issue 5 :: Spring, 1999

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Interview: Giancarlo Toniutti

interview by Francis Collobert
first published in Symposium #8, July 1996
rough-translation by Matt Kirby, July 1997
revised by Josh Ronsen, August-November 1998
updated by Giancarlo Toniutti, January 1999
photographs by Giancarlo Toniutti

I discovered the music of Giancarlo Toniutti purely by accident: I was buying records from a sale through the internet and I randomly purchased his EpigËnesi LP, knowing nothing about the composer or the work. Ah, those carefree days of reckless spending. What was a mere impulse buy turned into a splash of cold water into my face. Here was a creation that flawlessly combined a number of musical elements that interested me at the time (and interest me still): a relentless drone, a mysterious use of vocies, and closely mic’ed metallic objects. The fact that these elements were used was not so important as how they were mezmerizingly put together, providing me with a new ideal for sound art creation.

In English, I have found few-well, zero-articles about him, hence my desire to translate this interview from the French magazine Symposium. Since I started this translation, N D has published two interviews with him, appearing in N D 20 and 21. Both of these together provide more detail than what is printed here. Coincidentally, this same issue of Symposium had an interview with Dan Plunkett of N D.
First of all, could you tell us a history of your work, of your live experiences?
I started in 1977 with a friend to experiment with improvised noise. From 1980 to 1985, I developed the utilization of electronic and acoustic instruments. Between 1982 and 1985, I took courses in electronic music at the Conservatory of Venice. After 1986, I stopped using electronic material. Besides that, I have done very few live performances:

1984 — “La Mutazione” (30’) for magnetic tape and live visual action;
1984 — “Un piccolo organismo” (30’) for 2 voices and echo-devices;
1985 — “O nekotoryx struktury” (35’) for magnetic tape and 2 stones;
1986 — “Septikos spinale” (30’) for sound sources and magnetic tape loops;
1988 — “Microclinale” (33’) for 6-meter pipe, 1000 small objects, bass-drum and audio-video installation;
1998 — “arghahytaan tehiinneex (with reins on the spine): Synclinal Geoacoustic Site” (240’) for 8 geostationary loudspeakers.

If I have performed infrequently, it is because of the incompatibility of my work and the stage situation. This might change more, with the “sound-sites” projects.
Can you tell us about the concepts behind each of your works? And of your passion for toponymy (the linguistic study of place-names)?
Difficult question. It used to be I would be “happy” talking about specific (literary/philosophical) concepts for each production. Unfortunately, I no longer feel I can tie a work to a concept together in such a rational way. So I would prefer to present certain informative elements for the works created at conceptual ends. The five cassettes have in common the utilization of electronic sounds with acoustic sounds. Their structure is based on the interaction of sound-layers.

One can consider “La Mutazione” like a stage between the cassettes [The French call cassettes k7, because in French, that sounds like the word cassette- Ed.] and the later productions (first attempt to get out of linear structures).

With EpigËnesi, there is an initial approach to link a structural density less with systems, or non-linear, and towards a larger morphological dynamic.

Kul‡k (camma), as much of a distinct project that it was (perhaps the only “narrative” structure that I’ve used), introduced the concept of waves of sound particles across the layers.

With Tahta Tarla, I mostly worked with micro-structural activity, first theorised in EpigËnesi, as a consequence of sonic morphologies of the sound sources. But I also developed a macro-structural map of densities through major analyses of the fields of perception. This is what concerns sound.

I understand that you would like to learn more about the “symbolic” references in my work. As those don’t exist... Lastly, on that which concerns toponymy, it is an activity that I have practiced since 1989, in collaboration with the Center for Toponymy which is attached to the Friulian Philological Society of Frioul. I have done research at a local site near the Slovenia border: the commune of Taipana. I gather the names of places from a list of varied sources: ancient or recent land registers, old notary acts, maps, et cetera. I also write articles. It is a work in progress, although I am currently changing priorities in this field. This particular interest is based on a general interest I have on “marginality,” like the marginal cultures of Siberia, of the Caucasus, the Arctic, of Mongolia, et cetera. It is a different way to understand our past and our present (history, cultural dynamics, languages, et cetera).
What relations do you establish between your sound and language in general?
In fact, you can’t have relations between language and sound. From a very general point of view, we should simply say that the development of language on the one hand, and art on the other was the focal point/crossroads of the dynamics of the human psychism: language as a medium to define reality across a code of relational activity, and art as a way to organize reality in a significant experience. Art helps fields of perception to operate in a canalized way such that it creates a rapport between memory and reality. One could say that art “conceptualizes” reality.

As you can see, the question is vast and fundamental. I would like simply to add that, for me, the music, like art in general, is not an “esthetic” experience, but a functional one. This has nothing to do with taste, esthetic pleasure, emotions, et cetera, all these sentimental philosophies! It is a function of the human psychism.
It seems there is an important rapport between sounds and the places where they come from...
You are probably making a specific reference to Tahta Tarla. Well, in this precise case, there is a totemic relationship (as defined in the booklet that accompanies the LP) that basically signifies a sort of “familial union” between music (sonic space) and place (physical space). This doesn’t have anything to do with an elective affinity and all those idealist concepts. There is, in a strict sense, an issue of identity, something like “my mother is the raven, the raven is my mother,” like I’ve already written elsewhere.

