Postcards From Italy: Siena – Giulio Aldinucci
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Giulio Aldinucci is a composer based in Siena (Tuscany). In addition to his musical research that focuses on different synthesis methods and the use of field recordings, he also writes music for acoustic instruments. He’s released three albums under the moniker Obsil. His latest album, Tarsia, will be released by Nomadic Kids Republic on the 2nd of August under his own name.
Let’s begin with a quick look at your background. You were born in 1981 and you started studying music from an early age. Granted that the piano seems to be your instrument of choice, did you also happen to play in hardcore bands in your late teens – early twenties like most of your peers?
I used to listen to a lot of experimental and indy rock, but I have never played in a band on a regular basis even though I would’ve liked to on some level, especially when it comes to improvisation. The main problem has been that I have never been able to adapt to the mental-frame of a performer. To play over and over the same track and the same track list bores me to tears.
A lot of your work seems to be rooted in the Val di Merse area around Siena, a beautiful part of the Tuscan countryside. Indeed, one of the tracks on your Boule à neige ep released by the Italian netlabel Laverna gives the geographical coordinates of the valley 43°16’54.22″N 11°10’16.99″E as a title track. How important is it for you to draw a mental map for the listener in your compositions?
I find that sometimes, within music, poetry resides in what remains vague and indefinite; I always try and create a connection between the listener and the sound materials I employ (fragments of melody, field recordings…). However, these sounds appear almost as if they were suspended in the air: they approach only to disappear once again, they tease the listener but can never be captured. Sometimes even a reference in the title or in the credits can contribute to suggest similar feelings. Therefore it is of paramount experience for me to create a mental map for the listener. For instance, the title of this piece gives the exact geographical coordinates of the location where I recorded the sound of the loose tiles that can be heard throughout the whole track. The place is called Pelli, which is a small cluster of houses in ruins deep in the woods not too far from my own home. The mathematical precision of these coordinates 43°16’54.22″N 11°10’16.99″E only gives an illusory sense of proximity, as not that many people will have a chance of visiting this location. Also, how many would be able to find these houses anyway without knowing which paths to follow down the woods? And how long will these ruins remain in place before they are completely taken over by nature or become only the latest casualty of the nearby marble quarry?
What have you discovered about your region when you first started taking field recordings?
When I bought my first digital recorder I chose to record only the sounds of the places that I knew as the back of my hand; the place where I was born and where I grew up. To really understand what a sonic landscape is, I wanted to build one by creating overlays, and only subsequently I juxtaposed my own.
The landscape, with its natural lines and architectural proportions that changes with the seasons has a strong influence on my work. I often find that many of my own compositions are organised, in terms of their musical and tonal elements, in a similar way to certain examples of gothic architecture from Siena, such as the façade of the Duomo: an “open” and multifaceted architectural example where one could imagine adding new elements to its structure even though, by doing so, the whole thing would become unbalanced. This type of constructions represents the opposite of the clear and harmonic “closed” lines of the Renaissance façade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.
In your second album as Obsil, Distances, out on Disasters by Choice, you have also included field recordings from Bagno Vignoni, an old village in the heart of the Val d’Orcia natural park, famous for its Square of Sources with its 16th-century tank of hot spring. Did you specifically choose it because it was also the location for a famous sequence in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia?
I chose this location for two reasons: Nostalghia is one of my favourite films, and also, I hold very fond memories of Bagno Vignoni from many years ago. In both cases, the sounds of the thermal baths are associated with tender and intangible images: on the one hand there’s the film, therefore fiction, on the other, there are my memories that become further and further removed from the present with the passing of time and are destined to repeat themselves “statically” as if they were scenes from a movie.
When I decided to do these recordings, it was as if I wanted to photograph these fascinating and recurring sounds that appeared time and again and in different guises throughout my life. Often, the use of field recordings is for me what photography is for Roland Barthes, a way of reproducing indefinitely what happened once only, “to repeat mechanically what could never be repeated”.
In the same album there is a track, Ancora vento fra le campane di Davide (The wind, once again, through Davide’s bells), which includes field recordings from the Monte Labro area. Aside from being a natural park of outstanding beauty the Monte Labro is also known for its religious significance, as this is where Davide Lazzaretti, the leader of the Giusdavic Church was born, (namely in Arcidosso). This is also where he built three churches and a famous tower. Did you specifically aim to construct a narrative theme within this particular track and within the album in general?
