1000 Dischi Per Un Secolo: an espresso with Enrico Merlin

Image Credits: Enrico Merlin © Barbara Rigon

April 14, 2021

1000 Dischi Per Un Secolo is the title of a monumental volume published by Il Saggiatore and written by Enrico Merlin, musician, composer and writer. With this work, Enrico tells a century of music through his ears, his eyes and his sensitivity, with the mental openness towards every musical genre typical of those who are fueled by curiosity and passion. 

> Ivano Rossato 

Where did the idea of creating such an ambitious volume come from?
I wanted to try to tell a part of the history of Western music from a different perspective, which was neither that of the music critic nor that purely of the musician. And after all, if you think about it, not even the strictly historical or social one. I wanted to try an integrated approach to try to guide old and new lovers of various music, to discover new horizons.

I started with a brief selection of titles that I considered important for various reasons, comparing myself with hundreds of specialized texts and articles. Then I moved on to the formal organization of the data and the writing of the individual cards. In this phase, as you can imagine, many things changed and there was a constant rethinking and reorganization. The selection process took a couple of decades. Writing about two years full time.

What did an album have to have to be included in the 1000s?
This is the point where perhaps the volume stands out from many other apparently similar publications. These 1000 titles were not selected on the basis of their popularity, ranking success or audience of fans, not even on the idea of a social or historical cornerstone (or not only). All sound works had to be innovative in at least one of the six parameters (plus one) that I identified as determinants in the musical construct: melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre, dynamics, expressiveness (this is a term that can also be seen as attitude, approach, matrix …) and the seventh is added in the interaction of the parts, that is the interplay.
In your opinion, what is and what shouldn’t be a review?
Given that I would not define the cards in the volume as “reviews”, as I consider them more than small listening guides, in them I try to describe what happens in those sound works based on the aforementioned parameter scheme (which gives life to a hexahedron, in my case in the shape of a star of David). The review is often more the work of a music critic or art critic and I respect very much those who know how to do it well. In that sense, I believe that a review should tell us about the work. In short, I see the reviewer as a sort of cultural mediator who, thanks to his competence, helps us to develop an intimacy with what he is talking about. And, depending on his training, he can be more or less technical, touch on more aspects of a social, cultural nature, etc. But what I believe should be fundamental and always present is the competence of the writer.
The 1000 albums you included in the volume embrace the most disparate musical genres: what is the common denominator that binds all “good music”?
Anton Webern said that every human work, not only in art, should be characterized by coherence. I think it is important to keep a close eye on this element. And above all, don’t let your idea of consistency betray you in your judgment. Only if we are familiar with a certain style or language will we be able to perceive its coherence and balance. Following this methodology, I hope to be able to increase competence and critical sense in those who will do me the honor of dedicating their time to reading.
Are there any “second thoughts”? (album that you would not insert anymore or, more likely, others that you regret not having inserted?)
Ah that’s a continuation. Ha ha ha… But that’s right. Such a book cannot and will never be a static photograph. I think if I wrote it today there would be at least 5% (which may seem little, but it’s still 50 titles) that would probably be different. I keep discovering things, things new to me, even from 1937, which I think should be disclosed. For this reason, even on social media I often present records that I think are interesting.
Do you think that being a musician is also the necessary condition to be able to fully enjoy a work or is it sometimes “distracting”?
It is an absolutely unnecessary condition. It is when we have to do a specific analysis of a musical construct; but I am convinced that the work of art communicates not only at the level of structures, just as it is not necessary to be a director to understand if a film is well constructed. Artistic sensitivity can be innate, but it can always be developed. And in any case, musicians don’t buy our records, or almost never, ha ha…
And then let’s remember, as Albert Einstein said, that if you can’t explain something in a simple way, it means that you don’t really understand it either. Finding way to explain how Schönberg’s serialism works even to those who lack music theory, is a nice challenge and necessary to face, maybe by using metaphors and puns. Only in this way will it be possible to make it clear that, at times, what we say we don’t like is only the result of not understanding or not knowing.
The pandemic is putting a strain on a world of music that had previously seen its paradigms questioned: what moves do you think should be done at the level of the “musical community”?
A question that takes a long time to expose theories, projects and possible solutions. Unfortunately, cynically, I have to admit that a true “musical community” does not actually exist. It is a world in which most of the protagonists are quite self-referential and little inclined to sharing. When it happens it is often purely instrumental, suitable for the realization of common musical projects and only for the time in which we are considered useful for that circumstance. It’s sad to admit, but my forty years of experience has led me to these conclusions. Rarely do musicians we involve in various activities turn into true friends or two-way collaborators. I believe that in order to really start talking about “musical community”, one should start from basic concepts such as reciprocity, authentic respect, containment of opportunism, willingness to dialogue, acceptance of biodiversity. All common aspects in teamwork in other activities and disciplines.
For this, personally, I continue to do independent dissemination work. I like it and I think it is important to share and spread the work of colleagues who have impressed us with their works. Instead, that is a real community, there are the real music addicts, in fact fans and patrons who have supported us in this difficult period, in some ways unprecedented. I must say that never as in this year have I felt the closeness of music lovers, who have supported me by buying books, records and with spontaneous donations. Here, this speech somehow, I think is related to your previous question.
1000 Dischi Per Un Secolo: an espresso with Enrico Merlin copyright Jazzespresso 2021.
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