I DON’T KNOW.
An essay commisioned by Jochen Meißner
Basically my approach to art is philosophic. Since many years I’m trying to build a very honest and dramatic story, a really serious piece which makes everybody cry, think, regret to be somewhere else. But at a certain point something makes click, and I see the matter from another point of view, the other point of view. At the beginning I didn’t know why. It was a sort of inner exigency, to insert a certain humorous point of view in the piece; it came by itself, with no effort. I discovered some paradoxes in the situation I was trying to describe, and it was done!
Successively, after some years of working in the field of radio I’ve discovered why.
Basically because I’m happy. And I’m really happy. I have a wife, a daughter, a cat, I could have more money, but what I’m earning is enough and I’m even able to eat pizza once a week (at home, because the restaurant is a waste of money), ice-cream every day in summer, and to offer it even to my daughter. Besides until my father is alive we eat wonderful tomatoes, still in summertime, and Italian politics make us laugh a lot (still that we are not taking it too much seriously).
But the most important fact is taking into consideration that we are belonging to an endangered species as everything in the universe. If we consider the fact from this point of view, life can be observed like a game, and we can start making fun of it (until our body doesn’t start aching, of course, then we understand it’s our turn and things get less amusing).
DEATH AND THE TIMELINE
There is a timeline. We can’t neglect this. This timeline has a clock. Death. Death is always present, at any step we make; it regulates the flux of events in the timeline and gives us a proportion. Joy or sadness, heaviness or lightness are only our interpretations of the curves on this timeline … but death is very precise and not romantic at all as it would like to look. Like in Ingmar Bergman’s “Seventh Seal” (1957) where a knight plays chess with Death. This timeline is like a film where all mankind’s images flow constantly; it is a slow-motion river where all men drift shaken by the current, they bounce here and there, they meet, they separate, they go on. Like stains on the water. This is life, but this might be also observed as work of art. In this timeline there take part people’s stories, songs, myths, landscapes, languages, everyday life, fairy tales, faults and virtues … Death is an invisible wire, a hunter which from time to time resets the river-path, renders the film, leaving monuments on the ground behind.
As an artist my aim is to portray this riverrun and to map new territories out of it.
Humor in art is strictly connected with the idea of death behind. Tom and Jerry play constantly with death; Woody Allen is taken away by Death at the end of his funny film “Love and Death”; death appears in Stan and Ollie’s “The Flying Deuces”, where at the end Ollie is killed in an airplane crash but reappears, reincarnated as a horse. Global death is the main topic in “Dr. Strangelove”; and how many bang bum pow crash, ouks with sticks and punches are we used to see in comics strips or in spaghetti westerns, or in cartoons in general?
In the most of my works too there is a recurrent presence of death, showing how fragile we are.
In PRIME ALI – Four Moments In The Life Of A Butterfly (1983/2005) a butterfly’s cycle is represented through 4 actions: Portrait – Life – Death – Portrait. These four moments are observed from outside, with no search for sentimentalism, or romantic interpretation; simple melodies, simple acoustic actions, simple movements of my body performing.; Over the last years I have realized that that the simpler the piece, the stronger it gets. In this way a portrait is a portrait, life is life, death is death; there is no mercy, no judgment; coming back to primitiveness, death doesn’t look that dramatic and it is even possible to insert little frictions which give the piece a certain humor in its background.
In GEOLOGICA (Deutschlandradio Kultur 2007) a male homo sapiens invites a female for a dinner, and for sleeping together afterwards, but she doesn’t accept; at his question “Why?” Her answer “Because …” is interrupted by a tremendous explosion.
In IL TEMPO CAMBIA (S.G. 1997/SWR 2003) in the Hexagram No.7 – The Army, my voice imitates ironically sounds of war (marching drums, trumpets, explosions), like a child’s game … then the real war starts
DIALOGHI (SWR 2008) is a real timeline, an exact clock made up of 50 one minute pieces.
Death is not only the clock of the timeline, it is also one of its inner elements; in this timeline I watch the flowing of mankind’s events, and I start playing with them. First of all I focus on some of its elements, the ones more suitable to me, those ones which in some ways are mirrors where I can watch myself. Then I start making associations, sometimes building up a consequential dramaturgy, more often in an abstract way, taking them out of their context and combining like a music composer (ah, by the way I forgot to tell you that I am a music composer). In this sense many of my pieces are the result of sound-associations.
I use to call this associations sound-metaphors; sound-metaphors are the sound transposition of basic concepts belonging to every person in the world: food, sex, family, work, sleep, dream, relation, hatred, peace, war, game, sadness, happiness, etc. These states of being belong to every person in the world, to animals as well sometimes. But sound-metaphors are not mere descriptions of events or concepts; they work onto a more subliminal level, because they are free associations of elements taken from these states of being; they are more similar to dreams.; When we dream images are combining according to processes the most of times unknown to us (the dreamers); so, what we take is the first level, the one which remains on the surface, i.e. the images association itself; then, of course there is the symbolic level. My sound-metaphors can be conceived like real sonic dreams, sometimes very direct, sometimes obscure.
