Charlie Morrow & Jerome Rothenberg

 

San Francisco, November 13, 2017

Songs of Flowers and Stones

New wilderness friends, to preserve the nuances of musical language and the chant of poetry

by Rosanna Albertini

Charlie Morrow, 1971:
My work has taken me into two large areas in the past
year: numbers and the language of nonhumans. Both interests
derive from chanting music, which has been my central concern.
My first chanting pieces were about ecstasy and anger,
the strongest emotions, in their longest and most intense form.
As the ecstatic chanting became more familiar, I found myself
curious about the roots of chanting music in the natural world;
that is, the natural world as perceived by humans.
[…]
In my search for a rhetoric of chanting music, I was
reliving the ancient process of anthropomorphism, looking for
the animal world in me and for myself in the natural universe.

As part of this search, the technology that gathers sound
from the bottom of the water, the outer reaches of spaces,
the low levels of quiet places and so on, is a kind of sacred
instrument.

And the sound processes in these innumerable locations
are exciting both in themselves and as wonderful models. They
are models for composing and performing, models for communi-
cating, models of processes within humans. Using models, I
am not just myself.”

“Counting is a move toward the basic biological functions, toward pulses.
Like breathing exercises.

CHARLIE MORROW, from NUMBERS & SPELLS

Hanging numbers like signposts on locations, as in the performance of
my counts with complex sound systems or several counters, is a meditative
geometry: the space as many shapes, the numbers are
fireflies of my mind.”

CHARLIE MORROW, from NUMBERS AND SPELLS

And Jerome Rothenberg? He is a poet who did for the American avant garde poetry and for the new indigenous poetries of the Americas, joined by indigenous poetry from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania a monumental editorial work. I don’t hesitate to compare his books to Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie. The anthological form makes his collections more fragmented and easier to consult than the eighteen century compilation.

Jerome Rothenberg 1974:
“It was 1948 & by year’s end I was seventeen. I had been coming into poetry for two years. My head was filled with Stein and Cummings, later with Williams, Pound, the French Surrealists, the Dada poets […] The thing was to get off on it, to hear one’s mind, learn one’s voice. But the message clear & simple was to move. To change. To create one’s self & thus one’s poetry. A process.”

and 2017:
“For myself —early along— I turned to “reinterpreting the poetic past from the point of view of the present.” […] With this as my impulse I began to scour areas that had been closed to us as poetry — hidden, outside & subterranean — to discover what was clearly poetry but also forms of languaging that had ever been within poetry’s domain.  […]
I was also able to drop the notion of the “primitive” as a kind of simplistic or underdeveloped state of mind & word, & to begin the pre-face to the book with a three-word opening I can still adhere to: “Primitive means complex.”

The San Francisco performance opened for me the way to merge into a variety of unknown poetry from different continents printed in Technicians of the Sacred at the third edition. (First edition 1968) This book is a secret cave of poems mostly conceived for oral transmission, a concert with dancing tongues and feet. Also shamanic songs. It’s a treasure trove, a place where poems unfold meanders of life free from time and rules, they run like a stream.

[….]
Poetry, poetry, is a gesture, a landscape,
your eyes and my eyes, girls; ears, heart,
the same music. And I say no more, because
no one will find the key that no one has lost
And poetry is the chant of my ancestors
a winter day that burns and withers
this melancholy so personal.
Elicura Chihuailaf, a Mapuche poet (Chile)

Technicians of the Sacred has 643 pages. I asked my hands to magically open the book: with big surprise I found first, with no hesitation, the poem Rothenberg had moved back to sounds in his performance: a poem from the Yaqui Deer Dance. Immediately after, at the following opening of the book, my eyes stopped on two poems by Marcela Delpastre, from Occitania (France). I couldn’t quit. Was my European blood orienting my fingers? I had found The Scream of the Stones, words that triggered my memory like a shotgun.

1/THE STONE

I don’t know if they bleed, the stones. Or if they scream, if they howl
under the wheel & the mace, or if the knife’s blade wounds them, deep in
their flesh, slicing through them.

I know that the loam that sometimes runs from them, no matter how
red, is not blood.

And I’ll say nothing of their tenderness, from stone to stone, from water
to air.

But what I know is that our blood comes from the stone. And our flesh
comes from nowhere else, come from stone we are stone, we are dust and
wind’s smoke.

That our blood is blood of the stone, and our heat is of the sun, and our
wail the howl of the stone, through which our soul passes full-bodied,
that we are the soul of the stone — but tell me, the stone, who is the
stone — where does she come from?

Marcela Delpastre, Occitania (France)

My stones were painted pink by my grandfather’s stories. Were his words more effective than the real mountains I saw? The mountains were called “monti pallidi,” or Dolomites. He was a plein air painter, he loved them so much he spent the entire good season, every year, walking on their skin and making paintings of them. I went with him the last five years of his life. I was seven when he turned into a golden breath that never left, still around my body. We never talked when walking on the pale ladies, words only arose in the evening, bringing up invisible elves and fairies. “Who is the stone” was my hidden question at the time not even expressed in words, it was a vague, inner uncertainty. We used to drive on the top when the road made it possible. Curves made me throw up every time. But once out of the car, humans disappeared. I was left alone, or swallowed by the landscape, I can’t say. The pale mountains had finally shrunk to my size, I could touch them, run from one to another and discover with amazement the bluest flowers, the eyes of that place. Now I wonder if I felt I was on the moon. Maybe the soul of the stones passed through my body, she did not go away.

ORESTE ALBERTINI, Dolomiti, year unknown

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Revolution of the word; a new gathering American avant garde poetry, 1914-1945.  Editor Jerome Rothenberg, A Continuum Book The Seabury Press, New York, 1974

Technicians of the Sacred, a range of poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Edited with commentaries by Jerome Rothenberg, University of California Press, Oakland, California,  2017. Third edition, revised and expanded, 50th anniversary.

Charlie Morrow, NUMBERS & SPELLS, an unpublished anthology sent to me by the author in digital version. RA.