I have always been fascinated by Davide Lazzeretti’s “social mysticism”, the heresy, and the utopia… Ancora vento fra le campane di Davide is a somehow different track from the rest of the album and is probably my favourite because it was composed in a very direct way. It’s like a page from a diary, it describes moments spent in an extraordinary place that I could describe as a celestial city reduced to ruins by the wind. I took all the recordings inside Lazzaretti’s grotto/chapel. There is still an altar there and one can still read is prayers on the walls (the voice that can be heard reciting them in the track is mine).
“Straddling a field to encompass the contemporary glitch of 12k and the post-classical romanticism of Type and Miasmah” is how Furthernoise has described Distances. Would you agree with this and which are the labels, which, in your opinion, are currently releasing the most interesting albums?
Yes, I think it is an appropriate definition.
Not withstanding the current economic crisis, the music label scene is very vibrant both from a purely musical point of view touching on distribution and from an artwork point of view in terms of packaging and experimentation. 95% of the albums I buy come from very small and very different labels. I couldn’t make a coherent list though, as in my mail orders there is a bit of everything.
You have also taken part in Italian Plays a radio show initiated by Matteo Uggeri based around field recordings of people playing different games in Italy. The project came about after Gaia, Matteo’s partner, asked him: “What is one of the best field recording you have ever heard?” What would your answer be to that question?
I have asked myself this very question so many times before without finding an answer… This might be because I was afraid that, once I’d found it I would’ve stopped looking for it… and even trying to record it.
You have also contributed to Pietro Riparbelli’s project Cathedrals with field recordings from Sant’Antimo Abbey, which is a Benedictine monastery near Montalcino in the proximity of Siena. Did you have any specific connection with that place that made you choose it instead of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Siena, for instance?
Sant’Antimo Abbey has unique and wonderful acoustics, but I didn’t choose it simply for this reason. The whole monastery complex is rather isolated within a beautiful natural spot and with my recording I wanted to capture from inside the abbey the sounds of the countryside while giving the same prominence to all the different acoustic elements, (the prayers, the visitors and tourists, the sounds of nature…) as if I was dealing with a chorus without concentrating on any single sound. In other words, I wanted to reproduce one of its infinite and possible point/moments of listening.
However, I do hope to be able to find the time to make a recording of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta at some point.
Reviewing your first album, Points, The Wire referenced the work of Luigi Russolo considered by many the first noise music experimental composer of all time. “As with Russolo, whose early cumbersome contraptions filtered the sounds of ‘nature’ into unearthly, contrived, mechanical sound, Obsil is preoccupied with the relationship between artifice and the sounds of Heart”. And yet, your music seems to be structured around notions of harmony and melody. How would you define your own music?
For Russolo, the metropolis represented the space of observation and analysis of daily aural life: an infinite source of noise that had to analyzed in order to isolate and, in a way, tame each single noise/sound for it to be “playable” through the “Intonarumori”, a noise generating device, within a futurist orchestra. This orchestra, in turn, was destined to a proportional increase process depending on the invention/introduction of new machines into daily life. In order to use a particular noise, the composer had to “transform” it into a mechanical object that allowed for the harmonic paring with other “noises”.
I have always been fascinated by this link between noise and harmony in Russolo’s work. As for my own music, I believe harmony to be essential in every composition of mine even when I work with material that has a frequency which is not exactly “in tune”… Obviously the harmonic component has always a different weight in relation to the type of composition I am working on and the material I am drawing from, but to me it is always an element I need to take into consideration.
Vicino is the third album you have released under the moniker Obsil on the Psychonavigation label. How would you define the evolution of the “Obsil sound” and why have you reverted to your own name for your EP Boule à neige out on Laverna as a free download?
Under the moniker Obsil my music was centred round synthetic sounds, especially digital ones with a process of composing based on variations within a track, both fluid and rapid. In my earlier works, for instance, even acoustic instruments had a digital consistency, expressly detached from reality, which is something I applied across the board on all musical and timbric elements. The sound of my digital objects gone crazy was reminiscent of the work of Kim Cascone and Nicholas Negroponte. The way I was writing music at the time was to try and capture those sounds. I worked that way from the age of 20 till 26, after which I took a new direction with the EP and especially with my new album, Tarsia, which is coming out on Nomadic Kids Republic in August. With Tarsia, the overall approach is radically different, the sound is decidedly less hard and more rounded, warmer and more tender than on previous occasions.
Vicino is an album that stands between these two different musical directions. At this stage, I have now closed the Obsil chapter.
