Music

“CON FUOCO D’OCCHI UN NOSTALGICO LUPO”

Joseph Sannicandro

The following essay accompanies a 2-volume compilation of experimental Italian music I curated for The Silent Ballet, a webzine I co-founded in 2006, and Lost Children, a net-label I’ve been co-running since 2010.  

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Longtime readers of The Silent Ballet may remember a feature called Tracking the Trends. In fact, the feature, written by founder Jordan Volz, predates TSB itself, going back to the time of Decoy Music. Each installment took a close look at promising new artists, organized by region. Italy stood out as an important center for creative music, though grouping artists based solely on region always seemed a bit arbitrary to me. Over the years I’ve gotten to know more and more of these musicians, and found that their opinion of their homeland was more complicated than artists from other regions. Italian artists receive less state support for their work, and the Italian scene suffers from fragmentation and a lack of performance venues. Several prominent members of the musical community live and work in Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, or other cosmopolitan centers of artistic production. As a result of this, I found that many of the artists I’ve worked with were unaware of work that was going on within their own country. Certainly region alone isn’t enough of an organizing principle, but nor is it one that that can be completely dismissed outright. These musicians do indeed share a linguistic and cultural tradition, and though that heritage isn’t always expressed in stylistic similarities, certain attitudes and conventions do emerge, or are at least being reacted to.

The original conception for this project was to put together a single release dedicated to artists who work with field-recordings, a project that will finally see the light of day next year. In the early stages of putting this together I realized that many of the artists were Italian, so the orientation of the project shifted, andcon fuoco d’occhi un nostalgico lupo was born. I was struck by the creative diversity of these artists, and so abandoned genre for nationality. I was also working on the inaugural issue of In Circulation at this same time, thinking about the idea of nationalism, trans-nationalism, competing globalisms, and both the inadequacies and persistence of the nation-state. I realized that I was putting together a compilation based precisely on national origin, thereby supporting, at least in the case of aesthetic output, the belief that national heritage can be an important factor.

Opera fans in Italy are known for being quite harsh and unforgiving. The widespread attention that classical music has commanded in Italy created an audience with sophisticated taste, and one that was unafraid to voice their discontent, in effect an affirmation that they have cultivated taste and that they are not averse to passing judgment. By the time rock music became popular in Italy, the psychedelic movement had already taken off in the UK, and so Italy’s exposure to rock was one with expanded sonic potential. These shared conditions, linguistic and cultural heritage, create a shared aesthetic orientation, even if this orientation becomes expressed in such diverse forms. My hope is that in some way this work justifies its existence, bringing together a strong collection of artists and representing some of the most interesting music being created today.

The twenty-one tracks that are featured on con fuoco are not quite meant to be a “who’s who” of the Italian scene but the volume does strive to be something on an anthology, showcasing this particular moment in time, bringing together established artists with emerging figures, showcasing the tremendous vibrancy and diversity of music being made by Italian artists today. Many of the tracks were composed exclusively for this volume, or else are previously unavailable. Giuseppe Ielasi, a figure of central importance, contributed a track of a recent LP as well as having contributed to the production of other tracks. Neil on Impression were featured in the original Tracking the Trends, as were Giardini di Mirò, whose keyboarding has contributed a track under the name Pillow. Though many of the artists come from Milan, in the end there are artists present from all over Italy.

As an Italian-American and one who has spent a good deal of time in Italy, and written much about its music, I believe that Italy has a rich tradition of interesting and unique artists. But I have found that many of my friends in Italy who make music are often unaware of many of their peers in Italy. With a little context, the various artists presented here make more sense as a group, hopefully to the artists themselves as much as to new listeners. Important historical precedents exist that, coupled with Italy’s classical and avant-garde past, help situate contemporary artists in a national tradition, granted one that has also incorporated many influences from abroad as well: figures such as the Futurist painter, composer, and theorist of noiseLuigi Russolo, psychedelic rock group Le Stelle di Mario Schifano, contemporary classical composer Luciano Cilio, and Maurizio Bianchi (MB), whose industrial and post-ambient noise is incomparable. It is my great pleasure to say that MB is included in this volume, a track taken from what may very well be his last album, as he has announced his retirement from music yet again. Taken together these figures represent a genealogy of sorts that all the artists included on this volume share on some level. Even if their particular work may be unknown to some, they represent, in my view, nodes in which various tendencies in Italian avant-garde music have been clearly articulated and expressed in the last century. The transnational influence of rock and punk and John Cage and Brian Eno and so on are surely audible as well, but this is not news but a lineage that musicians all over the world now share. The link between Russolo and Bianchi is quite a necessary one, both representing the camp that is deeply resisting the past, embracing noise in all its modern, ugly, and beautiful forms.

Philippe Blanche’s essay “The art of duration and resonance” (2009) treated many of these connections, focusing attention on MB and the younger artists working in his wake, outlining the aesthetic parameters they’ve begun to carve out, succinctly summed up in his title. Many of these younger artists of the past two decades have contributed to furthering the post-ambient work he’d returned to after a lengthy hiatus from his earlier, more industrial work, even collaborating with MB directly, as in the Between the Elements series conceived of by MB andMatteo Uggeri. This generation of musicians is represented in this volume, however they often seem to have more of a playfulness than one would expect from MB himself.  Uggeri and others who have integrated field-recordings into the core of their work often feature the voices of children, a powerful transformation of MB’s original stance towards industrial noise and technology. Perhaps the clearest example of this is in Italian Plays, a broadcast Uggeri curated for Framework, in which all the contributions features recordings of children playing games. Using an industrial process, framing a moment with simple recording technology, the resulting work is deeply hopeful. Many of the tracks on con fuocoexpress a similar sentiment, and perhaps this is at the heart of what unites these artists: a realism that lacks both irony and cynicism. What could be more refreshing?

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con fuoco d`occhi un nostalgico lupo, a two volume compilation dedicated to experimental Italian music, is available for free digital download athttp://lostchildrennetlabel.com/
Download: http://bit.ly/confuoco

The title of this essay, and the accompanying compilation, comes from the poem “Con Fuoco” (1925) by the Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti:

“Con fuoco”

Con fuoco d’occhi un nostalgico lupo

Scorre la quiete nuda.

Non trova che ombre di cielo sul ghiaccio,

Fondono serpi fatue e brevi viole.

“With fire”

With fire of eyes a wolf nostalgic

Stalks the naked quiet.

Finds but shadows of heaven on ice,

Ignis fatuus of serpents

Merge with brief violets.

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