Signal is an international avant-garde electronic and experimental music festival, which will take place from the 6th ’til the 14th of November in its third edition in Cagliari; the idea was produced by TiConZero, an cultural association that for years has been dealing with research in the music, theatrical and artistic fields. The artists involved represent the emerging levers in research on the border between sound and visual dimensions. The combination of music and video art in an inspired choice made by the frequent connections between various artistic languages, especially for those that regard avant-garde and research productions, which Signal dedicates its interest to.
Among the artists present at Signal, the presence of the Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco created a buzz, as a performer but also as a workshop, a workshop about sound and studying the object. A workshop that will be repeated and broadened in Rimini, at the Velvet Club during the DalVivo event that I curated with Roberto Paci Dalò and Ambra Galassi from Giardini Pensili, where the attention will be focused on the expressive possibilities of the object, the creation of a drummestic-machine beginning with anything that has a electric motor, the self-building of a contact microphone, the empiric manipulation of video signals and the creation of a/v scores. Live analogical video, loops, sound TV’s, video feedbacks and trolgo drum machines; but also politics for re-use and experimentation at low costs, aesthetical subversions and high volume observations.
Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco appeared to me (quite late, I have to admit, considering their presence at Flora Live Media Lab in Florence, and more recently RoBOt02 in Bologna, Deus ex Machina 01 in Rome, the Mapping Festival 09 of Geneva, the Vison’r Festival 09 in Paris, Dorkbot in Milan) during the Hackmeeting days in Milan, more specifically on the first evening of the two at the Fornace in Rho.
What struck me immediately, was the originality of the project, its mise-en-scène, it stylistic coherence and its expressive power: I found all of these elements, perhaps a little amplified, in the thoughts, the ideas, in the artistic planning that emerges from this interview that I conducted with Emanuele and Massimiliano.
Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco shows an artistic reality in the national panorama, which is even difficult for the professionals of the field to understand and accept, be they from live media environments or experimental theatre backgrounds. Yes because Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco follows very deep theatrical drama that requires a certain capacity form the audience to absent themselves passively from the reality of the present moment, made up of mechanical elements and recycled objects put in the scene as actors of a contemporary audiovisual drama. For Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco the performer is an instrument and activator of the mechanical mise-en-scène, aware of its presence but at the same time an invisible element on stage, capable of working with electric and electronic circuits, coherent in its profound ecological imprint connected to the re-use of materials and technologies that appear to be naive but that are blatantly important in an era of growing digital automation.
Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco has deep and clear connections to kinetic, cybernetic and robotic avant-garde of the past century: a detournement of objects of daily use, re-elaborated, revisited, valued in their object and archetypical form, used in their multifunctional potential. Every object, every mechanism, is used at the same time be it as a producer of sound as a video collector, with a constant operation of feedback that recalls Vasulka experimentations and kinetic mechanisms by Pierre Bastien. A delicate capacity for working with audiovisual elements distributed on different levels: those that are mostly theatrical and scenic, sculptural or steampunk, like the live project seen at the Hackmeeting, and those that are more connected to the languages of traditional live media (DC12V that will be presented at Signal at the Velvet Club) where the object and its internal micromechanics will be framed, dissected by the camera, exploded onto a multiscreen projection.
Marco Mancuso: First of all I would like to know something more about you. Not everyone knows who you are, so talk to me about yourselves as individuals, your background, your interests in the artistic field and how you met and how you made the project take off for Teatrino Elettrico
Massimiliano: My path began with music and despite me creating video as well as installation and performance projects, the sound experience has always had a central position in my work. My practice in the visual field consists of building a new meaning by operating on additions or juxtapositions between elements that already have a significant meaning per se, because they are common a re recognisable. I play around with assembling mechanisms, using parts or incomplete functions of other mechanisms. The purpose is usually that of getting to an assembly that in some way has the strength of the stories and the energies of every element but that groups them in a mound that has a new function, an internal logic, a complete motivation
Emanuele: I come from research and studies in the theatrical field, I am particularly interested in problems and limit relative to the work of the actor and I sincerely appreciate scenic solutions that do not count on the presence of people. I studied music by playing two string instruments and working as a sound technician. Lately I have been deepening by knowledge on issues regarding audiovisual synaesthesia with an uncontrollable passion for cathode tubes for live recordings, for visuals and sound. Our artistic collaboration began during a residence in Groznian, in Croatia, in 2008, during which we prepared and created our first audio-video performance together. There we worked for 10 days toward a live event developed using the various functions of found objects or recuperated objects on site, mixed with other objects, microphones and effects that we had brought. For example, we created an electric traction buggy, combining it with a cutter that made the wheels turn: we out an amplifier on top and we made it go into feedback as it turned on itself. We microphoned some printers and an orange juicer. During the performance we would manoeuvre the audio inputs that came out of the objects, and the whole thing was recorded by a camera and projected onto a wall in the gallery. From there we decided to go ahead with that kind of show and we chose the name Little Electric Theatre because it gave the idea of the intimacy that was created during the performance, but also the scratchy noise that came out of it.