Sound-metaphors are acoustic games which from time to time output ironic, nostalgic, dramatic, cynical, sweet, scaring and, what I regard as the most important thing, they often portray archetypes, mankind’s milestones. Sound because they use sound as main vehicle; metaphors because they have the power of waking up archetypes.
Some examples of sound-metaphors:
In DIALOGHI (SWR 2008) The Dialogue Between Artist And Society shows a cock in a poultry-yard singing oddly; at the beginning all chickens answer making ovation, successively all the animals from the farm, and at the end all animals from the world. In Ulysses Meets The Sirens the bass tuba dialogues with some police and ambulance sirens. In The Writer Fights With His Paper somebody writes words on a paper and then destroys it.
In IL TEMPO CAMBIA (SWR 2003) the Hexagram No. 6 (Fight) shows a woman eating an apple and declaiming the word “Amore”, while two men are fighting with swords in the background; Hexagram No. 43 (Displacement) plays the filling up of a bottle; as the liquid reaches the top it pours down and transforms into the ocean.
In the Hexagrams No. 53 (Gradual Progress) a horse changes itself into a train.
In SONIC PAGES (Deutschlandradio Kultur 2009) a piano changes into the Berliner S-Bahn.
In SCACCOMATTO (Checkmate, WDR 2005), a chess game is played by a classic orchestra (the Whites) against an electronic orchestra (the Blacks) on a chessboard made up of 64 different natural sounds; the game ends in stalemate, i.e. nobody wins; tradition and future are given the same importance.
In L’ARTE DEL PAESAGGIO (ABC Radio – The Listening Room 2000) a sonic landscape changes slowly into a heart beating.
The most of these pieces deal also with humor; the horse whinnies happily at the end of the piece (it’s just like he thinks “wow, look how cool I am”); police and ambulance sirens make us smile for the absurdity of the situation and the jump forward of many centuries; the beating heart dialogues with wild boars, my daughter, cows, hornets and other elements out of their place. There is one case where this process produces the contrary effect; in the first episode of THE WALBRZYCH NOTEBOOK (video, 2004/2010), an old lady goes to the graveyard to take care to the tomb of her dead husband; but his voice off curses God and all priests roughly in a long monologue in coarse language which has the function of a soundtrack to the film; this friction seemed to me very humorous as I conceived it, but as I started working to the film I realized that the final effect was really very dramatic (also because the film portrays authentic feelings of real people, and not actors).
A frequent music technique I use to build up sound-metaphors is counterpoint. In my poetics counterpoint is a social context, a series of rules which governs and regulates music elements as well as any kind of action.
In music history the melody comes as first; In our western society Greek music as well as the later Gregorian Chant are excellent expressions of well organized systems of melodies; around the year 1000 we have the first experiments of polyphony, i.e. adding a second line to the melody, an autonomous melody which contrasts and plays with the first one. And then a 3rd one, a 4th, and so on … At the beginning of Renaissance we have the triumph of counterpoint, i.e., a system of melodies all connected creating relations each other. As a music technique it develops an horizontal dimension of the composition; melodies move one upon the other creating moments of dissonance which melt down into consonances. Counterpoint contains the premises of a very social game, to which everybody can apply; there is not a soloist dominating all over the other instruments; all melodies are indispensable and have their own autonomy. In this sense, counterpoint might be a strong political mean if basically politics would not mean power. Counterpoint might reflect an ideal model of society where a series of elements are called to collaborate with others; some of them are main elements, others are secondary, but everybody is indispensable to the whole, and has space to develop. It is not casual that J.S. Bach sounds always good, even if played with sitar, electric guitar or African instruments; it is not the same with Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, who develop successively, in the age of harmony. Harmony in fact privileges a vertical dimension, i.e., the development of a melody with the accompaniment of vertical chords, and a bass line. In some way a sort of dictatorship of a boss-melody; harmony was born on the ashes of counterpoint (although counterpoint has never died), and has basically characterized the entire classic period; counterpoint might be compared in some way to jazz music; everybody can jump inside and play, even improvise (and there are many examples of improvised praxis in Renaissance).
Technically my sound-metaphors can be conceived as simple pure actions as well as in more complex cases real counterpoints which regulate the rhythm of such associations; if sound-metaphors might be compared to dreams, and counterpoints to ideal societies, thus every composition becomes a sort of little dream-society, the best possible world, made up of pure actions each other in relationship; the sum of many sound-metaphors / dream-societies, create a bigger composition which represent a global context. The most of my works follow this series of basic rules; many independent compositions which become also essential parts of a wider project. IL TEMPO CAMBIA, DIALOGHI, SCACCOMATTO, THE FRANKENSTEIN SESSIONS (Deutschlandradio Kultur / Wurfsendung 2009), are some examples of global contexts, but we might also create global contexts gathering together MATERPIECE, LABIRINTI (Deutschlandradio Kultur 2003/2005) and GEOLOGICA , three works which faces the themes of mankind’s development (MASTERPIECE compares the work of art to a city constantly destroyed and rebuilt on the ruins of the previous one; LABIRINTI hypothesizes [assumes] that once we have killed the monster inside the labyrinth, the real labyrinth is everywhere outside, i.e. the place where we live, GEOLOGICA is a delirant [deranged] hypothesis about the beginning of the universe, starting from a not too pacifist meeting between homo sapiens, homo neanderthalensis and australopithecus in a cafe in Paris in the year 50050 before Christ).
