We have been used to hybrids and contamination for a long time.We have dedicated study and research to borderline figures that arise where the disciplines merge their increasingly blurred boundaries . But there is no doubt about the extreme charm of choices which aim to cross the safe tracks of the category and go beyond boundaries.
Roberto Pugliese is a distinguished representative of what is described above. He comes from a musical academic culture, but having soon felt the limits of a single view, he then began to look for other stimuli in the field of visual arts. This should be a reason of pride for the visual field, so often denigrated and abused, and moreover it helps to underline the need to mix different points of view.
Pugliese put his expertise at the disposal of artists and while doing so he managed to develop his personal poetic experience. Sound is the protagonist of his installations and the construction of a visual universe is actively involved in the creation of real environments. Nature is a model both for the sound industry and for visual production. The devices for sound reproduction are arranged in space according to phytomorphic lines, the cables inhabit the walls like climbing plants and the speakers are like flowers blooming.
Music composition is then engaged in synthetic circuits, relying on computational logics which manage frequencies, inputs and tracks. Sometimes the presence of nature is represented through ready-made elements, other times it is suggested or evoked by the diffusion of sound.
He attended the Conservatory and focused on experimental composition in the past. Now several of his projects are exhibited in galleries and he collaborates with other artists. The titles of his works combine the natural, the artificial and a poetic metric-style There are also works still in progress. In his glance at movements like kinetic art and the Sound Art branch, the words by Roberto Pugliese show details of a critical intent, a stubborn thought and a compelling pace.
Claudio Musso: I would like to approach your work from an unusual point of view; I’d like to read the titles of your works. Starting from the latest ones: Unità minime di sensibilità, Critici ostinati ritmici, Linfa sintetica. Without going further, at least for now, there are undoubted semantic ambiguities. In all of them there is a kind of musicality, like a rhythmic cadence. How do you find these kinds of titles? How important are they?
Roberto Pugliese: I think the title is a fundamental part of a work: through the use of it, the artist can create a perceptual ambiguity in the user that captures his curiosity and the need to look deeper into the work. In the beginning I was terrified when I had to choose the titles of my songs. I remember I used to catalog them using numbers or letters of the alphabet. Then I discovered how Luigi Nono titled his compositions and I understood the importance and the need to create a good title. I worked hard looking for a personal style and now in my latest works a common thread running through the titles of my works can be seen.
Claudio Musso: I am looking through your biography – the degree at the conservatory and then the teaching would it be too obvious to ask you how you approached visual arts? Where does the need to “unlock” the devices that transmit sound come from? From aesthetic research or is it something like a tool for sound experimentation?
Roberto Pugliese: While I was attending the electronic music course at the conservatory I always felt the need to attend the Academy of Fine Arts to meet and get to know artists who used different techniques of expression from mine. I was particularly attracted by the possibility of being able to merge different media, and so in that period I was involved in partnerships with students of the Academy including the artist Daniela Di Maro. I realized my first sound installations with her.
Then I continued with my own research, but I also collaborated with other artists like Agostino Di Scipio, Pasquale Napolitano and Tamara Repetto. I believe that a complete conceptually well structured work needs a stimulating visual part as well as an equally stimulating sound part. My works are fundamentally conceived from a conceptual idea which has to be supported by a sound and visual concept. In my opinion, technology and the visual and sound results are essential.
Sound experimentation is combined with visual experimentation as in Unità minime di sensibilità; in it the use of more than100 speakers has, of course, an aesthetic value. Moreover it allows me to obtain a sound and perceptive process I could not obtain otherwise. A sine wave (the min. sound unit) is played by each speaker; the sound achieved through their merging in the environment and not through a software is both perceptually and evocatively different. In this way the user is totally immersed in the work and can be guided by many sound and visual stimuli.
Perhaps my need to create works so alienating and compelling is dictated by the desire to bring the viewer, even for a few minutes, into a parallel reality, into a mental, personal and introspective intimacy where he can question himself. I think this is the role of contemporary art: questioning oneself , thinking.
Claudio Musso: There is an ecological connotation in your works; sometimes there are natural elements taken from the ready-made reality, sometimes there are forms which mimic plants. Even the sounds often reproduce environments that evoke the biomorphic field. Is this true?
Roberto Pugliese: I have always been fond of ethology and when I was young I always preferred scientific texts rather than novels or similar books. I’ve always been very fascinated by nature and its various, imaginative and ingenious solutions. Human beings forget that they themselves are a creation of nature and often think they can manage and dominate it as they like but this is not true. Just think about hurricanes, fires, tsunamis, earthquakes and all the unpredictable ways in which nature demonstrates its enormous energy.Some of these phenomena are not linked to human activity, but others are directly related to human behaviour.
Within the perfect and detailed design of the superior intelligence, nature made sure, as a measure of self-defence, that man should evolve and develop a critical sense, a consciousness and a sensitivity; in some cases this sensitivity becomes art. There is always a reference to nature in my works, even when I build software that produces sounds. I often create software through genetic or algorithms or mathematical functions that are inspired by natural events. Once finalized, they become bio-electronic organisms themselves.
Claudio Musso: Your research often intersects with digital technologies; I would call you a composer / programmer. Could you tell us about your recent experience with Bianco e Valente, the work entitled Frequenza Fondamentale? It would explain your dual nature.
