Among the most interesting backgrounds on a European level, Fanny & Alexander was founded by Luigi de Angelis and Chiara Lagani (with the stable contribution of the actor Marco Cavalcoli) in 1992.

Fanny & Alexander, which has asserted itself as research group in the theatrical context, produces works of art marked by the contamination of different artistic disciplines. Over the years its base, the Ardis Hall, has been becoming an out-and-out place of production and diffusion of artistic experimentation on a large scale and through various formats: plays, video and movie productions, installations, performing acts, photo exhibitions, conventions, workshops, festivals and shows.

Among its main productions, fascinating from a project performance point of view, it is important to mention: its eleven works – performing installations and concerts – which drew inspiration from “Ada or Ardor” by Vladimir Vladimirovi Nabokov (Special UbuAward 2004/5). This project for video and movie production was carried out by Zapruder filmmakers group led by David Zamagni, Nadia Ranocchi and Monaldo Moretti, who have often contributed to Ravenna school’s productions.

Fanny & Alexander has recently completed with “West” – a theatre performance – a well-structured project inspired by “The Wizard of Oz”, from which the “O-Z” volume, atlante di un viaggio teatrale“/ “Atlas of a Theatre Journey” (Ubulibri, 2010), was born.

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In the cross perspective, in which the production of Fanny & Alexander places itself, the notion of sound, from the first works as “Ponti in Core” (1996) to the definitely marked productions headed towards this direction as “+/- (2009) or South (2009) and T.E.L. (2011), has always played a leading role. We are not talking about conceiving sound – or at least this is what we are going to chart – as support for scene images, but about defining and elaborating a sort of acoustic dramaturgy as definition of an auditory image that can be counterpoint to sight in a perceptive short-circuit able to subliminally intervene in the way spectators hear.

Before conducting an articulated in-depth analysis of this view, let’s try to sketch the main features out through which we will develop our thought.

From an etymological point of view the term “sound” can be declined into three different aspects that, in Fanny & Alexander’s work, seem to be methodically explored: that is to say, the “sound” dimension linked with reverberation (the echo); the most typical dimension which refers to voice, and especially to the phoné thought as a mixture of timbre and meaning, and last but not least, the acousmatic dimension related to invisibility (or better to say, to the ambiguous localization) of the emission source.

All these aspects find their common denominator in a crucial notion: the sound space of the scene, in which the relationship between audible on one hand, and inaudible on the other, can manifest itself, where the latter is the necessary condition for the former.

Fanny & Alexander’s aim consists in exploring what is beyond the “already heard”, in staging it, therefore in defining its acoustic image able to soak into the spectator/listener.

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I. Lawrence’s device (or device of the sound gesture)

In order to go into the details of this observation concerning the acoustic space in Fanny & Alexander’s work, we are going to focus on the project based on Thomas Edward Lawrence’s figure and, more specifically on “T.E.L.” (2011) show and on its vocal-sound device created in partnership with Tempo Reale (Centre of Production, Research and Music Didactics founded by Luciano Berio in Florence), an active institute in the research music and new sound technology fields on a national and international scale.

“T.E.L.”, a work which debuted at Naples Theatre Festival Italy last June, is combined with a live radio drama – “338171, TEL” – developed with the cooperation of Rodolfo Sacchettini.

The stage version includes the involvement of two actors, placed in different places distant in space – also separated by a slight time shifting – but connected via satellite, who give birth to a long-distance dialogue. This device provides also the presence of two different audiences who witness – each of them in a well-defined space-time – this distance dialogue. The two actors swap then places with each other, in order to make the completion, to whoever wants it, of his or her sight with the other side of the coin of that dialogue between two distances possible.

In an almost bare place the actor, Marco Cavalcoli, led by a voice in his headphones, makes gestures of the military training: the orders he receives “raise your fists”, “breathe in”, refer to the leading actresses, heterodirected in her headphones, of “West” (2010), the previous work performed by Francesca Mazza’s group.

Here the actor simultaneously carries out orders to make gestures and repeats the words suggested at times. These gestures refer to the biography of Lawrence himself and, particularly, to that period in which, disappointed by the failure of his ideals, enlisted as private into the RAF. On the contrary, the sound atmospheres of a “prepared table” – made with the collaboration of “Tempo Reale” – equipped with hidden microphones, sensors, electric resistances, a necessary interface for the actors who have to develop the music and vocal score of which the work is made up, deal with the evocation of his past while he headed up the desert Bedouins – and this is the hearth of the work -.

