Among the main figures of contemporary experimentation, Roberto Paci Dalò is a director, multimedia artist and composer/performer. He is director and creator of the Giardini Pensili group. His research develops within an area that goes from the development of radio interventions to sound installations; from the development of plays to the building of virtual stages like the Itaca project commissioned by the Teatro di Roma and directed by Mario Martone (1999-2000), passing through the development of the film that, as in the case of Petròleo México (2004) was presented at the Locarno International film festival.
Through his interest in the contamination of languages, Paci Dalò put the intersection between different disciplinary territories at the centre of his artistic attention, which vary from the organisation of telecommunication systems applied to artistic processes to the semantic-dramatic redefinition of new technologies applied to the mise-en-scène.
Many of his works have become radio pieces, interactive sound/video installations and online projects. In 1993 he won the Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD Prize. A pioneer in the use of the internet and the integration of analogical and digital technologies, he created and presented his own works, commissioned by radio and TV companies, museums and festivals especially in Italy, Austria, Germany and Canada. He lived in Rome, Berlin and Naples with long residences in Vancouver. Paci Dalò created on-line projects where a distributed interactivity is of great importance.
From the point of view of aesthetical categories, Paci Dalò’s work is marked by a penetration into territories that deal with the discussion of sight and sound perception, working on the border of subliminal processes that find a direct compatibility in the organisation of visual and auditory architecture that tend to immerge the spectator into the work. In other words, it is a work that develops into an organic and compositional dimension, where the subliminal component of artistic communication gives consistency to the works and flows into the spectators’ perception like an underground current. This dimension manifests itself in the folds of sound and image that Dalò designs like a meaningful constellation, letting a tension emerge between an evident and tangible dimension – the dimension of the visible scene – and an intangible and underground one that make it possible.
Paci Dalò has also taught at the University of Siena and collaborates with different Universities in Europe and Canada. He’s a member of the Internationale Heiner Müller Gesellschaft in Berlin and artistic director of Velvet Factory – space for arts (Rimini, Italy). Between the most recent works there is Italia anno zero (2004), created with Olga Neuwirth (Wien Modern, MaerzMusik Berlin and others), Kol Beck Living Strings (WDR Colonia). He created the label L’Arte dell’Ascolto in 2004. Within his most recent productions is Animalie (2002), a scenic commentary of L’aperto by Giorgio Agamben, Stelle della sera (2005) created from texts by Gabriele Frasca, Organo Magico Organo Laico (2006) created for REC – Festival di Reggio Emilia, Cenere (2006) at the Teatro di Monfalcone, L’assedio delle ceneri (2008) for the Napoli Teatro Festival, Roter Schnee (2009) live set / performance at the Uovo Festival – O’ Milano, Atlas of Emotion Stream (2009) sound/video installation commissioned PAN Palazzo delle Arti di Napoli and inspired by the book Atlante delle emozioni by Giuliana Bruno.
In view of the recent addition of Roberto Paci Dalò in the multimedia agency Digimade (with two titles, the version of the video Roter Schnee and the most recent Magnetica), this interview wants to be a presentation and reflection of the work of one of the most interesting contemporary audiovisual “composers”. But it isn’t really an interview, it’s more like a constant and deep discussion between interviewer and interviewee, question after answer, a stream of intellectual consciousness that touches many aspects of the vast productions by Roberto Paci Dalò. In this conversation he is revealed in all his artistic and cultural profundity and preparation..
Enrico Pitozzi: I would like to start with a general thought regarding the concept of composition. This organises all of the levels, be they visual or auditory, of your interventions. Composition has to do with drama, and therefore with editing. Could you talk about this aspect?
