This article, like all of my Sound Propositions columns, was originally published by A CLOSER LISTEN.
A CLOSER LISTEN was honored to have published a translation of sound artist Enrico Coniglio’s noWHere manifesto. Coniglio described his manifesto to me as:
Just a small initiative, trying to clarify / provoke the “world of live electronics.” Too many times I’d attended a performance that left more doubts than certainties. The musician – who produces sound in mysterious and inscrutable ways – is increasingly distant from the public, not so much in terms of sound but in terms of interaction with the people. …we’re not snobs, indeed quite the opposite.
Some will like the idea of a manifesto, some will hate it. But our goal is to suggest not a “diktat” but just a reflection on what it means to make electronic music and how the artist can / should really perform “live.”
noWHere is not necessarily interested in a hierarchy of processes. The relationship between audience and performer is grounded in the “here and now.” The principles laid out in the manifesto emphasize the materiality surrounding a performance – its site-specific elements, a sense of space, and a real-time transformation of any sources or samples – so the audience can focus not on what is being re-presented, but on what they are presently experiencing. Transparency so as not to become distracted imagining what might be happening, the uncertainties Enrico mentioned above. What a contrast Francisco Lopez poses, what with blindfolding his audience during his performances.
Lemures is founded on a very different understanding of the audience. A collaboration between Enrico Coniglio and Giovanni Lami, Lemures was founded in 2011 to explore a shared interest in live electro-acoustic performance. Coniglio and Lami are both prolific artists in their own right, and met through their mutual association with AIPS, the Archive of Italian Soundscapes (Archivio Italiano Paesaggi Sonori). Several months ago, the duo released their debut LP Lemuria on Cronica. Lemuria consists of a quartet of improvised live electronic manipulations of field-recordings, structures as thoughtful and collaborative psycho-acoustic explorations. The same sessions that produced that record also produced the two tracks that comprised their free debut EP from last year. Together, the two releases present a case-study in working with the protocols articulated by the manifesto.
Essential to understanding Lemures is that the duo communicate as improvisers. One doesn’t get the impression that any sort of score is guiding the piece, nor that any kind of grid is imposing itself upon the direction a performance may take. The only direction comes from interacting with one another, and with the character of the “raw” material itself. A resonant drone often emerges and grounds the track, allowing the music to fade into the background if you let yourself become distracted. As such, it rewards close attention. There are moments that can feel claustrophobic, but when the duo allow space and depth to come into relief the impact is heightened.
All six tracks that make up the LP and EP were recorded as long improvisations carried out according to the protocols of the noWHere manifesto. Though the Lemures project is its own entity, separate from the manifesto, their recorded and live work thus far all conforms to the ideals articulated in the manifesto.
“It would be a lowly art that allows itself to be understood all at once, whose apex can be observed by the newly initiated.” (Goethe, The Man at Fifty)
noWHere declares itself a manifesto of principles for artists working in sound, specifically dealing with the perceived problem of “live electronics.”
Before the advent of radio broadcasting and record-culture, “live” music simply referred to a performance of music from composers who were still living, whether they were playing in the ensemble or not. As sound recording became more common, with radio and later home hi-fi sets extending the circulatory reach, “live” began to refer to performance in general, as opposed to a recording, an implication that the sounds of a recording were “dead.”
Even in those early days, the medium of sound recording was thought of as inferior to the experience of witnessing a performance in the flesh. Ads would suggest that a Victrola could present a “fidelity” so high that one would mistake it for the real thing. In order to sell home audio sets, companies like Victrola already assumed that the “live” experience, all that most people new, was superior. They marketed their products as being able to reach that same level, and ever since increasing “fidelity,” or a faithful re-presentation of the “reality” of the live performance, has been the benchmark of new equipment.
But as Jonathan Sterne argues, sound fidelity is a social construct, and recording was never not a studio art. In “Media or Instruments? Yes,” he compelling details how “every point in the process of sound reproduction –from its initial performance for reproduction to its audition on the other end as reproduced sound, from the hands and mouths of musicians all the way into out middle ears – “reproduction device” and “instrument” are really intermingled terms and practices. There is no reproduction without the artifice of an instrument, and all instruments in some way reproduce sound.”
