The Malta Independent 9 May 2021, Sunday

To The beat of a different drum

Malta Independent Saturday, 23 July 2005, 00:00 Last update: about 8 years ago

Josanne Cassar speaks to percussionist Renzo Spiteri about the original new work he will be performing during Contact Dance Company’s upcoming show

When I interviewed Renzo Spiteri three years ago, he had just performed in Malta with Senegalese artist Mousse Ndiaye in Ritmi.

A lot has happened since then, most notably two endorsements by international manufacturers of percussion instruments.

Explaining the significance of these developments, Renzo says that basically, “Toca Percussion Company wanted to take me on, so that I exclusively use their products. Then Paiste, which is one of the leading Swiss companies which make cymbals and special effects for percussionists, also gave me their endorsement. It’s great, they ship you things for free, and you just have to use them, so you become an ambassador for their products. Endorsements come about because people will have followed your career and want to be associated with you. It is, ultimately, the recognition of one’s work. Even musicians abroad do not find it easy to get endorsed, so I’m very pleased."

After years of collaboration with others, Renzo’s focus over the last few years has been on his solo career and performances, working on his own projects and getting people on board. Working with foreign artists and his constant travels have also helped him to grow and develop as an artist.

Locally, he has formed a successful artistic relationship with Francesca Abela Tranter, the director of Contact Dance Company, with whom he has been working for the last three years.

“We’ve performed abroad in quite a few countries, most recently in Cyprus. Francesca had already seen my work while I had been following her dance company, which is one of the few in Malta completely dedicated to contemporary dance. There was always this wish to work together, which started with a short piece and developed into a longer piece. I think our work fits together a lot and we’re looking forward to showcasing this work in Malta. I’m eager to see the reaction. I’ve added a lot of new instruments in my work, integrating more and more raw materials. I use a lot of what I call ‘found objects, either recycled materials or something which I've found around me which I think will have an interesting sound. For example, terracotta flowerpots make a beautiful sound, so does conduit piping, and those large H2Only plastic bottles. When people listen to the recordings they would not know that the sounds came from these objects… you really can’t tell. The flower pots, in particular, have an oriental sound and melody, like an ethnic instrument.”

Renzo has continued to collaborate with many other musicians from countries such as Turkey and Argentina, especially if they are rooted in rhythmic music.

“I now work on two different levels, on world music, and on the other more contemporary setting with people like Francesca. I am also working with composers from Queen’s University in Belfast. I dedicate my time completely to my music; in fact I don’t have time for anything else, even if I wanted to! On a local level, I’m pleased that I’m getting more recognition now. I felt so good after I did my solo performance two years ago, all I wanted was to just fill up 100 seats at St James and I would have been happy – but I ended up having to do repeat performances. Eventually, I had to tell them to stop because I couldn’t continue. I only repeated the performance again during the Caravaggio exhibit when I was asked to do it again. Whereas before, my type of music used to only attract a limited audience, things have now really changed.”

He agrees that, unfortunately, the work of local artists is sometimes only validated and appreciated if they go abroad or collaborate with foreigners. There is the feeling that, “ah then, he must be good…”

“When you bring foreign musicians to play here and local audiences see the collaboration between Maltese and foreigners it is always a bonus, and frankly, it gives it a boost. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.”

Renzo will be performing two pieces live with Francesca’s group. The first piece is made up of three movements – the first two heavily influenced by composer John Cage which he wrote for prepared piano. He devised this by throwing bolts and pieces of paper onto the piano strings to give it an unorthodox percussive sound, and Renzo has adapted it as a piece to be played on percussion.

The third movement is his own

original work.

For the second piece Poetry in Motion, he started with a pencil scratching on paper which was then developed into more rhythmic effects. He also employed his own voice in this. Some pieces were developed while watching the dancers rehearsing, during which he found himself being influenced by their movement and presence.

"The dancers and I have come to know each other quite well because of our travels together, so this has helped our collaboration even more," Renzo says in conclusion.

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