworld.

In many ways, despite the large forces, this is an intimate work that would have suited a less dramatic setting so the delicate nuances of the music could be fully appreciated.

The XASAX saxophonists are technically superb and conjured up some ethereal sounds while maintaining focus and concentration. But ultimately as a musical event, this concert was disappointing, with the feeling that a lot of effort had been expended for very little effect.

A Classical Conditioning

What does and does not put young people off classical music

Cara Bleiman

This year's Edinburgh International Festival saw the return of the popular Bank of Scotland 'Lates' concert series, with all tickets at £5, in addition to an excellent half-price ticket policy for those under 18 or in full-time education. But is cost really the greatest barrier in making classical music accessible to young people.


A rare performance of the Italian avant garde composer, Salvatore Sciarrino's 'The Mouth, the Feet, the Sound'- one of the Royal Bank Lates - might be considered a more laboured attempt to revolutionise the classical concert concept. With a troupe of 150-strong saxophonists - each individual player producing barely audible 'effects' - to accompany the Xasax saxophone quartet, Sciarrino's piece will certainly be an exciting and unique experience for the performers and audience alike.