Fiorenzo Bernasconi, you have many interests such as cinema, writing, photography and music. In this field you have dealt with teaching writing a handbook for basses published by Bérben. You have also produced a successful CD with Luciano Lutring studying the work of some writers and poets-songwriters. Last but not least you have created a new musical instrument. Would you like to tell us about this invention?
I am fascinated by the musicians who have an original approach to their instruments using it as their personal mark. I’m thinking of Dizzy Gillespie’s swollen cheeks (and his periscopic trumpet with its bell pointing to the sky), the disabled hand of the guitarist Django Reinhardt, Thelonious Monk’s stiff and straight fingers playing on the piano board like sticks hitting a vibraphone.
I am son of the early 60’s, influenced by the creative excitment present in the huge number of small workshops, which in Varese (my birthtown) mainly made leather goods such as shoes and bags. This was a sort of imprinting for me with its originality and dynamism. But let’s speak about the instrument. The starting point was a rigorous concept of symmetry and an accurate ergonomic study: practically I thought of two soundboxes next to an organ keyboard, joined by bellows. The potential users are the pianist and the organist, who can propose a similar playing technique to the one of their instruments. The accordionist may also play it provided that he is ready to use his left hand in the same way as the right one.
It could seem rather easy, but I suppose there have been several problems to solve.
Of course. As everybody knows in theory things look easy but when you get to the practice… I designed in the old manner, with a drafting machine, a rubber and a pencil. Meanwhile I carried out the prototypes of the details using a modelaircraft construction technique. The sound boxes, with just drawn keys, were the first to be born. They were joined together by the bellow of an old Settimio Soprani accordeon. The next step was the mechanism of the keys, much more complicated than the accordion one. The choice to create a keyboard with an inclination such as to avoid the extreme bending of the wrist also caused some problems. At this point I was stuck: on one hand the project was defined on paper and supported by the constructive details, on the other hand I was aware that I couldn’t carry out a working instrument on my own. At the beginning of 2008 I got in touch with Teknofisa, a small start-up workshop in Vercelli with very skilled staff, who can produce and repair accordions. Partly because of the enthusiasm of the young firm and partly because of the convincing project, the cohoperation was good from the beginning and it leaded to the construction of the of the first model of Bercandeon (from the beginning of my surname Ber- followed by the pianist and composer’s surname Caniato -can, my partner in the venture) in July 2011. Three years may seem a long time, but it isn’t considering that the instrument was built beside the firm’s daily activities and making several exclusive parts.
Could you be more precise?
The mechanism I had suggested was interesting but difficult to insert because of its size, so we had to go through some attempts and mistakes before finding a satisfactory solution. The keyboard wasn’t put on a side pallet anymore. The key movement is very easy in the accordion: a central fulcrum with a key and a valve at both ends. In the Bercandeon the keys are put on an aluminium surface in tight spaces. Another problem was caused by the low notes, which came out with difficulty. The sound quality turned out to be good. Being bigger and heavier than an accordion it was difficult to play it while standing and the straps (one for the right hand and the other for the left hand) hampered the hand movements on both keyboards. Despite this it was possible to play the instrument and it was used in public for the first time in September. Meanwhile two simplified models were being produced. They were ended in December 2011.
Some of my musicians friends were eager to try the instrument: Marco Zappa, a popular Swiss songwriter; Paolo Paliaga, a jazz pianist and composer; Mauro Coceano, a pianist and accordionist from Paris; Alberto Bazzoli with his quartet and Thomas Balin from Trieste. These musicians’ suggestions have been useful to improve the original instrument.
And here we have the final version after a couple of years. Can you describe it?
The Bercandeon is an aerophone, free-reed, chromatic instrument. It has 34 keys on each side, with an extension G-2, E+1, for the left hand; G0, E+3 for the right hand. The extension goes up or down of an octave using the seven registers. The tripod supports the instrument through the frame, which is set exactly in the centre, between the two bellows. The straps have been eliminated and substituted by two cavities that rest on your thighs, which open or close the bellows. This allows an excellent weight distribution and free performing techniques. Thanks to the two keyboards the musician can choose between a piano performance (considering them as a sort of single keyboard split in two parts) and an organ performance (with two separated keyboards).
In the beginning the instrument was played in a recording studio, in particular to create soundtracks for short films. Now a new Bercandeon with seven registers and internal microphones is being built. Recently there have been the first live performances of which I include two examples: the live soundtrack of the short film Tempus fugit…
and the interpretation of Dark eyes.
This article is available also in: Italian