The ontology of a recording is not quite beyond the relevance of this discussion, but thinking in terms of purity, of “origins” and “copies” is not only fruitless, but utterly boring. When judging even the most sophisticated listening environments, the question of the “so-called fidelity of a recording is actually a debate about the aesthetics of sound: how should recordings sound?” Any model of perfection is illegible outside of its specific situational context. Sterne is not just relaying a history of how our technologies and tastes have been shaped, but leaving us with a challenge: “In the creative arena we must free media of the burden of fidelity of aura, of reference of an imagined existence prior to mediation.” In their utilization of field-recordings, and manipulation based upon the particular character of the recording irrespective of any “fidelity,” Lemures suggest ones means of achieving this.
A recording needn’t be a document of a performance. When we listen we are granted a perspective in space. Perhaps we assume the position that the one or two microphones were placed at in a room during a performance. A recording might approximate the perception from one particular orientation (for instance a position in an auditorium), or it might mold “impossible spaces” (in a co-presence of multiple orientations), or capture details we cannot perceive with the ear alone. The act of making a recording is always one of artifice, and recordists not only capture a moment, but frame it in a particular way. In other words, the artists choices we make in capturing recordings constitutes a kind of playing, an instrumentalization.
But the cross-bred relationship between recording media and instruments is the crux of this matter. Steve Reich has said that Miles Davis was not a trumpeter player, but a trumpet and microphone player. That addition has more to do than just amplification. An amplifier doesn’t just make a sound louder. Making something louder alone is already a meaningful transformation. Amplification means that one must begin to think differently about the choices being made, one’s placement, relationship to the mic, sense of space, and manipulate it accordingly.
There are plenty of figures we could mention in (re)telling the history of live electronic music. The pioneering “techno pop” of Kraftwerk. The improvisations of Musica elettronica viva. The compositions of Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, especially those of Mario Bertoncini, who designed electronic instruments to be used in more formal concert settings, such as the Aeolian harp and an electro-acoustic prepared piano.
I’d like to dwell a bit longer on the case of Conrad Schnitzler’s Cassette Concerts in the annals of live electronic music. Schnitzler studied sculpture with legendary artist Joseph Beuys, and brought that conceptualism into his musical practice. Through his interest in free jazz he came to collaborate as part of the original roster of Tangerine Dream and Kluster, eventually becoming a prolific solo artist consistently ahead of the curve. Because he often worked with a keyboard-less synthesizer, which in the ‘70s and ‘80s were expensive and cumbersome, he developed his “Cassette Concerts” in order to orchestrate more elaborate live performances or accompaniments. He would mix anywhere from two to fourteen stereo cassette tapes into a complex aural sculpture.
Schnitzler didn’t use the tape because of anything essential about the medium. He replaced his stereo tape decks with CDs as soon as was possible. The qualitative preference for “live” music performance over taped electronics has been confused as the boundary between instruments and media have blurred. Liveness is not just about “being there” but about cultivating a sense of immediacy and interaction. So the Manifesto tells us the samples should be treated transparently, not behind the screen before the performance.
The European tradition of perfecting a studio composition and then touring it, exhibiting it on high-quality loudspeaker systems, suggests a different kind of performance model, more akin to what we might now think of as an installation. But why don’t we think of this the same way we think of cinema? Why hasn’t sophisticated audio recording assumed a similar social position to Cinema?
I contrast that approach to electronic music performance with Lemures and noWHere. Live improvisation plays a very important part in Lemures practice, perhaps the central practice. Yet they are also creating recorded compositions, as documents or otherwise. I think this highlights an important tension. What is the status of their own “raw” material?
In the original Italian version of the manifesto, there was a bit of discussion on the web in which Alberto Novello rightly questions what we mean by “raw,” as this term is already ideologically loaded. He writes, “The material is always processing a signal even if coming from a microphone, the microphone itself the change and what is meant by RAW is being defined. Apart from that the fact of use of the modified samples does not disturb my aesthetic, I think in the end the important thing is that the material sounds in an interesting way if you require pre-modified samples does not disturb my musical conception. ” I find myself agreeing with this, in part because of the problems caused by invoking “authenticity” or the “original” thing being presented.
