Having interviewed Barbara De Dominicis about the release of Parallel 41 out on Baskaru, I couldn't let the opportunity pass by to hear what Julia Kent and Davide Lonardi had to say about the city of Naples and their experience whilst recording and filming the album...
Hi Julia, and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Over the years you have played with a number of different people in different situations. How did you approach the sessions with Barbara considering you’d only met online before you started playing together?
Julia Kent: Having heard and loved Barbara’s music, I was excited to work with her. As you know, having met her, she has a very special energy and a very personal and at the same time wide-ranging aesthetic. It has been a joy to play with her and enter her world. In general, I am always interested to work in a situation where the music is completely improvised; I have been lucky to have had the chance to participate in a few groups where that is the case. But to create improvised music in a duo is much more intimate, much more of a tête-à-tête conversation! My musical career often seems to consist of getting on a plane and launching myself into an unknown situation. In the case of working with Barbara, it turned into a beautiful adventure.
Parallel 41 developed over the course of a few years. How do you feel your collaboration evolved throughout the different sessions? What did you discover about Barbara in musical terms and how would you say your playing changed, if at all, from the start of the project to its completion?
I think, over the course of the time we have worked together, we have become more familiar with each other’s musical styles and choices and it has become easier to predict where the other person will go. For me, that’s both good and bad, because of course you lose the element of discovery and surprise that comes with playing together for the first time, but you also gain an ease in communicating and responding to each other. Barbara always astounds me with the power and beauty of her voice and with the atmospheres she creates with electronics and field recordings. She is a really amazing musician.
Barbara told me you already knew Naples quite well beyond the picture postcard image of the city. What are your impressions of the place? What are the things that characterize Naples best for you? Is there a particular place / sound / location / person that has shaped your image of the city? Considering you have toured Italy quite extensively, how do you think Naples fits in with the sonic and human landscape of the country?
I would hesitate to say that I know Naples well! I do feel at home there, because it is very much like New York in being a gigantic, chaotic, and fertile urban conglomeration. It is such a complicated city, though, and really has such a distinct culture and language and mentality. First of all, I think, without understanding the language of Naples, it’s impossible to really come to grips with the city, and I am very far from comprehending! Definitely I could say that the sounds and the visual aspect of Naples are unique in terms of my experience of Italian cities. I always think of Naples as being complex and many-layered in every way: aurally, culturally, and, especially, visually: you see there these swaths of ephemeral human detritus on top of the traces of the millenia of history that have created the city. The place that best symbolizes Naples, for me, is a space Barbara and I played a show in, not too long ago, called Riot Studio: it is in a beautiful and ancient palazzo, was a notorious and well-loved punk club in the ’70s, and now is a studio and art space, which hosts a variety of performances and events. One could sense all those layers: the ancient, the recent, and the totally present-day. The people who have revitalized it and are programming there have such respect and passion for its history, and having a consciousness of that history when you’re participating in an event there creates a really special ambience.
The track you selected from the Neapolitan session of Parallel 41 is probably the most rough around the edges in a way. What has your experience been of recording at the Lanificio 25 in the Porta Capuana Duchesca district?
I think Barbara actually selected most of the tracks for the record, and probably especially that one, since she is so in tune with the city. I think the roughness, at least on my part, was more a function of technological issues than the influence of the city, but, who knows, maybe the city had an impact even on that! I feel as though in Naples you can’t necessarily impose your conception of how things should be; you have to work with how things actually are. The Lanificio is an amazing space: very beautiful (as everything seems to be in Naples), but still home to artisans as well as artists, so very real-feeling, with its own rhythms, and its own symphony of interesting sounds, created by the people living and working there, and by the immediate urban surroundings. It was inspiring to play there. So often, when you’re recording, it’s a sort of sterile environment, quite isolated. To be able to sense the atmosphere of the city during the recording, in terms of being in this very particular place, was a very special experience.
The sea is virtually absent from the album even though originally you were supposed to record a session at the Villa della Gaiola, off the coast of Posillipo and yet there’s a striking Mediterranean feel in the music you’ve produced in Naples. How influenced were you by the southern atmosphere of the place?
