Popular Helvetica_LISTEN – Swiss Institute in Rome

Popular Helvetica – from folk traditions to new urban rituals is a research project of the Swiss Institute in Rome on the meaning and transformations of so-called «popular culture» filtered through one of its key languages: music. In this sense, the project examines how the concept of popular music, from a shared legacy of local traditions, has ventured in recent decades into the complex subdivisions of pop subcultures and niches. This is a process for which Switzerland offers one of the most meaningful overviews in Europe: its position at the hub of different cultural routes (Italian, German, French) and a history made up of territorial micro-realities with a capacity for dialogue with similar experiences taking place outside the national borders, have made the country a case often cited and debated among enthusiasts, yet seldom explored in a more organic, analytical way. Through different cycles of encounters, listening sessions, performances and field research projects, Popular Helvetica – from folk traditions to new urban rituals attempts to shed light on one of the areas that best describe the syncretic character of the Swiss country-world, and its role in the present developments of global popular culture.

The first phase of the research is a series of four encounters entitled LISTEN in which the audience will experience the particular dynamic of this path through direct listening to phonographic materials, introduced by Swiss and Italian experts and accompanied by visual documentation (videos, images, artworks, publications) to recreate the ideal atmosphere for each session. The result should be a trajectory that step by step takes the listener from the folk tradition of the Appenzell to the latest musical developments in cities like Zurich and Geneva, passing through the country communes of the 1960s and the postindustrial reflux of the punk and postpunk era.

More than just a cycle of listening sessions, the LISTEN encounters are conceived as immersive experiences in which the leading role is played by sound; the contributions of experts from Switzerland and Italy will help to draw parallels and comparisons between what was produced in the two countries during the historical periods examined, to trigger a dialogue capable of engaging listeners on an emotional as well as an informative level.

The LISTEN encounters that will take place in the spaces of the Swiss Institute will be followed by a period of field research that will bring the organizers of Popular Helvetica – from folk traditions to new urban rituals to document the places, faces, recollections and testimony that form the basis of the entire project. Finally, the protagonists of the research will be involved in another cycle of performances, concerts and live happenings, as the ideal conclusion of a voyage in geographical space and time.


Hippie utopias in the Alps
with Matteo Guarnaccia and Samuel Mumenthaler
Thursday 13 March, Istituto Svizzero di Roma, Sala Elvetica, 19:00

Starting in the 1960s, the mountains in Canton Ticino and the German part of Switzerland became a favorite refuge for the new generations, linking back to the ancient local traditions to usher in the bucolic idyll of hippie communes and the new psychedelic pop music. Spanning rural utopia, recovery of tradition and revolutionary impulse, under the Alpine skies of Switzerland one of the most interesting and misunderstood sagas of that period unfolded, a kind of birth of all the modern forms of «counterculture».

Post-punk dystopias
with Vittore Baroni and Lurker Grand
Thursday 27 March, Istituto Svizzero di Roma, Sala Elvetica, 19:00

At the end of the 1970s, after the binge of the rural communes and the Swiss Alps transformed into a refuge for hippies from all over Europe, powerful winds of change were also blowing in Switzerland, impacting not only music but also the history of design and lifestyle. The old freaks recycled as punks, and a new type of sound took over from the swooning folk music of the previous generation. These were the years of the Neue Welle, of post-punk, and of Zurich catapulted into the role of international underground capital, in direct competition with Berlin and London.

The synthetic metropolis of the night
with Il Duka and Marie-Avril Berthet
Thursday 17 April, Istituto Svizzero di Roma, Sala Elvetica, 19:00

After the long post-punk epic, first in Zurich and then in the rest of Switzerland the seeds were sown for a new way not only of making music, but also of living and experiencing the night. From the first street parades to the exponential growth of what goes by the name of club culture, the generations raised on electronic music and techno took their cue from the old hippies of the 1960s to come up with a technological version, in perfect continuity with the information revolution of the 1990s and 2000s.

Ghosts and yodels in the Appenzell hills
Istituto Svizzero di Roma, Sala Elvetica, 19:00

The Canton of Appenzell contains some of the most important institutions of the musical tradition in the German-speaking world. They document the enormous heritage of folksongs and traditional instruments and musical forms that have made phenomena like yodeling symptomatic expressions of Swiss culture. Far from nostalgic postcard imagery, the LISTEN session on volksmusik will plunge listeners into a land of memory of great evocative power.

 Swiss Institute in Rome – Villa Maraini, Via Ludovisi 48 – 00187 Rome
Opening March 13th – May 8th 2014