Giovanni Lami is a field recordist and musician from Ravenna in Italy, working within the soundscape and sound ecology boundaries. He is also involved with Zymogen label, working with artists such as Nicola Ratti, offthesky, Ten and Tracer, con_cetta, Letna and Marihiko Hara. He graduated in Food Science and Technologies and also in Photography. It was his photography qualification that first got him into the field of art. Presently working in the field of sound, Giovanni's influence as a photographer lends itself perfectly to composing his sonic explorations...
You are from Ravenna, a historical town on the Adriatic coast famous for its Byzantine mosaics. You have also recently created a sound installation, In Sirenis, based on field recordings from Ravenna’s harbour with its heavily industrialized sites next to protected areas rich in wildlife. By placing such sounds into an urban location you also seem to play around with notions of context. How important is it for you to destabilize the listener?
The port of Ravenna is atypical because of its distance from the city, its life and its streets. Although it occupies an extremely large area it remains virtually unknown to the majority of the local inhabitants. This is one of the reasons that prompted me not only to embark on this project, but also to take it to the heart of the historical city centre through a temporary installation. I have always tried to destabilize the fruition process in my projects both audio and visual. I believe this to be of fundamental importance, not only to promote deep listening, but also to facilitate a closer listening experience in the audience by touching different chords in their personal background. This concept applies also to the album where the two tracks end abruptly, both with a sudden cut. I know this might sound as a brutal choice, which it is, but I have opted for such an edit to allow the listeners to become aware of the sounds of their environment as soon as the track ends. When listening to some really dense sound, if this ends abruptly, one’s attention is immediately drawn to their surroundings and every nuance of the soundscape is captured precisely because one’s listening threshold has been raised. This may be just my personal opinion, but I don’t believe this depends on the sound dynamics but rather on its density. Moreover, since I am constantly searching for new ways of investigating the soundscape, I believe that this could be one of them: to create something really dense and different from the surrounding aural environment to be listened to for several minutes only to end it suddenly to allow the ear to capture the more intimate, private and closer sonic world. What’s more, this idea translates perfectly to this particular project where the aim was to introduce the sounds of the harbour within the city, only to signal a sudden return of the (real) city itself.
You are also part of AIPS, the Archive of Italian Soundscapes which also includes Alessio Ballerini, and Francesco Giannico. In keeping with the ethos of AIPS you have recently mapped the soundscape of Cesena, another city within the Emilia Romagna region. How did you approach this particular project, coordinated by Enrico Malatesta?
This project with Enrico has been very interesting. It is only the first step of a longer term project and therefore it was quite useful to lay the foundations and determine the kind of take we will be adopting. Even though it was expressly called a “sound archive”, the type of relationship we initiated with the landscape was, and will be, far removed from that of a traditional archive consisting of a soundmap of the place.
To begin with, together with Enrico, who knows his hometown inside out, we walked in and around the grey areas hidden within the city centre, or that exist just next to it unbeknownst to the locals and that lay forgotten and abandoned waiting to be rediscovered.
To use the words of Francesco Bergamo, this was necessary “to develop an awareness of the characteristics of the sonic environment we have at our disposal without having any knowledge of it and of the ways we have of interacting and modifying it according to our needs and for its natural adjustment.”
An almost political discourse, therefore: a “political soundscape”. Still, the last stage represented the concept and the crux of project itself. Enrico played two drones in four of the spaces we had previously “listened to”, one of low and one of high frequency, using a single plate and a bow while I was recording the environment from different angles finding resonances and making Enrico’s sound interact with the surrounding ones. Subsequently, all the material was composed and partly deconstructed in a live set.
Both Ravenna and Cesena are in the Emilia Romagna region, which was recently struck by a series of earthquakes. How can sound art, in your opinion, articulate themes such as those of memory and identity linked to the territory and what would you say are recent examples where this has worked?
Working with field recordings and previously with photography, the themes of memory, the past, and death inevitably crop up. Phonography like photography, to investigate aspects of the present reworked through personal attitudes and stylistic choices. Personally speaking, I would say that maybe it’s the project I’ve been working on with Enrico Malatesta, which I feel closer to, it really fits me like a glove, when it comes to tackle these themes. Looking at other artists working in the same field, amongst the most recent releases I would pick Chris Watson’s El Tren Fantasma and Morinaga out on Galaverna (which contains a track recorded in the Irpinia region which was struck by a devastating earthquake over thirty years ago).
You seem to have a purist approach to field recordings. I am thinking for instance of I Misteri, out on Impulsive Habitat, where you recorded the Easter procession in Trapani, Sicily. In the linear notes to the album you explain that you spent about a week in the area, to get a feeling for the place only recording the marching bands on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. You also state that the recordings are “not processed, just subtly equalized and cropped.” How important is it for you not to resort to any digital trickery and to adopt an observational documentarist approach to the aural environment?