In conversation with Enrico and Giovanni, I hoped to explore some of these issues further and gain a closer look into their artistic and technical processes. Please join in on the conversation. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Please introduce the project, Lemures, and tell us how it relates to the manifesto.
“noWHere” manifesto was founded in 2010 by Enrico, looking for writing a sort of an “useful handbook” for live performance. The listing of a set of assumptions lent itself well to being seen as a real cultural manifesto, right away similar, in both form and expressive strength, to the “Dogma 95” film movement founded by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.
Lemures is a collaborative duo formed in 2011 by Giovanni and Enrico, both part of AIPS, an association of Italian musicians engaged in research and in soundscape’s culture. The common purpose between the two led them to collaborate creatively, (inevitably) developing a precise compositional /performative aesthetic so, Lemures was born right at that moment and it had immediately a strong “live” attitude, often conceived as a new sound environment take place at the venue. The multi-speaker sound research (when possible) is every time ad-hoc for the place of performance, allows the audience to be fully immersed in a new soundscape, altered, changed by the spatial structure /architecture and material where the performance takes place.
Somehow, despite being a completely independent musical project, it’s also a scope of practice of the manifesto, a chance to test theoretical assumptions in terms of live performance and improvisation + live recording in the studio both.
Explain what your process of composition is like: your set up, equipment, recording/mixing process.
About two years ago we gathered in a rural building in the countryside of Ravenna (the city where Giovanni lives), for an intensive recording session, two-whole-days inside an empty barn.
Our equipment was mainly our laptops and related audio amplification, a bit of analog effects and some extra shit. We quickly started to improvise, with an attitude voted to listening to the other proposed sound-material, recording the whole. The sessions lasted hours, and each time at the end we were literally exhausted, was an experience similar to a psychoanalytic session, where thoughts sometimes are free to wander, sometimes are focused on defined structures, but -in any case- it’s not predictable where it will take you.
Sound materials we used are previously unprocessed field recordings from our archives, sometimes already selected and used in previously live performance of the duo.
Really important for us is recording time in the field or anywhere else; Giovanni normally uses Schoeps cardioid microphones mounted on boom or knob in ORTF configuration, and less frequently handmade contact microphones or lavalier capsules, while Enrico for his recordings uses mostly a Soundman binaural microphone and Aquarian hydrophones. So, the whole is properly a mix of different sources recorded with really different devices.
We were into a fully free improvisation, nothing was planned and -of course- the atmosphere of the place where we recorded was striking those days.
At the end, we had a huge amount of multi-track recordings, later carefully selected and partially re-edited by Giovanni in long post-production sessions. A further selection and reorganization of the tracks was made together with Miguel Carvalhais of Cronica electronica (who also mastered the work), immediately involved into the finalization of the digital EP and the LP12 “Lemuria”.
How’d you decide upon the name Lemures for this project?
Enrico: To this Giovanni replied that he is the creator…
Giovanni: I’ve never been (or at least I’m not lately) accustomed to choosing English names for that which concerns my work. Often it is a symptom of a useless xenophilia, while the search – often only in a few words – within a more personal substrate is always preferable. Using the Latin came naturally, which I later repeated: the word Lemures was really indicative of our kind of approach and of the sound pulp we treat, as well as being more or less recognizable in any language.
Same applies to the choice of the title of the LP, where Lemures is the project, Lemuria is its environment, linked to the rites of the Roman pre-Christian acts to exorcise / celebrate the spirits of the dead.
You both draw on visual art terminology to describe your practice, using the term chiaroscuro to describe your technique, and refer to shadows of the landscape. You both have experience as photographers (right?), so I assume your practice in this medium has informed your soundwork (and perhaps vice versa.) But the media are also quite different from one another, have their own specificity, acting upon different senses. Practices of listening are distinct from seeing. How do you bridge the gap?
