Human experience, the one we always, already, are situated in, is something mysterious and, a philosopher said, intrinsically paradoxical. Yet, we can’t help but look for sense and meaning throughout it and an audio/visual performance is a very powerful tool to say and discover something about it. It is often said that its strength lies in the interaction between sounds and visuals, and that is certainly true; however, the same can be said of two musical instruments within a well-composed piece. Therefore, what is that really makes an audio/visual performance such an engaging event? I will try to make a few hypotheses based on the experience I gained throughout the Studio Project.
To use an abused sentence, people can be divided into two categories when listening to music: some like to shut their eyes, some others let them wander around. Sometimes I belong to the first group, and I can even end up placing my fingers where the forehead meets the nose, in an attempt to keep my eyes shut; when I do that, it’s because what I see in my mind doesn’t really match what’s physically around me. More: is the music itself that is evoking images in my mind, which would be weakened by the outside world’s interference. This can happen either when music doesn’t engage me so much or when what I see around me is too mismatching and invasive, but in any case the gesture seems to have the power to amplify music through the amplification of inner images. Actually, if one carefully thinks about it, the opposite is also true: images and pictures demand, and often strongly, for a sonic imaginative act:
This seems to be a relevant result in order to understand the mechanism behind audio/visual engagement: in facts, if an artist is able to provide visual inputs that not only match, but even support and boost the musical side (and vice-versa), the positive feedback can really open an experiential dimension beyond mere sound and mere image.
For my performance I chose not to have just a big screen for the audience to stare at the whole time, but rather a three-dimensional environment that could represent a mental space, inhabited by entities of different nature. This space is defined by four televisions and a sub woofer, which form an ideal flat surface, separating the audience from the stage. There are a number of things that can be said about the TV & sub complex: first, it can suggest a criticism towards facile audio/visual approaches, which only juxtapose the two; from this point of view, the flatness of the screens couldn’t be more different from the subwoofer, which is a black box that disappears in the dark and whose sonic emission, for physical reasons, is almost a-directional (if someone really wanted to push this observation further, s/he could see in it Heidegger’s criticism of being as simple-presence versus being as emerging within a world…). Secondly, it could suggest a criticism of consumerism: after all, I was able to collect, for free, working televisions that people are dismissing just because they “want to upgrade” (direct quotation of one of the ex-owners). Moreover, there is a theme which is probably specific of Italy: over many years spent there, I realized that a large part of public opinion was manipulated by a constant bombardment of lies via television, and the way those lies were passed off as truth was to create a fake world that would turn people into superficial persons. Remarkably, the word surface translates in italian as superficie, giving a linguistic identity between the physic and the moral concepts. At the same time, however, televisions per se are just a representational medium, and this is the reason why we find the famous quotation by Magritte ceci n’est pas une pipe, transformed into ceci n’est pas un homme, meaning “this is not a human being” (the linguistic gender issue is here maybe exagerated). From this perspective, the TV “wall” also becomes a gate, a perceptual door that invite us inside a new, psychical space.
As well as inviting in, doors usually protect what’s behind them. In this case they are protecting an internal, intimate space. The figure of the woman is emblematic in this perspective, symbolizing the fact that whatever tries to go outside gets transmuted, chopped up, destroyed. Above all, her hand is (hopefully) a powerful image representing our internal thoughts and feelings trying to connect to the external world, but failing. The typical theme of incommunicability is here presented.
The mannequin is in a contrapuntal relationship with the performer: as said, he is safe and protected, while she dies on the surface. But also: she is fake while he is alive, she is static while he flounders, she is naked while he is dressed. As always, in counterpoints, there are also connections: his gestures cast light on her, and she is a woman but on her body we read homme (french for “man” as well as for “human being”).
On the far back of the stage a strong red light casted on an elevated curtain reminds of the inscrutable wildness of human unconscious.
The other side of surface (the one defined by the TVs) is the reign of sound, in which the audience is fully immersed. Sounds circulate, with no preferred direction, between four speakers placed at the corners. The strong spatial difference between the flatness of the television screens and the permeating omnipresence of sound is a way of highlighting the theme of the surface, while at the same time it suggests a deep space that the eye is invited to look for on the stage; the nature of sounds themselves, with an extreme use several different kinds of resonances, pushes in the same direction.
I thought that a good title for the performance can be On The Surface.