Marco Mancuso: Talk to me about the ideas you’re working on: I’m referring to the live project I saw at the last Hackmeeting in Rho and the DC12V project. Although they have elements in common, they are at the same time two very different projects: one is more of an installation, almost a sculpture, obtained via the use of recuperated electronic elements, where the audiovisual component is obtained focusing the attention on the kinetic object; the other is more performative, with more of a live set structure, where the dynamic object is filtered visually by a more traditional triple projection
Teatrino Elettrico: AsTeatrino Elettrico Pigreco we have created performances in different formats. We move around from installation, to live-media, to theatre, to video and music, aware that we do not belong to a particular discipline. We have played, in a certain sense, in very diverse places that go from galleries, to clubhouses, to audio-visual festivals, to social centres. In 2009 we moved toward the theatrical space. Despite us both having had other experiences in the theatre with other companies, bringing Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco to it was a very rich experience. We really appreciated the sacredness of the location, the intimacy, the level of attention that is created there. Wit our volumes and the audience trapped in the grid of the stalls.
The project that you saw at the Hackmeeting in Rho is part of this attitude of Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco to push itself towards a theatrical space. Working with the production of sounds and images in real time through machines and assembled household appliances, it was natural to widen the set by adding matter onto matter, creating a space automatically. The fact of working with objects hung up on ropes facilitated the creation of dense and chaotic environments, even if our aesthetical ramshackle betrays a certain attention to shape. Inside this space, the spectator and the objects perform actions from the multiplied audiovisual consequences. The use of physical movement, be it as a producer of sound or something visual per se, is paramount over the use of the video recording, which is something that DC12V does not have. The space factor is the first difference compared to DC12V, which is a specific project thought of for live audio-video.
Despite this we thought of making it in real time, making things happen on the desk that would be seen on the screen and heard from the speakers. Before that was had created other table sets, using whole household appliances. But then using 12volts we had the possibility of using smaller objects and getting inside objects to explore parts of them, motors, fans, thus celebrating the minuscule via gigantic projections. On the one hand we are faced with exclusive visuals imposed by projections that generate foreign sceneries for those watching, on the other we are faced with a group of simultaneous events where the gaze cannot wander, between repetition and comments of the TV screens.
Marco Mancuso: One of the aspects that surprises someone about your projects is the complexity of the self-built mechanical structures, which are functional toward an audiovisual narrative, to a precise mechanical drama. Nothing seems to be by chance and every component is functional to the purpose. I ask myself, where have you acquired the necessary competence and most of all how to you associate the dynamics of the components in relation to a determined sound score?
Teatrino Elettrico: Sometimes people talk about the fertility of limits. If not even of limits as a real motor for a certain creativity. A limit that until now we have always wanted to impose onto ourselves is the production of sound and images exclusively in real time. This simple fact has created a direct consequence in many of the decisions that we have take over time. Exactly as you say, nothing is by chance, but instead has a precise function. And all of these have a complete function. In truth we are satisfied when an element has more than one function. This is the case, for example, of TV screens, which are used by the signal of the camera in real time, and as light, as feedback generators, as producers of sound, or for visualising sound waves.
The dogma of multi-functionality and synchronicity is sued in the management of signals. An audio signal can be amplified and sent to the speakers. The video signals are modulated with audio effects. The sound scores can derive from dramatic motivations, in the less narrative sense of the term, and technical needs, for visual coherence with elements used before and after. Essentially we tend to use a narrative path that goes from a moment of calm, a more introspective moment, for relaxation and synchronisation, which slowly heats up, then overheats, until it gets to a maximum point of tension that explodes and goes back to silence.
For the preparation, the score is dictated by an almost alchemic empiricalism. We have a lot of faith in the experiment, in the sense that we don’t give too much credit to an idea until we see how it works once it is ready. The dramatic structure is often decided later on, once the familiarisation with a device that is thought to be functional helps us to put it in a given moment and a given space. In our live sets we live space for improvisation and we move in the structure that we have created during rehearsals.
