IF I WOKE UP ONE DAY
Spatial elaborations from another world.
What would happen if the world woke up one day in a different place than usual?
If I woke up one day is the Living Room column in which six artists will be asked to experiment with new ways of thinking about space, both temporal and physical, in relation to the concept of limits.
single-channel video, 55 min
The Atlantis Project
Atlantis is the emergence of a new soundscape that converses with architectural spaces and its occupants. The title refers to an ‘Atlantis’ that is revealed when the sea of decibels which typically submerges it finally retreats.
A milieu of echoes, reverberations, and the sounds of distorted strings, woodwinds, choirs are some of the sounds employed in this composition. Distant paracusia bounce off the walls and swell in the void of large desolate rooms, or else echo in vast fields, where no being is present to absorb their power, nor are there colored frequencies to obstruct their paths.
In this landscape, rules, proportions, and meanings are shifted, revealing the fragility of an illusion that, when cracked, restores the profile to a void it has shaped.
This work is based on samples of environmental sounds recorded in Milano during the COVID-19 quarantine period. The principal behind these compositions is based on the perception of a new soundscape in which frequencies can be propagated without being obstructed or absorbed. This sometimes results in sound effects reminiscent of choirs or other-worldly musical instruments.
The project’s relationship to architectural spaces designed specifically for the aggregation of people is central: the lack of human absorption creates evocative sound effects. One example of this is the supermarket, where the hum of refrigerators evokes the sound of choirs and pipe organs (module F3C-CH2-F, duration 18 minutes). Recordings of the soundscape outside the studio also inspired a track in which the illusion of arches in the distance emerged thanks to the lack of typical traffic on that particular street (Hscape module, duration 51 minutes).
This visual piece is a metaphor for the sound-dialogue between frequencies, architecture, and mobility (see initial concept). It employs symbols that represent and are associated with the COVID-19 quarantine: these have been stylized and later inserted into a musical score using 3D software to deliberately obtain bugs (errors) during the phase of removal.
single-channel video, 18 min
Alessio de Girolamo & Francesco Oliveto
The conversation between Alessio De Girolamo and Francesco Oliveto takes place in the form of a modern epistolary exchange. The email, as an element which absorbs human time, becomes a means to establish a dialogue, a vehicle wherein the artist and composer reclaim time. That which is submerged, the invisible, finds a physical form in music, which in turns finds words in this correspondence. The Atlantis project is thus sounded out, sectioned, retold, or, in one word, resurfaced.
AdG: Dear Francesco, here begins our conversation about Atlantis, for Manifattura Tabacchi’s digital Living Room.
Greetings to Mara Pizzinini and Caterina Taurelli Salimbeni, in Cc, whose input I welcome. They promoted this pleasant textual exchange – which greatly influenced the start of my research on sound — with Maestro Oliveto.
As I mentioned in our phone conversation, the project is called Atlantis, a title which stems from the reflection on the changes in the soundscape that suddenly occurred.
The vanishing of the ‘colored’ frequencies (noise produced by traffic and productivity), diminished sound pressure, dramatically reduced volume intensity, and the lack of human sound-absorption are like an ocean of sound which has suddenly ebbed, causing something that resembles an ancient city to emerge from which paracusias echo.
FO: Dear Alessio,
I’m very pleased to start this virtual correspondence about your work, Atlantis, and I am glad to share it with our friends in Florence from Manifattura Tabacchi. I thank them for having involved me in our exchange.
Forgive the title of each of my comments, I have written them to help focus my thoughts, and to try to prevent myself from digressing…
The submerged and the emerged
Let us begin with the title, which I find extremely apt: ‘Atlantis’.
