Postcards From Italy: Naples Part I – Barbara De Dominicis / Julia Kent / Davide Lonardi
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Faraway Close… Over the past months, Julia Kent, Barbara De Dominicis and Davide Lonardi have been making a musical/visual/improvisatory record as Parallel 41, the imaginary parallel that ties Naples and New York on the same latitude line….
Hi Barbara, as a way of introduction, could you tell me what your musical background is?
Barbara De Dominicis: Music was always very present in my household. My father wanted to be a jazz pianist and listened to a lot of classic jazz, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans in particular. My mother on the other hand favoured American folk/rock music from the 60s and 70s. I also had an older sister who was into British punk and new wave and an aunt who lived with us who only listened to regional Italian popular music and fado. As a teenager, I studied classical piano for about 3-4 years. I then abandoned music for a number of years and studied Philosophy, which I was also later moved away from, as I had a tendency to do at the time with several things in my life. In my early twenties I was playing in a number of cover bands. I then spent some time in Berlin where I experimented performing something in between literature and music. In 2007 I was back in Naples collaborating with Mirko Signorile, Marco Messina and Davide Lonardi in Poe_Si. However, the first album I released on a proper label was Cabaret Noir (2004) where I played with Pasquale Bardaro, an amazing vibraphonist. Over the years, I also got more and more into experimenting with my voice and took a few workshops with Meredith Monk and Shelly Hirsch and even studied (for about a year or so) the Bel-Canto Technique. Then, when technology became more affordable, I got myself a laptop and started collecting field recordings, many of which were incorporated into Anti-Gone, the first and only album I recorded under my own name. Most sounds were heavily processed in that album, and everything was linked to Greek mythology. Water, for instance, represented Calypso whereas volcanic sounds recalled Medea.
Let’s talk about Parallel 41, a project that connects Naples to New York. How did it come about?
The whole project developed though different stages and started around 2004-2005 in New York with a series of field recordings. At the time I recorded hours and hours of sounds, a bit like someone just starting out as a photographer tends to snap away. At first, I even went around holding my laptop open on the palm of one hand and holding a microphone with the other…
That must have been very practical…
Absolutely and also very discreet… it was ideal, really… Anyhow, at the same time I was collecting sounds from Naples, which is my hometown and I was drawn by the similarities.
The next phase of Parallel 41 involved my meeting with Julia. We didn’t meet specifically for this project, which we only devised at a much later stage. We met online. I’d heard her still unreleased music, which was to become her fist solo album Delay, and fell in love with the unconventional imagination, her round sound and gorgeous compositions. We initiated a rather casual email correspondence and we started thinking about the possibility of playing together. We finally met up back in 2008 at the airport in Venice. We drove straight down all the way from Venice to Catania for a gig organised by Andrea Pennisi. We’d agreed to play together at the Nando Greco Theatre in the historical centre of the city, which at the time faced closure and had been occupied by a group of actors and performers just like the Teatro Valle in Rome is today. They were holding events to raise finances and I am happy to say that they eventually succeeded in keeping the theatre open. We got there a day late though and had to postpone the gig, as the weather was crazy. It was March but we got caught up in a snowstorm in Campania and had to spend the night there.
Considering you didn’t know each other and you were playing together for the first time, did you give yourselves any sort of guidelines?
Not really, no. We hadn’t even rehearsed or anything, and in a way it was a crazy idea. We studied each other, and we listened to each other, tiptoeing around one another with timidity. We basically got to know each other by performing together. Two day later, we were back on the other side of the peninsula for a concert in Padova. Travelling the whole length of the country and back certainly was a bonding experience, it created a sort of complicity between us.
At what point did you decide that these live sets were going to become an album?
After we had a week-long residency at the Lanificio 25 in Naples; a converted wool factory where, during the Second World War they produced uniforms for the soldiers and the military personnel. We had been playing together for a year by then so the impro sessions were more thought-through as we both knew the directions the other one would take. Julia had already been to Naples. She knew the city quite well, beyond the tourist clichés. It is almost as if Naples was built on different levels because of its morphological conformation and its surrounding hills. The historical centre and the area around the main train station where the Lanificio 25 is located, the Porta Capuana/ Duchesca District is actually on the lowest level of the city and you feel a certain sense of gravity weighing down on you, at least that is how I have always experienced it. The lower you explore within the city, the more one feels the weight of the sky and a certain heaviness. My father was born there in Porta Capuana/ Duchesca District, which is a lively neighborhood, with an infamous reputation and a rich mix of people. It was very stimulating but also hard work to be playing there, as the Lanificio is next to a big street market, the Mercato di Porta Capuana, where one can find anything from fishmongers to haute couture and counterfeit goods, and smuggled cigarettes. Also, it is here that the Jewish community used to hide during the war. So, if on one side we had to battle with the noise from the street traders, on the other side of the building we had to contend with a big church. So we had a really generous sonic environment we could draw from, alas it was a bit too much at times, and there were several recorded sessions, which we just couldn’t use.