Roberto Paci Dalò: I think of the work composition referring to different parameters, aside from the purely acoustic dimension of sound and music. Music, as is common knowledge, is just a small part in the immense world of sound. Often the two are confused, using the word music as a synonym for the word sound. We could say that sound contains music in itself, in a formalised way. Music therefore is a moment or condition for sound. Talking about sound we refer to the whole gamma of what is audible, and it is necessary, in this sense, to think of a compositional process that incorporates noise and soundscape as a whole. Furthermore, on a first level, when talking about composition of scenic works, one must go back to an intervention that involves the editing of all the levels. Composition cannot not regard, on both sides, a reflection on time and on different dimensions. It’s a question of sculpturing the time of every intervention, as Andrej Tarkovskij would say, be it on a performance level or on an installation or sound level. On a second level, the term composition goes back to the relationship, or rather, the balance between different materials in the mise-en-scène; this means that a show generated from text doesn’t succumb to this. In conclusion, when talking of composition, this refers to the complex form through which a work unfolds itself. When Cage quotes Coomaraswamy who says that imitation of nature is in his process, it’s not an imitation of form, but of its structure, something more complex than exterior visibility. To compose therefore has to do with the assumption of responsibility regarding a process
Enrico Pitozzi: On the horizon of your composition another important aspect of your work can be collocated: the archive. The archive of images and sounds that, composed, bring together the aesthetical level of your work
Roberto Paci Dalò: All in all the archive is a text. To work in an archive means to work on materials in a dramatic sense. The selection is the cardinal operation of this process. But even in this case drama is not necessarily connected to the writing of a text, but rather goes back to the weaving of a scene. It’s a work that has a lot to do with memory and it’s levels. The archive is of absolute importance; I like to refer to an archive because it means that you have to deal with unknown, obsolete or forgotten material. I’m thinking of an example of work created from an archive of a war museum in Rovereto made by Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi, where the repertory images become something new if organised with an organic logic. This all becomes more important from the moment that there is an encounter/conflict with the net, which is in fact an enormous database. The creation of a database, therefore the organisation and research of materials, allows for the realisation of other operations.
Moving onto the single components of your question, it is necessary to underline that an image, compared to a sound, is much less defined, it’s adherence to reality is much more different: in the first case a recorded voice remains the same object, made of the same substance, in the other, I refer to a photo of a face or a film, it is something that can at most evoke the original object. For this reason working with voices from the past, like for example with Mussolini’s voice for Italia anno zero (created in 2004 with the same Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth) is something that immediately drags the listener into a precise universe. I often work with materials that have been used; it’s the same principle that governs the use of words and writing; I refer in particular to Heiner Müller who rewrote his own texts continuously starting from material that had already been used. The archive grows slowly and is continuously modified by the creation of new operations. The works that come from it have connections between them: the materials. The strength of these materials emerges, making a sound or voice travel through time and present itself as a track.
Enrico Pitozzi: Could you talk about the use of an archive in a work like Animalie (2002)?
Roberto Paci Dalò: Animalie comes from a text by Giorgio Agamben, L’aperto. Man and beast. This text is, in its nature, impossible to stage. For me the only way to confront it is to do so speculatively: that means reading the text from the composition of another text that relates to it. Animalie is a commentary. I chose the parts of text like reference points, especially the more evocative parts from a theory point of view; afterwards Giorgio Agamben’s voice was recorded and these fragments were elaborated through a granular synthesis process
Enrico Pitozzi: A level of organisation of material that, in some way, made it possible thanks to the process of molecularisation of what is digital. Could you talk about this aspect?
Roberto Paci Dalò: Elaboration begins through a decomposition and a re-composition of sound, operated from a minimum of fragments. Inside this process what is relevant is that I did not work with synthetic sound alone; the result of granular synthesis depends solely on materials used and qualitative parameters imposed on the program. A file of a voice part by Giorgio Agamben, of 4 seconds, is processed through granular synthesis to give life to 4 minutes of sound. It’s clear that in these 4 minutes a lot of things happen from an acoustic point of view that transcend the original material.
Enrico Pitozzi: But the original material, in this case Agamben’s voice, becomes a sort of matrix whose final sound carries a memory that it cannot forget
Roberto Paci Dalò: Yes, in part it can be described in this way. And it is for this aspect that I worked on the issue of memory. In a certain sense the soundscape of Animalie is built on a voice track by Agamben that, in itself, is unrecognisable. An interesting and random aspect that derives from the treatment of sound material, is that starting from certain parameters applied to voice it was possible to produce sounds that evoke animal voices; so Agamben’s text, treated with granular synthesis, appears unrecognisable in the scene, but in its place the voices of the objects of the discussion emerge. The animal is evoked through the author’s voice who, in turn, becomes a beast. The work done for Animalie, thanks to the process of granular synthesis, is oriented to the heights of sound, so that the sound wave can expand further. The impression is that of entering into Agamben’s imagination through a path conceived through all the modulations that from the grain of his voice go to the final sound. This has made the acoustic spectrum of the performance a paradoxical acoustic Polaroid by Agamben.
