Interview with Alessandro Ludovico



A.L.      In your work  ‘Three Crosses of Queensbridge’, you provide various itineraries for visitors to follow on bikes, broadcasting an electronic composition over a live radio signal. So your work is reflected in space thanks to the radio exploited as a medium of re-broadcasting a personal signal. And you are also presenting a radio show on resonance FM.

So how do you consider radio confronting to the Bertolt Brecht concept that “The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life ,’ if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, `                 How to bring [the listener] into relationship instead of isolating him…”?

Terrestrial radio as a two way medium would utterly transform what we know as radio.  No longer the tune chosen from outside dipping into our possibly private space, it could be an open forum of active debate controlled by its listeners. Referring to last years radio cycle work you mention, I would have loved the rider, out on the bike broadcasting and listening to the piece, to have been able to comment on where they were, or what happened to them as they went, adding a growing trail of poetry to the moving trace.

K.M.     Practically and technically, of course terrestrial radio now is not worth considering to develop as a 2 way device. Lets leave it as the soothing voice from outside droning in the corner, keeping us in touch with  a certain kind of out there as we potter about our individual private tasks trying to stay calm.  Instead lets look into exploiting the capacity of hard drives and information storage, with links too to the internet, through accessible networks that anyone can easily get to, also establishing systems that can be fed by the users and will run themselves: unlike terrestrial radio, which always needs a person  there,  at its one HQ, looking after and feeding it .

Now I think that the way forward for essential 2 way communication, a way that will have a profoundly positive effect on the growth of human society, is wireless networking. Networking that exists in a particular area and is therefore a product of the communities that live there. Local networks that can link residents or passers by through carefully placed nodes, So that someone passing through that area could tap the appropriate code into their pmu or mobile phone or laptop and have immediate access to information on local activities of all kinds, drop into a local chat room, a forum where a visitor could add their own information, raise their own questions, hear local musicians rehearsing.  Not only does this kind of communication enable and encourage communities  to do it for themselves and direct their own lives, but we could be talking small and local, driven and run in the neighbourhood by the people that use them.

Such networks are already being developed here for example, and I support them fully.

A.L.      ‘Sonic Armchair no1’ and ‘no2’ and the latest ‘Sonic Bed Laboratory’ are vibrating the body of the sitters. This seems to relate deeply to the physicality of sound, one of your works’ peculiarities. And I’ve read about your next research effort about the shifting electromagnetic frequencies of the human body.

Do you think that our bodies are a very important and underestimated part of a music piece?

Do you think that musicians must eventually take care of their characteristics (resonance, fluids flowing inside, etc.)?

K.M.     Obviously the human ear system and connections to the brain provide the direct mechanism through which a human can hear sound. If there is a fault with this apparatus, then you would be classified as deaf. Even a profoundly deaf person however, can “hear” sound, communicated through the many other sensory apparati the human body possesses.

These systems  are communicated to via vibration, the vibration of air, and  maybe even the direct physical vibration of something that is sounding, eg a metal bridge over a train track, a bass speaker, a bell.  So the human body as a whole is a system that is entirely involved in our perception of sound. In translating that sonic energy into something that communicates to us  through the air to the hairs on our skin, our internal organs and of course through our ears.

I would say therefore that if musicians, players and composers began to consider this aspect in their music making, then other musical experiences could be gathered, with possibly more immersive and engaging experiences available than the purely head/brain titillations  of a track played through headphones.

Of course the advent of quality amplification and analogue and digital processing has enabled makers and listeners to use and perceive respectively a much wider range of frequencies within music  than was previously possible. And it is in the bass and sub bass regions that vibration can really communicate to the body in ways  that can be extremely powerful as well as dangerous. More is also being discovered about the resonant frequencies of particular organs of the human and the effect that other frequencies have and how to find and create a harmonious balance.

In the research I am doing in this area however, I am finding, disappointingly, that much of the work is still quite subjective and tied up with all kinds of variables and questionable practices. So no I don’t think that this is an area that musicians should be looking into at all necessarily.  Makers are often looking for  new ways in, ideas to spring from, and it could just be an area that we start to look at further as more is discovered. Yes, music undeniably has a psychological effect that could be healing even if it was not setting out to be healing music. Psychoacoustics, personality, place, perception is a complicated mystery to each individual and I am quite happy to leave it at that. Musical exploration and growth I’m sure will continue anywa.

A.L.      In ‘Vigilare’ you collaborated with Riz Maslen composing the soundtrack for his video made out of CCTV footage. The surveillance electronic eye focus for some time on an elevator cabin, and the feeling of waiting, the sounds of the elevators and the flux of time flow in the video.

Do you think that surveillance influences the collective perception of public space? Which method you used to compose this soundtrack?

K.M.     London is one of the most surveilled cities in the world. and its use here has crept insidiously into our lives, with the excuse that it is there for our own safety. If you might ever want to find out what the camera had seen last week however, invariably the camera would have no film, raising the question, ”so what are they really for then?”

However, last summer’s terrifyingly stupid suicide bombers action (I mean we might have been on their side had they not tried to kill us!) has now caused most folk to feel that yes surveillance is a good idea, as it is true, there are lunatics around and that though we might not like it, we need to be watching watching so that we can catch them. Imprisoned for our own safety and yes, I do meet people on the street who feel that it is safer if we are being watched.

I believe  that this is just another nail in the coffin of the individual’s freedom and right to choose, adding to the overwhelming sense of disempowerment being spread like a disease in the 21st century.