 

GIULIANA CUNEAZ : Remaking the Natural Magic

I speak within the time and out of time.
I speak for yesterday and today;
for yesterday which is a lesson of life,
for today which is a lesson of death.

Edmond Jabès

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Le cabinet de la neige, 2014  Video installation  3D animation, wood, clay and acrylic paint with crystal dust, monitor.  76 x 65 x 50 cm.   Courtesy of the artist and Gagliardi e Domke Gallery, Torino

A myriad of interior sceneries from mother earth,
always struck with amazement

by Rosanna Albertini

Common sense says that we only see what we know. Giuliana Cuneaz invites us to the opposite journey and brings us, at least in our imagination, to a living universe out of the reach of our perception, a realm of infinite transformations and a variety of forms. She is attracted by the invisible presence of the same kind of patterns shaping the forms of neurons, roots, or mineral structures. She wonders about the natural ‘thinking’ that seems to have been designed for the shell, bark or minerals’ inner architecture. ‘Designed?’ By whom? When? Hard to find the proper words for the secret growth of a living world that doesn’t need humans to exist.

Her art is one more physical process, something in between visible things as they appear in the daylight and invisible configurations revealed by electron microscopes and digital simulations.

As an artist, she can only be absurd:

The absurd work illustrates how thinking gives up with prestige and accepts to be nothing more than intelligence activating appearances and covering with images what doesn’t have a reason to exist. If the world were easy to see, art wouldn’t be.  Albert Camus

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Le cabinet de la neige, (details), 2014   Uncooked clay, acrylic paint with crystal dust.  
 

Through valleys and woods, Giuliana put her green eyes at work to discover the fairies’ sites – each of them has a name in her mountains. At the mouth of cracks, or caves, she placed a music stand holding a piece of music written for one instrument. She gave to the silent fairies a musical voice that the public could listen to in a building, where humans and invisible presences were wrapped in the same vibrations. Fairies are not always good, they can be scary or threatening.

One of these invisible fairies, hidden in the image of her place, followed me through a photograph — given to me by Giuliana — in all the moves I went through since my visit to the mountains: the site looks quite dark, with rocks and pine trees ravaged by the wind. The Fairy of Grand Brissogne is now here in front of me, between the keyboard and the computer screen. In my attachment to that picture I probably did see my own life as the life of an absurd woman accepting sadness and fear as a present. Obstacles needing to be defeated.

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Matter Waves Unseen, 2013  Video installation. 3D animation, wood, monitor, plexiglass, led, sand, clay, acrylic paint. 165 x 113,5 x 40 cm.  Courtesy of the artist and Private collection.

Giuliana Cuneaz engaged her life in a similar struggle, at the same time asking her hands to remake the natural magic, covering with handmade figures of curiosities and rarities the shelves of contemporary Wunderkammers, the chambers of marvels. Only one of her many artworks. It’s so wonderful to see a snow that doesn’t melt on the wood and shines forever, crystal by crystal, and to realize how the artist’s hands transformed uncooked clay into stars, corals, and seeds and flowers: natural forms whose story is only “invincible progress of the form, a sort of visible music”. (Paul Valéry)
For once, the fairies have been benevolent.

To break the crust of solid material bodies, trying to turn inside out the natural birth of crystals, rocks, or shells, this is the challenge that Giuliana Cuneaz seems to have embraced for a long time, offering to us her imaginary visit into the heart of matter. Her handmade objects are humble replicas. That’s for their marvelous configuration. Where they came from, at first, is a process lost in the dark of undetected beginnings, as if an artist had made them.

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Matter Waves Unseen, 213, details

Happiness and absurdity are two children of the same ground. …
When sadness raises up in a human heart, the rock is winning, sadness is the rock itself. …
The absurd woman contemplating her suffering shuts all the idols down. In the universe suddenly brought back to silence, appear thousands of small, stupefied voices of the earth. …
Sisyphus teaches the superior loyalty that denies gods and lifts rocks. She also believes that everything is good. This universe deprived of gods doesn’t seem sterile to her, nor trivial. Every grain of the stone, every mineral sparkle of this mountain filled with weight is a world by itself. Struggling toward the top can fill up a woman’s heart. Imagine lady Sisyphus is a happy one. … The absurd woman says yes and her effort will never cease.
Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, 1942 (with my alteration into a feminine mode).

GIULIANA CUNEAZ, Matter Waves Unseen, 2013, details

3D computer graphics helped her to add a mental magic to the physical appearance of objects. Sculpting forms is not enough. They die in their frozen stillness. Giuliana Cuneaz’s chambers of marvels include a screen showing the 3D computer graphic version of the same objects she had made. The fantastic sceneries she displays have two different lives: one is a lesson of death cherished, honored by the artist’s fingers accepting the drama of making a physical form, the other on the screen is a lesson of life in search of visible modulations, bursts of changes, phases of passage, movements.

 

Giuliana Cuneaz, Matter Waves Unseen, 2013  3D computer animation  Courtesy of the artist and Private collection

Giuliana’s waves are earthly as if the clay, the shy and silent skin of the earth, had suddenly made her surface strong and dynamic like the ocean waves — each bringing new presents to the seashore. Although supported by numbers and programs, artificial life doesn’t cease to be human. It’s our brain trying to approach, to understand the admirable quality of natural artifacts. Inner landscapes suggested by microscopic photographs and nanotechnologies gave to my artist, maybe, the same surprise as the anatomic drawings gave to the 15th century’s artists. We see her imagination at work, and we can be transported with her inside her earthly waves, like we were invisible particles of dust.

Un saggio: L’anima verso cui andiamo è un paese di neve. …
Un saggio: … Un paese tagliato nell’acqua indurita dal gelo. L’acqua ci custodisce. Cosi i ghiacciai, gli occhi dilatati degli scomparsi.

Edmond Jabès

A wise man: The soul we go after is a country of snow. …
A wise man: … A country cut into the water hardened by cold. Water preserves us. So the glaciers, and the dilated eyes of the dead.