Gio: I have been a photographer for about ten years, creating commissioned works that are really different from each other and from my personal projects, which often became exhibitions or books. The area in which I move today, outside the visual, is still very similar to the attitude I had in photography, where I always used a large format camera that inevitably required a longer approach to the environment and to the subject. The lesson is about sharpening the senses, derived from what has been translated into another field of interest, not substantially changed. You are right, the practices are different, but since the approach remains the same it is only the medium that changes, and once defined/similar parameters come into play, once you reach the degree of freedom that allows you to see beyond the technical variables, they are extremely similar practices (and that goes for, I think, any other creative activity).
Enrico: Regarding me, I’m not sure that owning a mobile phone with a camera makes me a “photographer.” Even if, maybe by accident, some good shooting comes out of it. The concept of “shadows of the landscape” for me comes from a suggestion by Leandro Pisano, music critic and curator with whom I collaborate in the management of net-label Galaverna, when in an interview he once asked me if I was interested in the meanings of the hidden landscape. In our manifesto (here we should clarify I’m not talking about “noWHere” but about the Lemures’ one…) we wrote that Lemures are also the “shadows of the landscape”: the reason why a given element is in a given time / space status. Coming to your question, viewing allows you to fix instantly the whole of the observed object, opposed to listening, which moves instead on the time axis. As one of the physical characteristics of the sound is to have a life, a duration; listening is a “durative” action. When I record a sound event with my microphones I may even think about making a metaphorical landscape. But the dynamics of the events that I’m trying to capture needs – again according to this metaphor – a long exposure time.
[Editor’s Note: Galaverna was founded by Coniglio with Leandro Pisano in February 2012, right around the time we launched ACL, as it so happens.]
You’re working with field-recordings. Are you looking at the waveforms (in Ableton or whatever) when you make choices, for instance, there is a certain shape of a wave that suggests a narrative or a series of events and you narrow in on this, or do you monitor the recordings and bring into the mix only what you want, or is it a lot of trial and error? Are you searching for the “right” sound, or do you work with a loop, processing it until you exhaust its potential?
Enrico: Personally it has never crossed my mind, but thanks for the suggestion. Furthermore, my approach has always been trial and error, even if I have in mind the combination of certain sounds with others, sometimes I try to “drag” a sample stored in my library into the mix and see “what effect happens.” Looking for the “right” sound is probably the obsession of every musician, classical or electronic that is.
At times I think that when you finally find the “right” sound it is also the only one that was possible, through an innate desire for perfectibility. But the truth is the domain of the possible variations can surprise us, and so it may be better to adopt a more aleatoric approach. That’s the reason I like collaborations, that’s why I believe in improvisation with electronic music, and thus Lemures.
Gio: I think everything begins with a great knowledge of one’s own sound bank, although normally I always leave many possibilities open. I break down the same type of material (we can almost speak of a “phenotype” of sound); because in my case, especially regarding non-solo projects (either established or impromptu collaborations), fundamentally it’s a two-tiered labour to fit into a preexisting sonic situation, developing additional layers to penetrate more deeply (often – on a technical level – just at the level of the frequency range of texture/ mixture) in what is already in place, or to fight it. The choice of one option over another is substantially linked to the attitude of the moment, structured by a palette of pre-loaded samples and (sometimes) analog or digital signal chains, depending on the specific set.
You speak of the exhaustion experienced as a result of your sessions, which calls to mind the relationship between sound, live electronics, and embodiment. Maybe you can talk a bit more about this, the role of the physical body in your live electronic work, since this is a relationship that’s slightly more abstract then beating a drum or blowing a horn. So, how do physical (and psychic) exhaustion play into Lemures?
Gio: I have always felt it was important trying to maintain at least a minimum of “physical” approach, even when the instruments being played permit little or nothing (read: everything electronic), through the use of external controllers (which I use anyway, to simplify the unfolding of events and to be able to act on more than one parameter simultaneously); the risk is to seem a clerk at the desk checking email. I must admit though that sometimes the presence of the performer is essentially useless, so much that you often try to reduce it to a minimum, playing in the dark or even not visible, staying (hidden) behind the scenes for example. It all depends on the type of project that is being developed. Regarding Lemures our presence is really useless, indeed almost “harmful”, because it could divert attention from what we’re trying to create: a landscape (exclusively) of sound, a “sound-fiction”every listener can place within his background. And truly here, the view should not be desired, but better excluded.
