Improvisation is music for a blink of an eye: An interview with Isabella Forciniti
Isabella Forciniti is a Vienna-based sound artist from Italy. Currently, she is exploring the musical and social potential of digital networking via mobile devices from artistic, scientific and technological perspectives at the Anton Bruckner Private University Upper Austria within a research project led by Volkmar Klien. She gained experience with movies during her work with Kubelka’s “Arnulf Rainer” film strips and scoring silent movies from the early 20th century.
You are based in Vienna but come from Italy. Can you talk about your musical background?
I come from a small southern Italian village, Longobucco, in the heart of the Sila National Park in Calabria. An idyllic, silent, and dying place.
Every August, I attended concerts held in the main square of the village. The musical tradition of southern Italy often peaked in this square, and people would dance to the music until they could no longer stand. Traditional music that originally accompanied war dances against the power of the Piedmontese following the unification of Italy.
I began to play drums and started an all-female band with some friends. We shared a love of punk and tarantella. I was very fond of Fernanda Pivano’s writing and critical thinking. I admired Liliana Cavani, a director who was repeatedly censored in Italy. And A Clockwork Orange introduced me to Wendy Carlos.
My perspective on music changed considerably from that moment on. I lived for almost three years in Rome, where I graduated in communication, technology, and digital culture. After an extraordinary and insightful talk by Zygmunt Bauman, I was able to shake his hand and get to know him. It was a period of great contradictions, but it partly shaped the decisions taken later on.
I enrolled in an academic music program very late. I moved to Vienna determined to do so. I learned German and English, and also introduced myself to programming languages for sound synthesis and signal processing. I studied Electroacoustic and Experimental Music in Vienna at the University of Music and Performing Arts. Katharina Klement was one of the most influential people I met at this stage of my life. She shaped my understanding of electroacoustic and acousmatic music. Then I met Burkhard Stangl, who introduced me to the Viennese improvised environment. I haven’t left since then. Improvisation also affected me very deeply.
I am currently studying Media Composition at Anton Bruckner University in Linz and will soon graduate. At the same time, I am studying Postdigital Lutherie at the University of Arts in Linz focusing on tangible interaction design.
You studied both music and communication sciences and sociology. Do you see any parallels in your own research in terms of these disciplines?
I do see parallels. It is personally necessary to draw on some critical thinking in the concept of how I indulge in music creation and digital technologies. Digital technologies drastically reposition the people, objects, and institutions of music, reframing old practices and shaping new ones. Primary music technologies have moved from being instruments or studio equipment to simulation in digital software. Are these the surrogate for traditional musical instruments? How do we interact with instruments? Composing and performing therefore become a system design which involves integrating an assemblage of heterogeneous elements. From a merely sociological perspective, I debate a lot about inequality of access to technologies, but this is a topic for another time.
You explore the musical and social potential of digital networking via mobile devices from artistic, scientific and technological perspectives. Can you tell us more about the focus of your study?
Last year I worked on the research project “The Choir & the Sound System”, led by Volkmar Klien at the Anton Bruckner University Linz. The project aimed to develop a web-based application (SADISS) that bundled smartphones into monumental, yet intricate, sound systems or choirs, with numerous distinct sound sources scattered throughout the space. All of these play back complementing parts of the whole sonic information, creating a truly multi-layered, immersive aural experience in super-surround. SADISS also aimed to facilitate ad hoc choirs of human singers, individually guided via headphones.
The real-time communications ecosystem is the most effective tool ever designed to enable collective action. In this sense, “The Choir & the Sound System“ emphasises the ability to create an interactive performance using a smartphone. The spectator does not simply observe the performers as they portray certain happenings. Instead, those happenings are simultaneously part of a situation in which real actions are carried out, a situation in which the activities, behaviours, reactions, and emotions of the spectators become an integral part of the performance event. Due to this project, I gained solid knowledge of audience engagement and empowerment and critical insight into immersive experiences offered by both art and daily life in the digital age.
You also worked with film, scoring silent movies from the early 20th century. How did you approach this endeavour?
I approached experimental movies for the first time in Vienna, and only a few years ago did I engage in creating music for such films. Not out of professional necessity but out of simple interest. I was part of a group of musicians and composers from Vienna who live-scored strips of Peter Kubelka’s film Arnulf Rainer at the Lentos Kunstmuseum in Linz. We met Kubelka, and it was truly an extraordinary experience.
Whether it’s a live score or a soundtrack, my approach doesn’t change. I dedicate myself to watching the film or animation for many hours and then I start improvising on the images with my modular synthesisers. I collect material for each scene, and it is very interesting for me to observe how the various improvisations are dramatically different from each other. The mix itself is an effective way to provide information, for instance, the balance between music and sound effects. I think of music in relation to the sound and overall narrative and functions it supports. From spatial audio to procedural audio techniques, scoring movies is an intricate task.
You released “Music for Churches and Bicycles”, which sounds intriguing 🙂 Can you tell us more about this release?
“Music for Churches and Bicycles” includes two of my works from 2021. Ecate was commissioned by RAD Performance and open music Graz (Austria). RAD Performance enables the audience to experience the urban space by bicycle. From sirens to construction sites, Ecate narrates the most unusual and fascinating aspects that shape the soundscape of the city.
Daemon was created for the “Klanghimmel”, a project for the parish church of Urfahr Linz (Austria) by the international sound artist Andres Bosshard. The “Klanghimmel” consists of eight ceramic sound bodies designed by David Fuchs. These sound bodies have very unique acoustic properties. The loudspeakers are suspended in the vault of the church, and thus enable very spatial sounds. Daemon can be heard daily from 1pm on.
Originally, both works were conceived for a multichannel setting.
And now you know about “Music for Churches and Bicycles”.
How important is live performance for your practice?
Live performance has to do with how I experience, understand and conceptualise the sound matter and physical act of twisting knobs and their tangibility. The human and analogue/digital body carries identities that are coupled with experimental and improvised music. Improvisation is music for a blink of an eye, it’s not an act of making music for eternity. And this is precisely what intrigues me about live performance: music is not objectified in a monument for eternity but is created only for that moment.
What are your current projects?
I am currently in the last phase before graduating in composition in early March. I’ve started composing music for a new Billy Roiz film called “The Garden of Electric Delights”. In addition to concerts and interdisciplinary projects, I hope to be able to lay the foundations for my PhD. Later this year, I will finally release my debut album. Tony Buck will be one of the featured collaborations.
Interview: Lucia Udvardyova