Composed Bodies: Incorporating Fernando Grillo’s Instrumental Practice through Paperoles

Jonathan Heilbron

Faculty of Arts, Monash University, Australia


The Italian double bassist Fernando Grillo (1945-2013) first achieved public recognition and renown through his technically adventurous and virtuosic performances of the mid-1970s. His idiosyncratic approach to double bass technique, notation, and physical gesture brought him critical attention as well as the admiration of leading composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, who famously referred to him as the “Buddha of the Bass”. While Grillo was highly regarded as an interpreter of challenging solo works by leading composers of his day, including Giacinto Scelsi, Iannis Xenakis, and others, it was in his own oeuvre for solo bass that he most clearly articulated his broader philosophy concerning the unity of sound and gesture. In this paper, I will focus on the challenges and insights I encountered whilst undergoing an indepth study of Paperoles (1975), a composition that arguably best represents his work from his most radical period. In Paperoles, Grillo utilizes an unorthodox visual language to encode a complex set of extended techniques and physical gestures that challenged conceptions of the limits of solo double bass performance. By drawing from emergent theories from performance studies that take bodies and embodied practices as (re)producers and transmitters of knowledge, I aim to locate specific areas within the interpretive process in which Grillo’s and my own performance practices came into a dynamic relation. Through the act of interpreting and performing works by composer-performers such as Grillo, I aim to highlight the potential for complex forms of interpretive and bodily agency to emerge – one in which bodies and practices collide, coalesce, cleave, and wrestle, in turn shaping and transforming these practices in new and exciting ways.

 Keywords: Composer-performer, Embodiment, Grillo


Jonathan Heilbron is an Australia double bassist, composer, and researcher currently based in Berlin. He is active in the fields of contemporary, improvised and experimental music. As an interpreter of contemporary music, Jonathan has performed as a soloist and with ensembles across Australia, Europe, North and South America, Asia and the Middle East, collaborating closely with many of contemporary music’s most respected composers and performers. Jonathan’s compositions have been performed across Australia and in Germany, Norway, Italy, Portugal and the USA. Critically acclaimed recordings of Jonathan’s compositions have been released by renowned labels for exploratory music in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Russia and Slovenia. In 2019, Jonathan was a finalist for the prestigious Freedman Fellowship. Jonathan is currently a PhD candidate at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University, where he is researching approaches to interpretation and performance in the solo double bass music of Fernando Grillo.