Enrico Pitozzi: The soundscape seems to take on the whole development of the scene, to the detriment of visualscapes and the treatment of images..
Roberto Paci Dalò: … it’s an acoustic scene that absorbs all the aspects, until it has a greater perceptive and sensorial impact on the spectator compared to the impact an image could have. The important thing from the point of view of theatre and drama is that sound, which is apparently abstract, acts on parameters that are connected to the body more than images are. It’s as if the images are always outside the body, arrive later, as if they maintain a certain distance as well as having a scarce immersive capacity; whereas sound is immediate and penetrating, scopic, and hits senses directly. It’s very physical and that has a specific technical explanation: a series of frequencies provoke certain vibrations and resonances. These vibrations resonate on a double level: on the level of spatial architecture and on a physical level.
Enrico Pitozzi: But visualscapes are determined by a process of digitalisation of data. Could you talk about the visual horizon of Animalie?
Roberto Paci Dalò: The projected images are created live, using software created by Tom Demeyer while he was working with the STEIM foundation, a research centre for the development of instruments for the creation of electronic performances, in Amsterdam. This system allows the images that come from a stage to be captured in order to modify them in real time and project them onto a big screen positioned at the front of the stage, in certain sequences of the performance
Enrico Pitozzi: As ell as the visual and sound intervention in Animalie, there’s work on repeated movement. In its articulation this seems to recall the spinning of a web, thus creating continuity with the animal world as it is given in the text by Agamben. Could you talk about this movement?
Roberto Paci Dalò: There are two phases of movement; on the one hand the first part is given to a repetitive structure, marked by the repetition of certain modules and speeds. This is composed of strict movements that come from martial arts. They make you think about an animal-like horizon; in any case they aren’t simply decorative movements. They work with intensity and energy. The second part on the other hand is in counterpoint with the first. The spider’s web, which it refers to and is associated to the movement of the performer, doesn’t draw an amorphous space, but rather a space laced with tension; it works on structure, like in an engineer’s work. This is very important from the point of view of structure; the movement is equivalent to this process, at least from the point of view of the rigueur of the internal organisation.
Enrico Pitozzi: I would like to go back to sound and in particular, the work on voice. I would distinguish, in your production, two ways of intervening on the acoustic spectrum. On the one hand work is dispersed like in the intervention on Agamben’s voice for Animalie; on the other I would identify a repetitive structure, at times hypnotic even. This second aspect is present in Stelle della Sera (2005). Could you talk about this?
Roberto Paci Dalò: Agamben’s text is, as it is known, not a theatrical text. But the two texts composed by Gabriele Frasca for Stelle di Sera, are extracts from some of his complex work articulated in 5 parts. These are thought out for the mise-en-scene. One of the two is a text composed of hidden hendecasyllables; therefore even if these aren’t immediately recognisable, the hendecasyllable has such a metric force that it can impose a rhythm that can be worked on. I’ll come to your question: the secret of these texts is the dynamic of implosion that they hide. They are so full of evoked images, that they create a short circuit that transcends the text. This becomes a way toward trance. They are texts thought out and written so that they can be disintegrated into a vocal flux
Enrico Pitozzi: Can we connect the two works, even if they are so different, in research on the voice beyond the pure significance of the word?
