The Music of Giancarlo Toniutti –
A four part serial conversation between TQ’s Aram Yardumian and Italian electronic musician Giancarlo Toniutti. This in-depth discussion is focused on Toniutti’s composition techniques, theoretical underpinnings and the role of language in the arts.
Aram Yardumian – What is the relationship between your album “Epigènesi” and epigenetics, if anything? Epigenetics is of course a most fascinating subject, but I failed to see how it was part of the concept of the album, if in fact it was.
Giancarlo Toniutti – Epigènesi (Italian for epigenesis) has strong connections with the notions of epigenetics. It has a relationship more with the concept of course than the concrete epigenetic conditions, at this stage. Epigenetics has to do with the interactions occurring between the genetic and environmental conditions of an organism’s development and how these interactions help the morphogenetic (the creation of form) and cognition fields of that organism. How genotypes develop into phenotypes within an environment. This is a very basic approach for my work with sounds. Seen under different (more musical) terms, it is the relation and interaction between the conceptual macrostructural approach (the general shape idea) and the concrete “environmental” conditions of each single sonic phenomenon (the single sound and their single generation) I involve in a project. “Epigènesi” is the first time I properly worked with these concepts in an operative sense. La Mutazione was based more on the contrasting encounters of different surfaces of sounds, which layered through a contrastive and/or cooperative work. Each layer in La Mutazione starts as a separate layer entering the same (sound)-space and interacting with the others (trying to find a niche etc.). In “Epigènesi”, differently, layers are formed with the contribution of many diverse sub-layers, so that their interaction with the other layers is more of a densifying type, creating specific niches etc. The final form, thus, is originated through the “conflicts” between the continuity points within layers and such “conflicts” mainly depend on the sonic “environment” generated by these process trajectories. Epigenetics in this sense also gives a “philosophic” background to the approach to the various levels of the composition. From then on it has become something like a general “rule” to my working methods, and it still is.
AY – There is something uniquely decadent about electronic music from Italy (I don’t use the term “Industrial” because I think that term was born and died with Throbbing Gristle). You and Maurizo Bianchi especially, as well as Vivenza, who is in fact French. Part of it was born there with Busoni, Russolo, and the Futurists. There is, it seems to me, a praxis in Italian electronic music the same way, for example, the 70s German underground, diverse as it was formally, shared an aesthetic. I’m not talking about nationalen Bewußtseins here (or in your case coscienza nazionale), but perhaps some kind of shared memories or shared language within an interaction sphere. What do you think?
GT – Actually from my point of view, there is not such a homogeneous “language” in what you call the “Italian” electronic music. Maybe this might be due to the fact that my personal relationship with what was happening during the early ’80s in Italy was not so big (though of course I had my contacts). I think the whole Italian underground scene was much more heterogeneous than the way you maybe perceived it, at least in my view. Certainly there has been, especially at the beginning, some shared territory, but this was mainly due, in my opinion, to the cultural currents of the time and the strong influence an author like Maurizio Bianchi had on his contemporaries (mostly younger than him). Italy has had different avantgarde waves during the twentieth century, from the Futurists to the ’50s electronic (academic: Berio, Maderna, Nono) music, to the late ’60s improvisation avantgarde like Nuova Consonanza and their innovative language and techniques within an instrumental repertoire. In the early ’80s a new avantgarde exploded much like it exploded in other European countries, but of course with certain characteristics, I cannot identify from within probably. As for me, and my activity, if I have been receiving some influence from MB’s more abstract works, I also took my own path trying to avoid any (apart from historical and unavoidable connections) direct relationship with anything like a genre or a mode of specifically making music. So even though some unconscious legacy could be somewhere in my work (though I wouldn’t see any connection between the adjective “decadent” and my music), I never worked in favour of it or in favour of any possible conclusion (or seclusion) within a shared praxis (not to speak of a shared aesthetics). All in all, I also abandoned electronics as a means to generate sound since “La Mutazione” (in “epigènesi” and somewhere else electronics has been scarcely used and basically as another “acoustic” source). I tend to think that any “common” ground of a movement is more a question of critic point, seen from elsewhere, than a real convergent function.