The Atlantis-like resurfacing of your piece implies a previous immersion in a mass which had been constructed over the ages. The industrial revolution has certainly contributed to accelerate the layers of
decibels and hertz to which our hearing has become accustomed. Furthermore, all musical literature, whether Classical or folk, has strongly influenced the formation of a collective way of hearing and listening to sound (musical and non). In this regard, I think your work contains a certain ‘provocative’ charge. I’ll explain. Those who, like me, have received formal musical training, build upon (perhaps unconsciously) the collective acoustic cumulus I mentioned earlier. In the traditional sense, the composer, in an attempt to take untrodden paths, tends to write music that is the result (whether intentional or not) of an additive system: that is — personalized musical structures that are the sum of other preexisting forms. Your poetic is, instead, subtractive: it focuses on ‘that which remains’ and, above all, gives voice to the sounds ‘that had been’ but which are no longer audible. Yours is a kind of sound excavation, and in this, your work is provocative: it is a warning which reminds us that the musical composition’s most important function is to enable us to hear all those sounds which almost always slip past us, eluding our perception.
Atlantis reminds me of the page in Marcel Proust’s Recherche in which he describes the moment of remembrance as the sudden emergence of an entire continent that up until that very moment had been submerged. That ‘sea of decibels’, which has been suddenly withdrawn due to the current emergency, perhaps performed an amniotic function as well. It served to feed and preserve all those musical shells that you carefully collect from the suspended beaches of this moment in time.
I reserve the right to make more technical considerations about your work in the next emails to avoid boring you further.
AdG:Certainly, dear Francesco,
the idea of titles to organise our conversation is an excellent one and I, too, will adopt this method.
The messengers of Atlantis
Your emphasis on the comparison with what has previously submerged the landscape and its responsibility for erasing the memory of certain precious sound elements is central to my sound ‘discovery’ [or uncovering], Atlantis. The expression ‘coperta sonora’ [sound-cover] is often used. But in this case, the subtractive method, which you acutely defined, makes me want to use the expression ‘scoperta sonora’ [sound-discovery, or un-covery]. The feeling of surprise and wonder that a discovery can give comes, in this case, from the comparison of sound with architecture that has a ‘new sense’ or that imprison an ‘impotence’ of meaning, yet not as a reaction to the new architecture of a new city. Atlantis is a prelude to its story and architecture, which assumes an archaeological air, is its harmonic setting. We can certainly express a legitimate feeling of ‘horror’ towards the frantic productivity and manic, ‘hyper’ frenzy with which we grew up and in which we had to find a role, despite ourselves. But now, all the techniques and technology used to generate an ontological forgetfulness have become messengers. They are resonant bodies.
I like to think that sounds are Atlantis’ messengers who have come to announce something that requires our imagination in order to generate a new awareness.
FO:Dear Alessio, there are many themes present in Atlantis that you mention. I will try to proceed in order, as far as I can.
Prelude and postlude
The mention of the ‘submergent’ seemed an appropriate way to begin this journey and I am happy that you have underscored it. Your ‘sound discovery’ has to do with what remains, as I said, and I also think that this establishes a new dialogue with the context that surrounds it. The sound-messengers of Atlantis weave a counterpoint between container and content — a mechanism that is not new to the history of music. This modern counterpoint backs your composition in an important tradition. This ambivalence, the ‘provocation’ to capture the glimpses of a new discovery and the puntctum contra punctum between the resonator and the resonant, has inspired the following reflections. My first thought was of Monteverdi who, in 1610, published the famous Vespro della Beata Vergine, a monumental work conceived to be performed inside the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, a site-specific work, as we would say today. Monteverdi sensed, not only that the Basilica of San Marco was the ideal place for the performance of this work, but that its resonant architecture (‘sound box’, as you rightly write) would play an active role in its very composition and would thereby shape the aesthetic effect of the Vespro. It is no coincidence that the Cremonese composer placed musicians and singers in specific areas of the Basilica and they would have to change locations according to the movement performed. Monteverdi built a bona fide macro-instrument, precisely as any self-respecting composer is required to do.