Oh and a  small correction too. Riz is a woman and we made the video together from editing surveilance footage that had been collected for us in this block of council flats in Manchester.  At the same time we made the music together by my introducing Riz to the live sampling software I use, along with an improvisatory approach around a shape and recording what happens. Then playing random fragments back with the images we had collated , seeing what worked and fine tuning that.  I was working with this notion of time just being present, static, not moving forwards,  just being now, with these sometimes violent interruptions as the space and therefore the energy within it was altered.

The lift itself and the view of the entrance hall I think compounded that.

A.L.      In ‘Weightless Animals’ [] you collaborated with Zeena Parkins and Mandy McIntosh playing with music for astronauts, sampling radio transmissions in space, dialogues between them and ground crew and reprocessing music that astronauts bring with them in space. What fascinates you most thinking about sound transmissions in space?

The first thing about space is that it is a vacuum, and that it is silence, and the human animal cannot survive or experience it and therefore I find it very difficult to fully comprehend.  This is the first thing that is fascinating.  Of course the fact that this space, this vacuum ins not empty at all, but is stuffed with all kinds of  electrical activity that we can use to understand essential things about time and matter and the universe,  as well as harness the radio frequencies present to transmit sound and therefore communicate, is utterly inspiring.

A.L.      The performance dimension is essential to understand your work. Even in your early experiments with dance and theatre (I remember the album ‘Pointy Stunt’ with Hayley Newman), you didn’t simply attach microphones to suits, but you tried to build a sympathetic relationship between gestures and samples, using devices like shoes with motors in their heels or relating different type of objects with different type of sounds.

Do you think that our relationship with objects and gestures changes accordingly to the perceived sounds? Is this a sort of narrative for describing a possible different reality?

K.M.     Hilarious that you put Pointy Stunt into the dance and theatre category!

First I should clarify that the shoes with motors and the suit with microphones were art works made by Hayley Newman who was therefore directing and performing with them.  These works were exploring the visualization of sound  in that Hayley’s every gesture would produce a sound, with which she was in control. I was merely the real time  composer/conjuror if you like, making music out of her actions as she performed them by sampling and processing her gestures live.

It was quite a radical approach of Hayley’s to invite me to come and  play with her sonic motion, as I had the power to completely transform the meaning of her performance. Working live with  the computer, I can not only play with time by grabbing and replacing a sonic gesture in time and space, but also with its transformation,  converting a sonic gesture into a cascade of tiny bees flying over the performers head, or layering it to slam out mickey mouse style with her action that might even have been tiny.

These shows would be very exciting as they were fast and improvised and we would never know what I could really do with her sound material until we were in front of an audience.   Of course we would have a plan, and the motorized stiletto piece  I’d obviously work to a fat drone of shifting layers, but the microphone suit piece would get very noisy. I don’t know if Hayley’s movements would become more exaggerated as the music got louder, but the audience would certainly get more excited as they were witnessing someone (a woman) make striking gestures that they could not only see but hear, as well as an exciting music that would grow up out of it, made right  there in front of them, and they were part of that.  And I don’t know what that is, but I think its an almost elemental or primitive aspect of the human psyche which understands and loves this witnessing of sound through the eyes too. I mean that’s one of the reasons that orchestras are still so popular , no?

So , yes sure, people will create their own narratives and journeys to understand what is going on, and that too could be an aspect of  what this is all for.

A.L.      Amongst your many collaborations, you played with Brian Duffy’s Modified Toy Orchestra, a circuit bending solo act.

Circuit bending seems to share with your approach, the bringing out of sounds that are already potentially there. What you think about these hardware hacking practices? There’s any anthropomorphic hidden reference, in your opinion?

K.M.     I adore and admire these hacking and reconfiguring practices. Discovering, releasing to the world and representing the hidden potential of things rather than just throwing them away and replacing with the new is inspiring and essential and something we should all be doing in school rather than saving up for ipods and new trainers.

No I don’t think that there is necessarily any idea of animal mythologies or human spirit lurking within. A machine is a machine, and the human animal  is a creative beast that can choose to dig inside to reveal what that machine can do beyond what  it was exchanged for cash for.

A.L.      You’re known for starting your performance with your hard drive empty, enabling a pure improvised, immanent music.

This implies that the role of software is nodal for it. What’s your relationship with the software?

Is it only mediating the use of hardware, or you think that it has a cultural role?

K.M.     This software is my instrument. It is as close to me as the physical structure of my violin for example. I know that a particular action I make will have certain consequences. I have worked with this software instrument , gradually building a series of interlocking shifting matrices with which I can then precisely or randomnly play over a growing period of 10 years. Very few people use this software or this approach, probably as it is very dangerous, so possibly stupid,  as it opens up the performer to complete ‘disaster’ as well as the glorious heaven sent moments of circumstance that can only appear then due to all those ingredients being there,  or not.

So, no, this software does much more than mediate the hardware. It brings it into use in a way that is live and unpredictable. It does not use the hardware to reproduce stored information in known and infinitely controlled and sorted detail, but rather to flick like a breath over the surface of the machine.

A.L.      Collaborations seem another cornerstone of your musical activity, with so many persons and their different respective backgrounds. What’s the most important characteristic you search for in a new artistic partner?

K.M.     To be game for an adventure across unknown territories and be open to change at any moment. To contribute.

A.L.      You consider computer accident as a feature, not a bug, inspiring new approaches and solutions. In fact, talking about them, you once said: “the computer often had good ideas”. It seems not only a matter of having or losing control, but also a philosophical perspective on mentally tuning with the digital processes, including faults. Do you feel any symbiosis with the machines?

K.M.     No

A.L.      You were a talented violin player before starting to mix with midi and samplers and then definitively switching to software. What’s, in your opinion, the most radical mentality changes that electronics brought us?

K.M.     That mistakes and breakdowns are creative and therefore useful.

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