Marco Mancuso: In Rimini, at the Dal Vivo event, I invited you t give a workshop that, as you suggest, deals with the self-construction of contact microphones, giving sound to objects, the self-construction of drummestic-machines, etc. What happens in your workshop and what kind of audience is it for?
Teatrino Elettrico: The workshop consists in the expressive possibilities of the object: showing the dismembered Little Theatre we could expose our practices in an audiovisual experimental environment. We will show how to self-build a drum machine by using a household appliance, how to make a TV sing. We invite all the people interested to participate by taking part in the sharing of politics of re-use and low cost experimentation
Marco Mancuso: Even if some reference scan seem obvious to certain artistic and theoretic fields, from Futurist mechanical orchestras to kinetic sculptures, the Little Electric Theatre seems to give shape to a clear path that audiovisual art has taken in the past few years: that of abandoning the divisions of genres, often connected to the traditions of video art, to find a new more aesthetical, rich and dynamic territory for dialogue, connected to the fascination of digital technology bound to the production of real-time software that are evermore powerful but increasingly levelled. What are your thoughts on this?
Teatrino Elettrico: When we have taken Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco around in different places we have had the sensation of coming from another place: we have played in the most diverse places, and in every context we have felt out of focus. The broadness of the project is in the use of materials of the various arts, that although they have been orchestrated remain independent, a superimposition of techniques that we force with presumption and take to their explosion. The most decisive critique that was made was after one of our theatrical incursions and dealt with the vanity of the gaze of the spectator, trapped in a seat and suffering, without being able to contemplate or interpret. The net refusal of the use of middle tones in what we expose comes out as a formal imposition, we are faced with a triggered event that connects the various components and is started by being given the necessary force: the rest is just a chain of events and channelled accidents.
What we propose to the various arts is not a dialogue, but more a kind of ring where they can be expressed freely; what comes out of this is an instable equilibrium, an animated discussion. The refusal of the use of digital technologies is none other than the possibility of immerging oneself in an experience dealing with matter that is increasingly precious for the era in which we live. The approach is typically craft-like, the secret is in the repetition of the gesture, exactly what our devices do; it would be more difficult to think about keeping up with the calculations of a processor.
Marco Mancuso: Where is the fascination of an object, of a mechanism and its kinetic function, for you? In the live at the Hackmeeting, and more so in DC12V, the single mechanism became an archetype of an era that is irreversibly coming to an end under the immaterial weight of digital technology, there is knowledge that we are losing, needs that are necessary to understand and control the intimate functioning of the instrument….
Teatrino Elettrico: Every object for daily use that is thought up for other purposes and re-used can be thought of as a radio-active material that can be very effective. When the use and purpose are modified it becomes an extraordinary symbol of evocative potential, and takes on the shape of an ideogram of something, a sign that is interpreted in the mesh of its layers and meanings that are subjective and objective, and represent it category and becomes elements for discussion. As an object it remains essentially unknown, as does the fascination for its lack of personality. The movement, added to the sound that it produces, is what gives it life. For this reason we always try to mask our presence during the live sets, standing aside or in shadow or hidden completely. We want the protagonist to be the object, so that it ca be autonomous aside from our presence as stagehands.
Teatrino Elettrico Pigreco almost exclusively uses recycled objects and this is for many reasons. First of all, an old object carries the signs of its prolonged contact with the world, scratches, rust etc. We find that this is a correct correspondence to our practice in real time. These signs are the proof that that object has gone through time and with this situations, actions that have happened around it. As a consequence it is the proof that that vacuum cleaner is not just any vacuum cleaner, but it is precisely that one and not another. Every object carries on its history and by showing itself it ads its story to the rustle of the other stories.
If thought of in digital terms this would not make sense and maybe everything would look more like a shop window, which we do not consider to be a place where real life takes place. As well as this we find that our aesthetic is in tune with the kind of sound we produce. But there’s another motive: the recycled object has a low economic value and this allows for a kind of playful behaviour. An object that had perhaps been bought, maybe through sacrifice, becomes a big toy where the worst risk is that it goes back to the dump where it was destined to go. This mechanism recalls the detournement of its function that happens as soon as it abandons its usual operation to become a producer of sound.
Marco Mancuso: Who are the artists and what projects that inspire you nationally or internationally?
Teatrino Elettrico: From the point of view of inspiration or certain derivations, some names spring to mind that could seem distant to our Little Electric Theatre but that we admire greatly and believe t be a source for our work. We think first and foremost of certain sounds of Einstürzende Neubauten but also scenic installations of Societas Raffaello Sanzio, to the semi-mobile sculptures of Tinguely, to the noise of Olivetty and the techno music of Raumschmiere.