Vol. 24 Issue 2 Reviews
Musica Scienza 1999
Centro Ricerche Musicali, Rome, Italy, 1-2 June 1999

Reviewed by Simone Tarsitani (Rome, Italy)

Musica Scienza is an international festival of music, art and contemporary culture organized each year by Centro Ricerche Musicali (CRM) of Rome. It consists of a series of concerts, conferences, sound installation presentations, and multimedia events. CRM was founded at Rome in 1988 by Michelangelo Lupone and Laura Bianchini. The two composers, wishing to promote research into the aesthetic, analytical, musicological, and scientific aspects of music, formed a team of musicians and scientists working on joint projects with the aim of developing complex advanced initiatives and demonstrating the potentialities of a context in which scientists and musicians could meet and cooperate.

The 1999 edition of Musica Scienza was held in Rome at the Accademia Filarmonica and the Auditorium of the Goethe-Institut. It was an eventful occasion, marking the tenth anniversary of the festival. As in the past, CRM aimed to present to a wider public the results of advanced research in the language of music and in computer technologies applied to music. Musicians, artists, and scientists from all over the world contribute to the knowledge and diffusion of research and artistic idioms far removed from those of the mass media. Communication and the disciplines that study modes of communication were in fact the thematic nucleus around which this year’s festival was structured.

The central theme was the voice, the favored instrument of communication. "Parola versus suono" (Word versus Sound), the title of the event, called attention to the symbolic value of the word, to the processes of its transformation into significance–into language–so as then to gain possession of the literary and theatrical dimensions where the word becomes poetic text.

The conference "Il Teatro dell’Ascolto" (Theatrics of Sound Hearing) consisted of two meetings which dealt with the themes of "Creativity and the Means for Artistic Communication." By analyzing the development of content in relation to the innovations of artistic communication, a balance was drawn up outlining the actual state of research into the technologies of the means of communication. A presentation by Derrick De Kerckhove led to a discussion on creation and communication. The full day of reports, opinions, and performances provided an in-depth examination of the evolution and prospects of the idioms in the light of artistic diffusion through radio, media, digital, and interactive channels.

The chief feature of the festival was without doubt the homage to Edgard Varèse, a memorable evening in three parts. The commemoration opened with "Il sogno di una macchina" (the dream of a machine), an imaginary dialogue between Varèse and Anaïs Nin written by Guido Barbieri and Sandro Cappelletto on the basis of an interview of Varèse by Nin.

This first part of the performance, acted by composer Sylvano Bussotti and Anna Maria Gherardi, was held at the Sala Casella with concentrated localized listening conditions using "planephones," special multiphonic sound diffusion systems developed by Michelangelo Lupone at CRM and presented for the first time at the Musica Scienza festival of 1998. Planephones are vibrating sound systems consisting of panels of different materials (wood, metal, plastic, leather) and shapes installed in artistic venues; with them it is possible to design the acoustic space according to the architecture of the hall and give the sound the timbral quality of the materials employed. This type of installation ensures accurate and very detailed listening conditions in that the sound is not only diffused homogeneously along the vibrating surface of the panels but is also very localized; consequently, a hall of small dimensions is required where the public can be seated fairly close to the panels (2-3 meters). The installation realized in the Sala Casella was designed by Giancarlo Gentilucci.

At the end of the imaginary dialogue, the public was invited to walk in the gardens along a higly suggestive path created (in collaboration with Gramma) by installing a number of waveguides, artfully positioned in a play of lights and materials in keeping with the natural environment of the gardens. This path led to a reconstruction of Le Corbusier’s Philips Pavilion, where a reproduction of the event realized by Le Corbusier and Varèse for the Brussels Exhibition of 1958 was presented. It was a remarkable event, a unique opportunity to see, for the first time since 1958, a masterpiece which was likely the first genuine electronic multimedia performance in the history of music.