So, your Atlantis, dear Alessio, reminds us that anyone who has to deal with the assembly of sounds, composer or sound artist, must also be a ‘luthier’. It is no coincidence, I believe, that the form of the ‘prelude’ you mention, was born precisely in the same era as Monteverdi. The pre-ludus, originated as a sort of improvised ‘test’ to verify the correct functioning of the instrument in all its parts. This check had a free structure and often also served to prepare the listener’s expectations for the written (and therefore previously conceived) piece of music that was to follow. Thus, the analogies with the period we are living through, and to which you refer in the last part of the email, are several. The passage of this strange moment in time resembles that of a listener who enjoys a prelude, as if waiting for a sound yet to be discovered. But what awaits us, after? What will the ‘postlude’ be? Artists who, like you, are able to interpret all these new sound symbols that the next tide will bring us, will be needed more than ever.
AdG: Dear Francesco,
As always, your words prove very useful in helping me to envision the destiny of my piece Atlantis. Our focus on point and counterpoint, is not a digression and your thoughts on Monteverdi and the Vespro della Beata Vergine (I love the motet VII Duo Seraphim) are quite necessary. The comper’s inclusion of the sacred nature of architecture is tangible in his desire to immerse himself and the public in a sea of frequencies.
In the presentation of the project dedicated to Manifattura Tabacchi I had provided, as required, two listening modalities. The first was for online-listening, recommending a good pair of headphones, or a good pair of speakers so as not to lose sound-depth which is flattened by the mp3 format. The second, was for an acousmatic installation of the work, an interpretation of the pre-recorded samples through an orchestra of speakers installed in an architectural space. The intimate character of acousmatics, which makes the sound experience somewhat independent from the visual one, connects it to a tangible manifestation such as architecture and matter in terms of mass and volumes. It also recalls the reflections previously made on the paracusias, which by expressing a private hallucinatory experience, isolate us from the landscape, which, introjected by means of a ‘psycho-magical’ process, is capable of transforming perception into a proprioception of the environment.
That mysterious city presaged by occult messengers (the sounds of Atlantis) which lives in the immediate guise of present phenomenology, transforms the linearity of time into a cyclicity capable of restoring a revealed space.
On the other hand, with regard to the last part of your email, dear Francesco, or on ‘what will await us’, the postlude, on a human and personal level, I believe that the time to come, like history in general, may be written only with hindsight; all times reside in the present. My wish is for this prelude to be either enjoyed or despised, but most of all to instill a feeling of gratitude for being able to experience this strange period in time, because of its profound spiritual import.
as promised, here are some more ‘technical’ considerations about your work. Since, after all, music is made of and with sounds, it is time we get to the heart of the matter.
De natura sonoris – A sort of analysis
I thought of giving this title to this speech not only in memory of the famous Krzysztof Penderecki, who passed away less than a month ago, but above all because Atlantis, is an investigation into the nature of sound. As I listen to your work, dear Alessio, I am reminded of the analogy Gyorgy Ligeti used when he compared listening to music to a treetop moved by the wind. From a distance we only see a profile with a large green spot in the center. As we go nearer, however, all the micro-movements of the leaves are increasingly intelligible. Atlantis, perhaps more than most works, demands concentration. Your request to use a good pair of headphones or studio-quality speakers is justified, and I would further recommend listening at a considerable volume so as not to miss any of the work’s details. In your work I perceive many elements and musical occurrences that I will attempt to translate by means of musical analysis and within the limits of an email of reasonable length.
Hscape begins with a C-major chord played by a synthesized piano. This is the first generative cell from which everything then seems to derive, the so-called prima res audita ab nihilo, as the medieval masters of the Ecole de Notre Dame wrote. What follows, from the harmonic point of view, is a succession of chords that, at variable speed, emerge from the place where they were generated and then retreat. These chord lumps come in the various configurations provided by the tonal harmony: major, minor, and diminished chords, with major sevenths, minor sevenths, etc. However, these chords are removed from their traditional roles. They are not structured according to the hierarchical logic of tonal music (tonic, subdominant, dominant, etc.). Hscape is reminiscent of a Lutheran chorus from the Baroque era, but with digital sounds, its formal structure is timbrically self-generating: that is, the sounds themselves regulate their arrangement in the temporal continuum.
