Dario Sanfilippo

Dario Sanfilippo is a freelance composer, performer and sound artist whose research is focused on the study and exploration of complex dynamical feedback systems for non-conventional sound synthesis, improvised human-machine interaction performances, and autonomous sound installations...

Your work is articulated through different projects, your solo project LIES, and the collaborations |. with Andrea Valle, IVVN, with Gandolfo Pagano, Antonio Secchio and Andrea Valle and Enterico with Gandolfo Pagano and Tim Hodgkins. Could you briefly introduce all these projects for me starting with LIES which you describe as a “human-machine interaction improvised performance implementing complex dynamical systems based on analogue and digital audio feedback networks.” You state that, “No randomness or automated processes are implemented in the system, yet dynamical and unpredictable behaviours will be exhibited, where sound affects itself and autonomously evolves through time.” Could you elaborate for me on the way you interact with the system? It would be great if you could talk me through your live excerpt from Padua for instance.

LIES is the acronym for Live Interaction in Emergent Sound and the project (in its embryonal state) dates back to 2006, when I started experimenting with digital feedback. It was indeed surprising for me how very few components in a feedback loop might have very interesting and articulated sonic outcomes, possibly not related at all to what the digital processes used were designed for, and exhibiting the capability of changing in an unpredictable way through time, even though no event scheduler or such like was involved. Somehow, these systems looked “alive”, and the digital processes turned from being about transformations into being about generators of radically new sonic events capable of shaping themselves. I thought that that was a domain to be investigated, so I focused my interest heavily on feedback systems. Indeed, during the same period, I started experimenting with circuit-bending too, a practice which can be strictly feedback-related.

One of the first times I had heard of Andrea Valle was at the Live!iXem Festival in Palermo in 2007, where he presented a nice live coding performance together with the visuals of Ursula Scherrer. Afterwards, we got to know each other through the internet, and we finally met in person at the Conservatory of Trapani, where I was doing my Bachelor in Electronic Music, as he taught a class in my course that year. We then got to know each other better by sharing our experiences, and thanks to a common interest in feedback, we had the idea of cross-coupling our machines, namely his Rumentarium and my digital feedback system, which resulted in the |. project. Andrea is now a good friend of mine, and our collaboration has extended beyond the performance/compositional side to writing papers for conferences and journals.

IVVN comes from the AMP2 experience, in which Marco Pianges also took part, but, unfortunately, as he was living on the other side of Sicily it wasn’t always possible for him to join us, which was a pity. Eventually, the AMP2 project came to an end, but we decided to keep going as a quartet as we were happy of the results from our live at AudioVisiva Festival in Milan, as well as from other recording sessions we had in Palermo.

I met Gandolfo for the first time at the music meetings organised by Sciajno, which eventually led to AMP2, and he is probably the member of the group I’ve played with most, both because of our friendship (I was often a guest at his house so we could easily play together) and because we enjoyed a lot our duo.

Enterico Trio also comes from AMP2, namely from the recording session we had with Tim and that led to the album published on Bowindo. During the time of the recording sessions, both me and Tim were sleeping at Gandolfo’s house, so we had a chance to play as a trio. We were happy of that too, so me and Gandolfo decided to invite Tim (what a great person and musician) in Palermo in 2011 for other recording sessions. We had a small tour in Italy during late 2011/early 2012, and we’re almost finished with an album which is due to be released soon.

As for my live at the SMC conference, that was LIES (topology) (there’s also LIES (distance/incidence)). My goal for the LIES performances is that of creating a dialectics (talking through the other) between two interdependent and autonomous entities, where a non-hierarchical relationship is established. Kind of playing as a duo. From a technical point of view, the way I interact with the machine is that of modifying its internal variables through a MIDI surface mapped to the feedback coefficients and to the parameters of the DSP components within the network. This way, I can dynamically change the topology of the feedback networks by closing/opening loops, as well as change the relationship between the components by altering the processing they perform and how much a component influences the others and vice versa.

|. (Bar Dot) focuses on the exploration of feedback systems in improvisation. The general idea is that Andrea Valle’s system and yours are interconnected, each one affecting the other one. Andrea’s computer will generate a control signal for the computer-piloted electro-mechanical orchestra he operates, based on the analysis of your sound, and the sound of the orchestra will in turn affect your system’s behaviour. Once again randomness is rejected in favour of unpredictability. How important is it to you to find new directions in sound within a controlled environment?

I would say that for me it is important to find new directions in sound within a non-controlled environment. Working with non-controlled, unpredictable machines can be a fruitful source for finding new directions. I don’t mean that in the sense of having no choice at all. For the implementation of my systems, for example, I try to make them so that their behaviours are interesting, but I’m not interested in controlling the inner activity of such behaviours. Moreover, such systems can be capable of autonomously shifting from one behaviour to others, and when I try to drive them towards different states, behaviours which are new to me may also emerge. It is indeed about performing together with the machine.