Roberto Paci Dalò: What connects them is this notion of trance. The idea and desire to build a machine that intervenes on perception, independently from the initial materials. The work can come from a visual suggestion, a text or a sound. Trance creates a series of relations with other concepts like that which I just mentioned, perception, but also with other key words like senses. All this is to create something, like the theatre, that deals with the extra-ordinary. In October 2006 we created, at the Teatro Valli di Reggio Emilia, Organo Magico Organo Laico, an exhibition connected to theatre-music. This work was part of a bigger project, commissioned to different composers, on an object, a wind organ that was to be on stage the whole time. That is something quite unusual for an opera theatre that had been built halfway through the 19th century. Therefore the direction came from this musical component, as if it were the making of an opera. In this work, which was developed with Roberto Fabbi, we intervened with a text built on different scores thought out and written for the organ. On the one hand we worked on the mise-en-scène, on the other we used our sensitivity and our specific instruments. We treated the Teatro Valli like an object we had found, operating on its structure like a site-specific work. We listened to the space, like we do with hangars or an industrial site or any other unconventional site.
Enrico Pitozzi: How did you deal with the relationship between space, images and sound?
Roberto Paci Dalò: First of all we put the audience on the stage and the stalls, inserting them in two locations that traditionally were separate. We covered the whole perimeter of the stages with white tulle, which then became a sort of semi-transparent protection. The structure of the theatre, or rather, its architectural skeleton, was semi-visible but at the same time the environment was more immersive. All of the actors were also semi-visible, in the sense that they were off-stage, therefore visible to the people on stage; they were physically hidden from the audience in the stalls, who could only see them on the projections. In the light of a site-specific work, we asked the technicians of the theatre to reset the light system of the theatre so that we could control it directly from the director’s booth, controlling all the lights, the foyer, and the lights inside the stages. In this way we literally made the theatre pulsate for the whole duration of the event, transforming the architecture into a real animal made tangible through the breath of the light in counterpoint with the sound.
Enrico Pitozzi: Both of the works mentioned make me think of a consideration inherent to the dramatisation of the technological space: the geometric space, its volume, becomes a sensitive environment, to use an expression from Studio Azzurro. Could you tell me about the construction of this environment in relation to the dramatisation of the media?
Roberto Paci Dalò: The issue of new media mostly regards the necessity of their intervention. Let’s consider the work process on a sound, and talk about its spatiality in an environment. Sound always has an immersive character; we are always in an ocean of sounds, as David Toop would say. This means building a sound environment in a given space where the audience can be placed, thanks to the disposition of speakers. Sound is managed through particular software so that it moves through the audience. This procedure puts the audience, say, in front of a two dimensional scene but at the same time – as in some work by Bob Wilson created with Hans-Peter Kuhn – in an acoustic scene. The possibility of working on the multiplication of the points of diffusion allow them to operate on an archive composed of a few elements that multiply in their spatial distribution. The same sound, when disposed in the space, immediately creates another complex perception. Compared to the image, for Organo Magico Organo Laico technology of the glance was connected to the semi-visibility of the actors. The use of video projectors in real time, elaborated from the director’s booth, and all the other cameras used to record the mise-en-scène, needed the intervention of digital instruments. Digital instruments, intended as a process, facilitate the creation of immersive environments for sound and for images. Video projection is in fact light, but a light that creates and defines a space. The use of these technologies allows me to create sensorial and perceptive environments, taking advantage of immaterial components. However this notion must be discussed, because nothing is more material than sound…
Enrico Pitozzi: Could you push this distinction further? In this direction it would be necessary to clarify a much-misinterpreted point: between the real and the virtual for example…
Roberto Paci Dalò: …There’s no doubt on this point, these are precise examples that can be discussed. Let’s start by considering the open issue: material and immaterial. Let’s take these two examples. Usually there’s a tendency to believe light, as well as sound, are immaterial components. But sound creates an impressive materiality, as does light. Let’s think of the work of precision, based on the physical laws, which allow a sound to be delivered or light to be diffused. Both work in one way or another, on the construction of spaces; think of the resonances a sound can produce, or the different shades that a light can create. This depends on the relationship between these elements and the physical environment they are in. I refer to the diversity of a reverb that a sound can have in an Italian theatre, or in a factory, or how light reflects on an opaque or transparent surface, or dimensions or frequencies… So it is from these examples that the distinction between material and immaterial should be abandoned. On these suppositions, as you say, it would be necessary to deconstruct the opposition between virtual and real, thinking of them as dimensions or levels of a unique process in continuous transformation.