Of course it’s impossible not to be influenced by the atmosphere of Naples, and part of the atmosphere of Naples is of course the sea. It is such an important part of life there, and something that makes the city feel so open. I know Barbara talked about the heaviness she feels in certain parts of Naples, and I definitely have felt that too. I always think the light in Naples is so interesting, because you often have this sort of shadowy, dark aspect where the buildings are crammed together…but as soon as you reach the sea, the whole atmosphere changes and there is this enormous sense of luminosity and freedom. A city built on the sea is always looking outwards, I think. I was talking recently to someone in Italy about accents, and he was saying that the accent of the mountains is so different from the accent of a city that is close to the sea, like Naples. The mountain accent is heavy, weighted, almost closed, and the other is lighter and more open. (Not to denigrate the mountains, of course, which have their own atmosphere and strength!)
The sessions in the North of Italy, the ones in Forte Marghera, Venice, Piedmont and Bolzano were recorded during the winter months. Considering field recordings were included and processed within the improv sessions, how do you feel the different latitude and the seasons influenced the music?
Each session and environment really had an enormous influence on the music. I remember the temperature and the light and the sounds and sensations of each place we recorded. Each was magical in its own way, and left its own traces on the sounds we were making. And of course, sometimes it was hard: in terms of brutally cold temperature, in terms of reaching these far-flung places, and, especially, for me, in terms of trying to take a large and sensitive and fragile instrument into these sometimes difficult environments. But the effort also enriched and informed the music, I think. Also, I have to say that the whole process involved so many enormously kind and generous people. Barbara has already enumerated them, but I really have to thank them so much as well, from the wonderful engineers/musicians who jumped in to help us and created studios basically from scratch under not-so-easy conditions, and then were so patient throughout the recording process, like Andrea Serrapiglio and Marco Messina and Andrea Polato, and also the people who enabled us to record in all these amazing spaces, people who were excited about the concept of the record, and about introducing us to the special places of their particular region.
Where was the New York session recorded and is there anything you feel you haven’t been able to capture or to render about the city?
Oh, New York is very much like Naples in that it’s really impossible to capture, I think! You can grasp a tiny facet of it, but to come to grips with this whole enormous, complex city is really a lifetime’s work. Especially sonically, because, for me, the sounds of New York are almost impossible to encapsulate. I do think that Davide’s visual documentary does capture the city in a really beautiful way, and his film finds some very interesting parallels between it and Naples. For me, his images of New York are very poetic, conveying both the vastness of the city and also some really fascinating details that, as an inhabitant of New York, you might miss.
There’s a strong visual element in Parallel 41. How did you work around the presence of the camera?
Well, Davide is really part of the whole conversation that we, as Parallelo 41, are having. The visual element that he creates at the shows, and the visual documentation that he made of the recording process–that is, the DVD component of the release–is really integral to the project. It adds a whole dimension. He is an amazing artist: he has such a great eye and such a huge talent, and he makes everything seem effortless.
In terms of the finished product, what are you most happy with and what do you feel is missing, if anything? Is there going to be a follow up?
Oh, you know, with a record, the process is often the most interesting thing, at least for me. I always am so absorbed when creating music, and then I can barely stand to look at or listen to the finished product. Perhaps because it is…a product? With this project, especially, because of the improvisatory nature of the music, it seems slightly strange to fix it in time. I often feel, when I’m playing with Barbara, that the show is a journey, both for us and the audience, one where I never know quite where we are all going to end up. And it’s difficult to convey that in a recording. But, in a way, this recording conveys that sense of traveling, of effort, of discovering, of inhabiting different spaces, so in a way it is the perfect document.
You are playing a few dates this Spring in Europe. What material will you be touring? Have you recorded a new album or any new solo tracks? Are there any new collaborations in the pipeline?