Yes, crystals are black in the valley of snow. They can’t forget they need to pause on the rocky surface of mountains, or the smoother layers of clay. Black is memory of their love joining them to the pebbles, of melting on the skin of an obstinate, stringent partner. Water and dirt are inseparable like day and night. Chemistry tells us that life springs from that wedding. We should unite our body to them, and remember in our cells what we are not able to know.

 

Giuliana Cuneaz, Chrystal Growth 2012, 3D animation Courtesy of the artist and Gagliardi e Domke Gallery, Torino

Giuliana Cuneaz at work

Bibliography

Edmond Jabès, Le livre des questions, Paris, Gallimard, 1963. Il libro delle interrogazioni, trad. it. di Chiara Rebellato, Casale Monferrato, Marietti, 1985

Paul Valéry, L’homme et la coquille, Paris, Gallimard, 1937

Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, Paris, Gallimard, 1942

William Bryant Logan, DIRT, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, New York, The Berkley Publishing Group, 1995

 

SIMONE FORTI : how to position yourself in the world, with grace

Free Consultation — Chicago, January 30, 2016

“I’m trying to find the relationship to my dance and the world.” Simone Forti 1989

Stills from Video: Jason Underhill

 

 

From Simone Forti’s notes written in Vermont, in the spring 1989:

David Bradshaw came to visit me a few evenings ago. We were talking about the phenomenon of development and damage to environment. He said, “people are in such a hurry to get symbols of satisfaction.” I don’t remember the exact context, but it made sense. It reminds me of my sense about posturing that goes into having certain political attitudes or ‘positions.’ Making choices out of concern for how you are perceived, being hot stuff, liberal, or patriotic, or what have you.

One thing that strikes me in the winter is the sweetness of warm-blooded beings. I sit surrounded by ice and snow, warm in my clothes like a juicy hot plum, a rare thing, knowing that here and there there is a bird, a rabbit in its hole under the snow, warm, juicy, marvelous.

It keeps coming back to me that certain things I am aware of, the national, global things that strike me, frighten me, break my heart, come to me defined by the news. Not homelessness. I see that. But the rest, it’s like a body of information that comes to me and makes me shout “Don’t you see?” And I do believe that media gives a kind of reflection of the world. The world. Gives me images that seem solid.

Issues are named. In a way they are names. They are constructed of experiences. They come to me as the digestion of many stories. They identify the tide of a problem. But it’s hard to say what you mean with grace. By grace, I mean the way thoughts and perceptions really go. A maze of juxtapositions of sense and nonsense, pulling towards meaning.

What I am learning, I am learning slowly. My previous living gives me no way to name it. Of the things I expect to name, I see only traces. That which I see, I have no names for.

 

When she performs, Simone moves sending out into the air, sometimes, stories and names, or songs, that are told by her entire body. Powerful as well as invisible, the world goes through her mind like the birds’ voice in the morning, or the river flush of the freeway through the city.
I first thought that her own words from 1989 were more than eloquent company for the images of Free Consultation, her performance by the lake in Chicago. But then, because my previous living gave me the pleasure of reading, through words and grammar, the imaginary visions of brilliant, dead people,  I’m challenged even more by living friends. And Simone is not less alive than the the yellow butterfly I see every day dancing among the yellow flowers of a bush in my garden. Her immersion in the world tunes her feelings without turning out the lights of her thinking body.

A few years ago I went with Simone for a walk in Will Rogers Park. I think it was in June. The delicate undulating of the new grass grabbed our attention, but at a certain moment we stopped seeing it. “That which I see, I have no names for.” We were in a corral, no horses around. Yet we were seeing horses running, and listening to their high-pitched neighs. We were just standing still in the middle of a vibrating place, absorbing smells and hints, those dispersed by the wind. That was also what we call world. It’s constant transformation, natural power and beauty often mistaken for entertainment. How she is perceived, nature doesn’t care.

As for Simone, she likes to speak with her dead. Once more, she follows invisible threads of a natural history. Her dead father, now under the surface of the Westwood ground. She tells him, “You were in a military prison, right? Watching how the flies cleaned their front paws and then their back paws.” She says these conversations help her clean her mind. I also talk to my dead people, my Neapolitan blood. Maybe they increase my confusion, the sense of how much I don’t know about them, but they also make me aware that my life is much easier than the one they had. I even have time for writing and publishing, the least productive of all activities. “As long as you are free, says my grandmother Rosa, and she offers to me a handful of pastina.”

MARISA MERZ : Art is a mental thing

LIGHT AND FLEXIBLE, WITH NAILS

by Rosanna Albertini

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1993, Copper wire, unfired clay, steel structure. Photo: Hannah Kirby

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1989. Unfired clay, galvanized metal, glass cup, flowers. Photo: Hannah Kirby

Los Angeles,  Hammer Museum: THE SKY IS A GREAT SPACE   June-August 2017

March – April 1968:
“I do not respect Johnson, I do not respect the masters.
I’m not available anymore because I want to start from scratch.
I could still be available to a child, but not to a man, no.
If a man asks me to do something, I do it the way I want to.
I no longer believe in catalysts* because they are the beggars of slaves.
At present the world is peopled by slaves, and catalysts are still around.
I’m not interested in power or career; only myself and the world.
I can do little, very little.
I’m battling against malice and competition.
I cannot escape the reality I see.”

Marisa Merz, Come una dichiarazione, Bit, vol.II, n.1 March-April 1968.

(*catalyst, the prime agent of any change or action.)

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1968. Nylon thread, nails.

Despite her official position in Arte Povera’s historical dress, I want to unravel this ninety year old Italian artist from any cocoon. Just her and reality around her in Turin, from what I remember, also around me in Milan, the same years when she was knitting little nylon shoes like clouds ready to fly, joining the green of the grass to the light blue of Northern sky, as if colors did make the shoes for a walk in the void. Mid sixties. I was wearing comfortable boots to run faster during the police-student confrontations. I was a philosophy student, and clouds were in my brain.