Enrico Pitozzi: The discussion of reverb of sound and the shades of light, as for movement, make me think about the relationship that is created on stage between the presence or absence of entities. I don’t think that one can talk about a unique dimension that is present or absent. But it is necessary to think of all the intermediate figures in this polarity. In Cieli altissimi retrocedenti (1998) and in Animalie (2002) there’s a relationship between the physical body and its reproduction that is inscribed in this environment. Could you talk about their relationship?
Roberto Paci Dalò: From the point of view of dramatisation the fact of having to decide on the physical possibilities of the materialisation of a body is interesting. The actor, as he or she appears on stage, through the use of technologies can become something else. This creates a problem. The point is: what is this other thing and of what nature is it determined? It could have to do with multiple personalities. Working on voice, for example: to make it so a male voice can become female. This was a turning point for Laurie Anderson. I’m particularly interested in this kind of intervention. Through different methods it’s possible to evoke the voice of someone who is no longer here.
Concerning the body, and the relationship with its reproduction, I believe we can talk about an analogous process. First we must decide what it’s about: whether it’s a work based on pre-existing material or real-time manipulation; therefore the body multiplies, it becomes a module. Another level to take into consideration is the live element, the real time that also contains an element of transformation. It’s the live event that puts something in motion that relates to post-production, as a level of complexity, but that is still made there, on the spot, sharing it physically in the same space. The new media act in this way like a magnifying glass, amplifying or reducing sounds, images, words, giving new points of view on apparently normal or infinitely small things to be perceived. Technologies intervene to alter the perceptiveness of the elements. I think that the distance transmission of images can offer interesting solutions. Recently the extraordinary show Eraritjaritjaka – musée des phrases by Heiner Goebbels made me think about this aspect.
For a good part of the show live images were projected in the hall of the actor as he walked through Rome, until he got a cab and then went home. The scenic action was in the theatre but was being carried out elsewhere. This use of technology got me thinking, it was a demonstration of the fact that we can transcend the classic uses of the media and thanks to their intelligent use, it is possible to expand the scene beyond its boundaries. I think that this is another demonstration of the fact that it is necessary to think of technologies for their specific qualities and not in respect to their interchangeableness. It’s also important to understand the fragility of a device. I like thinking of how technologies intervene not only to expand the scene, but also to reduce it’s size, in order to create minimal and restricted spaces. I don’t like thinking of using technology in one direction. Until now we have witnessed, and at times are still witnessing, a vision of technologies that in relation to the body, expand. The idea is of expansion. I like to work on the lacking of something or on the subtraction
Enrico Pitozzi: You talked about technologies as new perceptions of new horizons. Here the issue is, in my point of view, not that of perceiving form through a representation, but evidencing the internal passages that conduct to the form itself, losing its camouflage. Could you go back to the discussion of perception for our conclusion?
Roberto Paci Dalò: First of all, I refer to a triangular perception that is in constant relationship with the space (intended as an environment made of sound, light, smell, temperature, volumes, etc), the actor and the spectator. This triangle allows for a constant exchange of information on different levels that change incessantly, be it made of single components or the relationship between them. These are the grades of transformation that you refer to, these are nothing but tensions that organise materials on a compositional point of view. This process is central, but it is so as much as it is working with recognisable formats. This is due to the interface that you wish to privilege. I think that this last aspect is very important, because it brings with it the level of access to the work from the public. I like accessible interfaces. This doesn’t mean simplifying language; rather working on different levels, and the complexity is organised in relation to a subjective perception in constant change. Once this accessibility limit has been surpassed, it’s possible to go deeper, intervening on variations, even if minimal, induced on a perceptive and sensorial level.
Enrico Pitozzi: In the logic of composition, which puts into action different territories of the scene, Roter Schnee (2009) has the characteristics of a magnetic field, built around a series of vibrations of sound-light that contain the text by Heiner Müller. In other words, there’s an organic line, telluric and underground, that crosses the different materials, could you talk about this aspect of the work and its composition?
