“I don’t conceive composition as a sonic process. For me it’s something that has to do with visuals, with words, with movements… with everything.” -Michele Deiana
Michele Deiana (1992, Cagliari, Italy) is a multidisciplinary composer based in Venice. Having studied in Sardinia, Venice and Birmingham, Michele’s work has been performed at festivals and institutions such as La Biennale di Venezia, EXPO Venice, Montréal International Festival of Films on Art, Mutek San Francisco and ThinkTank Birmingham Science Museum. Michele spoke to PRXLUDES about his most recent projects, his perspectives on audiovisual and collaborative work, and his experiences as co-founder of Venetian organisation V.E.R-V.
Zyggy/PRXLUDES: Hey Michele! Thanks for chatting with me.
Michele: Hey Zyggy! Thank you for asking. It is a pleasure!
Tell me about your most recent audiovisual project, Veil. I understand it’s a collaboration between yourself and Claudio Bellini?
Yeah — actually we’ve known each other for quite some time, he studied composition at the Venice conservatoire like me — a few years ago, he’s started to do some interesting things with video, using softwares like Blender, and Jitter, to do these 3D abstract animations — we actually never collaborated together [before]. We started to collaborate for this project in the end of April, and working together was very cool, spontaneous and natural… we found a very common way to communicate, to express something merging our two different artistic personalities. It was great.
How did the concept for Veil come about?
The project was commissioned by a group called Umanesimo Artificiale. They asked us to think about the time that people spend on Instagram, to see content; how much time people spend looking at art pieces on [Instagram] in this, kind of, “always-scrolling” time on which we spend almost the entire day.
I take it that’s why you’ve premiered it on Instagram/IGTV…
Exactly! In fact, it’s a 5-minute work, but it’s been conceived as fragmented into 15 second pieces — as that’s the maximum time of stories on Instagram. [This is so] people can see it, jumping from one story to another, maybe [even] starting from the middle; they can see it from whichever point they want. The idea was to do some sort of work that could have meaning in every little fragment; each 15 second clip has its own story, in a way, but of course there’s a bigger narrative. So people can decide to see the big picture, or just a part, just a moment… but it’ll always make sense.
I like that idea! I can definitely see the technological aspect coming into play. Did you envision that kind of non-linearity when you first posted the piece, or was there a specific order you intended viewers to see everything in?
No, not a specific order — I mean, there’s the beginning to the end, but [we didn’t envision] a specific starting point. The experiment also asked how much a 15 second clip could create curiosity in the audience, to see what happens in the other stories. We were trying to catch the attention of the audience that is scrolling, maybe they see something begins and [they] start to understand that there’s a path which they could follow.
How much does this element of working with novel techologies relate to your other projects?
Almost every audiovisual work that I’ve composed has an electronic, or an electroacoustic, part; so yeah, the technological feel is always there. When I compose for image, I use very often sound libraries; I like to work with Logic, and Kontakt, that kind of stuff.
What is it that draws you to audiovisual work in particular?
It has to do with the vocabulary, in the sense that I, as a composer, need to use different kinds of media; I don’t conceive composition as a sonic process. For me it’s something that has to do with visuals, with words, with movements… with everything. The first thing that attracts me in an audiovisual work is that I can use this vocabulary, I can find myself at ease with the process. Actually, I always thought about composition in this way. I think it comes from my background, in a way, because I studied visual arts and music [in Cagliari]; but at the same time, [it comes from] my family, I grew up in a family very much passionate about arts, from music to theatre to visual arts and cinema. So I always got very much immersed in a creative environment that didn’t have boundaries between disciplines and styles as well. I think it comes from this.
But also, what I like in audiovisual and multidisclipinary works in general is that there is a broader communication — and a broader audience, of course — because you are speaking with many different layers, in different languages, at the same time; you can reach a lot more people, and transmitting meanings or emotions in a more complete way.
And also, [it’s] using a kind of format that today is like a daily language; we always get immersed in similar experiences, like when we go to the supermarket, we see the packaging of the products, the music in the background, the lights on the furniture… there is a creative conception of the whole space, there is always something multi-sensory going on in which we are living.
That’s a brilliant metaphor. No sensory unit exists in a vacuum.
Exactly. Did that answer your question?
It definitely did! I wanted to ask if there was a particular project of yours that best exemplified that sense, from your perspective?
Well… I’d say the best work would be Isolas, the piece I wrote for my BA Degree in Venice, actually. The dissertation I wrote was about multidisciplinary composition (from Wagner to contemporary composers), so the piece that I wrote [Isolas] was trying to use this kind of vocabulary. The work – with music for small ensemble, female choir and electronics – is a stage work, with a kind of choreography, a live video, and musicians that use all the space, near to the audience, in different places in the hall…
In that case, the first thing that started the creative process was seeing an “image”, a kind of vision; then I interpreted this image creating a story, and after that, I started to write the piece. It was a multidisciplinary process; I composed the music and I created the video at the same time with a filmmaker, I wrote the text with a poet, and I wrote this kind of choreography. It’s a musical choreography, in the sense that [the choreography] is notated as music, but the notation indicates movement and not sound. I can send you the score if you want! -laughs-
I’d love to see it! I’ve never thought about notation as a tool of choreography. Whereabouts did you get that idea, or was it something you came up with on the fly?