The reason why I stress that I use no randomness in my systems is because it is possible to achieve unpredictability both through randomness and chaotic processes, and even if they might look similar, they’re quite different. Some systems, for example, implement processes which are unpredictable because they’re driven by random generators, although processes themselves are not inter-related and self-related, they have no memory of themselves: the previous output of one process does not affect the next one. Thus, randomness and processes operate over two different and separate levels. In chaotic systems, instead, what happens at any given moment depends on what happened before, and this inter-relation between processes is for me a feature with important sonic outcomes.

Enterico is Tim Hodgkinson on prepared table guitar, electronics, clarinets; Gandolfo Pagano on prepared guitar, electronics and yourself on laptop. “The idea for this project – you write – is to consider improvisation from a systemic point of view. Improvisation, a process where any action is mediated by listening, can also be understood as a mechanism to set up an implicit feedback loop between the performers. In such a configuration, every performer is influencing all other performers and is in turn influenced, recursively. Performers are thus strictly coupled and constantly interacting in a situation where effects are also causes, a circular causality that will lead to nonlinear developments and unpredictability. The result is a holistic whole, something which is different from the sum of its parts, a complex dynamical system with global emergent properties.” To demonstrate in practical terms your working method, could you maybe pick one particular moment in the live excerpt you have uploaded onto Soundcloud and talk me through it?

Yes, I described the trio focusing on that idea, but I think it is actually something which applies to any improvisational approach. I wanted to underline the idea that a group of improvising musicians should be considered as a whole, and not just as a summation of the characteristics of each member. I like to think of improvisation as a functional mechanism to achieve the afore mentioned interaction, and not as something which itself defines an aesthetics.

I think that any part or development in the embedded track is representative of such an approach, as the track is a non-edited extract from one of our improvisation sessions.

Next one up is the INNV or the Institute for the Very Very Nervous, an electro-acoustic improvisation which had an earlier incarnation as AMP 2 and which also included Domenico Sciajno. AMP 2 released an album, Hopeful Monsters, part of the Musica Improvvisa boxset by Die Schachtel which took as the concept of the Hopeful Monster introduced by the biologist Richard Goldschmidt at its basis to indicate an individual of a species showing a relevant mutation in its genes. “This mutation makes the individual a “monster” as it differs from all the other individuals of his species but, at the same time, it is hopeful as it can lead to a radical discontinuity in the otherwise continuous evolution of the species.” In a similar way, INNV works with no pre-planned structures, favouring improvisation. Indeed, as Andrea Valle explained to me, diversification in sound is very important to INNV. Will any of the hopeful monsters generate a new breed of sound?

Each one of us has always been researching new sounds. Every time I’ve met the other members of the group, they had new devices or processes augmenting their sets with which they created sounds, either as instrument preparations, self-made instruments, or software implementations. Personally, I think I would hardly be able to work with found-sounds now, and my attempt is to implement systems which can potentially lead to new sonic and formal (two strictly inter-related aspects) results every time.

You’re also collaborating with SEC_ who’s from the Naples area. What can you tell me of this particular collaboration?

The first time I met Mimmo was a few years ago in Avellino, when I played a duo with Gandolfo, but we didn’t really have a chance to talk. After I moved to Naples we started hanging out together and sharing ideas and music. Eventually we organized a concert where we played solo sets and as a duo. That’s how it all started. After that, we did some recording sessions and more recently we’ve been working on an album which is almost finished, and which could actually turn into two albums. Mimmo is now a good friend of mine and I’m very happy about this collaboration. I really like his work a lot.

How do you manage to work on so many different collaborations?

It is not that easy indeed. With Mimmo it is easier as we live in the same city, but most of the other people I’m working with are based in different cities, and some even abroad. We try and organize gigs in order to be able to physically meet up and eventually work on other recording sessions or projects. When I go back to Sicily I always try to stop by in Palermo to see Gandolfo, whereas with Andrea we can easily work online when it comes to writing and such like. Whenever the occasion arises, I can also travel to meet the other musicians I collaborate with, if we have something specific to work on.  If, on the other hand, they happen to be in my area because of some other work they’re doing, that’s also a good occasion to meet up of course.

On a more general note, just to get an idea of your listening background, how influenced have you been by examples of feedback in both contemporary music, and I’m thinking specifically of Steve Reich, and pop and rock music with the likes of Robert Fripp and Sonic Youth?

Not at all, to be honest. I have only recently started to listen to some Sonic Youth and Robert Fripp (I think Gandolfo played some for me), which I like, but I wasn’t listening to them when I started working with feedback. I’m quite sure I’ve listened to Pendulum Music a long time ago, but that wasn’t the trigger to get into feedback either. It all started while implementing patches: at some point I tried some processed feedback loops and, as I have already mentioned, I thought that that was something to be deeply investigated.

Generally I used to be heavily into the Breakcore scene, and when I was younger I listened to a lot of Sepultura, Pantera, Negazione, CCCP, Primus and Alice in Chains, and even some traditional or classical music. Although I’ve always been listening to non-conventional/experimental music from an early age.

I am particularly interested in finding out whether you have experimented on feedback captured from specific natural environments both in and around Naples and Sicily. Anything you could tell me on that front?

Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but I would be interested in doing so. I have some ideas but it’s still something in its very early stages.

You are originally from Agrigento, how did you end up in Naples?

After I started working empirically with feedback, I eventually got interested in studying such systems from a theoretical point of view too. I then also looked for other artists involved in such a practice and I discovered the work by Agostino Di Scipio, which was extremely fascinating to me. During my Bachelor in Trapani I had already read several of his articles and was also in contact with him. I was about to finish my studies in Trapani and I knew he was going to teach in Naples, so I decided to do my Master’s Degree with him. I think he is an amazing theorist and I love his work, and I’m very happy about this choice.

As a non Neapolitan, what are the aspects of Naples you appreciate the most and what do you miss the most of Sicily?

Naples and its people are nice, friendly and of a sunny disposition, and the food is good! Somehow I think that with Naples “what you see is what you get”, both for the good and the bad aspects of course, and that is a good characteristic. The city itself is beautiful too, and going out for a walk is always a pleasure, and thanks to my friend Fabrizio Elvetico, another fine musician, I live in a lovely house in the center of Naples. Also, I have made good friends which are dear to me.

As for Sicily, what I miss the most is surely my family and my old friends, but luckily I go back there a few times a year, certainly during the summer when I go to the seaside with them as well.

You will be performing at Perditempo Dante in Naples on the 3rd of March. What is the electro-acoustic / experimental / improv scene like in Naples as opposed to the one in Sicily?

I will have a duo with Birgit Ulher, but the concert has been moved to Perditempo Majella, but it is still on the same date, though.

I think that both in Naples and Sicily there are some great musicians. I’m not much up to date on what is going on in Sicily at present, but here in Naples, even given the financial constraints, there are still some very nice things going on, and also different musicians from abroad who play here, thanks mainly to the people involved in the Alter@ Festival, and venues such as Perditempo(s), Oblomova, Cellar Theory, Ferro3, and others.

Finally, what are you currently working on?

Besides what I have already mentioned, at the moment I’m developing a few projects with Simone Pappalardo, another great guy and musician based in Rome. We’re going to play a duo in Rome on the 23rd of February, and we’re also working on a sound installation with a hybrid, feedback-based, digital and electro-magnetic system. As of my live projects, I’ve currently been working on my short-circuited devices, namely on how to have them interact, and I think it’s time for this project to come out of its embryonal state, so a LIES (bent) is soon supposed to see the light of day. Other than that, I’m trying to organize a small tour in May, I’m working on an article which should be published on the Interference Journal, and me and Andrea are basically finished with revising a collaborative paper which is due to be published on Computer Music Journal next Summer.

www.dariosanfilippo.tumblr.com
www.soundcloud.com/dario-sanfilippo
www.soundcloud.com/enterico-trio
www.soundcloud.com/ivvn

5 Comments

  • Another fascinating interview, thanks! Dario, I was particularly interested in your comments on chaotic and emergent feedback systems – are there any good books you would recommend on this topic?

  • Hi, Nathan, and thanks for sharing the paper, Gianmarco.
    If you are particularly interested in the application of such theories in music I’d suggest you to have a look at some papers by Agostino Di Scipio, as well as Phivos-Angelos Kollias who’s a lot into Systems Thinking, and Alice Eldridge, who has been studying adaptive “self-observing” music systems, to name a few. The aforementioned paper by me and Andrea also has a references section you might be willing to check out. As of Chaos, Kellert and Gleick, for example, are two important authors, and for Emergence, Corning and Kauffman are two authors to be investigated too, as well as others like Kitto. In general, I’d suggest you to have a look at Google Scholar with such keywords, you might be able to find a lot of interesting writings.

    Dario

  • Thanks for the suggestions guys! I think R. Keith Sawyer also writes about systems theory and emergence in improvised music in his book ‘Group Creativity: Music, theater, collaboration’, but I haven’t had chance to read it yet.

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