Enrico: The live sessions, or Lemures’s live-in-studio recordings, are for me a synthesis of previous individual work. It’s how we put ourselves in connection with electronic devices, cables, laptops, etc. When we are patched in and begin to act, it’s as if our minds were connected. We might call it empathy, I guess. During these sessions, each of us bring into the play a lot of energy, but more psychological. The role of my physical body during a performance is practically non-existent, there’s no great gesture in piloting a set through a midi controller. However, listening reciprocally means first of all respect for each other, before we can play tag.
I want to ask about the track titles. The track order, I should say. Are you self-consciously drawing attention to the chronal re-ordering (2, 1, 3, 6). Why is that?
Enrico: Regarding the titles of the EP I remember that we decided to go simply with a progressive number as the tracks were recorded. Then Miguel Carvalhais suggested a small change in the playlist, but we decided however to keep the original titles even if numbers of the tracks are not coherent with title-numbers… A sort of Dada experiment.
Transparency is an important aspect to the manifesto, it’s important to me as well. Not to hide behind the language of “experts” or technicality. Its the main motivation behind my series in fact, sound propositions (which by the way derived its name from something Eliane Radigue once said.) I think by being transparent with your technique its easier for the listener to not become distracted, to focus on the aesthetics, the creative choices being made. Ielasi is a great example of this. Aluminum foil. 15 tapes, etc. You talk of transparency of treatments and transformations. So you can hear what changes are occurring over time, even if you do not understand the “how” of it. So I wonder then how you feel about sound origins. Two questions, kind of. Where do you fall on the spectrum of Pierre Schaeffer to Luc Ferrari, “sound objects” in themselves vs emotional resonance of recognition? Not in the sense of necessarily recognizing the sound consciously (like, of that’s a glass rod tapped on a ceramic moose or something) but evoking more unconscious sense of recollection and associations.
Enrico: Conceiving myself as an “assembler of sounds”, I can answer the question by saying that it plays on both levels: recognizable sounds and manipulated sounds, without taking a partisan position. This is what we do with Lemures, some sounds are proposed as they were recorded, some rather transfigured through analog or digital manipulation. To me, if I have got a recording whose raw features I believe in, the best thing I can do to better emphasize the features is to keep it as is. On the other hand, filtering the sound allows you to get stunning and often unexpected results. As far as I’m concerned, being transparent, clear, with the audience during a live performance means an understanding that you are really working on the samples in real time, which is mainly the message that I would like to convey through the “noWHere” manifesto, whose title plays on concept of “here and now” [“hic et nunc”]. It is undoubtedly important that the listener may be intrigued by the origin of a sound, such as its source, where it was recorded, for example, but the fact that some sounds remain unrecognizable does trivialize the work: a rainstorm is a rainstorm for everyone, even on the archetypal level. The value of a recording therefore is not so much in terms of a pretense of originality, as in the skill of the field recordist to have collected given sound event in a personal way, which is by its very nature, intrinsically impromptu.
Gio: In my case it is essentially the “emotional resonance” that each sound creates in the listener. My work –in general, as with Lemures- is essentially based on this intimate (and unpredictable) aspect, which is linked also to personal background, which can play in various ways, creating comfort or destabilization. If to achieve this goal I need to process a sound or leave it intact is not really important, although the trend for me, lately, is to keep open a very wide range of chances, where the material meant to be recorded is supposed to be as it is, or comes to be totally upset by becoming really “other.”
Do you think media impart their own quality on a sound? That is, can a sound be a sound in itself without the medium impacting it somehow? Is that something you consider? Personally for me a medium isn’t really a medium, it’s not in between, it is the thing itself, it is an activity with its own broader social practices and cultural meanings that affect the result, I don’t believe in things being more or less real, or “authentic.” Maybe this relates to my earlier question about raw sound in the manifesto, maybe I’m over thinking it, and certainly I don’t think an artist needs to be able to articulate their intentions, but based on your previous I work I think the medium and emotional impact and context and concept play important roles in your work.