I wanted to use movements to extend what the music was already telling, trying to expand the meaning of the sound using something else. I think that it was a natural thing that happened, and I don’t know how; I was just writing, and I thought “hey, maybe I could do something with movements”. The actress that was playing was also a musician, and I thought I could use this peculiarity, this characteristic, writing something special for her. So, yeah, I came up with this thing. It was very cool to rehearse, because we were rehearsing with musicians, and she was doing these movements with her hands, but also following the score… it was so difficult. -laughs- But also very fun!
It almost sounds like she was conducting the musicians around her.
Actually, no, there was also a conductor. -laughs- There was a conductor who was conducting her, too… it was tough, but in the end she nailed it, she was amazing. She was really spontaneous, you’d probably never think there was a score behind it, but… yeah.
But isn’t that the beauty behind it? I think the most beautiful pieces are the ones where you can get lost in the magic without needing a score to explain it.
Yeah, I think the same. It’s what I always try to achieve with musicians, when they are performing my pieces; maybe I’m like, coaching them, because I work with a lot of students at the conservatoire, at the end I always tell them to try to forget the score and just “be” in the piece… trying to detach from the instructions of the score and be in the music, or better, be the music.
How much of a role does that collaborative aspect play in your work?
A very important role! But it takes a different form according to the type of collaboration I’m doing; in Isolas, I worked on everything, I did the score, made the video, the text… though, in this case, I couldn’t do everything [by myself], as I didn’t have skills or equipment, so I collaborated with a video maker (Giuseppe Scinardo Tenghi). [It was] the same thing with the text, I was writing in English, and… -laughs- I got a poet to help me, she was an Irish poet (Mary Ellen Nagle), and we worked very well together. In that case, the collaboration was very important, but they were just helping me to reach what I saw in my original vision so there was a strong vertical hierarchy. In many other cases, I collaborate in terms of finding an encounter, with mine and [their] different language and style; in that case, it’s another type of collaboration. For example, during the last year I collaborated with other four artists (the group was under the name of Confluenze) to make a screen-dance short movie entitled Intertidal.Barene dedicated to the Venetian salt marshes. In that case we tried to follow a kind of horizontal hierarchy, that means that everyone works on the big picture without a director figure, the director is the group.
I always feel like the best collaborations are the ones where everyone’s got an equal input.
Actually, that was very challenging because we were very different artistic personalities and finding a general understanding wasn’t easy at all, but at the end the collaboration gave me so much and we all grew up individually, reaching an amazing final result.
So collaborations are very important for what I do, without collaboration, you can’t do things like this, you can’t make this complete work of art — unless you’re a great-super-artist who can do everything, but I’m not…Not yet! -laughs-
How did that kind of collaboration develop when you moved from Venice to Birmingham? What kind of different perspectives did you encounter?
In the UK, my [main] collaboration was with Decibel. It was mainly a musical collaboration; I found the technical preparation was much better in the UK, and the approach to rehearsals was much more serious… but I should say, a bit too little rehearsing time for my taste. I’ve heard that it is a bit in UK culture to have short rehearsals, so is probably just a different habit!
Anyway the ensemble was amazing and they played the piece (Sonder) beautifully, nailing some really crazy parts! In particular I remember very well Michelle [Holloway] and Neil [McGovern] for their incredible virtuosity [in] playing an extremely difficult part!
Tell me a bit about VER-V (Venice Electroacoustic Rendez-Vous), the project you’ve started back in Venice. How did that originate?
Actually, VER-V started also thanks to Birmingham; the president of the organisation, a dear friend of mine (Giovanni Dinello), did an Erasmus in Birmingham in 2016, coming across a great place with a lot of things happening, lots of concerts, and a dynamic environment. When he came back, he was very enthusiastic [about it], and he thought he could try to do a similar thing in Venice, at least at the conservatoire. Me and other students supported immediately his idea to bring new and fresh activities inside the institution so we started to organise some open calls for works where composers from any age and nationality could send us their music – in particular, electronic and electroacoustic pieces – resulting in public concerts in the beautiful Concert Hall of the Conservatoire.
We did this for the first time in 2017, receiving a lot of amazing music, and from that moment we did five open calls; but we also made many collaborations with other organisations and institutions from Venice and outside, creating a really strong and efficient network and becoming an official Nonprofit Organisation in 2019.
A few weeks ago we came out with our sixth call for works (Confini) dedicated to electroacoustic chamber music. This is the biggest, the most ambitious project that we’ve ever done!
What makes this one so ambitious?
Like the others also this one is a project in collaboration with the Conservatoire, but this year we have for the first time an ensemble of musicians, made by conservatoire’s students. Then, this time, we’re offering to the winners a great award — a five day residency in Venice, all expenses paid! — where they will rehearse their works with the ensemble, resulting at the end in a special event in the concert hall of the conservatoire. We’re investing a lot of energy and work into this project, we’ve sent more then 100 mails around the world, lots of conservatoires from Japan, to the United States, to Australia… everywhere! We prepared a strong communication plan and we’re trying to reach a very big audience, we’ve never done [something] like that!
You can apply for V.E.R-V’s ‘Confini’ call for works by clicking here.
More of Michele’s work can be found at the links below: