“When Sound Becomes Form” at MAXXI, Roma

Agnetti Colombo, Vobulazione e Bieloquenza Neg, 10 mins Tv Short, 1970
Courtesy MAXXI


MAXXI presents When Sound Becomes Form – Sound Experiments in Italy 1950-2000, the story of the Italian Sound Avantgarde told by photos, films, videos, historical manifestoes, original LPs and audio pieces. From the works of the fathers of the 60s, such as Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna e Pietro Grossi, and the happening inspired by Fluxus, John Cage e il Gruppo Gutai; from the sound poetry by Maurizio Nannucci and the audiovisual environment by Ugo La Pietra and Gruppo T; and again the experiments and the first festivals in the 70s, Punk and Carmelo Bene’s performances, to computers’ influence and the first interactive artworks in the 80s, up to our days with excellent collaborations such as Mimmo Paladino and Brian Eno. For the first time at MAXXI, When Sound Becomes Form recounts these sound experiments happened in Italy from 1950 to 2000, in a journey curated by Carlo Fatigoni, hosted by the archive space of the museum hall, from March 16th to October 28th, 2018.

The exhibition presents a selection of archive documents dedicated to the history of avant-garde sound art in Italy. The homage, which follows on from previous projects in the museum’s new dedicated exhibition space for archives, uses different types of documents to present the development of sound experimentation in Italy, following a chronological arc that traces the landmark moments of the country’s history. Sound leaves the staff, freed from rules and codes, and is no longer examined as a note or a harmonic sequence but instead as the pure perception of the vibration of an oscillating body. New electronic technologies drive the creation of innovative artistic styles, allowing for the manipulation of sound and the amplification of the space of creative invention. Sound becomes form and invades creative and physical space: developed to its full potential, from silence to noise, from phoneme to instruments, all the way to the infinite possibilities of reproduction, it permeates the fabric of art in a widespread manner, contaminating cinema, art, choreography, literature, publishing and mass media, even if the market doesn’t immediately respond.

The homage by the archive includes visual documents, films and videos, manifestoes and posters, original LPs and audio pieces, wishing to rebuild a mnemonic space freely offered to visitors, and chronologically following a temporal span of fifty years, organised in 4 sections: the 50s and 60s, the 70s, the 80s and 90s, up until 2000s.

From the great fathers of compositional experimentation in the 60s, like Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna, sound makes its entrance into the expressiveness of gesture with Giuseppe Chiari and Fluxus, each note becoming an autonomous and specific element. In contact with Fluxus, John Cage and the Gutai Group, the figures of Giuseppe Chiari, Sylvano Bussotti and Gianni Emilio Simonetti stand out. New languages include the happening and the graphic musical notation or graphic score, for which Daniele Lombardi stands out. Sound Poetry is born with Arrigo Lora Totino’s work Fonemi (Phonemes). Adriano Spatola, Maurizio Nannucci and Patrizia Vicinelli are associated with vocal action. Also worth mentioning is Eugenio Carmi’s Stripsody, with vocals by Cathy Berberian, which is anticipated by Mimmo Rotella’s Manifesto della Poesia Epitaltica (Manifesto of Epistaltic Poetry). Research into electronic sound is advanced by Phonology studies carried out with Enore Zaffiri, Teresa Ramazzi, Ennio Chiggio and Pietro Grossi in Milan, Turin, Padua and Florence. From the intermedial to the interactive, sound experimentation begins to turn towards the public. A forerunner is Giuseppe Pinot Gallizio’s work, La Caverna dell’Antimateria (The Cavern of Antimatter), in 1958. In Milan we find Gruppo T and Ugo La Pietra engaged in the same technological research with their Ambienti audiovisivi immersivi (Immersive audio-visual environments). Science itself becomes an aleatorial dimension in Sfera con Sirena (Sphere with Siren) by Sergio Lombardo. The improvisation ensemble is born, where the craftmanship of sound meets sound technology. In Rome, the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and Musica Elettronica Viva are formed; in Milan, Walter Marchetti and Juan Hidalgo put together the group Zaj with the support of American composer John Cage.

In the 70s, sound experimentation begins to spread beyond the space of private investigation, starting to come face to face with the general public. The new forms of research into sound find their place in the cultural landscape with the creation of the first dedicated events, as summarised in the subtitle of the first Dalle cantine all’asfalto festival. Pietro Grossi creates one of the first networked musical connections, remotely playing songs and random sound structures. Vincenzo Agnetti creates NEG, a stereo turntable that isolates silence; in Sezione ritmica – Sezione Aurea (Rhythm Section – Golden Section), Davide Mosconi uses metal spikes to engrave vinyl records; the Mara Coccia gallery in Rome turns into a musical instrument in Alvin Curran’s installation Magic Carpet and in Milan in 1978 Vibractions by Ferruccio Ascari becomes a unit of measurement through the use of sound. In Boschetto di Alberi Parlanti e profumati (Forest of Talking and Perfumed Trees) Luca Maria Patella creates an interactive soundscape from wind and birdsongs. In 1975 Albert Mayr produces Performances from Time Aspects, an aesthetic approach to the everyday management of time (sound time). The partnership between Christina Kubisch and Fabrizio Plessi is born. During exhibitions, unusual objects are used as amplified sources of sound and are spread throughout the space. At the Beat 72 festival, Rome is invaded by sounds and improvisations. A Parade roams the streets, Mario Schiano directing the spectators with their instruments. Demetrio Stratos releases Metrodora, the first completed experiment in which singing is the sound that destroys the traditional use of voice. In the field of Sound Poetry, Maurizio Nannucci and Lora Totino publish the Anthology Poesia sonora (Sound poetry) and Giovanni Fontana publishes Radio/dramma (Radio/drama), “an interior monologue intersected by external voice-noises excitedly in conversation”. Lora Totino also releases Futura Poesia Sonora (Future Sound Poetry) and founds the group Il Dolce Stil Suono with Giovanni Fontana. Adriano Spatola founds “BAOBAB”, a poetry magazine in the form of an audiotape: it is 1978. Il Treno Di John Cage (John Cage’s Train) appears on the horizon: a happening that occurs inside stations and train carriages in Bologna, recording the interaction between the ambient sounds produced by trains and passengers. In 1979, the Bologna Rock festival, organised by the underground label Harpo’s Bazaar, closes a tumultuous decade and marks the official birth of new wave in Bologna.