In some way the most of my work gets the inspiration from Carl Barks’ Donald Duck strips, Fabrizio De André’s song-lyrics, Sergio Leone and Stanley Kubrick’s films (but of course not only); all these artists portray in their own way society with humor, cynicism, surrealism, sometimes pietas (in the ancient sense of the word, i.e. comprehension of mankind’s troubles – which doesn’t mean to justify them); the good and the bad are on the same level, both accepted as constituent elements of society; thus, in my pieces sound and noise, sweet and harsh, joke and seriousness, everything is accepted, like in Molly Bloom’s yes (accepting whole history), because everything makes sense, even the non sense; and this produces humor. Other sources of inspiration can be found in Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (dreams engraved on layers of mica inside a mine where a blind miner works all day long to find the right one are in some way similar to my sound-metaphors); I could think the same for Alejandro Jodorowski’s psychomagic actions, sorts of art-actions symbolic and therapeutic.
In a recent interview I’ve been asked where a composer can get the inspiration nowadays, after the death of important maestros like Nono, Berio, Maderna etc. The interviewer is a friend of mine, so, he is aware of the provocation, otherwise I would have already barked at him and bitten his leg. My answer was:
I’d like to add to the list of the passed over artists: John Lennon, Italo Calvino, Frank Zappa, Stanley Kubrick, Andrej Tarkowski, Nico, John Cage, Gesù Cristo, Michael Ende, Eric Satie, Morton Feldman, James Joyce, Carl Barks, Simon Jeffes (Penguin Cafe Orchestra), Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh, Rick Wright (Pink Floyd), Herny Thoreau, Alfred Hitchcock, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Iannis Xenakis, Paul Minns (Third Ear Band), Fabrizio De André, Julian Beck (Living Theatre), Henry Partch, Sergio Leone, Giacinto Scelsi, Walt Disney, Lucio Battisti, Johann Sebastian Bach, Igor and Arnold, Henry Purcell, Charles Monroe Schulz, Nick Drake, Pasquale Panella, Cornelius Cardew, Mahatma Ghandi, Pearl S. Buck, who knows how many of them I am forgetting…
Amongst the alive I’d like to suggest: Bill Viola, Don Delillo, Atom Egoyan, the overtone singers from Mongolia, Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young, Alvin Curran, David Sylvian, Bob Dylan, Brian Eno, Alessandro Bosetti, Andreas Bick and Hanna Hartman, Robert Fripp, Robert Cahen, Peter Gabriel, Stefano Bollani, Heiner Goebbels, David Bowie, Elio, Wu Mali, John Zorn, Liliang, Il Teatro del Carretto (Snow White), The Residents [?], Wim Wenders, Gillo Dorfles, Roberto Castello, Ambra Senatore, Bud Spencer & Terence Hill, Christina Kubitsch, Helmut Ohering, Riccardo Tesi, Le Cirque Invisible, Massimo Vitali, Tom Friedman, David Pullman, Anthony Braxton, Metamorphosis, Sun-ra, Alejandro Jodorowski, Robert Wyatt, Faust, Massimo Lenzi, Captain Beefheart, Peter Hammill, etc. etc.
I would also suggest the woods in Dolomites, the seaside at the sunset, Taiwan cicadas, the frogs living in a little pond in Wiepersdorf in the south of Berlin, the sounds of foot steps in the Polish peninsula on the Baltic Sea – a sound similar to the tape moving under the heads of a Revox, traffic listened at the feet of the Brooklyn Bridge (see Alvin Curran’s Maritime Rites), children’s and elderlies’ voices, French girls’ voices, Polish language, smiles of people from Sri-Lanka, British English and American English, the smell of fresh pomarola (tuscan tomatosauce), of the bread coming out of the oven, a child’s birth, living and (maybe) dying …
WHY DID I DO IT? NOW I KNOW
Radio is only one of the great many of fields where these concepts can be performed. But the fact is that radio too, like all other disciplines has become very serious, i.e. it has become a medium to express high level thoughts, sometimes too high, thoughts that only little elites can understand, especially in experimental radio; like in contemporary music. My idea is to bring back contemporary art in general to represent people, not lowing down the cultural level of the means, but heightening up the cultural level of the audiences. Andrej Tarkowski said that the artist work for everybody, even when nobody can understand him. But for pursuing this aim I (I underline I because it’s a very personal path), I need to involve people’s themes and portraits, as they are, without pretending, without false presentation; nevertheless, I’m allowed to connect freely these portraits and create sorts of frictions generating images; in these images, very often abstract people can recognize and mirror themselves, like in dreams.
So let’s accept all the food we have at our disposal in our short life. Let’s enjoy happiness and sadness as two indispensable poles, around which everybody of us spin constantly.