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15 Questions to Alessandra Eramo

img  Tobias Fischer

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hi Tobias, I'm in Berlin and I'm doing really fine, thank you!

What’s on your schedule right now?
This year reserved many challenges and surprises for me … and it seems that there are still  some more coming up. Right now, I'm working on a new text-sound composition for voices and drawings. In July, I will be artist in residence at Harvestworks in New York City, where I will develop a multi-channel audiovisual installation for voices, faces and field recordings.

How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city you are currently living in?
Berlin is blooming and people from all over the world know this. It's an attractive city because it's still cheap to live. That's surely one of the main reasons why there are so many artists living here and it is making the city a very lively ground and so exciting.
Berlin is also an experimentation field for a lot of people and this makes it very special. But this also leads to the situation that nothing is really established. And certain institutions sometimes don't seem serious. There is a variety of scenes in Berlin and I'm following them with great curiosity.

When did you start playing your instrument/composing, and what or who were your early passions or influences also in visual arts?
I started to sing and I wrote my first poem when I was nine years old. When I was fourteen, I was singing and doing concerts with my first blues band and earned my first money with it in Taranto, Italy. Then, during high school, I also started to practise noise music and experimental theatre, and was playing electric bass, oh yes! During this whole period, I was training in classical singing, while I was also very attracted to the study of art history. Then I went to Milan and took piano lessons. I studied Visual Art and Performing Arts in Milan, Stuttgart and Venice. So … since the beginning, I have never seen any fracture between visual art, performing arts and music. Also now, I feel completely free to work in intermedial forms.

What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
Two true loves: The first one in my early twenties, when I studied and discovered the Fluxus movement. I understood that I was not alone working in a multimedia field! Many musicians were in this movement and the other way round, a lot of visual artists were - and some are still are - making music. The second impact occurred two years later, when I discovered the work of Meredith Monk, which also helped me to understand and develop the study of my own voice.
As I mentioned before, I got solid skills in visual arts, from where I developed a strong interest in Performance Art, with sound as a basic “matter”, followed by an intense study of the human voice as a genuine and immediate form of expression. So, during the last years, I've been confronting studies and musical practices connected to improvisation and new compositional forms. In all this, the word – poetry – has always been of great significance in these practices, and became a real vade-mecum between the arts.

The role of the composer has always been subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of composers today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
I have the impression that my generation is not interested in making politics. I don't really agree with this, but I do understand this point of view. Compared with other generations, it seems that we have less to complain about. I observe that in music scenes, today, there is a big interest in musical language itself but not in what the world around us is like or will be like and how the artist can influence it. Like I said before, Fluxus was a big influence for me and in these times, artists were much more into shaping the world.
Today I observe that all the forms of expressions around us seems like they are loosing the sense of “sensibility”. Today those forms of expressions tend to create an “effect”, to stimulate just a crude “sensorial aspect” for the audience. The result is very degrading.
What I am trying to do is to create something that lets people think, and feel, not on a “sensorial-level”, but on a “sensibility-level”. This is for me already a political point.
And I'm not doing it for my ego, I am not doing it to make people feel comfortable or to entertain them. I believe that artists have a huge social responsibility and, as everybody knows, the intellectuals, the artists are always the first to be exiled.
Furthermore, I think reflecting about the state of society and making art are two sides of the same coin. Every time I leave my house, every time I walk on the streets or take the bus, for me creating art has already started. All that I hear, see and feel becomes part of my artistic work. My studio serves just for focusing and for putting the ink on the white canvas, but actually the canvas is always around me. So in that sense, I feel very connected with politics. In other, simpler words, I believe that art and life are one.

What do you usually start with when composing?
Beautiful questions! I love to define my working process as a putting together of what is already there. There's always something magical in it, and I enjoy seeing the intelligence that lives in the things around us a lot. An example: most of my instruments – although not all - found their way to me. My actual piano, for example, came to me when my husband's grandma died. I have a lot of instruments that are found objects or presents from people and I use them in my compositions and performances. Things come to me, this is how I start or how I don't start.
Cum ponere, the Latin means exactly this: to put together. That's what I do. I collect and I build something. In a broader sense, I collect experiences, sounds, impressions, visions, very often of a collective value. Then, at a certain point they emerge. And they succeed, they leave a sign.

How, do you feel, could contemporary compositions reach the attention of a wider audience?
I think when you reach one person deeply, in her or his soul, this is already a great success, because she/he will carry on this experience and she will surely share it with other people. And I love to imagine that it is like a sweet and sympathetic virus, which slowly expands and multiplies itself through the world!

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
Oh yes! Sure. My idea is to realize a multimedia work with voice in a big choir, to involve  performers with different ages and with different social backgrounds.

What are currently your main artistic challenges?
In my current artistic works, from vocal live-performances and so-called relational performances to various text-sound compositions, I am focused on the phenomenon of the “voice”: voice vs. body, voice vs. singing, voice vs. verbal and non-verbal language. In particular, in the relationship between its oral and written appearance. Therefore the relationship between voice and sign. And I am convinced that, in this whole process, there is always something hidden ...
I'll give you an example to explain what I mean for “something hidden”: In 2006, I attended a conference of the butoh dancer Tadashi Endo at the University of Venice. I was very impressed by his statement: “I will never be able to see the back of my body. I am interested in exploring the shadows, the unknown parts of my body”.
That's simply true: there are a lot of unexplored parts of ourselves, as well as of our body, which at the end is all that we have. If I sing, I am particularly interested in what is singing in the voice ...
So, imagine how many things around us remain unexplored.

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance?
Let's take an example, which is very close to a topic of my artistic research: If you're listening to a field recording piece, it includes an important performative aspect: The “making of”, the moment when the artist realised the field recordings.
These two things, the experience of recording and the space, where the recordings were made become the main aspects of the piece.
What we hear afterwards is the result of a process. And this process is the main part of the piece.

What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
I can just say from my own experience in improvised music, that as soon as I wake up, I have to improvise, as I can only to a certain degree say what is going to happen the next second. People who say “I don't improvise” are probably people who don't enjoy the surprise of every second of their life.  Johann Sebastian Bach improvised most of the time, remembered what he had found (amazing!!) and wrote it down as a world-famous composition. So both of them have their merits, where the concept of memory is just developed in different forms.

Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
I work - basically - with voice, field recordings and text, which I consider languages that can talk to us, languages, to be explored. For me, they can't be defined as material, or tools. The so called “material”  for my works is always the relationship between the things.
The material for my work is often the relationship between a field recording and the listener, or between a vocal performance and the audience. Obviously both need each other to exist.
We need silence to listen to noise … only inside this relationship are we able to understand (and to realize) what noise and silence are. It is exactly in such relationships in which I find the material for my works.

Some people see recording improvised music as a problem. Do you?

Absolutely not. Improvisation should be recorded and I would call the result a  “documentation” of an action. Like a documentation of a unique performance art piece. You know, even in composed music, you will never have the same effect, as the framework is always different. I hope recording will go on, it has a documentational value. What's wrong with it?

Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.
Oh! It's too difficult to recommend “only” two artists ... Well, I'll try: Composers Pauline Oliveros and Domenico Sciajno

Ezramo Discography:
PopeWAFFEN/ w. Gino Robair, David Fenech, Wendelin Büchler, Argo Ulva (Corvo) 2010
Come ho imparato a volare (Corvo) 2011


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