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.

 

 

THE OLD MAN AND THE PAST

ALBERTO ALBERTINI : the beginning of an adult life

INTRODUCTION
by Rosanna Albertini

Photos and drawing by Alberto Albertini

10 ROSANNA

Alberto’s stories restart after the end of the war; the treasures of his adolescent ‘expanded life’ put to a very hard test by the frenzy of despair and enthusiasm that was stirring everyone’s life.
     Missing regular school training, and following his father’s path in teaching himself what he needed to learn (Oreste Albertini never went to school – his sisters told me) he built his own way through life and now revisits the past almost curious, rediscovering a figure of himself he had lived in, at times unaware, other times building a brilliant career almost against his wishes.

To recuperate the lost time is a complex desire: it runs after fantasy images hoping that some of them could improve the wish of an expanded existence.” AA

Dreams had cracked up, sinking in the snow. Chance and necessity blowing cold wind on his neck, reluctant and rebel by nature, the only things he never gave up were his family, his passion for photography and his spirit as an inventor, call it smart tinkering if you want, something that, despite himself, always worked.

11 ROSANNA

School training having been irregular and incomplete, Alberto looked into his level of ‘incompetence’ as realistically as possible, and filled the holes studying by himself everything that was connected to filmmaking: chemistry, photography, radio technique, physics and mechanics, often supported by friends.

1946: an attempt at going to a film school in Milan – a poor school in a basement – did not fulfill his desire of exploring camera work, scenography, costumes making.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1947-48: Alberto had a job in a company for film development and printing: FILMSERVICE. His naive enthusiasm for free political speech after fascism had just turned around the corner put him in serious trouble. Reported and fired when his very young companion, who will be his wife for seventy years, had symptoms of pregnancy. “The darker time of my life – says Alberto – from which I got out for the simple reason that it was pointless to stay in it.”

Maybe searching for light, he rushed headlong into making his version of fluorescent lamps (a novelty after the war), and patented them, only to discover that commercial development was not in his range. Here’s a drawing:

brevetto 2

History of his adult life is also the history of film sound technologies in Italy after the war. Alberto was also involved in film making as a popular service, in some ways like the agitprop train set up by Dziga Vertov in 1917, when Vertov was twenty two. Equipped for a complete film process, from acting to editing and projecting films, the train had the mission to encourage soldiers and simple people during the Bolshevik Revolution. The Italian experiment instead happened in time of peace. It was called CINESERVICEFILM: a trailer completely equipped for film making and projection was pulled by a Jeep. The little caravan: a trailer, a car and a Lambretta went through the Northern regions of Italy for two years (1949-50) filming peoples’ lives and projecting the film at the end of the day for the ‘actors’ to see. It was a celebration of life and joy after many dark times. Like Dziga, Alberto was in his early twenties. 

CINESERVICEFILM 005

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

7 ROSANNA

8 ROSANNA

CINESERVICEFILM 008

CINESERVICEFILM and the flying song of a nightingale

By ALBERTO ALBERTINI

9 ROSANNA

Between 1949 and 1950 Mr Vallerga, about whom I only knew he had been a fascist, had a pre-realityTV intuition: a vagrant film studio shooting people’s lives and projecting the shots the day after, in the same location. The person supplying me with chemical products pointed out this operation to me, and I introduced myself offering my initial services for free. A good way to take part in the birth of those things. A trailer equipped with tools for developing and printing 16mm films was pulled by a Jeep, one of the war left overs. Operative issues weren’t less interesting than the technological adventure. At the beginning we were three: Mr Vallerga, a driver and myself. Vallerga and myself used to spend the day walking through the village or town where the show was supposed to happen, shooting places and first of all the local humans! I developed the shots during the night and after editing directly the negative, printed and developed the positive. In the meantime Vallerga was placing a 16mm projector in the local movie theater and, using a tape recorder, was adding a musical background. In the small towns the success was remarkable: everybody came to the theater to see themselves or the others. The general mood was joyful.

To make me independent from the trailer and the car used by Vallerga, I was given a Lambretta. Between moving from one place to another, developing and printing, there was no time to sleep. The sheet metal wrapping the lab was an oven fed by the sun, to more or less 40 degrees centigrade. To avoid laziness, I added a photographic service taking pictures of cafes and customers. The pictures, always developed and printed by me, were given away as presents. More workers were added later, and I tried to organize a fair anti-stress division of labor, but costs weren’t catching up with benefits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How did it all start? Vallerga was a seller of Fumeo 16mm projectors to the parishes. It was probably in a parish that he met the Luciani family, owners of Dreher and Pedavena beer factories and of Pizzolotto liquor. He had convinced them to finance his project as a brilliant idea to promote their products. The only advertisement, in reality, was the announcement that the show was offered by the Pedavena or Dreher beer, and maybe something was written on the trailer. We had scoured through almost all Northern Italy when the news arrived, near Ravenna, that the party had ended: the Lucianis had stopped investing money in us!
Montebelluna, Treviso, Pedavena, Bassano, Romano Lombardo Trevalcore, Bondeno, Trecate, Borgomanero, Varese Rho, Marostica
and so many other small and bigger urban centers, some provinces. A world on its way to waking up, to restart moving, but still structurally intact, especially in agricultural areas. We had shot a factory for weaving cotton, it was terrible: an enormous shed with weaving looms, an unbearable hubbub… and women at work… We found a spring of mineral water where bottles were filled by a tube, and bubbles were created by gas; the prosecco producers, the carnival in Pedavena sponsored by the beer cellar. Many memories? Not at all, there was not time to breath: in Treviso, a night spent fighting mosquitoes, and in Verona, never seen such a hot weather! At noon in Bondeno one could hear the knife chopping tagliatelle at every, every day.

In Bassano del Grappa, late night, I had finished installing the projector at the movie theater for the following day; it was two, three in the morning? I walked out on the small balcony. Through the deep silence of a space made infinite by darkness, I heard the flying song of a nightingale. It was powerful, solitary, and limpid. Distant reverberations nailed me into my own solitude. Magic moments happen in this way. For him, maybe, it was already wake up time!

And I can only conclude with two images from Wikipedia: the agitprop train for Bolshevik Propaganda in 1917-19, and Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poster WANT IT? JOIN.

Dziga Vertov produced weekly film series and the first newsreel series in Russia for the Moscow Cinema Committee (Kino-Nedelya). He had on the train actors for live performances, and equipment to shoot, develop, edit, and project films.  “The trains went to battlefronts on agitation propaganda missions intended primarily to bolster the morale of the troops.” (Wikipedia)

Plakat_mayakowski_gross

heftberger_02