The year 1980 opens with Italy’s most serious terrorist attack since World War II: the massacre at Bologna train station. Carmelo Bene pays homage to the event with Lectura Dantis. These years see the emergence of the punk movement, which opens the doors to creativity: Great Complotto, a musical artistic movement, contaminates art and media from Bologna to Pordenone; in Milan, the Virus community centre is at the heart of Italy’s first punk scene.  In the same years, the computer becomes popular. Sound art evolves with Sixto/notes in Milan, which involves big names in the 1982 event Sonorità Prospettiche (Perspective acoustics). FORMAT- architetture sonore (FORMAT- architectures of sound) is a group of musicians that experiment with everyday materials and with the acoustic environment; Luca Miti collaborates with them. The experimentation stimulated by technology puts in motion new research that broadens consciousness and vision (cyber, hacktivism). GMM (Giovanotti Mondani Meccanici) use these technologies both for sound installations and for radio and television broadcasts. Giacomo Verde is among the first Italians to create interactive works of art and net-art, collaborating with Correnti Magnetiche, a collective conceived of by the musician Riccardo Sinigaglia and the painter Mario Canali. The first works are two- and three- dimensional audio-visual compositions connected through music and imagery. Tommaso Tozzi is the first Italian hacker artist. Called to participate in MusicalMente-1 Festival di musica ambientale (MusicalMente-1 Festival of ambient music), he creates a subliminal installation. Ale Guzzetti, an artist involved in technological and interactive art, creates Sculture sonore (Sound sculptures), an assemblage of everyday objects capable of emitting sounds, noises, voices and lights. In the field of sound poetry, in 1983 Giovanni Fontana releases Poema Larsen, built from the modulation of acoustic feedback. Nicola Frangione releases the first Mail Music compilation and a collection of Sound Poetry, RADIO TAXI. Vibrazioni del Sonoro (RADIO TAXI. Vibrations of Sound) is founded and directed by Sarenco. In the field of graphic notation, the 1981 exhibition in Florence Spartito Preso, la musica da vedere (Taken Score, the music to see), curated by Daniele Lombardi, is key.

In 1990, Mario Sasso and Nicola Sani receive the Linz Prix Ars Electronica for the video composition Footprint and Marcello Aitiani exhibits his Nave di Luce (Ship of Light), a pioneering work that anticipates new information communication technologies. In Rome, Ida Gerosa presents Memorie d’acqua Fontana di Trevi (Memories of the Trevi Fountain Water), a multimedia performance with music and ambient sound by Luigi Ceccarelli. The catalogue Nuova Officina Bolognese, published by Bologna’s Modern Art Gallery, comes with a CD of research musicians from the Bologna art scene. Sound. Forme e colori del suono (Sound. Forms and colours of sound), a historical excursus of the main artists in the field of sound and audio-visual installations, is set up at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Bolzano in 1993. In 1992 Mauro Sambo and Ignazio Lago present a live performance, Ferita da Taglio (Cut Wound), in which musical improvisation enters into dialogue with a performer, who transforms materials such as grease, marble, industrial insulation, photographs and a lance into sound objects. In 1994, Roberto Paci Dalò gives life to a soundscape dedicated to the city of Naples and Michelangelo Lupone develops l’Immaginario Radiofonico (the Radiophonic Imaginarium), a sound installation inspired by some of the typical aspects of radiophony. With 1995’s interactive installation Sky Waves, Alessandro Fogar generates sounds from the meteorological data broadcast from radio stations. Sound experimentation advances further with Sound & Fury, the title of a series of compositions in which Agostino Di Scipio uses models derived from “chaos theory” to generate sound. In 1997, composer Sergio Maltagliati’s CIRCUS_8 develops new variations of sound by getting involved with the codes of Pietro Grossi’s graphic programmes. Sound and art are intertwined once more in 1999 with I Dormienti by Brian Eno and Mimmo Paladino, an installation of music and imagery realised in London. The decade closes with sound again becoming material in Pietra Sonora (Sounding Stone): Amalia del Ponte creates Litofoni (Lithophones), thin stone slabs that are tuned and played as percussion instruments whilst Pinuccio Sciola plays the Pietre sonore (Sounding stones) like big menhirs that resonate with the movement of his hand. The work of Luca Vitone at the beginning of the millennium finally orients sound research towards geographical memory, to the origins of collective history in which geographical, physical places and sounds take on the meaning of a space understood as an anthropological experience.


Parole sui muri (Words on Walls), playbill, Modena, 1967
Courtesy MAXXI


Ida Gerosa, Memorie d’acqua (Water Memories) Fontana di Trevi, Roma, 1992
Courtesy MAXXI


Sylvano Bussotti, Piano Piece For David Tudor
Courtesy MAXXI


Alessandro Fogar, Sky Waves, Interactive Multimedia Installation, Chioggia (Venice), 1995
Courtesy MAXXI


WHEN SOUND BECOMES FORM – Sound Art in Italy 1950-2000
16 March–28 October 2018

MAXXI – Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo | via Guido Reni 4A, Rome
Opening Hours: Tue/Sun 11am–7pm, Saturday 11am–10pm, closed on Monday