F3C-CH2-F is built around the interval of the fifth Fa – Do and its inverted Do – Fa counterpart. From the beginning, this interval (which overall fills the octave Fa – Fa) seems to give rise to a ‘space of possibilities’. In the famous second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony a similar thing happens: the descending melodic intervals Re – La – Re immediately define the space in which the whole movement will be articulated. Within this sound region, perfectly consistent with the poetic of the Atlantis project, iridescent timbres emerge which sometimes tend to increase their harmonic gradient and others, on the other hand, to absorb it. In this case, the harmonic parameter cannot be confined within a tonal logic, it is however true that the long chord, which is slowly composed and decomposed, presents all the harmonics of the note Fa of the equal system. While listening, I can’t help but be reminded of John Cage’s famous Organ2 / ASLSP. The piece, performed by an automatic organ specially built and placed in the German church of Halberstadt, is designed to be performed for 639 years and is indeed the longest musical performance ever.
In your work, dear Alessio, however, there is a determining parameter that is often overlooked in academic analysis and that we cannot afford to omit: the space vector. In fact, your sounds have a kinetic force that makes them move not only on the ‘stereo front’ (I refer to the panning effects you use), but also, and above all, in the frontal direction. This ‘3D’ wave motion, if I may simplify, might be further amplified by a correct placement of the speakers in an environment that will house the acousmatic installation. Thus, I suggest well-planned logistics, because in it is crucial to providing the listener with the possibility of appreciating the work in its acoustic and formal entirety.
AdG:Thank you very much Francesco for having embarked upon such a precise and careful analysis. I am flattered by the references that these two compositions of mine have evoked.
The two authors you mention, Ligeti and Cage, are, on an emotional level, among my most heartfelt paradigms. I heard Gyorgy Ligeti’s Requiem, thanks to Kubrick, when I was only six years old, and it both fascinated and disturbed me, leaving an indelible impression. Regarding John Cage, I remember how Claudio Lugo, the musician and my university professor, introduced me to his music, making me appreciate him so much that, during my second year, I chose to prepare an analysis on the theory and technique of musical improvisation based entirely on his work.
Finally, I thank you for the acousmatic installation advice, which I will certainly try to consider as best as possible by studying the acoustic response of the space that will host the work.
Music Sheets, BUGS
I have to say that I thought a lot about how to visually translate Atlantis. In reflecting on architecture and its atmosphere of momentary antiquity, and on its mode of expressing a prelude to an imponderable future, I also felt that wanting to impose a past meaning on the present, dear Francesco, is the equivalent of imposing rules that are no longer valid, that have somehow expired. Maybe that’s why I suddenly thought of the bug (computer error) that a 3D design program practices in an attempt to reconstruct a previous layer. Let me explain: long ago, after having recorded a lettering I conceived on musical score (* theory Nn), I tried create three-dimensional letters with software for 3-D drawing. In doing so I realised that, when I tried to ‘detach’ them from the score to extract them, the program would reconstruct the staves without being able to realign itself to the original structure. Here then, in this visual work of Atlantis, the discrepancy, this slight displacement, creates a fracture, a movement that defines the formal boundaries of something that we know, but whose rules no longer seem to coincide with the previous ones. For Manifattura Tabacchi, I have selected some of the symbols, structures and situations that detach themselves from the familiar sentimental fabric, confront us with a sudden reversal of the world in which we were born and raised. I imagine inserting them on this background of musical staves, detaching them, in order to highlight their ‘collectability’ and highlight their being suspended in a time frame that is no longer linear, but that takes shape by changing into a dimensionless perception.
* The teoria Nn is a theory that I developed in 2015, together with the help of scientist Vincenzo Schettino and maestro Francesco Oliveto, in which I highlighted the curious structural identity as well as the alienating coetaneity of Bohr’s atomic model (which still interprets the periodic table of the elements), with the 97-key Bosendorfer Imperial 290 piano, built by composer Ferruccio Busoni.
What emerged from the study was that the two systems were so identical that they were superimposable; to the point that each chemical element could match a note of the aforementioned piano. For a visual translation, I thought instead of using the limit frequencies managed by the extension of the instrument, in order to graphically identify a formal register on the musical score in which to represent symbols and images.
FO: Dear Alessio,
thanks for your ‘bugs’.