The weird thing is that the material we gathered in Naples was maybe more sinister, both in terms of feelings and sounds. It was very visceral, melancholic. The most painful in a way, even though I don’t like using this term. It lacked a certain lightness maybe because of that sense of heaviness I was telling you about earlier. The Mediterranean atmosphere produced an unexpected shift in Julia’s way of playing and in her approach to the cello that I had never heard before. Whereas she tends to have a more rounded and organic sound, what she produced in Naples was more fragmented and disconnected. It moved me deeply and I insisted on using excerpts from that session. The track we selected is the most melancholic and still the most Mediterranean of all, albeit the most rough around the edges.
You have also recorded in different parts of Italy, from the Piedmont region, to Bolzano and Venice. How did you fit these within the same latitude of Parallel 41?
The theme of the album, is a bit forced, but we wanted to create a link between Naples and New York where we did our first and last recorded sessions. However there were also economical constraints to contend with. As the album was self produced we needed to keep costs down, so we would take the opportunity to meet up wherever Julia was touring in Italy or we would do gigs ourselves in different parts of the country and therefore we would combine those with our own recordings. Fundamentally, though, there are sonic similarities between Naples and New York in that they are both cities that live on many different aural levels. For instance, I find it hard to distinguish a recording from New York’s Chinatown from that of the market of Gianturco in Naples.
We were scouting for places with a very strong sonic appeal and were always guided by friends and fellow musicians, such as incredible cello player and sound guy Andrea Serrapiglio who plays with Carla Buzolich and Andrea Ics Ferraris amongst others. Andrea pointed us to a farmhouse in Valdapozzo, Piedmont, where we found a thriving community of artisans and people making cheese, honey and other produce. One of them, Nacche, hails from Calabria and has a band called Bandarotta Fraudolenta (Fraudulent Bandrupty) together with Andrea’s brother Luca Serrapiglio. There was even a recording studio with topnotch acoustics. It was the most perfect session in terms of sound and one of the rare times where we played indoors.
We also went to Venice to record in Forte Marghera, and I’d like to thank Tom, Adeline, Matteo and the Marco Polo System, for this. Forte Marghera is an old fortress built by the Austrians to defend the city, which was used to store arms and ammunitions during the First World War. The only access from Venice is by sea. It is also known as Parco di San Giuliano and the most direct way to reach it is from Marghera, an industrial suburb of Venice. They have been trying to convert the fortress into artist studios for a number of years, even though I was recently told there are now plans to make it into a parking lot! It’s surreal, but that’s just the kind of thing that happens in Italy time and time again.
In the Trentino Alto Adige, Vanja Zappetti a stoic historian of the region took us to an old abandoned fort. Once we got there we found out they had recently started restoring it so we ended up recording in an abandoned tunnel on the outskirts of Bolzano where they held illegal raves. It was a beautiful location next to the mountains with a creek running nearby and we made ample use of the natural sounds, recording and processing them live.
It also has to be said that it was quite a trek to get there, as with most of these locations much to Julia’s and Davide’s delight, as they had to log around a rather heavy load of equipment. Also, both in Venice and in Bolzano we ended up recording in the middle of Winter. In Forte Marghera, especially, we had to endure very cold temperatures, it got to below 5-6 degrees and Julia’s hand would’ve literally frozen on the cello had it not been for the generosity of a man who lived there and who gave us his own stove.
Were you still playing improvised sets?
Yes, even though things got more structured along the way, everything was still improvised except most of the texts. We’d be constantly trying to write stuff based on the impression of the place we were in and would re-read these texts an hour before playing even though we didn’t use them as a narrative theme. The writing may recall at times mourning blues music. Naples is obviously very much present with texts that delve into the belly of the city, and highlight the beauty and decay of the place, the contrasts that animate it, with a sense of belonging but also one of alienation. There is one exception. We were asked to write a text for Drome magazine, which we pieced together from our early email exchange when we still didn’t know each other. We then incorporated this text in English, Italian and French into the music.
From what you say, I get the impression you hadn’t necessarily planned on releasing the material.
Albums are seldom necessary and, personally, I always find it hard to justify releasing records. There’s a surplus of albums being released and even this one could be seen as yet another unnecessary record. In the case of Parallel 41 it all came about by chance. I was in touch with Eric from Baskuru because I had bought a few albums from him and once he asked me what I was working on. We sent him a few files and he showed an interest in releasing the material. Since we already had all these recordings and Davide had been filming and documenting all the sessions, Julia and I talked about it and selected what is about 20% of the recorded material for the album.
Also, Eric has done a sterling job in terms of production and I am really pleased with Lawrence English’s mastering. In addition I would like to thank Marco Stangherlin of wakeupandream booking for his patience and expertise.
So, you’re happy with the outcome?