No wonder Marisa Merz dislikes catalysts, they were nailing our minds to ideological boxes, heavy like lead, separating the mind from the rest of life. Marisa was building around her an undefined space, a hole in between art and life. The same way that Robert Rauschenberg considered the adventure of painting, or of art making in every way. Doors, tables and chairs are a population of hopeless objects, condemned to only one form forever. There is not much she can do about that. But she can surround them with natural or artificial shadows to soften their rigidity, and approach them to the human touch, helping them to escape from their destiny. Sometimes the shadow materializes in knitted, transparent shadows moving squares and rectangles from the floor toward light triangles pointed to the ceiling, becoming smaller and smaller, she can do little, very little. Yet, out of her hands, stools can dream of a kite and a wooden door plays with the illusion of softness of squared empty pillows made with copper wire, as if opening a new mode of being for a door, opening and not only closing.

 

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1976. Copper wire, nails, canvas. (detail)

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1977. Wood, copper wire brass. newspaper. Photo: Hannah Kirby

Any connection between the art world in the sixties and seventies and the student movement was absent. And Marisa Merz seems to me now much closer to Piero Manzoni personal mythology than to the Arte Povera heroic answers to the growing search for perfection and technocracy — rationality in modern societies turning into sickness. Although married to Mario Merz, the sculptor who built powerful forms like bubbles of thought impenetrable to the viewer’s body, Marisa kept her feminine instinct intact. Yes, her tables wrapped in veils bring a sense of isolation, although adding, at the same time, the absurdity of a dream that could be of freedom, or just of care. Her little sculpted heads look at the sky. Humans are the invisible bodies dissolved around her pieces, leaving their scent.

MARISA MERZ, Untitled, 1977. Table, copper wire, flower, metal rods.

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1975. Nylon thread, iron.

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1975, Iron wire, copper wire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The more we are immersed in ourselves, the more we are open; when we approach the earliest signs of our totality, we also approach everyone else’s totality. The difficult task is to liberate ourselves from foreign and superfluous things, facts and gestures that pollute the compact units coming from the art of our days and easily becoming the emblems of artistic fashions.”

Nebulous memories from childhood, impressions, abstractions, sentimentalisms, deliberate constructions, pictorial symbolic or descriptive intentions, fake anxieties, undigested unconscious events, the perpetual hedonistic repetition of already explored subjects: these are things to be discarded. The process of revelation and elimination releases our original quality in the form of images: images that are primary, and the ones of our time gushing out from the same point, for us and our civilization. Nothing must be avoided to accelerate the emergency, the urgency of acquiring our own gestures.”
PIERO MANZONI, Prolegomeni all’attività artistica.

MARISA MERZ, Head, Testa, 1984-95. Unfired clay, was, tin, lead, steel table. Photo: Hannah Kirby

A point in time: the soil suddenly trembling under my feet trodding on the sidewalk from Piazza Fontana to Piazza del Duomo, in Milan, on December 12, 1969. The bomb’s explosion didn’t make much noise. It was behind me, where 13 were killed and 88 injured. I was not one of them by only a few seconds. I didn’t turn, a wave of danger pushed me quickly walking away toward the Dome, my heart beating fast. It was like wearing Marisa Merz’s green shoes, and feeling the nails. In minutes, the place was filled with ambulances.

A few days after, the daily paper reported that Giuseppe Pinelli, a well known anarchist, had fallen from a window at the police station. He had been accused of placing the bomb. A dead angel to me. As many of my friends, I used to go to his house where his wife Licia typed academic papers for us. We were bad typists, I still use two fingers. Two little girls running around us. It was an odd time, of idealism killing people. As if the amazing theories we had tried to digest had turned fleshy, back to their sprouting from vital organs, and were made softer, gentler by human frailty. The empty carcass of words crashed with the anarchist body on the asphalt, after the flight through the void. What happened exactly, we never knew. Except, Pinelli was innocent.

MARISA MERZ, Small Head, Unfired clay

We did not know that artists had turned our precious thoughts into metaphors, actions, questions about human identity, as effectively as our philosophical castles. Marisa Merz, for instance, worked on our broken threads, moving the line into hand made, often knitted objects. They embody flexibility, adaptation. They bring a soft hand on reality.

PIERO MANZONI, Catalogue of the exhibition at Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Milano, Arnoldo Mondadori Arte,1991

Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972, Catalogue  of the exhibition organized by  the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Tate Modern, London. 2001-2003

Objects of a dysfunctional time: PETER SHIRE’s TEAPOTS

At MOCA Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles

 

MUSICAL, WHISPERING VOICES

 by Rosanna Albertini

Photos: Hannah Kirby

One can look at them naked, or encrusted with the shells of futurism, art deco, Milanese design, post modernism, California surrealism, like the door of a lobster cage. I would prefer to put all the verbal definitions into a fishnet and throw them deep into the ocean. The abandonment of the teapots to themselves “is an act of generosity,” as Mario Merz would say, “deciphering is the will to die.”

They are sirens these teapots singing the music of colors and forms: an endless, nostalgic song longing for water. Their nose too big, too long for their body, and the body shrunk like a musical instrument, or borrowing heaviness from a building, or eternalizing a fruit that tries to preserve the beauty of a flower and misses the branch moved by the wind. The teapots know there is no use for them. They are sculptures, born from an artist who likes to lie on the void, trying to forget rules and all the rational roads to understanding. Search for beauty is a source of anxiety.

“to orient
not to compel
to orient
in architecture
as in sculpture
like in a drawing of oriental vocal sensibilities
that is to say musical”
— Mario Merz

“All value depends upon somebody else’s opinion. For it is the essence of this philosophy that things have no independent existence, but live only in the eye of other people. It is a looking-glass world, this, to which we climb slowly; and its prizes are all reflexions. That may amount for our baffled feelings as we shuffle, and shuffle vainly, among those urban pages for something hard to lay our hands upon. Hardness is the last thing we shall find.”
— Virginia Woolf

That’s why there is no futurISM in these teapots, no celebration of civil and warlike mechanical machineries expected to pierce the present with energy, violent breaks, and, at least verbally, to introduce hardness. Instead, the teapots are a whispering voice, like the French and Italian words avenir, l’avvenire. From the late Latin ad-venire.