The striking album cover from Vicino is by Costanza Maremmi. What is your relationship to the visual arts?
The visual arts are a constant source of inspiration for me. I am thinking both of the grace and elegance of certain contemporary photography, and the tormented anticlassicism of Pontormo dating back to the first half of the XVI century for instance. These lines and colours are now part of my “landscape”.
You have composed the soundtrack to a number of experimental and narrative short films. How do you approach the world of the moving image?
Generally speaking, I don’t have a technical approach, I trust my own impressions to find a way to support and/or add to the images. I begin jotting done a few musical ideas straight after the second viewing; only after this phase I start studying the film material in a more technical way. I love working on very different projects, cinema allows me to explore different styles which may take me far from my own but in a natural and enriching way.
I’ll give you an example. For Paesaggi di famiglia (Family Landscapes), Nicola Contini edited over 100 home movies, to give a snapshot of the community of Sulcis Iglesiente in Sardina. To create the sound design of that film, I chose to make use only of my own sound archive. In other words, to give voice to those anonymous people, I chose to use only audio files I already had in my pc, bringing about a collusion of archives, my own and that of a whole community. I drew from everything I had, from recordings of improvisations to sequences taken from my latest album, Tarsia.
I would now like to ask you two questions I have recently put to Attilio Novellino in a previous Postcard, if I may. You have also taken part in E-ArtQuake, a collective exhibition that aimed to connect digital arts and new technologies, with themes relating to memory, trauma and loss of identity in the aftermath of traumatic events such as the Irpinia earthquake of 1980. In the aftermath of another recent earthquake, which has struck the Emilia region on the 20th of May 2012, what is, or what should be, the role of electro-acoustic and experimental music in uncovering memory? Also, what are in your opinion the best works that reflect human suffering within electro-acoustic music?
The endless reproduction of images by the media empties them of any content reducing them to icons of superficial if not abstract meaning with little or no relation to reality. In a similar way, “memory” is often transmitted in a passive way through institutional celebrations that bear no relation to the event or the values they claim to commemorate. Art, on the other hand, allows one to process an experience, to deconstruct it and rebuild it in order to uncover new facets. This is applicable both to the artist and to the user or to whoever attends an artistic workshop. ?Thanks to its versatility, electro-acoustic music can integrate different sound sources in a natural way, and I’m thinking for instance of the infinite ways one can use sounds from archives.
When I think of human suffering within music I immediately think of Luigi Nono and the way he uses silence as a scratching mark of the infinite within his compositions. Amongst his works, the one that, in my opinion, best reflects human suffering is Como una ola de fuerza y luz, for soprano, piano, orchestra and tape, which he wrote in 1972 in memory of Luciano Cruz, one of the leaders of Chile’s Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). There are many other composers of Nono’s generation, though, who tackle human suffering, alienation and cosmic loneliness in a very effective way.
Considering the large-scale pollution and the aggressive urbanisation of the countryside, why is it that, at least to my knowledge and with the exception of AIPS, electro-acoustic musicians working with field recordings don’t seem interested in tackling the destruction of the Italian landscape?
Many of the Italian musicians I know personally are very sensitive to these same problems. Personally, I’m active in some environmental organizations. But I think the time is ripe for a work on field recordings, perhaps collectively, distinctly “political”: I’ve been thinking about doing a project of this kind for quite some time now.
In my works I always try to use field recordings in order to represent an “other world” to the over populated and polluted one of many Italian regions. Human presence doesn’t always has to hold the scene even though it may be aggressively imposed.
What is the experimental / ambient / electroacoustic scene like in Tuscany and on a more general level how do you rate the Italian scene? Any names you would like to recommend in terms of musicians / labels / venues / festivals?
There’s a vibrant and diverse scene in Tuscany with many gifted musicians. I am thinking for instance of Tempo Reale, the research centre founded by Luciano Berio, or Meet the Knobbers a grassroots affair centred round electronic music meetings and workshops.?However I wouldn’t say there is a specific “Tuscan scene” within electro-acoustic music. We just fit in with the rest of the Italian scene, which I find eclectic and vital. Musicians, in Italy, come from different backgrounds and operate in a variety of different styles with many different approaches. The good thing and one of our strengths is that we often collaborate. I am always happy when I see an Italian musician been released on an important international label. I believe this reflects the general high standard of the Italian scene.