Personally, I generally find it hard to listen back to any material that is improvised as I feel it should be experienced live. It is an unresolved issue for me. What I am most happy with is the way we all interacted with each other. It was such a privilege for me to play with Julia and get to know her better over time. At first we called the project Intermittenze (Intermittence) as we saw each other sporadically, but I feel that Julia and I got to know each other in the space of these four years. We have travelled together and spent time in each other’s hometown. I must’ve been quite different to her in Naples just as she was different in New York. It has been really special on a human level. Generally speaking, people have been very generous and supportive throughout. Also, there was the silent and gentle presence of the camera (Davide) always being very discreet, which became a part of us. I was surprised in a way, as I don’t believe that everything has to be necessarily filmed and recorded, but the images created a thematic link especially as Davide included some old archival material from the early XX century. And of course we felt lucky to have been to all these wonderful locations and have meet special human beings
Have you planned a follow-up?
It’d be a dream come true to stretch Parallel 41 to Istanbul, Tblisi, Viseu, Madrid, Baku, Peking, and Honshu – all these locations are almost at the same latitude, on the 41° parallel line.
Regarding Naples, is there anything you feel you haven’t been able to capture or render?
Hmm… being the multilayered, complex and porous place that Naples is – paraphrasing Benjamin’s definition of the ‹Porous City›, as a place where ‹space and opportunity› always come hand in hand – it is so very hard to say… Though possibly my only regret is the absence of the sea. Naples comes across as more dark than luminous. We actually thought of recording our first session at the Villa della Gaiola, a haunted villa on a small island off the coast of Posillipo, only reachable by boat. It is a place with a complicated history chronicled by the Neapolitan writer Maurizio Braucci. (Two of its owners committed suicide in the 20s. In 1968 it was acquired by Paul Getty and shortly after his nephew was kidnapped. Ten years later the new owner was arrested for financial wrongdoings, etc.) Alas, nothing came of it.
Finally, is there anyone you would recommend within the Italian electroacoustic scene?
There are so many that I am bound to forget a few. Andrea Serrapiglio and his several projects basculating between acoustic and electronics; Andrea Ics Ferraris who plays with Andrea Serrapiglio within Airchamber 3 and has also produced an album with Matteo Uggeri for Hibernate and one with Maurizio Bianchi for Farmacia 901 (such an interesting young Italian label run by sound artist Fabio Perletta); Ennio Mazzon with his label Ripples; Gianmaria Aprile who runs the unique “Fratto9UndertheSky”. Federica Maglioni with her work Butterfly’s Flight and Salvatore Borelli who records under the moniker (etre) – I was just listening to his album Inferno From My Occult Diary out on Porter Records, and was really impressed.
- Gianmarco Del Re for Fluid Radio
Besides using her voice, Barbara De Dominicis likes to record natural or urban sounds and merge them in her music. Projects include Cabaret Noir [with Pasquale Bardaro], The Body_exposed; Poe-Si [with Mirko Signorile and Marco Messina]; Kuul-Ma, an audio-visual project in collaboration with the media artist Davide Lonardi. In 2008 she wrote and produced the songs of her album Anti-Gone based on a narrative theme of Greek mythology. Her growing interest in Sound Portraiture led her to work on A Tale of Two Cities, an audio collage documenting Naples and New York that became a radiowork produced for Radio Papesse vs Radia Network: Crossings. At the end of 2010, with a dozen of other sound and visual/photo artists, she gave life to Exquisite What [founder/curator] a collective web project based on the surrealist’s Exquisite Cadaver practice. She is currently working on a new solo album under the moniker Apres Soon: an assemblage of drones and field recordings, electronics, voices and string instruments.
Canadian-born, New York City-based Julia Kent uses multitracked cello, found sounds, and electronics to create solo music that has been described as “cinematic and impressionistic,” “organic yet powerful,” and “deeply personal and committed.” She has released two full-length solo records: Delay (2007) and Green and Grey (2011), as well as an EP, Last Day in July (2010). Her music has been heard in film soundtracks and as accompaniment to theatre and dance performances, and she has toured throughout Europe and North America, including appearances at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, the Donau Festival in Austria, and the MIMI Festival in Marseille.
Filmmaker Davide Lonardi has worked on different sides of visuality: from graphic artwork/ design and videoclip to more abstract forms of video art and photography. As a filmmaker, he has produced four documentaries focused on Italian contemporary artists: Claudio Ambrosini (Big Bang Music, 2004), Fabrizio Plessi (the opera to video-2004), Rabarama (2005), Luigi Del Sal (The Route Fantastic, 2005). In 2009, he released the music video for the single Disremembering Echo (by Barbara De Dominicis/Anti-Gone). He recently made his first, self-produced medium-length film Moto Apparente and developed various projects related to abandoned spaces.
Parallel 41, CD + DVD (deluxe digital edition) 9 tracks + 1 movie is out on Baskaru in March.