Enrico: To answer your question, a sound is a sound in itself without having to prove the claim, as an acoustic phenomenon. Wikipedia states that “Sound is a disturbance of oscillatory character which propagates with a given frequency in an elastic medium,” the air, for example. From a philosophical point of view this means that “if the sound exists only by virtue of the medium that allows its propagation, then “the medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan). From this point of view this means that “if the sound exists only by virtue of the medium that allows its propagation, then the medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan). From physics to sociology, we cannot disagree with McLuhan, according to which the impact of the medium on the individual is greater than that produced by the message content. The changes that have occurred in the field of music production through the use of new media, and therefore the emphasis given to processuality rather than the final product, shall not exceed in any case the impact that music has on the audience as the message itself. Among other things, the processuality of electronic music will be interesting to “insiders,” more than to the general public. That said, coming back to the idea of the “noWHere” manifesto, to declare what it means to make “live” music – assuming that this definition is valid – means to take a moral stance, rather than / as well as partially reveal the secrets of the trade. In the hope of engaging the public in listening and maybe even those who make electronic music of the aura of mystery. To be honest it’s just a basic prerequisite.
Gio: Joe, I completely agree with you: the medium is part of the process, and is a crucial point of it, even on a creative level. Even before the choice of the environment and of the conditions you (consciously) set during the recording, for example. The environment itself is part of the process, as the first or last step in the game, at the time of acquisition or at the time of the proposition, it plays a crucial role, you should always consider. Even on a creative level, not only as an outward consciousness of a state of immutable things, because you can always set things on space, shaping them to your idea. The pureness never exists, but perhaps it is through the consideration and structure that is different from the medium in the game, that you can reach it.
I think we may disagree about the desirability of “purity” as a concept. But, speaking of which, what role does the concept play more generally?
Gio: Looking for a concept has always been the basis of my creative works, not in music only. I’ve always considered it critical to the success of a project, and in some way everything I’ve done so far, may fall individually into the idea of a concept album (with jagged edges). Going more to the root, without isolating individual productions, there is always a “red ribbon” that ties together all that I made so far that can be simply identified with a project’s method, which leads through various stages till the development of a compact “body”, faithful to the development of the project in itself. In my case, to summarize, the concept is the planning.
Enrico: The concept is the intellectual framework within which a project develops. Usually I do not compose isolated tracks, but having different projects and open collaborations, that move through many genres (from neoclassicism to the environmental field-recordings). The concept is not for me just a part of the scenery, but it is functional to looking to the right sound and the right forms of composition related to each specific context. Of course, the concept is also an element that allows you to play with the title of the album and individual tracks. Normally I have in mind a certain theme from the beginning,Topofonie for Venice, the Great North regarding the glacial work, and so on. To tell you the truth, with Lemures things were different, we had to work more on the approach than to the concept, which is still rather undefined in our two works. You could say that “the concept of Lemures” and “Lemures” are the same: the soundscape transfigured into the soundscape composition, the effect of a process of improvisation from partially unexpected results.
And other than music (and photography) what are you into artistically, what inspires or influences you in literature, cinema, visual arts?
Enrico: Much of my music is inspired by cinema and literature, but I guess for many others is the same. Then, there’s my background as city planner, studies about territory, landscape and environment, that allowed me to reflect on the theme of the soundscape and its evolution. Finally, something that goes beyond that which is simply “experiencing the real”. Man is made for the outdoors, to move and not to self-amputate himself in front of a computer as a technological medium, always as McLuhan says(according to the author, all media from the word derived from the electronic computer a mechanism of self-amputation of the human senses).
Gio: The environment around us (that surrounds ourselves, or against which we struggle) creates the greatest influences, a bit like the sounds of which I spoke earlier. It is not just a matter of artistic practices that we can make or play, all the things around constantly make our background and our thoughts: the weather or the humidity in the air, a dinner with friends, a confrontation, a walk in the woods like a visit to an exhibition, sweating, insomnia, a book, grooming my cats.
Thank you both.
Readers, don’t be afraid to follow the Rabbit down the hole. Until next time.
Screenshots from Giovanni Lami.