I find their softness and I don’t know what it is that touches me, unless what I like is just the uncertainty about what they are. They are displaced and useless, but searching for their face to face with us. The human side which is in them, the artist’s making, meets other humans in a present which is constantly coming to be, fleeting and incapable of standing as an accomplished future. Displacement is everywhere: between words and things, dreams and reality, thinking and making. What a dysfunctional time!

And yet, I miss stroking them, giving them a caress. I can only send them a philosophical caress, the most beautiful I found.

“The caress doesn’t know what she looks for. Such ‘not knowing’ such fundamental incongruence, is essential.” “The caress is waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content. She is made with growing hunger, and more and more enticing promises, which brings new perspectives on the things we cannot grasp.”
— Emmanuel Lévinas

Mario Merz, Lo spazio e curvo e diritto, Firenze, Hopeful Monster Editore, 1990

Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, London, The Hogarth Press, 1935

Emmanuel Lévinas, Le temps et l’autre, @Fata Morgana, 1979. First edition February 1983, PUF, Paris.

 

Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE n.6

Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE n.6

 

EILEEN COWIN,  The Dangerous Edge of Things, 2015,  from Mad Love series, 7.7″ x 9″

How we don’t see

by Rosanna Albertini

The curtain pulled through the open window trembles slightly; sunlight, and rumbling noise from the freeway and birds screeching interrupted by silly mockingbirds who imitate snoring early in the morning, make a density of sounds kept in the distance, outside, by the luminous screen, vibrating and warming. Yes Kristin, for the first time I understand why you painted on canvas a big, vertical curtain with little blue and green flowers. The painting becomes an absorbing screen, an opaque surface  asking things from the world to stay out for a while. For a moment, let me veil their impact. The curtain makes me feel as if my body were absorbing echoes and reflections, I don’t have to see and be touched by the shadows of the day. Sounds, light and wind are filtered. Maybe the Muslim veil over women’s faces, that allows them to see through, though remaining perfectly hidden, is much more than a discriminatory symbol, it could be a privilege.

Not to be seen anymore is the reason one leaves, not to be regarded by people who are only partially in touch with our life and yet ask for attention, surrounding us with a cloud of pressure. I have been biting my tail over and over for decades, chasing a story of mine that followed me like an unknown ghost. I see why people do not usually leave their hometown, or their country, unless their roots have been snatched and pulled out. If they leave, then often they move as if wearing a diving suit that makes them slow, as if the air was water winding its way with unfamiliar vibrations.

It took me a remarkable number of years to realize how strongly my eyes have been wide shut while adapting my senses to the New World’s sky, my nervous system to the vibrations of the soil, and my mouth to the tongue. My perception of American life was that it was going to be forever new. I’m always yearning for the excitement of the new, that’s a curse that makes me think of my own death as the very last adventure. You float over your used body and fly, god knows where. Will I join you, mother? Instead of receiving food from you, or dresses that I did not like, I would rest with you on an apricot tree. We rest and laugh, hidden by the foliage. “Your body was your screen, wasn’t it?” I ask her.

She smiles like Alice’s cat, her smile expands in the air until there is nothing left but an impression of her. She is back being an absence. I can only sing through her genes, enumerating the few keys she gave me to understand her mysterious withdrawing —most likely not knowing what she was doing. A movie and an opera have become indelible clues to discover her. My mother’s pink lipstick was called “indelible.” The cream for her face —why am I remembering such details?— was named from herbs and leaves: “botana.” Names, events, work in my mind like the little pebbles of the fable. Pollicino let them fall behind him on the ground in the woods, so he could find his way back.

There was no way mother and I could miss Pietro Mascagni’s most popular opera. We walked the narrow pathway behind the house, with stinging nettles between two low wire nets covered with vines; despite precautions we did wake up the dogs of the neighbors, and in no more than five minutes were sitting in the smoky room of our Circolo Familiare, the only public TV space in the village. The card players did not stop slamming on the tables, coughing and laughing. “Let’s go to the opera,” she had told me, which for me, at the time, was only one: Cavalleria Rusticana. Had I known that the author was from Livorno I would have been even more confused; I always thought he was Sicilian because the singers wore Sicilian names and costumes. Despite the small screen, and the rural lack of respect for musical performances, amid spectators much more excited by Mike Bongiorno and his TV quiz than by opera singers, I entered with my mother into a space of tension that isolated us from the smoky, humid room. Tension grows, the story makes a strong impression on us: a figurine that seems to have escaped from a Neapolitan crib runs towards the edge of the stage. He wears a short, black vest, a white scarf around the waist and white socks to the knees. The story is about to be doomed. The loud dwarf brings terrible news at the end of a too long vocalization and shouts, “Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu!” (Somebody killed godfather Turiddu!)

As my mother shivers, I am taken by surprise; I don’t really like that music, or the ridiculous look of the scene, and wait for an explanation. In short: two men were in love with the same woman, and one of them stubbed the other to death. I spent my whole life making fun of the ridiculous way Italian operas expand a long stretch of feelings on the vocal cords. But never had I connected to my mother’s silence, and emotion, during that loud recitativo. It was maybe her real story, safely represented in a fictional space for everybody to see. Her story, there, dramatically resolved: one of the contenders had killed the other. In real life, she was the one who stepped to the Acheron and the two who loved her survived her.

