Simone Pappalardo teaches computer music, electroacoustic, and holds a workshop on improvisation with electroacoustic instruments at the Conservatory Ottorino Respighi in Latina. He began his career creating electroacoustic machines in collaboration with experimental theatre artists. He also creates musical compositions, especially for instruments (electronics or acoustics) that he designs...
You have an academic background, could you tell me how you came to be involved with electronic music and what is your musical background in general. Have you for instance played in hardcore bands when you were a teenager as many of your peers seem to have done or are you classically trained?
I don’t really have an academic background. I only enrolled at the Music Conservatory when I was 26 and even though this was to be a key stage in my musical development I already had a chance to dabble with other musical genres by then, which has been fundamental as well. I used to play in punk and post rock bands when I was in high school and subsequently had my first live experiences at the famous Folk Studio in Rome (one of Italy’s most important venues in terms of folk and avant-garde music) where I got to know Giancarlo Cesaroni when I was still quite young. I was exposed relatively early to different sounds to the prevailing and consolatory music produced for a young audience.
Then came my experience with “underground theatre”, and especially with the Furio Camillo theatre and Butoh Dance company Lios). At the time I played in a duo with Claudio Moneta, who did great music for dance and who is currently a member of Roseluxx together with Cristiano Luciani, Tiziana Lo Conte and Federico Scalas. Working for the theatre, we had the opportunity to rehearse at night after the shows. We were frequently asked to compose music for performances. Electronic music not only allowed us to explore complex timbres but it also meant that we could produce music, which could convey the dramaturgical and “orchestral” intricacy which was key to these productions, at a low cost. It was definitely easier to multiply the layers of timbre digitally.
Furthermore, this way, we could radically reinvent the performance space. Considering the lack of means we had to contend with, the music also often became the only element of set design (which sometimes was also a choice). It was down to the music timbres, together with the lighting and the stage action to modify the audience’s perception of the environment.
I believe I was able to draw so much from that experience and everything that I do today is in a way a continuation of that. The relationship between timbre and space has found a personal solution in the sound installations. The issue of the connection between musical and physical gesture has led me to investigate further my relationship with improvisation. At the same time, I have found a natural outlet for it by building my own electronic instruments where the physical gesture is an integral component.
The Furio Camillo theatre was an incredible lab where we could seek alternative ways of producing music. After that came the Music Conservatory where I got to know the composer Giorgio Nottoli, who was my teacher, and things radically changed in terms of the work methodology and the spaces and venues where one would play. Things became less empirical, more theoretical but also more complex.
There are a number of pioneers in terms of early electronic music in Italy. What do you think was the specific strength of musicians such as Enore Zaffiri, Marino Zuccheri, Teresa Rampazzi, Ferruccio Ascari, Pietro Grossi, and Luigi Nono?
It’s really difficult to give a comprehensive overview on artists who are as important and different as the ones you have mentioned. What I can say is that these musicians have radically transformed, each in their own way, the way we think about music and composition in Italy (as well as abroad) by underlining the strong relationship between timbre, architectural and social space, and scientific research, thus showing how music doesn’t live a vacuum. One considering the installations of Ascari, the computer art of Zaffiri, the experimentations of Zuccheri, but also the works of Nono – who is the “purest” composers amongst the ones you’ve quoted – one cannot just talk about the music, but should also take into consideration the wide and complex social and artistic context which transcends the boundaries of musical syntax. This is perhaps the real strength and the innovative element of these pioneers who have accomplished that process of transformation within the arts that had began at the end of the XIX century and which elevated different and external elements to the same level of importance of compositional parameters such as those of musical notes and intervals. This was, they expanded considerably the musical vocabulary enabling it to express very complex abstractions and feelings, mirroring the complexity of the contemporary.
Your work is mostly based on electromagnetic fields and their interaction with acoustic instruments such as violins and pianos, which you end up giving a Frankenstein makeover. How do you go about developing these “hybrid machines”?
The idea of building instruments comes from the theatre. From that experience I derived a strong interest towards physical gestures. Even sound could be seen as the memory of an action. There is no sound which has not been produced by a gesture. I therefore find it interesting to rethink classical instruments – or to develop new ones – in order to investigate this relationship between physical gesture and sound in different ways, by minimising or maximising it and testing its limits.
Also, an instrument can be modified, or enhanced, in order to make it interact in a significant way with space. A sound, just like a gesture, is always linked to that same context where it acquires coherence. This relationship between sound and context can also be investigated and put to the test. A composition thus conceived triggers a process of experimentation and research on gestures and space, which is to be conducted together with the performers in the same way it happens for a certain type of theatre.
You do a lot in installations, working with Alberto Timossi amongst others, and you frequently play live sets, but there isn’t much in terms of recorded music from you currently available. Is that a deliberate choice? Do you feel more comfortable working in an art environment?