Throughout the work the actor – an extraordinary Marco Cavalcoli – has to be able to intervene on different levels: coherently responding to the motivating forces coming from another space-time and at the same time, handling the sound return of his gestures on the anatomical dissecting table of the “sound body” of the whole performance.

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II. The sound-line

In “T.E.L”what we could define the “sound-line” – which runs through Ravenna company’s production – has found its success. From “+/-“, made with the collaboration ofMirto Baliani and Luigi Ceccarelli, up to the sound table of T.E.L”, the definition of out-and-out invisible architectures, which leave in the space of the theatre room their ghostly geometry made up of sound vibes, i.e., slits which cross the stage perimeter; is at stake.

So, at this phase we can talk about an absolute “sound body” which becomes matter and, during the stage, modulates from density to rarefaction moments.

In “T.E.L.”, sound, which is sometimes tellurian and penetrating, is divided into different levels: on one hand the vocal production of the actor who reads text pieces out, on the other the purely sound level – as a result of the iteration between actor’s gesture and table – works on two registers. A narrative-biographical level of Lawrence’s life, in which sound evokes echoes of drums and tribal songs belonging to that period of Lawrence’s life when he headed Arab revolts up, as well as more abstract sound dimensions that are diffused through the space of this room by means of a masterly arrangement of the speakers.

Arranged around glitch patterns, this kind of sound appears and disappears to the listening as if it engraved figures on space, by finding a resonance of its own (produced by the actor’s gesture) which reverberates in the spectators/listeners’ perceptive aspect, thus subliminally slipping in and influencing the sight of the scene image: where an imperceptible sound becomes stretched, the temperature of the whole scene image allows to transmit a feeling of restlessness that unfailingly anticipates the coming dramaturgy development.

The inaudible, which is where it emerges, is an underlying texture that lets the sound appear, take shape and gather as atmosphere in a continuous dialectic of extent and retention, of amplification and modulation bordering the perceptible or vice versa, by completely saturating the audible space. Every variation is a modulation that affects the image perception. Sound and sight interfere – vibrate at variable speeds – in order to assign a certain temperature to the scene: arid, desert, incandescent.

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III. Note for the definition of “theatre of sound”

Examining the notion of sound body, as Fanny & Alexander seems to do with its work, means getting to the hearth of the sound matter and, at the same time, of the body one. It means working within a thin limit in which the shape of body and sound jumbles up, by letting a texture show, constituted around different intensities which work within them. Therefore, we are going to talk about a “molecularized” shape of body and sound that echoes with each other.

In other terms, it deals with working on a series of internal tensions that allows the shape of body and sound to steadily change. In the context of the Ravenna background such a process develops into two diverse directions, which allow us to talk about the aspects emerged during the introduction to this writing. The “sound gesture” as production – starting from a movement score – of the scene soundscape; and a “sound vocalic” as dialectic between the sound space of voice and the words meaning: the phonic atmosphere.

From one hand we could talk about a “sound gesture” in which the architectures of sound take shape in the room, by starting from the link between the actor’s gesture score and the arranged device ready to receive – by transforming it into sound – every movement. This applies to the “vocalic gesture”, the first significant work towards this direction represented by “Him(2007), where the actor Cavalcoli literally gave voice to every scene aspect by dubbing, while the film (“The Wizard of Oz”) was streaming behind is back. 

This experimentation is carried on with the pedonium interface, designed and created by Mirko Fabbri for “North(2009), an electronic musical instrument made up with a big floor keyboard where sound was produced by means of the interaction of musician-performers. From these floorboards voices, melodies, preverbal sounds, bright phenomena and sound ghosts were given off. The main character “played” this floor by going through it and travelling it until he or she produced a real music score.

If in this case performers’ movement on the floor is used during the phase of sound production; in “T.E.L.” it is the gesture of hands and arms to be used in order to produce a sound in touch with the table designed by Tempo Reale’s team. However, in all of these examples the body-sound relationship does not refer to anything merely “anthropomorphic”: The sound reconstruction of the body shape is not at stake, but rather the exploration of an emotional geography, which through gestures becomes dramaturgy matter for the scene.