Roberto Paci Dalò: If I must think of a telluric and underground line that crosses my work (not just Roter Schnee) I think of the relationship with voice. In other works I worked with voices like Julian Beck, Benito Mussolini, Giorgio Agamben, Amelia Rosselli, Gabriele Frasca. I elaborated these voices through granular synthesis creating immersive acoustic environments with the intent of collocating the spectator literally “inside the head” of these voices. This means a construction of a dramatisation of sound and space that doesn’t just work of texts by authors – as in the case of Heiner Müller – but uses the voices as a scenic space, a place for dramatic action.
Similarly to a page of a manuscript by Heiner Müller, Roter Schnee is an electric field. A place activated by history and people. A transmitting station, a device that creates vibrations, pulses, lightning, flashes, shadows, falls, missing parts between external and internal. An alchemic location where materials are transformed. It’s a suspended state, a hallucination, where different times meet. Roter Schnee is not a new form but a live format thought of as a real scenic happening inscribed in the dramatisation of the space, of sound and of words. A fluid and foggy place where some scenic elements are animals. White on white, where images projected onto different surfaces appear, where the architecture of the glance is superimposed with the invisible architecture of sound. The work is open to the voice of Heiner Müller who introduces us into his world through his own voice
Enrico Pitozzi: Another work that has kept you busy recently is L’assedio delle Ceneri (2008) developed in the Napoli Teatro Festival. Here the reflection moves onto a production that puts into play other key words, a line of intervention that works in close contact with a traditionally Baroque space that was the Church of Certosa di San Martino. Could you talk about the inner articulation of the work, and in this context, the “dramatisation of the space” that resulted from it?
Roberto Paci Dalò: The mise-en-scène of Assedio delle Ceneri worked on materials constricting them and expanding them at the same time to create an immersive dimension of siege. When the actors were flung into the emptiness of the space, the trembling lights created the geographies of faces and bodies on the one hand, and on the other identified spaces, places, paths and created an “electric field” of dramatic action. I had then created a smoke blanket (a kind of lake of vapour that evoked a Chinese painting) that occupied the whole church from which the Baroque architecture emerged. In other words the heavy architecture was resting on top of lightness.
The original musical composition was played live, built on scores from texts to create a subtle and participating counterpoint with the voices of the actors. Music where there were talking voices, electric sounds, instruments like the harpsichord and the viola da gamba. The sounds came from many places, many directions. The audience found itself inside a surrounding field of sound, immersive, dynamic and absorbed from the outside through sound waves.
Enrico Pitozzi: You’re currently working on a project called Magnetica (2009). I believe that this term/concept is central to your current phase of work. It recollects a subliminal dimension of the treatment of visual-sound materials. If until now the aesthetical line of your work was an “organic line” – meaning that it was marked by prevalently figurative references – this project seems to inaugurate an “abstract line” where pulsations, deep vibrations predominate the treatment of visual-sound materials, a kind of seismograph that draws an abstract constellation, a diagram of points and connections inside matter. Could you go further with the passage that brought you here in this narrative dimension, connected to the treatment of materials, and this new direction that seems to go toward the abstract?
Roberto Paci Dalò: I feel the necessity to go deeper with the work direction where there is a less figurative relationship between visual and sound materials. I have deep film training so for me it is natural to work with figurative video images. With Magnetica I would like to go beyond my usual modalities of working and literally enter into the image of the shape of a sound wave. I want to work on poetry of pure geometric forms, of perfection of numbers. This work is conceived with artist Alexandra Purcaru whom I work with on the development of the “magnetic” device made of force fields and continuous relocations of materials. I think of the Letter on the Magnet of Peter Peregrinus of Maricourt (1296), who introduced the concept and terminology of the two poles, North and South, of the magnet, explaining how to determine their exact position, describing interactions, reciprocates, attraction and repulsion, and proposes the experiment of the broken magnet. If you divide a magnet in two, trying to separate the two poles, you get two similar magnets (each one a copy of the opposite poles). Because the concept can go on until infinity this supposes that natural magnetism has its origin in atomic properties of matter. I think of Magnetica as a cartography, like a journey guided by sounds and flashes.