I’m working right now on a new solo record that I hope to have out by the end of the year. So I’m incorporating some new material live and I feel as though I’m exploring some new musical paths. In terms of solo shows: in April I’m playing in New York at Issue Project Room as part of the Unsound festival, which I’m excited about…it’s such a great festival! And over the next few months I have quite a lot more European touring planned: in Italy, France, Scandinavia, and possibly Germany. At the end of March, I’m doing a small Spanish tour with Santiago Latorre. He’s from Spain, lives in London, and makes incredibly beautiful music with electronics and saxophone and voice and other instruments. His music is just amazingly atmospheric and organic and gorgeous. We’ll be doing our solo sets, and then playing a bit together, which will be a lot of fun, I think. In terms of other collaborations: I have started talking about a collaborative project–a sort of song cycle–with a British poet, John Siddique. His work is powerful and beautiful, and it’s been really inspiring to create music within the context of his words. I just played with him in Bristol as part of a BBC show. I have a few other collaborative projects I’m talking about that will probably bear fruit later on. And of course we are doing some Parallelo 41 shows in the spring to celebrate the release of the record.
Finally, the Italian film-maker Paolo Sorrentino has selected one of your tracks from Delay for the soundtrack of This Must Be the Place. Were you familiar with his work beforehand and what did you make of the film?
Yes, I am a huge fan of Paolo Sorrentino’s work. I was thrilled that he included a piece of mine in “This Must Be the Place.” That came about because Teho Teardo, a wonderful composer who has written scores for several of Sorrentino’s movies, and many other movies as well, in addition to making any number of astonishing and beautiful records, passed my cd on to Sorrentino out of the great kindness of his heart. I haven’t actually seen the movie yet, but it’s coming out soon in America and I can’t wait: It looks brilliant!
Davide Lonardi on Naples…
Naples is an extraordinary city. It is impossible to love it or hate it, one loves and hates Naples, its vitality, its ancient and secret beauty, so apparent is the contrast with the carelessness and indifference to things that reigns supreme on the surface; it is like a rediscovery, a special exhibit for the sensitivity of those who can see beyond the appearances and can hear the deep breath of life that pulsates incessantly in the membrane of the stones.
In Naples, time flows at different speeds and is witness to interactions and negotiations between people that is so different from those of other Italian cities. This often leads to a false understanding of the state of things and to a rejection of anything that is perceived as different because of the heightened sense of vitality and energy that one feels over there and to which one cannot but be shaken by.
My relationship with Naples as a filmmaker does not end with Barbara and Julia’s project. In Naples I set my first film and from Naples I so often draw inspiration even when I am writing.
The perspective on the city, when one attempts to describe it, to film it or simply to view it, is always unique. Naples, even in its most panoramic districts like San Martino or Posillipo, only ever offers itself partially, it never completely reveals itself and only concedes viewpoints on the gulf that plunge the density of the city in the background. I have always found this to be an extraordinary aspect of Naples as if the city itself would shy away from revealing all its beauty.
In the film I produced for Parallel 41, I have rendered only a few “tics” and habits linked to the food, and the daily rituals such as the coffee breaks, and the obligatory granita from the market. Also present are a few snapshots from everyday life, such as the football games in Piazza Plebiscito, and the scooters that slowly climb uphill through the narrow streets of the old neighbourhoods (which is a daily occurrence in a city like Naples overrun by mopeds), because I feel that they represent the ticking of time, the breath of life that when one stops to look at the city makes one fall in love with Naples.
The Lanificio, on the other hand, located deep in the belly of the Naples, in the middle of a complex district with its alleyways that lead to the courts and tribunals of the city and with the hubbub of the nearby train station, feels like a place separated from this context, a wholly independent microcosm with a life of its own.
I didn’t even attempt to describe it in depth as a whole lifetime wouldn’t be enough to capture it, nor could 100 films unveil all its composite relationships with history, the territory, the different cultures from Europe, the people’s attitude, the ways of saying, and the quickness of language key to survival, and maybe it is best this way so that a certain indefinable halo of transparency and mystery will always hang over its innermost nature that, to me, constitutes its most authentic charm.