 

EILEEN COWIN,The Possibility of Regret, 2016, from Mad Love series, 6.6″ x 10″

 

THE CHALLENGE : Milan in the Sixties

THE CHALLENGE: to plan and build from zero two recording studios in three months

ALBERTO in Milano

Text and images by ALBERTO ALBERTINI

The best conditions for damage to a company, a family or a political party, are when one creates or tolerates an inner conflict. “The Challenge” was a textbook case: the perfect conflict. The idea of disturbing my peaceful work by giving me a boss who was not really useful to me, but rather involved in projects totally distant from me, created this conflict. I need to emphasize the dimension of the challenge: to create from zero, in an empty loft, two recording studios in three months. The project implied decisions about what to buy and the complete planning, to the slightest details. Not having any intention to replicate the Roman Fonoroma studios, I paid attention not to do what I had learned doesn’t have to be done and, what’s more, I improved my work thanks to my five years of inventions and innovations. I can’t explain the trust I received.

A constant in my planning activity is a certain incompetence. As Anatole France used to say, the specialists of a discipline know everything about it, but beyond that, they grope in the dark. Being an outsider and not a specialist at all, I did not grope in the dark. Never having had the right school over the years, the son of a painter who had been a mechanic and grandchild of a carpenter, I had studied chemistry, physics, photography, film technique on my own, that’s why maybe I had a bent for applying techniques of one discipline to another. I mean, in developing my first sound recorder I applied in the control system of the reels  the technique used in motorcycle brakes. To the film developing system for the Cineservicefilm I had applied the technique used in a steam engine heat exchange mechanism. A panoramic vision, joined to my natural thoughtlessness, allowed me to face problems certainly bigger than me.

After my departure from Rome in 1959, Fonoroma became something completely different and for sure not my responsibility; maybe their investments to try and make “Cinema in Milano” were excessive or wrong. In the late 50’s people in the film business in Rome used to say that Fonoroma was losing in film production what had been gained by dubbing, but was able to recover. But this time, in the 60’s it did not recover. The workers, after various ups and down, organized a cooperative that maintained the prestigious name. But they had to move, abandoning the marvelous palace behind Piazza del Popolo.

 

There was, in Milan, a factory of film development and film and sound printing created in 1945, immediately after the end of the war, as a present to his daughter by a textile manufacturer from Veneto. The name was Filmservice. The audio equipment of Filmservice didn’t have the quality required by the new market: the “Caroselli,” the very first TV advertisements. In ’58-’59 this factory owner asked Fonoroma to manage the sound department. In 1959 I was sent to Milan by Fonoroma as a manager of the department, to be immersed in the hell of an industrialized dubbing system. I was meeting a completely different reality. The transition that leads to the “Challenge” was five years spent as a manager of the Milanese Fonoroma.

For Fonoroma, sending me north was a big opportunity: I was a Northerner speaking the same language as the clients, and a pain in the neck eliminated from Rome. They easily convinced me with a very good salary to go to Milan, where I found a different world in which producing television advertisements had promoted a style of work adapted to short films. Studios, cameras, microphones were all the same as in feature filmmaking, but designed for very short shoots and with top level audio, because each advertisement had to be clear, intelligible and powerful!

They were the fabulous years…a banal commonplace or cheap sentimentalism? Fabulous years are those containing a more or less defined hope, certainly perceived by intuition, a hope today quite hard to feel. Although those Sixties were fabulous indeed, I didn’t know it, but my instinct pressed me to keep going. In those years the construction of the first subway turned the city upside down, it was the time of miniskirts, and the famous Giamaica bar was nearby, but I didn’t have the time to go there, and Paolo Sarpi Street was not one way yet. These were also the pioneering years of the new electronic solid state technology, those tiny worms with three threads sticking out before they became integrate circuits and then microprocessors. Electronics was then something one could touch, made visible by few and simple tools, now instead it’s the unknown, entirely analyzed by processors indicating if it works or not! The new field was so satisfying to me that I also made one of the first solid state commutators. I could describe the technical aspects of my work, and yet they would be impossible to comprehend even for a competent persons today, so much have technologies changed. In another report I will try an accessible description. More interesting are the clouds approaching on the horizon…

When I arrived in 1959 I found the space of the recording studio in Milan was similar to a submarine: steep metal stairs, a closet for machines, another for directing. The room for actors speaking at the microphone, although bigger, was smelling of humidity, dust and the passing of years. Projects recorded there were absolutely inadequate to the new requirements. RAI (the Italian state television network) had a department of quality control and rejected our products that were not good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young engineer had renewed these studios in Milan. The son of Fonoroma’s owner, he had either tried to save money, or to put to the test the new electronic devices: transistors. In conclusion, I found myself caught in a multitude of technical and methodological troubles because the feature film sound approach was different from the approach for producing sound for TV advertising; they were both effective, and their conflict was only due to the arrogance of the young engineer. On one side there was a fantastic relationship with clients, actors, dubbers, editors, producers, but on the other hand, I had to deal with the problems created by thermal drift in the circuitry of the studio that lead to a decline in sound quality after a few hours of work. It became necessary to quickly examine the new devices, analyze and solve the design problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember that between 1962-63, the owners of the Filmservices studios sold the whole activity to a financial group owned by the Cefis. Filmservice became TTC: tecno tele cine. 

The financial group was concerned with another project, initiated under Fonoroma’s wings, that started to take shape in order to attract to Milan the film production centered in Rome. A “Cinelandia” was supposed to be built by Fonoroma and other investors on the outskirts of Milan. This project would be far from the film processing labs. Because TTC where I worked was in the city center, our actors used to go quickly to the RAI nearby, if the scripts needing to be recorded were only a few minutes long. The new project would have implied inconceivable long traveling, or otherwise disrupted the advertisement production.

My collaboration was as loyal as the one of a dissident in his own party. I was waiting for the right opportunity. The “Cinema a Milano” project continued with general indifference from outside, but for Fonoroma it was a must! A remarkable quantity of money had been invested to build everything ex novo. Since I had built the new film mixing studio in the old TTC place, the director of TTC, seeing how I worked, believed I was in a position to solve his problems. He asked me to build two new studios in the same building, on the top floor, where there was an empty space of 30 x 15 x 5 meters.

