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Enrico Coniglio: Living on the set of the Truman Show

img  Tobias Fischer

You've been interested in the „loss of identity of places“ for a long time. In which way is this loss manifesting itself – and what are the results for the acoustic ecosphere?
I became interested in the theme of the ‘loss of identity of places’ during university days, when I got hold of the popular essay by Marc Augé, Non-liux. Looking at the territory of the urbanized countryside of the Venetian hinterland, suburbs of towns, business parks, big infrastructures, conurbations that never end, one wonders what has happened over the last 50 years of history of the country. The answer is that these places have been annihilated, as if they were an artificial memory to be erased and then rewritten. And even though, in Italy, we are very close to the historical past of the country, here in the Veneto region the local identities – meaning here the set of particular anthropological, geographical, environmental, cultural and economic characteristics of a site – have been denigrated and the territory of the countryside has been brutalized by a chaotic urban development without rules.
The ‘loss of identity of places’ is manifesting itself  in many ways, but especially by erasing the signs of the past and homologating the territory, and therefore the landscape, at first annihilating the peculiar features and later overloading it with new content, meaning, messages and symbols that do not belong to the place, but to the size of the globalizing “supermodernity”. A non-place is not simply the denial of the place, but its transformation into something new where people transit and consume goods. The result, in terms of an acoustic field, is the disappearance of traditional soundscapes (the “soundmarks” of Raymond Murray Schafer), which only remain in the memory of our ancestors.

It is surprising that this interest in a loss of identity should be coming from someone from Venice, a place which has one of the most clearly definable identities and images in the mind of millions all around of the world ...

Venice is becoming a non-place because it is losing its own identity in favor of its touristic exploitation. By denying its past, it is turning into a Disney-present. Venice is a real example of how a city can be transformed into a theme park, whose inhabitants are the extras. Sometimes it seems like we're living on the set of the Truman Show, but we try to resist among souvenir shops, gondoliers and Harlequins. Venice is sinking, they say, even metaphorically, and perhaps that is what pushes me to reveal this slow decline with the expressive means available to me. What I'm trying to propose is a different image of the city, away form the tourist cliche, but that does not deny the contradictions of the present taking refuge in the nostalgia of the past. This is the reason I am interested in exploring Porto Marghera, the industrial side of Venice, that no tourists would be interested to visit ... and which is absurdly also running the risk of losing its identity character, as a place of production, in the face of global crisis.

For "Songs From Ruined Days", you didn't just make use of samples from Vienna, but also included recordings realised in Austria. What's the connection?
The challenge of this work is to have mixed field recordings made in different places, such as industrial halls and cathedrals, because these large areas of labor and religious life of people today are areas of crisis. What I was interested in during the making of "Songs From Ruined Days", was to think of  the identity of the production sites as places of prayer. On the one hand, the production base in Europe is undergoing a serious crisis, since most industrial areas are in decline due to outsourcing to Eastern Asia, and Porto Marghera is an example of that. On the other hand, there is no denying that the religious spaces are undergoing a serious neglect on the part of young people, because of the crisis of religion that the Western world has been experiencing for more than a century. Maybe these areas will soon be abandoned and constitute nothing but echoes of a glorious past, fall apart or turn into museums. But if my theme was to investigate the loss of identity, the truth is probably that the musical result seems to suggest the exact opposite: as long as a turbine is in action or an organ pipe emits vibrations, these places will still be carriers of their original identity.

Was this also why it was important that all recordings, including instrumental sections from Organ and a Choir, were culled from the same source materials, rather than adding them from somewhere else?

When I decided to compose "Songs from Ruined Days" I didn’t yet have the required sound materials: in fact it is not a composition made at the computer, even if the assembly work took place entirely in post-production. "Songs from Ruined Days”, in my intention, is not a work based on the addition of sounds and melodies to recordings of background atmosphere, but a work made of ambience-composition. In this sense, the sounds of industrial production and fragments of organ and choir are not protagonists, but accidental factors of the environment that I was interested in recording. The work is largely based on recording environments with high natural reverb - a part of these records were kept unaltered, but some have been heavily manipulated, transfiguring the sounds, because the intent is still to create a sort of “soundscape composition”. Moreover it is clear that to compose is a subjective operation and therefore arbitrary.

When collecting the materials, were you approaching the recordings already with some ideas in mind at all?
A field trip is a trip, first of all. In the sense that the so called “sound-seeker” will go out with his equipment, maybe make a hypothetical plan of the recordings he intends to do, but then follows his ear. You must know how to listen, adapt, improvise and sometimes take risks. In Porto Marghera, when I was inside the factories, I could not move freely and I had to follow precise rules, wearing overalls, goggles and a protective helmet, for example. Maybe I would hear an interesting sound, but I couldn’t get close to its source and this was a cause for huge frustration. It's quite different when you're walking outside and then you trust your senses: you walk, you listen and when you find the inspiration, you just record it.

There are two basic concepts of field recording within a city: Seeing the city as sound matter and recording it part of a process of creating a new reality. Or trying to find „representative“ sound materals, which depict a town like a tour guide. Which one was more important for you for this project?

My approach is to try to document the places and thus to give the listener a chance to experiment, due to the kind of recording technique I use based on binaural microphones, a somewhat realistic experience of the place where the recording has been made. Anyway the idea was never to create a "different reality", but rather to escort the listener into a narrative journey, that develops on a time frame on its own - mainly because the music rewrites time - from conceptual to real space. I like very much the idea you suggest of the composer as a tour guide...

In an interview, BJ Nilsen said „cities are as natural as we make them to be“. Is there perhaps an underlying motivation to use your music as a call to change the way cities are organised today?
Cities today are probably as artificial as a natural environment, because even natural environments are almost entirely man-made and therefore artificial. The soundscape of our cities is nothing but an aspect of the topographical landscape of the city itself, which in turn is the result of the transformation processes resulting from the interaction between natural and anthropogenic activities in space and in the time. We should change our way of living, we should change the way cities are planned, we should change the logic of capitalist land use that erases identity and brings the world to homologation. Or perhaps we are mistaken and local identities will always be stronger and still survive. But for how long will churches remain places where the faithful pray and factories remain places where workers work?

Homepage: Enrico Coniglio
Homepage: Touch

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