The visual translation of a sound, or a set of them, glances into an abyss. The link between writing, understood in a broad sense, and its ‘sound’ is the subject of heated discussions between composers, musicologists, philosophers of music and various experts. Even so, no one has come to a conceivable conclusion. The issue is still worth pondering, though, albeit briefly.
Of the musical symbol
It is customary to say that musical notation arises from the need to preserve and safeguard ideas. The score becomes a place for the composer to ‘preserve his/her aspirations’. The written notes (like any other graphic sign placed on a score) therefore, have the purpose of representing a sound intuition so that it may be replicated, in the most faithful way, by the interpreter. The notation, in its long journey through history (from the appearance of the neumes to the very detailed scores of Brian Ferneyhough, passing from the graphic provocations of John Cage, Iannis Xenakis and others), tries to enclose within a symbolic system, therefore abstract, the most concrete part of music: sound.
In light of this, the score is analogous to a ‘map of the stars’. A map that the performer must encrypt in order to orient himself and to allow the listener to orient himself within multiple sound constellations. Musical notation, like any other symbolic form, however, presents (fortunately) a bug by leaving a space free for interpretation, and therefore also for the imagination. It is in that precise space between sign and sound, that we are listeners together with the interpreter. This is true of reproduced music as well: the audience itself becomes the interpreter. Musical signs ‘refer’ to a sound but ‘are not’ the sound-matter itself.
The score, in whatever guise it presents itself, is thereby a ‘deliberate form’ that refers to something else. No musical writing can therefore be exact, because it requires individual decoding which, in turn, generates a personal emotional code. Sound intuition (what some old manuals like to call ‘musical inspiration’) takes on a graphic form which, in its notation, brings with it a remarkable degree of relativity. For all these reasons, each score can be defined as a ‘field of stimuli’, a set of points that the individual perceptual experience (the personal history of listening) and our imagination will have to combine to create new sound figures.
From this viewpoint, Alessio, I find that your Bugs fit perfectly into the sign / sound debate which belongs to a long tradition and that, especially for most contemporary composers, addresses the problem, since, in fact, music cannot be represented graphically in all its parameters. If it is true that notation (more or less conventional) has achieved a fairly good compromise in terms of pitches and durations, there still exists an unbridgeable gap for the other essential parameter of sound: timbre. The ‘fractures’ and ‘discrepancies’ that result from your scores (rigorously placed on orchestral sheets, bravo Alessio!) remind us that the sound, in all its components, can only rebel against the constraints of the musical staves because it simply does not, and never has, existed there.
A big hug,
Alessio de Girolamo
(Sanremo, Italy 1980)
Alessio de Girolamo is a painter and sound artist. He draws inspiration from epistemology and its gnoseological limits, and highlights illusory aspects using mixed media and installation mixes to create immersive experiences and performances. In 2016, he founded DAVW in Milano, a project which has featured collaborations with many contemporary artists. The DAVW project is dedicated to sound and its relationship with a basic architectural element, the window.
In the last two years, de Girolamo has designed various acousmatic and visual installations, most notably the L-System trilogy, which was presented in the following locations: the Galleria Continua in San Gimignano (2018), the TAI in Prato (2018), and the Shenzhen Biennial in China (2019).
Francesco Oliveto graduated with honors from the Conservatorio ‘Luigi Cherubini’ in Florence with a degree in composition under the tutelage of Maestro Paolo Furlani. He participated in many masterclasses with famous composers from all over the world such as: Stefano Gervasoni (Professor of composition at the Conservatoire de Paris), Behzad Ranjibaran (Professor of composition at the Juilliard School of Music in New York), Luis de Pablo (professor of composition at the Conservatorio de Madrid) and the Oscar award-winning composers Ennio Morricone and Dario Marianelli.
Oliveto’s compositions have been performed at prestigious contemporary music festivals both in Italy and abroad. He has written many works for films, documentaries, and theatre performances. For the past twenty years, he has taught classes Information Technology applied to music, Music History, the Theory and Composition of Film Music at various private music schools, high schools for the arts, and universities.