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Aphàiresis (from the Greek αφαίρεσις, “abstraction”) is an audiovisual work composed between 2017 and 2019, whose aim is to investigate the relationship between materiality and immateriality, between presence and metaphysics. It is from the fruitful relationship between materiality – imperfection – and immateriality – perfection – that, through a filtration and regeneration process, a different and new world is created in which the single elements lose a part of themselves on their way to reorganize themselves in a higher order.
Starting from static, interferences, distortions of obsolete projection and visual equipment – such as, VHS and analogue projectors – in old film shots, the composer makes the visual element dialogue with the sound, mainly drawn from data bending1 processes, revealing something about the nature of the digital medium, which would otherwise be opaque. On the other hand, by using artefacts from analogue projectors, he shows the transmission specificity of this visual reproduction device, revealing the presence of an inherent historical contrast.
The intuition of using the invisible substrate that makes up what appears to us as a compositional material reveals the will to examine the technological element beyond its normal functions. Here is the background turning into the subject, and opening up new perspectives of artistic research.
“Concept such as ‘detritus’, ‘by-product’, and ‘background’ (or ‘horizon’), are important to consider when examining how the current post-digital movement started. When visual artists first shifted their focus from foreground to background (for instance, from portraiture to landscape painting), it helped to expand their perceptual boundaries, enabling them to capture the background’s enigmatic character.” (Cascone 2002: 13)
As Kim Cascone suggests, John Cage undoubtedly anticipated this idea with his piece 4’33’ (Cascone, 2002). The American composer was, in fact, one of the first artists to say that music could be created with any sound. 4’33’ is made up of three movements, consisting of silence, only interspersed by the closing and opening of the keyboard case. In that regard, recalling the first performance at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, Cage said:
“Silence does not exist. […] During the first movement, everybody heard the wind blowing outside the room. During the second one, a few drops of rain began to pat on the roof, and during the third one, the people themselves made the most diverse noises while talking or going out.” (Ross 2010: 407)
Thus, Cage led the audience to focus on the background, demonstrating that every sound deserves becoming music, if it is listened to.
However, Aphàiresis, and the related will to re-functionalize the error2, stems from a much broader discussion: imperfection as a possible origin of art. Art develops from the idea that, the very moment it should break, an object such as a goblet would lose its function and, consequently, would be catapulted into a dimension of negation of the world of functions, returning a thought action that cuts the everyday life, making the artist glimpse the delicacy and fragility of the surrounding world.
“[…] every object, every technological process, every social type, is conceived as invested with a double value: positive and negative, as an object and its shadow, or a perception, its image a posteriori.” (Krauss 2005, 47)
Therefore, imperfection tends to undermine the principle of cause-and-effect control. It is possible for a goblet to slip while being filled up, and it is precisely here that an added value of an ordinary action comes in: an unexpected event. Imperfection is incalculable, or rather unpredictable, typical of any complex system of events. In everyday life, this could lead to different reactions, aligning imperfection with irreparability. This cannot happen in the digital world (and, partly, also in the analogue one), where error lives almost constantly in a positive domain. Let us consider the example of a sound: in the digital world, when it is distorted, it cannot but generate a new sound without any context. Instead, outside the numerical universe, imperfection turns into an error that encodes an action, and no longer into a process, which becomes the constitutive reason for a new object in the immediate positive future.
“But Benjamin believed that the utopian dimension was present at the birth of a given social form or of a technological process, and that precisely when a technology became obsolete, it released the utopian dimension once again, like the last glow of a dying star.” (Krauss 2005, 47)
Therefore, Aphàiresis becomes the process through which the different codes, visual and musical, re-functionalize each other, giving value to the error and the resulting power to trigger an artistic and reflective reaction.
- Cascone, Kim. 2000. “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music”. Computer Music Journal 24 (4): 12-18. doi:10.1162/014892600559489.
- Devoto, Giacomo, Oli Gian Carlo, Serianni Luca, Trifone Maurizio. 2016. Il Devoto-Oli. Firenze: Le Monnier.
- Krauss, Rosalind E. 2005. L’arte nell’era postmediale. L’esempio di Marcel Broodthaers. Milano: Postmedia.
- Ross, Alex. 2010. Senti Questo. Milano: Bompiani.
1 Data bending is a generic term referring to the processes of manipulating digital media files at a basic level, by using a software designed to modify files of another format (e.g. Hex Fiend).
2 The decision to use the term “error” is not just by convention. It is linked to the Italian verb “errare” (to roam) which, as reported in the Italian Devoto-Oli dictionary, means “to move from a precise destination” or “to divert”. Therefore, it recalls the compositional approach that conducted Aphàiresis sound research”