But, on top of this particular project, I have a constant and clearly defined interest in places and their connection to sound (but not only this). We know that sound is related to its source and the sound source is a morphogenetic acoustic field (the specific morphology of the sound is dependent on the specific morphology of the source), one must consider the place as a macro-source of sonic phenomena (basically the place where the sounds are). This is even more true of the recent project “*KO/USK-” where stones, used as sound sources, are entirely tied to the places where they were collected.
Do you let the listener visualize these places?
Absolutely not. In my work there is no intention of representation. Music is a sound space that is organized, canalized, et cetera. It is an acoustic reality and not the representation of reality. Consequently, no visualization can follow and I dissuade anyone of wanting to do this.
Can you talk to us about the connection that you have with these places when you develop your work?
Basically there is no personal relation, if you mean by that as an emotional or inspirational connection. On the other hand, the relation is that of the knowledge that is both geomorphologic and historico-cultural. This all comes together in what I call “territoriality,” which means a specific relationship with a well-defined physical space. One or several places, as many as necessary for each. It is a relation that refers to one’s own memory, not in a nostalgic, archaic, romantic sense, but as a field establishing the map of our psychism, a function concerning space.
What is the project *KO/USK-?
It is a collaboration with Siegmar Fricke, but in reality I can honestly say that it is not divided between us: I have done 70% of the work in terms of structure, organization, approach, theory, etc. This project is now completed. It is a CD with a book, or vice-versa. The music was created only using the sounds of stones. Siegmar, myself and friends collected stones from several places in the world (from Alaska all the way to Erythrea). The book includes photos, diagrams with text, etc., in rapport with the musical project, and two long paleolinguistic studies (research in the pre-Indoeuropean linguistic relics). The cover is made by a Tlingit Indian artist.

From the musical side, it is another stage in the micro-structural interdependence of sound and its source, and the macro-structural interdependence of the sound space and the perception space, within the articulation of morphogenesis.

Many uncertainties remain about future projects, basically things seem pretty unstable, unless they enter within a framework of total work, which is not the case for the moment. I can briefly mention a collaboration with Andrew Chalk and Jonathan Coleclough, which is being directed mainly by Andrew himself, and will include a long essay I’m right now completing, dealing properly with the relation sound/source, in historico-cultural perspective. It’s called PÈgeten. I have other projects, but the time isn’t right to expose them.
On two of your LP’s, you worked in collaboration. Why?
Collaborations are interesting. Firstly, to not get too wrapped up in myself at an impass (on the level of the structure and of the sound), because it forces me to abandon what I may do out of habit; secondly, collaborations can bring new perspectives on the world, to counterbalance one’s own perspectives. The collaboration with Conrad Schnitzler was very special because it happened after long silences, several reorganizations, etc. The musical work is more the body of work of personal relations than a definite sound project. On the other hand, the collaboration with Andrew Chalk perfectly stuck with the idea of a project with strong exchanges. But in the end, collaborations have nothing special if we keep in mind that I work only on projects that are well established and well thought-out. One can consider collaborations are variants of solo work. Of course, as you can see, I dislike the idea of having a jam session...
Can you talk to us about your photographic works and their connection to your music.?
You again ask a question about music and its relation to another field. In reality, you can’t have a relation between photography and sound. The only relation that I can see exists through me. We can visualize it this way: in fact, my photographic work has slowed down a lot. Over time I developed a technique that I call Scabrography, which is a research into “surface dynamics.” Now I find this technique too restrictive, I don’t really use it any more, even if my approach to photography still preserves a bit of that. For example, look at the cover I made for Bernhard Günter’s Détails Agrandis. I could say my approach to photography has less to do with the medium than with the articulation of the visual space in itself. This is why I can revise my techniques this way: I try not to take photos by looking the lens of the camera, but what I try to do is place the shutter where I want to take the picture, independently of my eye. In the beginning, we could speak of “surface dynamics,” more recently of “dynamics of points” rather than “objective images.”
Can you talk of the Italian scene of the ’80’s and now and how you think about it?
Well, on my part, I don’t have any particular interest in national scenes. Consequentially, I’m not in any. To speak truly, there was a qualitative and quantitative impoverishment of the Italian scene since the 80’s, concerning both labels and composers. But I have the impression that it is a world phenomenon, except Germany, maybe. But that is only quantitatively. On the one hand, it is very good to have seen the end of the “industrial/noise/ mystical or what-you-like” movement. I think movements are just reactions to certain situations. Luckily, at the world level, there is a diversified scene although reduced in quantity. I don’t think I can cite more than 20 interesting composers in the world. My wish is to always see a varied “atomized” scene exist where each composer has his/her own conceptual approach to music.
In conclusion?
To end, I’d like to provide some supplementary notes about my activities. I want to say that for me art is entirely dependent of the cosmogony of the artist, his world systematization. Art is a part of each one’s culture and I see it as the realization of a cosmogony.

In this regard, I would like to stress that my musical activity has no connection with the “history” of Western music, whether it be classical, rock, jazz or aristotelian. I consider myself more like a culture within myself, in the sense that I compare myself, and I confront myself, with the cultures of the world, preferably those on the margins: like Siberia or the Arctic, like Chukchi, Nganasan, Yukagir, Ket, Tuva, Eveuk, Koryak, S·uni, Aleut, etc., or also Mongol, Tlingit, etc., those with which I find to have a greater continuity, on the cosmogony plane.

I would also like to affirm my total disgust for the idea of art considered as an expression of one’s ego. I do not even recognize its reality or as the emotional or sentimental expression of one’s “spiritual world.”

Lastly, to stay strictly in the realm of sound, I would like to say that I view sound like an acoustic phenomenon and not like a codified language that implicates any hierarchical codes like the taxonomical dependence of instruments, the existence of measuring models, questions of literary supremacy, et cetera. This is part of a culture I don’t share anything with.
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