The challenge was to accomplish everything in three months and open the activities before the “Cinema a Milano” could open. Their construction were already quite advanced.

From April to September 1965 we planned the entire project, in order to complete it and open in December. This included the planning of acoustic walls as well as the mechanics and electronic components. Orders and construction had to start within planned, rigid times, in a way that every piece could enter the plan precisely at the right time and in the right space: contractors, modified projectors, recorders for magnetic and optical film, general mechanics, plus the parts built by me. At my little table, I had prepared all the audio and network connections, with orders and deliveries precisely calculated.

There, in that empty and bleak, immense pavillion, the ceiling still a naked, sagging roof, masons pour the floating floors and the double walls for  perfect acoustic insolation, carpenters place the pipes for electric and audio connections, while our workshop prepares the frames for the mixing consoles, the consoles and recording machines arrive, with a collaborator helping me we proceed to work at connections, we install the screens…the sheets of paper for invoices are printed: we start recording!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calculations had been precise. We succeeded in starting to record before the engineers closed the old studio to move it out of town. The hardware project was also supported by a method to manage recordings, archives and invoices, so that the work started immediately in a fluid way. I had learned what does not have to be done and planned all the possible improvements I had discovered in years of work.

These studios, as I had conceived them,  worked for 25 years. The studios of our competitors never took off, stalled in telefilm dubbing. The recording studios were given in the end to private televisions. Now, 2015, I don’t know what remains of the out of town studios. Those I had planned and built do not exist anymore. The whole building was demolished and replaced by a luxury apartments building. It’s a new time. After all, fifty years have passed.

(For the translation of all the technical details and more, I had the invaluable help of my husband Peter Kirby. Thank you Peter!)

 

 

LA SFIDA: progettare e costruire da zero due studi di registrazione in tre mesi

ALBERTO a Milano

La condizione migliore per danneggiare un’azienda, una famiglia, un partito, è la creazione o la tolleranza di un conflitto interno. “La sfida” era un caso da manuale: il conflitto perfetto. L’idea di disturbare il mio pacifico lavoro dandomi un capo che non serviva a me ma ai progetti a me estranei, creò il conflitto cui ho accennato. Quello che intendo sottolineare è la dimensione dell’impresa: creare da zero, cioè da un capannone vuoto, due studi di registrazione in mesi tre. Il progetto comportava la decisione sui prodotti da acquistare e la progettazione completa, nei minimi dettagli. Non intendevo ripetere gli studi romani della Fonoroma, ma fare tutto quello che avevo imparato che non bisognava fare, e in più tutte le migliorie del lavoro in base alle esperienze di cinque anni di invenzioni e innovazioni. Non trovo spiegazione della fiducia che mi era stata accordata.

Una costante nella mia attività di progettazione è l’ incompetenza specifica. Come diceva Anatole France, gli specialisti di una disciplina sanno tutto di questa ma, al di fuori di essa, brancolano nel buio. Io ero al di fuori, e non essendo specialista non brancolavo nel buio. Non avendo mai frequentato la stessa scuola negli anni, figlio di un pittore che era stato meccanico e nipote di un falegname, avevo studiato chimica, fisica, fotografia, tecnica cinematografica per conto mio, forse per questo tendevo ad applicare le tecniche di una disciplina a un’altra. Per dire, al mio primo registratore avevo applicato al freno di svolgimento della bobina la tecnica delle frizioni motociclistiche. Alla sviluppatrice della Cineservicefilm avevo applicato la tecnica dei vasi comunicanti e degli scambiatori di calore delle locomotive a vapore. Una visione panoramica, non unilaterale, unita all’incoscienza congenita di cui godo, mi consentiva di affrontare azioni sicuramente più grandi di me.

Dopo la mia partenza da Roma la Fonoroma non fu più la stessa, non certo per causa mia ma perché gli investimenti per “fare il cinema a Milano” dovettero essere eccessivi o sbagliati. Si diceva, a Roma, che la Fonoroma perdeva, nella produzione di film, quello che aveva guadagnato con il doppiaggio, ma comunque si riprendeva. Questa volta non si riprese e dopo varie vicissitudini, i lavoratori finirono in cooperativa, conservando il prestigioso nome ma cambiando sede, abbandonando il meraviglioso palazzo dietro Piazza del Popolo!

A Milano esisteva uno stabilimento di sviluppo stampa e sonorizzazione film nato nel 1945, subito dopo la guerra, come regalo di un industriale tessile veneto alla figlia: si chiamava Filmservice. Le apparecchiature audio del Filmservice erano di qualità insufficiente a soddisfare le richieste del nuovo mercato: i Caroselli, pubblicità televisiva. Nel ’58-’59 la proprietà di questo stabilimento propose alla Fonoroma di gestire il reparto suono. Nel 1959 sono stato spedito a Milano con l’incarico di gestire questo reparto, immerso nella bolgia del sistema di doppiaggio industrializzato; mi venivo a trovare in contatto con una realtà tutta diversa. La transizione che conduce alla sfida è un interregno di cinque anni passati come gestore della Fonoroma milanese.

Come settentrionale ero una grossa opportunità: parlavo la stessa lingua dei clienti ed ero un rompiscatole eliminato a Roma. Con un’ottima retribuzione mi convinsero facilmente a tornare a Milano nel ’59, dove ho trovato un mondo diverso. La pubblicità televisiva aveva promosso un modo di lavorare su misura dei brevi filmati. Teatri di posa, pellicola, microfoni, tutto come nel cinema vero ma solo per brevissime riprese per giunta con un audio ai massimi livelli perché ogni pubblicità doveva essere chiara, intellegibile e potente!