Roberto Pugliese: I think a work can be considered finished when it is complete from different points of view. In my works I usually start with an idea coming from studies and I develop it through technology, both visually and in terms of sound. Technology in my works becomes a means of expression but it’s not the only thing which helps me in obtaining the result I have in mind. My research does not always start from sound experimentation but it is always linked to sound. I would not call myself a composer anymore.
I focused on sound arts because I was tired and bored of electro-acoustic experimentation, often stagnant and redundant. I think that there is more vitality in the underground reality and the artistic field where different media are combined rather than in the academic sound field. I am not a pure programmer even if I studied to be a computer expert and continued specializing and studying programming in the field of sound while I was attending the electronic music course at the conservatory. I am quite familiar with computers and every time I start to work on a new project I define and develop the appropriate skills needed.
Talking about the experience I had with Bianco e Valente my task was to find a meeting point between the real-time data of the seismic activity of Mount Vesuvius given to us by the Osservatorio Vesuviano and the compositional verve of Mario Masullo. I have several folders on my computer with the audio content for this project (e.g. recordings of pianos, synthesizers, audio shootings, etc.).. There are several files inside each of these folders.
The software plays a number of audio tracks (selected randomly from these folders) simultaneously according to the data which came from the Osservatorio Vesuviano; the stronger the seismic activity is the more tracks there will be played together. I created a sort of mixer / digital player that is activated by the data from the activity of Vesuvius.
Claudio Musso: Describing your research, you refer to kinetics and programming. I recently read an article by Carsten Nicolai about one of the most popular exhibitions dedicated to the phenomenon (The Responsive Eye, MOMA, 1969, Editor’s note). There are general criteria that link sound to geometry, new and old theories about the links between sound experiments and investigations on visual perception. What is the link with this kind of experiences in your case?
Roberto Pugliese: I think that there is still much to be investigated about the combination of visual and sound in art and about the interaction between our senses. When more than one sense is stimulated at the same time different variables with an exponential increase of evocative possibilities are involved. In my projects listening points are dynamic and they communicate in many active ways with the visual part of the work.
The idea of providing multiple listening points is what allows the viewer to immerse himself in the work as much as possible. For example in Ivy Noise or in Unità Minime di Sensibilità the audio sources are numerous and they are located all over the venue so that everything seems to be more realistic as well as more perceptively interesting.
I developed my research about the relationship between visual and sounds from several points of view. In Ivy Noise, for example, there were sounds derived from studies on how the human mind processes sounds which come from nature environments; in Studio I produced synthetically some sounds which were de-codified perceptively as natural; the users thought they were sounds previously recorded in woods because a visual structure realized with some cables and audio devices reproduced a kind of acoustic illusion,even though they were clearly synthetic and they reminded them of a particular kind of ivy.
So, the sounds which were perceived as natural sounds were in fact synthetic while the visual structure, realized with synthetic materials really reproduced a natural structure. The sound/visual ambiguity was a great way to capture the curiosity and interest of the users who in fact were encouraged to investigate both the visual and the audio dynamics of the work.
In Unità Minime di Sensibilità instead, the number of speakers used is directly related to the perceptive quality of the sound result to be obtained. A sine wave, the simplest sound in the audio field, is produced by every speaker; all these sounds are combined giving back a very articulate result. A small weather station placed outside a tunnel changes the resulting sound; the tunnel sends parameters coming from light, temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity sensors to the software I created. Although the sounds are processed synthetically, through the data received ??from the sensors which collect information about changes in natural phenomena, an organic taste which is also recalled by the visual structure of the work can be perceived in the sound.
My relationship with kinetic art is more visible in works like Critici Ostinati Ritmici in which a series of electromagnets physically produce the sound of the work. In the exhibition which will be inaugurated on May 28th at the Gallerie Mario Mazzoli I will present four new projects with a strong combination of robotics, kinetics and sound.
Claudio Musso: The sound fruition is naturally immersive. The sound acts on the space dimension changing it. How do you relate yourself with this when you set up your installations?
Roberto Pugliese: Yes, the sound fruition is naturally immersive, but it is perceptually interesting and realistic if there are many listening points, whatever the power. Briefly, listening to a sound from a hi-fi system is different from listening to the same sound from a Dolby sound system or at the cinema. The six different Dolby audio sources are definitely the best way to listen to a sound as it can be better distributed in the environment. In my last installation, Unità minime di Sensibilità the actual audio channels are 42.
This allows me to re-design the architectural boundaries of the environment in which I operate and enables to obtain the perceptive result I want to achieve. The volume of my works is usually at a medium or low level because I want the users to perceive the acoustic differences of the different audio prospectives; When the volume of the audio is high it means you want the users to listen to you, you are asking to be listened to, as in Critici Ostinati Ritmici.
In some other installations, like in Impulso, which I realized together with Agostino di Scipio at MPLC in Rome, the work was conceived starting from the acoustics of the location; a series of sounds emitted from the speakers of a normal PC were then reabsorbed by the system in real time via some microphones placed in the corners of the room. In this case the sound was modified by the architectural environment. The same installation achieves different results depending on the dimension of the location, the material the space is made up of and the architectural shape of the area where the installation is set up.