Acoustic installations for the "il rito segreto" (secret ritual) exhibition, based on the theme of the mysterious religions of Ancient Rome, at the Coliseum. The joint conceptualization of the set-up was entrusted to the Benedetti-Di Martino studio, within the greater context of "Spazi Consonanti".
Great iron shields lined up along the first-floor galleries punctuate the space, and both isolate and circumscribe the zones of acoustic effect.
Catalogo Electa, Rome 2005...
Standing near some of the exhibits, the viewer perceives enigmatic voices and sounds.
Passages in Latin and Greek emerge from an irregular acoustic fabric. There is a suggestion here, a feeling that something that is lost forever has availed itself of an enigmatic form so as to fleetingly dispel the shadow of time. It is a glimpse taken from the present into a world that remains in any case impenetrable: a secret back when it was alive, and much more of a secret now, after centuries of silence. The passages from which the fragments have been lifted are by authors then at the forefront of sacred rites; some of them are actually true initiatory ceremonial formulas.
Here we find Callimachus's "Hymn to Demeter" and Aristophanes's The Frogs, Tertullian's Adversus Valentinianos and Plato's Phaedo. Apuleius's Metamorphoses discusses an initiation that leads to within a breath of that most closely guarded of secrets: "I reached the very gates of death and, treading Proserpine's threshold, yet passed through all the elements and returned. I have seen the sun at midnight shining brightly. I have entered the presence of the gods below and the presence of the gods above, and I have paid due reverence before them." Other excerpts are taken from Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride, Catullus's poem on Cybele's Phrygian temple, Porphyry's "On the Cave of the Nymphs", etc.
The composition is expressed in a contemporary language which ponders its own nature in the presence of the stillness surrounding the figures.
It is for this very reason that the choice of tonality deliberately does not embrace "ancient" resonances. Any attempt at simple reconstruction was studiously avoided; not just because of its philological absurdity, but also because the project would have begun to distance itself from its original direction.
The composition does indeed contain hints of bronze resonance, but the key element here is the indecipherable: stones that are struck or caressed, unrecognizable arch forms used within the mysteries of harmonics, the appearance of wind instruments such as the contrabass flute, its sound light years away from today's acoustic panorama. In poetic terms, the underground dimension was used to suggest a world of shadows. This is the reason behind the selection of a large underground chamber for vocal and instrumental recordings. The duration of the echo here allowed a single voice to ring out over itself in several layers without resorting to technology, and that is something that was taken in to account from the moment the music was written.
At certain points the form makes use of hermetic methods, such as the parts addressing Dionysism, which then flow into the Orphism upon which the Pythagorean School blossomed. Here, the sound polarizes around number sequences gleaned from esoteric tradition; the stresses are underlined by harmonic boosts in correspondence to certain numbers which form a rhythmic exoskeleton in relief. Another fragment referencing mathematical - or rather, geometrical - rules is that regarding Isis: a quote from Apuleius's Metamophoses unravels within the proportions of a right triangle whose sides are in the ratio of 3:4:5, metaphysically recalling the Egyptian trinity of Osiris-Isis-Horus. The composition is engraved on tablets with a particular system of graphic symbols: in this case it is the rotation of the right triangle in a virtually three-dimensional space that prorate the track's rhythmic and dynamic values. There is another timbric homage to Isis in the metallic resonance of the sistrum, a sound traditionally attributed to the goddess. And given the air of mystery surrounding Dionysus, the 'tumultuous' nature of the rituals could not have been eschewed. An urgent rhythm was invoked with the use of a special water instrument named Nomos, created and on display in a room at the Padula Charterhouse, in Salerno. It is comprised of five height-adjustable poles, from the top of which water drops fall onto small membranes like drum skins. The distance between the skins and the source of the drops changes with time, resulting in continuous changes in the volume of the impact. Here, the hand of the percussionist has been replaced by the drops, and they give life to a restless drumroll, a dizzying, pressing beat which seemed the most appropriate metaphor for the Dionysian ritual.
In terms of perception, it was very important that to the visitor the sound would appear to come from nowhere, and only in the presence of certain exhibits. This was achieved with the use of a very recent technique which produces so-called "HyperSonic Sound". It works by focalizing sound waves - even from a great distance - onto a certain point, almost as if they were beams of light. That way, when the beams are pointed in the right way, the waves reach the visitors where they are standing, creating a kind of "sonic island". This constitutes something akin to a more secret level of the definition of space than can normally be seen in architecture.
These tunnels contain a back and forth flow of signs whose sound stretches out into the three-dimensional form and vice-versa. The bodies around which the exhibition is based - in particular the so-called shields, iron 'rudders' pivoting in the ground - were partly conceived in musical terms; and although many face different directions, their positions have been set with the regularity of the same rhythm: the flexible nature of the forms deliberately hints at a kind of spatial narration, which, while obeying circulation, acoustic, and lighting demands, manages to transcend them, suggesting a common language between music and architecture. Moreover, the same phenomenon can happen in reverse, as is the case in Callimachus's "Hymn to Demeter", in which the sequence of forms is recondensed into music. In this passage, the score is structured as a sequence of full moments of sound and empty moments of silence, drawing its form and delivery from the even distribution of the shields, like a series of interlinked events in a procession of sound. The geometric restitution of perspective of the score organizes the sounds into phalanxes: a direct reference to the compact ranks of carts, choirs, priests, and military experts, distinct masses making their slow way under the Athens sun, on the road that leads to Eleusis.