Le Corbusier decided that his design would not merely be a pavilion, but also a Poème electronique. The result was a revolutionary structure conceived as a space in which architectural, visual, and musical elements were continuosly and consistently interlaced. Based on the idea of a bottle containing the Poème electronique, the structure was conceived with an unusual ground plan shaped like a stomach; that is, a wide central area with an entrance at one end and an exit at the other, a configuration well-suited to the requirements of the pavilion since it facilitated the continuous transit of visitors.

The public entered this mysterious space accompanied by the strains of Concret PH, a prelude composed by Iannis Xenakis (the musician and architect who supervised the realization of Le Corbusier’s design. though Mr. Xenakis has disputed the authorship of the pavilion). When sufficient people had entered the central area, they listened to a performance of Varèse's Poème electronique, lasting approximately eight minutes, accompanied by lighting effects and projected images produced under Le Corbusier's direction. The allegory of the design in the form of a stomach, a place where matter flows through continuously and at the same time is modified, was used to symbolize the influence of the Arts on Humanity. The walls of this futuristic structure were shaped as hyperbolic paraboloids in order to fulfill multiple functions; not only were they suggestive elements of creative architecture, but also served as screens for projecting the lighting effects and images. They were also studded with loudspeakers to ensure refined sound spatialization.

The black-and-white images projected on the two sides of the "stomach" reviewed, with a very succinct and suggestive sequence of allegories and emotions, the history of human civilization from its origins to the present. A voyage from darkness to dawn, a catharsis that evolved in step with the triumph of reason through science and culminated in a finale of harmony and optimistic hope. The last images of the film showed a group of children, symbolizing the birth of a new era, and an Open Hand, as a symbol of peace, while the narrator recited "Observe this open hand, the Open Hand raised as a token of reconciliation, open to receive and to give."

The plan for restoring and staging the Poème electronique was carried out jointly by Valerio Casali, a versatile architect well versed in music and highly knowledgeable of the work and philosophy of Le Corbusier, and by the artistic-scientific team of CRM. The task was lengthy and highly complex. The mighty reinforced-concrete structure of 1958 was scaled down, maintaining the original shape while erecting walls of cloth panelling. A splendid up-to-date reproduction of a starry sky was placed on the ceiling, replacing with optical fibers the lamps used at that time. Faithful copies of two symbolic objects–the Mannequin and the Mathematical Object–were suspended in mid-air, metaphors of the conflict between nature and mathematics, between instinct and reason.

The original score of the multimedia event, which gave very detailed instructions on the changes of lighting and atmosphere for each image and section of music, was scrupulously followed by Valerio Casali during his work. Laura Bianchini was responsible for the musical element. The original sound spatialization schemes were emulated by diffusing the sound through 24 loudspeakers. As a result, it was possible once again to experience the splendid, astonishing creation of Le Corbusier and Varèse while being plunged in a complex space where sensory perceptions were multiplied by a crescendo of ideas, suggestions, and emotions. The passage through the "stomach" shook, thrilled, and changed us all.

On leaving the pavilion, the garden walk led to a new listening space amongst the trees where a performance of Density 21.5 flautist Silvia Lanzalone concluded this magnificent promenade.

These three different listening environments were maintained throughout the entire festival. For the succeeding concerts, the music was diffused in the Sala Casella by planephones, in the gardens by waveguides, and in the pavilion by the loudspeakers installed on the walls. In this way, the public could choose either to follow the concerts "live" or transfer to one of the outside venues for a different form of listening. These forms of multiple, sophisticated, and innovative listening were highly appreciated by the public who had the opportunity of experiencing for themselves the value and importance of sound diffusion systems in contemporary music.

One monographic concert was dedicated to Teo Usuelli, a composer who has long collaborated with the CRM team, and included the performance of electroacoustic and instrumental passages taken from the soundtracks of Marco Ferreri’s films.

The concert of singer Silvia Schiavoni and the CIMA Choir was particularly noteworthy. They presented two world premieres: Ni anverso, ni reverso, by Andrea Nicoli, a musical journey that follows the suggestions and literary references of a poem by Luis Borges, and …Il resto è quiete, by Laura Bianchini, inspired by some of the most important of Shakespeare's tragedies.