Rather than being a choice, this has proved to be rather difficult for me. As I mentioned I am very interested in the relationship between sound and space, which is something virtually impossible to capture on a recording. Both in my compositions and installations, I try to make a particular space into a parameter of the musical syntax just as it happens with other elements such as rhythm, amplitude, and timbre. It is not that I find working within an art context particularly congenial, it is just that a gallery space can generally be modified in a way that a venue or a music hall can hardly ever be. The question of finding new ways of experiencing art is an old one, even though the answers have been few and far in between. To have a performer on stage in front of an audience is still our preferred choice for a live event. The configuration of a space does determine the way the sound is perceived. I would be impossible, for instance, to imagine a drums set from Eastern Africa in Saint Mark’s cathedral in Venice. All one would hear would be a cacophony of sound without ever being able to isolate a single beat. It was in that cathedral that in the XVI century, that they experimented with the spazialisation of sound giving way to a new immersive musical experience unique to that space with its specific configuration. Instruments, timbres, and musical structures have always had a strong relationship with the space that hosted composers and their audiences.
Today we have the possibility of redesigning completely this relationship, but at the same time we seem to be bound to forms of fruition solidified over the centuries.
You have a number of collaborations on the go. Could you tell me something about your Olympian Gossip project with Tiziana Lo Conte?
Olympian Gossip are the result of years of work with Tiziana. Every time I was creating a new piece or I was working on an installation I would think of introducing Tiziana’s voice. She has a way of using her voice, which I find congenial. It also has to be said that she has a similar background to mine, alternating between the academic and the underground. Her improvisations carry the echoes of the history of contemporary music, with the avant-garde, and the more hardcore undeground experiences all blended into the mix together with a more extended and freer timbre.
She is a natural born performer and has always been honing her skills through different practices. It is difficult to “enclose” her voice and her performance in the constricting framework of a recorded track.
We formed this duo for the sheer pleasure of playing together. Olympian Gossip is an elecotracoustic impro project where we nonetheless set ourselves different rules depending on the specific occasion. There are times when we predetermine the type of material we will be working on, and other times when we work on a specific theme following long periods or research. Having said that, we can also play freely with no restrictions.
You are also currently working with Dario Sanfilippo, Franz Rosati and Andrea Valle on a new collaborative project, which is still in its early stages. What else are you currently working on?
At present this is still a project in the making rather than a live collaboration. Separately we have frequently worked together in different guises. We all held each other in very high esteem, which led us to want to combine our very different experiences, which have nonetheless many points in common. The first stage of this collaboration will be the festival “Le forme del suono” (The Shapes of Sound) held at the Respighi Conservatory in Latina (23-31 May 2013), which I am involved in organising. It will have workshops and installations by Franz Rosati and Andrea Valle as well as a collaborative installation by Dario Sanfilippo and I. As Dario will be away touring, Franz, Andrea and I might do a trio performance.
The Italian electroacoustic scene is quite varied and vibrant. Are there any underexposed artists and musicians you think could benefit from more exposure?
Many names spring to mind. For instance, the impro ensamble “E-cor”, which came into being thanks to Elio Martusciello’s encouragement as teacher at the Conservatory in Latina. Many young and very promising musicians are honing their impro skills here with electroacoustic instruments creating works for a variable number of performers (electronic or otherwise). Another underexposed composer that springs to mind is Paquale Citera, a versatile musician with an academic background who has also used Tiziana’s voice in some of his work.
Also interesting is the Moterlsalieri a space created by Fabio Quaranta, which combines fashion, art and music, and which also stages very interesting live sets. They were the first to allow me the freedom to completely transform a space. In spite of the dire current socio-economical situation in Rome they are persevering in their attempt to offer something new and non institutionalised.
You are originally from the Emilia Romagna region but you were brought up in Piombino. You now live in the Alessandrino district of Rome. Notwithstanding its many problems, Rome has a very active experimental music scene. Do you feel at home there?
Unfortunately yes, I do feel at home here in Rome! Sometimes I’d like to escape, as nothing seems to work and function properly here especially considering that Rome is forever marred in a state of cultural and social crisis, however I am also aware that it has a lot to offer in terms of alternative venues and thanks to the tangible legacy of the historical avant-garde movements within film and theatre. In spite of the fact that Rome is provincial to its core, almost in a vulgar way, it still benefits from a multifaceted truthfulness.
At times, it is almost as if everything seems so much closer at hand here, from film stars to avant-garde painters, but then everything slips out of reach once again and feels so remote. It does feel more difficult to produce art here as this is a city which doesn’t bestow visibility. Rome is certainly far from being a Mittel-European city, however, incredibly as it may seem, experimentation here is very much alive and well. Also, it has to be said, that as a musician, I am lucky enough in that I often travel for work, which puts me in a strange position toward the city I call home. Compared to other cities I often find myself betraying it in favour of more elegant and functional places, but then again, I end up striving for it. I would give up on Rome any day, but I would never change it.
- Photography: Chiara Kurtovic-Nufactory, Simone Pappalardo, Giuseppe Silvi, Pasquale Citera