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Sara Persico is a Berlin-based, Naples-born sound artist, vocalist and DJ. She cut her teeth experimenting on the fringes of Naples’s fiery underground scene while finishing her academic music studies and developing a technique that would integrate her voice with analogue electronics, field recordings, and samples. She’s also a fearless DJ who’s able to straddle vastly different worlds, offering just as much attention to abstract electronic sounds as she does bass-heavy club music, noise, and vocal experiments. She’s currently a resident on Bethlehem’s Radio Alhara. She is also part of the upcoming SHAPE+ showcase at şien festival in Kazakhstan.

In one interview, you said that you decided to make music when you were five years old. Do you remember this moment and what led you to it? Also, in terms of performing the music for other people.

As far as I remember, I never really decided to make music. I don’t come from a family of musicians, but when I was very young, I was singing songs I heard in movies and spontaneously performing on my balcony for the neighbours, haha. I remember having a whole world of imagination linked to music. So in a way, it has always been part of my life; there was no choice to be made. Then I started taking music lessons when I was ten, because someone heard me singing and told my mom I should study music. 

You then pursued music academically, too, but gradually carved out your own musical expression. Were you also active on the underground, non-academic scene back then? How do you recollect this period?

Yes, I’ve always been active in the underground scene; in Naples, musicians influenced each other a lot. I remember we had this group on Facebook called “Dropbox” where people would share crazy albums, often with very underground and rare music. And there was this event every Tuesday called “Crossroads Improv-ing” where musicians were doing radical improv sessions.

I organised many shows and performed with a lot of artists in the underground noise scene in Italy and Berlin. This phase taught me a lot… probably more than the five years of conservatory in Italy.

Voice and a kind of irreverent rhythmic structure are two elements that somehow stand out when I listen to your work – sometimes a bit like another experimentalist and SHAPE artist Elvin Brandhi. Can you talk about your work with these two elements and how you use them?

Voice is the core of my work, but this doesn’t necessarily make it the protagonist. Sometimes it’s ghosting and being layered in tones of other sounds, and rhythm-structured (mainly made with the drum machine synth Pulsar). I guess this decision comes from my background as a vocalist, which led to questioning the role of voice in various ways, and then taking a subversive direction with it, also thanks to the numerous avant-garde voice artists I had the chance to hear in my life that inspired the process.
Elvin Brandhi has always been a huge inspiration for me; we met during a trip to Beirut in 2022 and started playing together from time to time. Our duo is based on intricate vocals. We also have a track we made together with Ziur, which will be featured on her new album. 

Some of your tracks have spoken word parts – can you talk about the semantics of your lyrics? Like, for instance, on the “Umbilical” track on the Boundary EP. 

I never thought I would come up with a spoken word track. I had an idea linked to this poem by Claudia Rankine. I bought the book “Citizen” during a residency at Amplify Berlin in the middle of the pandemic and started recording some sounds for “Umbilical”. Then reworked the track later with Koenraad Ecker, an amazing artist and the co-producer of my EP, and that pushed me really hard to record this spoken word myself.

The rest of the lyrics on Boundary are mainly nonsense. Because my vocal practice on the EP is linked to improvisation, sometimes lyrics limit the freedom of it, so I started improvising with words that arose instinctively, in a sort of free flow.

Besides this, there is this haunting, harrowing atmosphere that emanates, for example, on your release Boundary. Which is also not surprising considering the state of the world today… 

Right…I guess it’s natural for an artist to reflect the world we live in, although I don’t think music should necessarily be linked to a specific fact or input. A few months ago, I made a track for a fundraiser project called We Stay Here: Music for Palestine for the Italian label Loveboat, which was released last May. When I received this proposal to contribute, I was definitely in a hopeless moment in which I didn’t feel any purpose in being in front of my computer trying to produce new music, but then I was reminded that that’s exactly how they want us to feel. So even if it’s hard and we think it doesn’t make any sense, we shouldn’t stop making music and creating. For ourselves and for everyone else.

You also DJ. Can you talk about this side of your creative work?

I feel DJing is a complementary practice to music creation and composition. It pushes me to always be researching new sounds and experimenting with mixing. I feel grateful to have amazing artists around that taught me a lot about DJing and inspired the process… At the moment, I‘m focusing more on performing my music live and want to keep the DJ sets for more select occasions.

You’ve done a lot of various residencies and special projects as part of your SHAPE+ platform year, but also beyond it, of course. Can you talk about some of those that you enjoyed most?

Yes, this SHAPE+ year has been quite a ride! I was invited to create a workshop/lecture called “Voice and Subversion”, focused on experimental vocal approaches, which was presented for the first time at Museo Madre in Napoli, and afterwards in Lisbon and Tbilisi. It was challenging at first, but I now feel the project will probably continue evolving through more extensive research. Other than performing at very cool events like schiev Festival in Brussels, Rokolectiv in Bucharest, and the upcoming şien festival in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I started a couple of spontaneous collaborations with other SHAPE+ artists: the Paris-based band NZE NZE, and Zesknel from Mutant Radio Tbilisi. I also did two incredible short residencies: one with the Dnipro-based Construction Festival, hosted by Rui Soares Costa at his studio in Lisbon, and the other in Tbilisi, hosted by the amazing Mutant Radio team.

What do the next coming months have in store for you?

I have quite a lot of music that’s about to be released: two upcoming albums, one that will be out in November, and the other at the beginning of 2025; then many collaborative tracks with great artists, and an exciting audiovisual performance with Mika Oki. 

Photo: Carmine Covino

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