I talk to cross-arts composer and sound designer Roberto David Rusconi, whose new work Variazioni Tiepolo will be premiered by the Minguet Quartet in May.
Tell us something about your background.
I am a producer of immersive music for opera, dance, music theatre, screen soundtracks and art galleries. I graduated in composition, piano, choir, conducting, specialized in electro-acoustic music and have been awarded a PhD at King’s College London on the relationship between music, memory and matter. My profound expertise of the international cultural scene has inspired me to pursue a career as producer, curator and education co-creative projects manager. I am particularly interested in sound projection and live digital sound processing. In recent years I have been collaborating with L-Acoustics and their new processor for immersive sound hyperrealism, L-ISA.
What was your first success as a composer?
I think my first success was the music I made under a pseudonym for the CD Game Punto per Punto that celebrated Fiat motors 100 years. 1,150,000 copies were released, and I was able to keep the copyrights on the music.
Who or what has influenced your style?
I see sound technology as not at odds with our inner selves, but in fact a reflection of it. My work explores the fundamental themes at the core of our existence: life, death, birth, rebirth, transformation, transfiguration, metamorphosis and initiation. My musical urge comes from a place that is part of the invisible world, a place of inner landscapes: landscapes where time is stretched into infinity, where subtle changes of light create an eternity and where sound is extended beyond hearing. The concert becomes a place for celebration and ritualistic cleansing, for meditation, contemplation and, perhaps, even epiphany. Birth and rebirth are the most succinct descriptors of these themes – after all, they inherently connote death, the sublime, a morphing between different spiritual and physical states of being. Birth is not a beginning, death is not an end – this is a cornerstone to the potency of my work. While the scope of the technology I use has evolved throughout my career, these central themes have always been strongly wired at the core of my creations.
Tell us something about your working method as a composer. Give us something that might be or might have been a starting point for a piece.
I sleep very little, so I write and compose during the night, when silence rules and the veil hiding the unknown is thinner. Early in the morning I go training. I love martial arts and they keep my body fit and my mind sharp. I follow a traditional Mediterranean lifestyle during the day and try to eat well and relax – no social media, no digital addiction. Later in the day, I meditate to get rid of my madness and my urges. Dreaming is also an excellent playground for my work, over there I get the very best ideas. I become possessed. It is very simple. I start hearing sounds, feeling sounds, seeing sounds, touching sounds. The structure and the framework appear to me in the distance and slowly, approaching with extreme care I hunt the fragility of my imperfect vision: sometimes everything collapses, sometimes I get really close, never do I succeed in creating my original idea. Obstacles come from every direction, usually financial ones. I try to simply hack them or to knock them over.
What’s the craziest idea for a piece you’ve ever had?
‘Fragile’, my new proposal for a north Italian foundation with the collaboration of their orchestra alongside an international science museum, local dancers and schools, is really an act of love and madness. I envisioned a full orchestra, twenty dancers, full-surround immersive sound and ritualistic totemic sculptures up to two meters high surrounding the audience in the celebration of Gaia. Supported by the research of palaeontologists and activists in the field of environmental change, this work will be a call for awakening. The craziness lies in the location: we are trying to stage it at the foot of the Northern Italian Alps in an open-air setting.
Which work are you most proud of and why?
The work I am most proud of is Dionysos Rising, my new opera. The World Premiere recently took place in Italy and is soon to be performed in Vienna.
Dionysos and his fellow characters are all affected by severe psychological diseases that directly reflect the distress we all experience in our times. Teenagers addicted to any kind of drug and so called recreational substances, older people in heavy sedatives, or, again, recreational substances and rivers of chemical substances that storm our bodies are in almost every family or personal history. In addition, the pressures of excellence, competition and ‘ever-lasting beauty and wealth’ are imperatives that are completely destroying our ways of life and our relationships to one another. If our daily metropolises are not open air asylums I really do not know how better to define them.
What are you working on at the moment
A new opera, the second of what I see as a tetralogy, as well as a new ballet.
A third sound immersive new opera due in 2021/2 called Aurora: The Immortal. Based on a young, powerful female character that craves love and passion. In a tumultuous turning of events she tricks death, but a very bitter surprise is hidden at the end of her journey.
The 3D sound immersive ballet ‘Kirke’ is due in 2021, in collaboration with my beloved choreographer Sandrine Monin. This is a one-hour long celebration of ritual, ceremonies and witchcraft across cultures and spiritual beliefs. We have already presented a pilot extract in Leeds and Bern to great acclaim.
What are your views on the current state of composition? Are we living in a healthy artistic environment at present?
We are in a golden era, because the technology we have access to allows us to reach levels of precision and detail that our predecessors could only have imagined. We also have the widest range of instruments, noises, natural sounds and diffusion technologies that has ever been produced throughout the history of humankind. Unfortunately, a total lack of concentration and silence damages most of the music makers, forcing them to produce cheap, fast and naive works. Sometimes I see people who are able to detach themselves from their surroundings and deliver real masterpieces. I hope that, as in the past, we will be able to recognize and remember these particular talents.
Tell us about your new work with the Minguet Quartet.
Variazioni Tiepolo is inspired and directly connected to the Scherzi di Fantasia by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. It has been commissioned to re-engage the audience with the concept of alchemy and sprezzatura, typical of the baroque era. Subdivided into four blocks, the variations resemble and are connected to the alchemic processes of Nigredo, Albedo, Citrinitas and Rubedo. The work has been written for solo violin with scordatura, which includes two themes and thirteen variations. The Minguet Quartet’s two violinists, Anette and Uli will share the task of interpreting this work. Anette will perform the first and fourth variations, while the second and third will be played by Uli. The work is a summa of solo virtuoso violin pieces and techniques – whilst being challenging it is also highly entertaining.
When and where can we hear the first performance?
The two lead violinists of the Minguet Quartet will perform the world premiere of Variazioni Tiepolo at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on 17th May, 2019.
What does the future hold for you?
I am setting up a new artistic start-up with Sandrine Monin as choreographer, Tu-laj-net as multi-media artist and conductors, musicians and stage designers. We decided to create a team in order to organize and promote original productions in the desperate effort to avoid having to beg for artistic direction approval. Thanks to some patrons we are also determined to give access to music dance theatre to a wider multicultural audience. Some works developed for blind people and children, as well as people affected by mental health problems will characterize our next years. As a person who has and is affected by these kinds of disabilities I am extremely sensitive towards this necessity. Art must be sustainable and accessible.
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