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On the other hand we could talk about what we could define – drawing inspiration from the “Pleasure of the Text” by Roland Barthes – the “read-out writing” as particular sound dimension. However, in comparison with Chiara Lagani and Marco Cavalcoli’s work on voice, some clarifications are necessary. In other terms, it deals with entering the different aspects of voice: moving the point of view and leading it to the inside, to its hidden dimension where words are examined under the microscope. In other terms, it means sounding the sound power of voice out – itsPhon頖 before transmitting the words meaning. We are not talking about preferring sound to meaning, but rather about digging into sound in order to amplify its “meaning”.

This is the case of “North”, where Chiara Lagani and Roberta Guidi’s voice was examined under the microscope by means of a microphone, in search of its sound details just as faces are visible through a magnifying glass. At the end of this process, as for example it occurs in some stages of “T.E.L”, the read-out word “makes feel” the sound temperature that characterizes it: spectators/listeners effectively understand the meaning, when the phonic atmosphere which generated it, is “audible”. An example: when the actor says “there’s something wrong, a desert is needed”, a restlessness atmosphere – transmitted by the sound dimension of words – forestalls and pervades the room, thus engraving the sentence on spectators/listeners’ perception.

Thanks to these projects, Fanny & Alexander’s scene sometimes becomes a pure cinéma pour les oreilles – a cinema for ears – whose sound emission sources are hidden and decentralized: sound literally comes from everywhere.

From all of these aspects we can infer a possible direction which makes Fanny & Alexander’s contribution particularly significant for the definition of sound scene. In its work Fanny & Alexander’s company is not trying, in our opinion, to merely focus on a renewal of the methods of the “Music Theatre”, but rather on radically rethinking of its foundations, by restoring its defining standards. That is the reason why – thanks above all to the aspects that we have tried (maybe sketchily) to highlight before – we are not talking about turning a dramaturgy shape into sound (or making sound its prevailing component), but rather about explaining a manifestation logic of a hidden dimension of things. 

It is in this case, as the projects above mentioned, that this particular dimension works, i.e., giving shape to the “inaudible”. To summarize, we could say that Fanny & Alexander’s bent for sound is the “negative” (in the photography meaning) of the “Music Theatre”: if in this latter music becomes a character, in the “Theatre of Sound” by Luigi de Angelis and Chiara Lagani the composition logic goes through an appearance process of sound shapes, atmospheres and echoes. Thus, here it is important to let some entities (not quite real ones) in spectators/listeners’ perception appear.

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And this process affects both the audible and the inaudible threshold.

Right here the “atmospheric” potential of sound becomes a sound image that allows the visual one to define itself like in “North”, or during some phases of “T.E.L.“, where we witness a pure “logic of the colour” appearing into the scene.

Therefore, as a visual image does exist, on Fanny & Alexander’s scene an auditory one seems to powerfully emerge. We have not only to capture what manifests to the auditory: this image has to do with what is beyond the listening, it is thus necessary identifying its features and the point where intensity turns a sound matter into an image and which, consequently, re-establishes the listening parameters. Within this frame visual image is its counterpoint.

For all of these reasons I would prefer to talk about a pure “Theatre of Sound” and, more specifically about a pure “Theatre of Colour” as a meaning horizon on which the experimentation by the Ravenna school must be numbered. This entails a detailed investigation on listening (and on sight). Sound becomes a place in which plunging oneself; some kind of “tactile force”. Plunging into sound – prevailing element in “T.E.L.” – refers to an internal perception of sound matter (as well we are visually collocated into the light of prism). Spectators’ body is plunged into a network of both sound and visual forces with whom, by vibrating, echoes: becoming sound, molecule, compressed and throbbing air, vibration.

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In this particular perceptive device sound and colour intervene – in the scene space – as true intensities that work at a subliminal level, by deeply affecting the spectators’ sensory system. Here, Fanny & Alexander’s company seems to ask the spectator a pure redefinition of listening (as that of sight): eyes are no more enough to see the invisible, as well ears to pick the inaudible up. An eardrum-body, a prism one, a whole resonance of the bone geometry are needed.