AY – You and your brother Massimo Toniutti both work in the field of electronic music, albeit with remarkably different results. Perhaps you might share any memories of Paroksi-Eksta (25 years ago), and comment on whether you continue to collaborate.
GT – My brother is younger than me, so probably he grew with the musics I was listening to at home, in a way. He started doing electroacoustic works around 1984 I think, with some occasional contribution to some of my recordings earlier than that. Nowadays he is more into musics for videos of different natures (from art to documentary) and maybe moved a bit away from the early electroacoustic experiments. As for Paroksi-eksta, this was a specific project we did with two friends of us (with which we ran a mail-order catalogue too at the time: Daniele Pantaleoni and Giuliana Stefani). We only realized two contributions to two compilations and the project was quickly over. It was a time of experiments under many directions and of course as any collaboration, this has been a way to see how different approaches could coalesce and give way to new possibilities. I must admit that all in all they remained just two closed experiments. As for future collaborations with my brother, I don’t think we will (though I can’t predict future!!) because there are differences in our views, mainly, and when these differences are “shared” between brothers (and people who are so close to each other) it’s always more difficult and maybe less reasonable to try to force the conditions. We certainly have quite a sharing of our differentiated experiences, so we are always in contact and keep having a fruitful mutual dialogue on the topics related to musics…
Warkswood, Tahta Tarla, by Andrew Chalk and Giancarlo Toniutti
AY – Field recording is not yet very well understood as an art form. I think it is fair to say that it is no more a matter of pressing the button at random places and times than is photography. Do you make field recordings as a discipline wherever you go?
GT – I think Field-recording has been overestimated and at the same time underestimated. The debate over what field-recording is or could be and its limits, gains etc. has been quite restricted to a technical debate (over the equipments) or to an aesthetical one (over its “sentimental” side). But much of what should have been fundamental to it, seems to remain at the borders of the enquiries. The problem regarding the notion of nature and natural, the role of the “observer” in the observation (the recordist/recorder in the recording), the function of the field-recording and the debatable concept of soundscape, and so on, all this is still quite neglected in the artistic debate on the field. At least this is my impression and much is, on the contrary, concentrated on field-recording as a discipline as you say, or even as a label (with a dogmatic view of it). I think field-recording as a name is quite devoid of meaning if taken as it is, i.e. something done (recorded) outside of the studio. The practice of using rooms, spaces and places different from a recording studio has a long history and as for me, has been practiced since my early days. My studio has more or less been quite an occasional place to record sounds. It is a place where I work with them (still analogically, reel-to-reel tapes etc., at least in terms of its modulation, elaboration, abstraction). While to record sounds I do this wherever I find a suitable (fitting) place to go and generate sound (be it anthropically made or captured). The problem with field-recording nowadays seems to me to be the representational attitude still over-existing in its praxis. You should be followed when you write “it is no more a matter of pressing the button at random places and times than is photography”, but I think to many people it’s still that. Or its sentimental complement, the idea of representing a “natural” subject through the field-recording approach as something “more natural” and thus more true, as opposed to something cultural and thus artificial. This, that I see as a Romantic investment (with a scientific legitimacy), is something I am not following at all. My field-recording activity (intending this only as the activity of capturing sounds from the reality as compared to generating sounds myself) is “only” another possibility to continue and develop my idea of a separation of the productive gesture from the generation of sound (cf. my text “Epigenetic Hyperphonesis: maltreatment of the sound source” in “epigènesi” as a first source of this notion), this “distance” helping to avoid the intellectual, sentimental and behavioural influences one has over the involved sounds. This has nothing to do with the Cagean idea of the removal of the author (simplifying of course), but much to do with an idea of emphasizing the role of sound sources themselves (and their inherent dynamics etc.) over their productive use and utility. In this sense I only record when I have a project. I have no archive (or mostly) of “useful” field-recordings or any other recording. My activity is always functional to the specific projects, or almost so. Only when I have a project, or mostly, I start investigating, studying and collecting the sounds I intend to involve in the project. Though of course there is a constant and daily attention and investigation of sonic phenomena and their possible preliminary attraction.