Vedute della luna scritte in Braille
Andrea Valle is a researcher and composer based at the University of Turin. His work often centres around the construction of systems that bring unique computer interfaces together with analogue tools, instruments, and techniques. “Vedute della luna scritte in Braille”, which translates as “Views of the Moon written in Braille”, is described by its composer as “computer music without any digital sounds in it”, and was made using his digital-analogue hybrid instrument, the Rumentarium. Software developed in the audio programming environment SuperCollider is used to drive a menagerie of percussion instruments made from small DC motors, broken cymbals, assorted crockery, empty biscuit and tobacco tins, Lego, and other paraphernalia. However, the music is far from a mere tech demo, with all those wires and lines of code being used to explore and respond to Galileo Galilei’s written descriptions of the surface of the Moon as viewed through his telescope in the early 17th Century.
Orienting the Rumentarium’s frenetic pings, chimes, rattles, and clatters towards our closest celestial neighbour has a strange effect on its sounds: they obtain a kind of weightlessness and airlessness, not quite as melodious as the alien whistles of children’s television heroes the Clangers, but almost as free-floating. Perhaps this is just a perceptual trick resulting from conscious awareness of the lunar subject matter, but it works nonetheless. The album is a mix of improvised pieces, performances of graphical scores, and sonifications of Galileo’s writings that in theory allowing linguistic rhythms and cadences to be heard (though I found it difficult to hear resemblances to text in the actual music). Though the range of timbres and rhythms deployed remains fairly limited throughout, the mysteriousness and uncanniness with which the Moon must have appeared to those early telescopic eyes is effectively conveyed.
This sense of the uncanny is perhaps engendered by the ways in which human and non-human elements are related in Valle’s work: complex systems, the parameters of which are defined by human choice, take on lives of their own as they go through the act of musical performance. The most surprising thing about these relations is that they can be sensed as aesthetic affect — they are audible in the music. Thus the Moon is presented as a timeworn symbol of otherness, while retaining an actual otherness; one perceives both a human fascination with our lunar companion and the withdrawal of that object from the closest scrutiny. The jangles and clangs of the Rumentarium skitter along a blank and impassive mineral surface, but when Valle’s lunar seas heave dry waves like slow, dusty exhalations, you can hear the Man in the Moon snoring.