Erano i favolosi anni…un banale luogo comune oppure sentimentalismo a buon prezzo? Gli anni favolosi sono quelli che contenevano una speranza più o meno definita, sicuramente intuita, speranza che oggi è difficile nutrire. Quegli anni sessanta erano favolosi, io non lo sapevo ma il mio istinto mi sollecitava ad andare avanti. Erano gli anni della città sottosopra per i lavori della prima metropolitana, delle minigonne, del Giamaica a due passi ma che io non avevo il tempo di frequentare e via Paolo Sarpi era a doppio senso, ma erano anche gli anni pionieristici della nuova tecnica elettronica allo stato solido, quei minuscoli bruchi con tre fili sporgenti destinati a divenire circuiti integrati e poi microprocessori. Allora l’elettronica si toccava con mano, cioè la si vedeva con pochi semplici strumenti, ora invece è l’ignoto, tutto analizzato da processori che dicono se funziona oppure no! Questo mi dava soddisfazione ed avevo pure realizzato una delle prime commutazioni allo stato solido. Certo potrei descrivere gli aspetti tecnici del mio lavoro ma sarebbero incomprensibili anche agli addetti ai lavori del giorno d’oggi, tanto le tecnologie sono cambiate.
Tenterò comunque in altro rapporto di farne una descrizione comprensibile.
Più interessanti le nubi che si approssimavano all’orizzonte…

Lo studio di registrazione milanese disponeva più o meno degli spazi che si trovano in un sommergibile: ripide scalette di metallo, un buco per le macchine e un altro per la regia. La sala, il luogo dove gli attori parlano al microfono era più grande, si, ma puzzolente di umidità polvere e tempo. Progetti assolutamente inadeguati alle nuove necessità. La RAI aveva un reparto di controllo qualità e respingeva i prodotti deficienti.

Il progettista del rinnovamento degli impianti di Milano era un giovane ingegnere, figlio del padrone degli studi romani, che aveva voluto sia economizzare, sia sperimentare i nuovi dispositivi elettronici: i transistori. In conclusione mi sono trovato in una moltitudine di guai tecnici e metodologici perché la scuola di suono cinema era diversa da quella del suono pubblicitario, pur essendo entrambe valide erano in conflitto per via della supponenza del nuovo progettista. Se da un lato si era instaurato un fantastico rapporto con i clienti, attori, doppiatori, montatori, produttori, dall’altro mi trovavo a gestire apparecchiature che principalmente soffrivano di deriva termica tale che dopo qualche ora la qualità del suono decadeva. Dunque necessità di studiare i nuovi dispositivi, analizzare i problemi e risolverli.

Intanto, la proprietà dello stabilimento sviluppo, stampa e sonorizzazione film (Filmservice) cedette tutta l’attività ad un gruppo finanziario facente capo ai Cefis, mi pare fra il 1962-63. La Filmservice diventa TTC: tecno tele cine. Questo gruppo era preoccupato da un altro progetto, promosso da Fonoroma, che cominciava a prendere forma, per attirare a Milano le produzioni cinematografiche romane. Avrebbe dovuto diventare una “Cinelandia” fuori città, dove la Fonoroma avrebbe deciso di trasferirsi. Sarebbe venuto a mancare lo studio di doppiaggio che faceva da supporto all’attività di sviluppo film. Siccome lo stabilimento dove lavoravo era in centro città, gli speakers facevano un salto dalla vicina RAI per registrare testi di pochi minuti. Il nuovo progetto avrebbe richiesto tempi di spostamento impensabili, ovvero sconvolto l’attività pubblicitaria.

La mia collaborazione era leale quanto quella di un dissidente entro il proprio partito. In definitiva aspettavo l’occasione giusta. Tra l’indifferenza generale il progetto “Cinema a Milano” andò avanti, doveva! Furono investiti parecchi capitali per costruire tutto ex novo. Poiché io avevo costruito il nuovo studio mixaggio film nella vecchia sede TTC, il direttore di questa, vedendomi al lavoro, mi reputò in grado di risolvere i suoi problemi e mi contattò proponendomi di costruire due nuovi studi nello stesso stabile all’ultimo piano dove esisteva uno spazio libero di 30X15X5 metri.
La sfida consisteva nel farlo in tre mesi e aprire l’attività prima dei “facciamo il cinema a Milano”, già avanti con i lavori.

Da aprile 1965, inizio dei contatti, a settembre, il progetto doveva essere pronto per l’esecuzione che doveva terminare in dicembre. Questo implicava sia la progettazione murario-acustica che quella meccanico elettronica, cioè far partire ordini e costruzioni con tempi previsti e impegnativi in modo che ogni pezzo si incastrasse in tempi e luoghi precisi: impresa di costruzioni, proiettori modificati, registratori su film magnetico e ottico, meccanica generale più la parte costruita da me. Anche tutte le connessioni audio e rete, erano preparate da me a tavolino, ordini e consegne calcolati con precisione.

Ed ecco che nell’immenso padiglione vuoto e squallido, il soffitto ancora a tetto nudo e spiovente, i muratori posano i pavimenti galleggianti e le doppie murature, per un perfetto isolamento acustico, i carpentieri posano le tubature per le connessioni elettriche e audio, la cabina elettricità, l’officina prepara lo scheletro del mixer, arrivano le macchine, con un collaboratore si procede alle connessioni si installano gli schermi…si stampano i fogli lavorazione/fatturazione: si registra!!

I calcoli erano stati precisi, riuscimmo a iniziare le registrazioni prima che gli ingegneri chiudessero il vecchio studio per trasferirsi fuori città. Il progetto dell’hardware era affiancato anche da un software: il modo di gestire le registrazioni, le archiviazioni e le fatturazioni cosicché il lavoro iniziò subito scorrevole. Avevo imparato ciò che non bisogna fare e progettato tutte le migliorie possibili osservate durante il lavoro.

Quegli studi, così come li ho concepiti, hanno lavorato per 25 anni. Quelli dei concorrenti non decollarono mai, ripiegarono sul doppiaggio di telefilm e i teatri di posa infine ceduti alle nuove TV private. Ora, 2015, non so cosa sia rimasto degli studi fuori città, di quelli che ho progettato io, più niente. L’intero palazzo demolito e al suo posto una nuova costruzione residenziale di lusso. Segno dei tempi, in fondo sono passati cinquant’anni.