Alas, the flip side of the coin is that there aren’t enough venues and festivals. Flussi and Interferenze are all too rare exceptions to the rule. As for artists, I think that your series Postcards from Italy gives a very comprehensive selection of the most interesting names within the Italian scene. However, I would still like to recommend a few very different titles that have come out in the last couple of months or are soon to be released: Attilio Novellino – Through Glass (Valeot); Elisa Luu – Un Giorno Sospeso (Hidden Shoal); Parallel 41 (Barbara De Dominics and Julia Kent) – st (Baskaru); Pietro Riparbelli – Three Days of Silence. The Mountain of Stigmata (Gruenrekorder); Z-Been (Ennio Mazzon and Gianluca Favaron) – K-frame (Ripples); I also love the album preview of Transfer by Øe (Fabio Perletta), which is coming out on Murmur in August.
Are there any Italian and / or international musicians you would specifically like to collaborate with?
This is a very difficult question for me to answer. As a matter of fact, I believe that there are plenty of things one can learn from all musicians; I really wouldn’t know who to pick. Perhaps, if I was to make a list, I could use a snapshot from my record collection.
At present I am involved in four very different collaborations and I hope to be even more active in the future on this particular front.
Your new album Tarsia, will be released by Nomadic Kids Republic on the 2nd of August 2012. How did this came about and what was the inspiration behind it?
The term Tarsia (or Intarsia) denotes an ancient technique of wood inlaying. The first examples of this practice date back to the XIV century and come from the Siena region. I have chosen this title because I consider this technique similar to the that of a lot of contemporary electro-acoustic music. To make these wood inlays they used rare and carefully selected natural elements, which were then treated, and sometimes individually coloured, and subsequently placed next to each other in order to create complex patterns, which is what many musicians within this field tend to do.
Amongst my work, this is probably the album I feel closer to my heart and I am very happy to see it coming out on a great label such as Nomadic Kids Republic. It is the perfect home for it.
Picking up on you’ve just said, Tarsia, is indeed a heavily textured work with many interwoven field recordings. What’s their origin and how did you go about creating such an organic work?
One of the aspects that I love most about working with field recordings is the way I can make them interact. That is why I take a lot of care in archiving and organising all the files on my computer. Tarsia opens with a recording I took from the window of my studio of people picking cherries while I played the instrumental parts of the track on my monitors.
The third track, Castiglione della Pescaia, winter 2011, is a composition entirely based on the recording of a fishing boat that slowly enters and docks in the small harbour of the village of Castiglione (Grosseto). The field recording lasts for eight minutes and carries the wintry silence of the place. In the second half of the piece, one can hear the sound of the boat’s engine merging with the voices of the fisherman talking to the crew of a second boat. For almost the entirety of the recording the microphone is directed towards the shore capturing the sound of the waves.
The voices of the fourth track, Terra, were recorded here in Sovicille during the procession of the Madonna delle Grazie which just happens to pass by my house. I hid two small microphones between some pots on my garden wall in order to capture the voices at the height of the mouths of the participants.
I capitalized on the acoustics of the place, which benefits from a natural echo. The field recording is not treated in any way, rather I made the most of the mixing process where I rendered the voices of the devotees and the pastor who was holding a megaphone, audible but somehow “vague” almost “mysterious”.
The closing track, Pianura (con gli occhi di F.), consists instead of a field recording of excavators working in one of the many marble quarries of my area. Following this depressing sonic image of machinery digging a mountain enveloped by the type of silence that only underlines the natural reverberation of the valley, the track closes on a note of “optimism” with a drone I obtained by layering a synthetic and a recording of some crickets from a nearby wood.
The album is also quite rich in terms of instrumentation. Did you already have a general structure in mind before you set out to work on the single tracks?
Yes, this is really important to me. I believe that a strong distinctive trait of electro-acoustic music is that composition and material coincide. For this album I have always kept in mind the general structure and the material of each track, which is different for every track. For instance, Castiglione della Pescaia, winter 2011 is a composition written and practically tailored around a non-edited field recording that lasts for the duration of the track.
I adopt an almost opposite approach in Risacca, an almost minimalist track that revolves around a loop obtained through the use of a software, then sampled through a synth hardware, treated with physical outboards and then modified once again through a software. This is a track where I constantly add and subtract different elements.
Conversely, in a piece like Terra, the particular treatment of the strings and the rhythmic chanting pattern strongly characterize the composition.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on new material. I’ve already completed a few tracks for a new album and I’m hoping to record some female vocals and some viola parts to complete it soon.