As I have partly explained above, I don’t believe 100% in a purist approach to soundscaping. I tackle every single project on a case by case basis and most of the time I find this modus operandi anachronistic and totally disjointed from reality. In the case of I Misteri, though, this was the only way to approach the subject matter and at the same time, the most sincere and ontologically correct, “that which is for how it reveal itself”.
I didn’t want to intervene in any way, even in post-production. All the crescendos, for instance, come from me getting closer to the sound source, and walking amongst the people holding my boom. The context was already rather complex as it was and really layered for me to add anything on top.
Together with Filippo Aldovini you have coordinated the netlabel Zymogen releasing critically acclaimed albums by the likes of Offthesky, Nicola Ratti and Con_Cetta. What have you learnt from running the label and what has become of Zymogen, which seems to have gone on an extended sabbatical?
Difficult subject to discuss… but also quite simple really. Both Filippo and I have lives to live, with different interests and often different priorities. To be honest, I find it sad myself to see how Zymogen has laid dormant for the past couple of years, but on a personal level, I have other priorities at present. My life is currently divided between sound research (both solo and on collaborative projects) and animal rights activism. I also promote veganism and antispecism and in a few months time will be starting a new activity about this together with my partner.
Having said that, a new beta version of Zymogen’s website has been ready for months now, but we prefer to launch it when we know we will have the time it deserves to dedicate to it.
As a label, Zymogen was also striking for its artwork. You have a background in the visual arts yourself. You work as a photographer as well as making sound installations for galleries. Your most recent work in that field is Equiseto, a collaborative work with Giorgia Severi made with mini speakers concealed in essicated equiseto branches. Do you believe that the art world pays enough attention to sound?
Luckily music, and all kinds of sound research, works well with other artistic practices both out of necessity, and because it is quite common to have a sound piece wherever mixed media are involved. This is a great advantage for those who are interested in specific themes because it facilitates meetings with like minded people working with different media. That’s what happened with Giorgia. Besides Equiseto, which was our first collaborative piece and also a kind of “test run” for future projects, we have already been exploring new ideas. It is stimulating to “intrude upon” other territories by trying to learn about them in order to incorporate them into your own work.
Collaborations are an important part of your artistic practice. Together with Enrico Coniglio, for instance, you have formed the duo Lemures. What is specific of this particular project and what distinguishes it from your other collaborative projects such as alineH and Terrapin?
I believe that within our musical genre, working together with someone else is particularly interesting. When you find another person with the same aims and you that you respect both from a human and a musical point of view, than it is very easy for collaborations to take place. Lemures is a case in point. Even if we never have set dates to meet up, every time this happens (either for a gig or to record new material) we are always extremely happy with the outcome. We follow set rules that reflect a precise musical aesthetic and which prompt us to delve even deeper in our research. Right from the start, we decided to use only raw field recordings, processed live or left as is, but always completely decontextualized. Improvisation acquires a fundamental role, just as it often does with me. We both have our own stock of sounds to play, but the selection always depends on the context, and is done there and then in real time, while we listen to the sounds unfold on a quadraphonic system.
Which do you consider the most interesting names within the Italian electro-acoustic scene in terms of musicians?
Not long ago, a bunch of us got together for a couple of days just to play music and talk about things, without having to think about albums, specific projects or deadlines or anything of that kind. It was simply us in a sort of a studio. The situation was slightly more articulated than that, but that was the gist of it. The idea came from Enrico Malatesta, and I have to say that for many of us, and especially those of us who work 24/7 in music, it’s been a real breath of fresh air. It was fantastic to play, and especially listen to others play in their own time in a very relaxed atmosphere in the countryside of Forlì. Who was there? Giuseppe Ielasi, Nicola Ratti, Attila Faravelli, Enrico Malatesta, Renato Rinaldi, Francesco Brasini, Riccardo Baruzzi… Due to previous engagements Lorenzo Senni, Luciano Maggiore, Dominique Vaccaro e Renato Ciunfrini couldn’t make it. The best of youth… What else can I say? Did you ask me for some names…?
When it comes to mastering, Giuseppe Ielasi is one of the preferred names on the Italian scene. What would you say is specific about his approach to music?
Giuseppe is boss. He has a vast musical knowledge and is a great human being one cannot but admire. His mastering touch is always first class and being an internationally renowned electroacoustic musician himself he knows how to best finalize an album which you might’ve have been working on for a while and listened to a thousand times.
How can you not entrust yourself to his perceptive vision? He is capable of emphasizing and bringing out sounds which are embedded while softening other elements; the reason why he is one of the preferred names is simple, he is a master.
What are you currently working on and which direction do you see your work taking for the future?
Before the end of the year I will release a split C-40 tape together with Sublamp, on Felt a young and very active Greek label, who pay a lot of care and attention on the artwork and their releases. I also have a series of collaborative installation projects with Giorgia and I really hope to find together with Enrico Coniglio a label for our joint album as Lemures.
Finally, did looking for pleasure destroy your life?
Not yet. Not in the past nor in the future (I hope).