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 – Although your music is tightly composed and a cerebral experience—almost without limits—for the listener, I don’t find myself thinking it is bereft of emotion. Is emotional content a byproduct or part of the articulative structure, or something else?
Giancarlo Toniutti – I think we should better define what we mean with the word “emotion”. My idea of it is not a sentimental one. As you noticed I have spent words “against” a sentimental nature, but this is just to discriminate and separate my work from a commonplace attitude over these concepts. I understand sentiments are part of our world view and life, but they have rather limited access when you properly work with sound. The sentiment you might inscribe in a music is a literary one, a quote, we could say. And this rational literary approach to music is not something I am interested in. My music has to do with fundamental (at least this is my effort) dynamics of the psyche, the body and us anthropologically seen. So emotions if taken as a sentimental part of life is something I never use to make music. I never decide or observe my emotions (even less other’s) to generate music. I consider them to be outside the realm of rationality and language control and by remitting them to that realm would mean transforming them into a rational and narrative part of the ego, something I am not interested in as a method of work or as a purpose. Emotions are simply one of the fundamental functions of our psychic complexity, meant in its broader sense. But to work as a function they cannot be translated into or represented as something else, be it music, art, language or whatever. This representation is not the emotion itself, concretely taken, but the narrative idea the author has or wants to communicate of it. And too many times this is the only mode authors seem to have to deal with emotions, using them to convey this (limited) typification form. To me the emotional content, as you call it, is “naturally” inscribed into anyone’s action, and the more complex the action is, the more the emotional content is deep and impossible to be superficially treated. In this sense all my works have this deep level, which is something I don’t work with, as it comes by itself (you say a byproduct, we could call it an epiphenomenon), and it is a field where the dynamic side of reality is dealt with in non-rational terms. But when I speak of emotions (in this case) I am not talking of love and hate, rage, fear, pleasure etc. which are the representational verbal side of affective conventions (typifications). What I mean as interesting is the limbic perturbations of the organism connected to human behaviour and cognition. The moment I speak of them or treat them in a “figurative” way, I am already cutting them off the phenomenon and transforming them into objects of thought.
AY – Do you ever find yourself in the music, or learn anything about yourself in the process?
GT – I have not a self-indulgent ontogenetic relation with music, or sound. At least not in the role of the author. As a listener and sometime performer, which can be a special case of listener, I can be inside sounds, not necessarily finding myself. Well, I would have to define who I am, first, and since each one of us is, at the same time, many “personae”, I could anyway only find a portion of them. In this sense what I could learn is only a particle of that complexity, if I learn anything. In my opinion it’s not so much about learning as it is about cognitive functions, and in this sense I am sure music has a lot to “induce”. But when I am composing, the act of organizing and articulating sounds into a sound morphology, my self is a part of the whole process. Of course, as I said I don’t intend to remove myself from the compositional act, only my ego perhaps. In any case, I am sure that what I do has a significance if I am doing it, even the least of the actions I could do, being part of my own mental and practical processes is giving something to “humanity”. It is inevitably me, the one behind those musics. But this “me” has not to do with the realization or improvement of my self (even less my ego of course), but with a kind of cultural-cognitive function to a collective gnoseology and/or ethos, we could say, given the chances I might have to reach people. What I learn from this whole general process, of course, comes first from my research activities, which can be sonic as well as non sonic ones, even when musically oriented. I can learn about myself, as I learn about each human persona for everything and anything I do can teach me something. But this depends more on my attitude in learning and the tools I have developed to learn, then the chances given to me from occasional and fortuitous circumstances. Learning is a process depending on the questions we pose to reality. Answers depend on questions.
Tienalauami, Tahta Tarla, by Andrew Chalk and Giancarlo Toniutti
AY – What projects have you in mind for the near and distant future? A magnum opus?
GT – As you know I have published some new work in the recent years. It’s been a renewed relation with forms. I have been investigating sounds more and more and I have plenty of ideas for new projects, cd publication, texts, live activities etc. There already are a couple of improving projects I have put my hands onto in the recent years, that will come to a conclusion hopefully within the next year or so. I cannot foretell deadlines as I have no deadlines and time for me is relative. As in the past my pace tends to be “geological”, in a way. I need to give time to each project to see if it really has a necessity behind or if it’s just a selfish compromise of my mind. I have in mind also some magnum opus as you call it, or as I represent it to myself. One should be a large documentation, in the form of a box with “cd-specific” versions, of my 4 sound-sites, the live multichannel “installation-like” sound forms I developed over the years. Then there are several investigated fields to be discovered while working and a lot of work and research to do. Anyway as for the “near” future, the two projects I should be working onto, one of which already has many recordings done, involve two main fields of interest. First one is about what I could call “marginal” sonic structures, usually meant as “ornaments” even in sound-works, which I want instead to investigate in their central functions, so to say. The idea is to work with sonic structures which are usually considered “accessory” to a main work, to investigate this accessory quality and see how it can, on the other hand, be formed as central, core function to a morphology, and then cognition. This of course tends to imply the use of both quite “inertial” sonic phenomena and environments. The other project, still to be developed, seems to rotate around the idea of critical bands in frequency perceptions. But I think it is useless to go into details at this point of the development. More has to come. One day they will certainly appear. I am never really scheduling my activities, if not as a response to commissions, or offers of projects etc. I keep my working method as open as possible and responding mainly to its quality and research time. I am fascinated by so many subjects, and only when I can pour enough material into a growing project I can think that this is something I will work onto for the next times. It’s a “double-walk” and polygenetic process.