F.I.: Monte Isola is the name of your band, you’ve been in Greece and Chile to record the sounds of “island” and now you’re here to discover Comacina Island. There’s a path in your research, at the heart of which is the notion of island: we can find it everywhere, in literature and, above all, in mythology. Is there something important to you emotionally and philosophically that leads you to look for this kind of place, aside from what is more related to the specific sounds of island?
M.P.: Yes strangely “Islands" have a history in my creative process. Five years ago, due to a travel on another island close to Comacina, Monte Isola, which is also on a lake, I decided at once to dedicate myself to music and to publish online all my previous works, because I was teaching in a visual art school. Borrowing a “place name” was at first a question of humility (in French we have this nice word, “pudeur”), but then things made sense when I released a first album fully recorded on another tiny island in Chile. I remember an impulse, like an earthly surge, I needed this fiction to give me strength. Today I gave up this name, we could say that “I returned to the banks”… However, the philosophical concept of Island and the experience of insularity still continued to fascinate me, it’s a powerful parable. And then, islands are acoustically interesting, as a “miniature biotope”, since water acts like a mirror with sounds, and when there are no cars on them, you have access to a unique soundscape, as beautiful as a big orchestra.
F.I.: We’re in a place with a circular boundary of just 2 kilometers. There are obvious limits that also strongly characterize space and time of this place. I’d like to know if you changed your working habits here, having to adapt to a different way of living, however temporary.
M.P.: The microscopique scale of Comacina Island and its geographic location, on the lake, so close to the banks, makes it all at once domestic, as an island garden. At the same time, the place is a kind of bitter, because there is nobody apart from the two other residents. Consequently, each exit of the island requires quite an organization, so I tried to stay inside it as much as possible. Every morning I walked the way around, criss-crossed every part of the island and then I headed back. It seemed like a jail paradise to me. Most of my work habits were disrupted here. I used to work during the night to avoid the heat and the few tourists who were visiting the island during the day. The lack of contacts with other human beings also made me more attentive to animal presence. Discreet life forms appeared in the absence and silence.
"Borrowing a place name was at first a question of humility — in French we have this nice word, “pudeur”."
F.I.: How exactly does Comacina Island differ from the other island you’ve stayed? What’s got your attention? I guess the Lake Como’s weather is a little different from that in the south of Chile, as well as the whole vibe and the mood you were in during your stay. How does your work setting change, on the basis of environmental records?
M.P.: As I said before, it is a garden island. Nature is wise, discreet, there are no longer wild things around, the lake’s setting is quite touristic and that’s why it’s very different from my past experiences on islands. A huge difference is the geographic location. Islands are normally surrounded by sea, but here it is surrounded by mountains, which produces a very different imaginary. Finally I didn’t record a lot outside, maybe because of the nearby noisy road. This is something that you cannot really know in advance, how a place sounds. The takes that I plan to keep are those I recorded inside the Villa and maybe during the San Giovanni’s Fireworks. That was an impressive experience, San Giovanni’s Fireworks take place on the island but people are contemplating it from the outside, on the banks, so I was in the forefront, it was very noisy and a little bit frightening. At last I can say that my project has completely changed from what it was in the beginning, I expected to melt into the landscape and eventually I was in a very lonely and introspective mood.
F.I.: As a sound artist, besides your own research you carry out some partnerships, both as a composer and as a performer, especially in the field of theatre: you perform on stage, but also as a “vocal coach” for actors and dancers. I find your work to be pretty personal and immersive from a sensory point of view, this means that inspiration and (internal and external) atmosphere are crucial. In the case of commissioned works in which you have to come to terms with someone else’s requests and to come up with ideas with distinct deadlines, what would be your approach?
M.P.: I work a lot with dance and theater indeed. Designing sound and music for stage is really something you learn by practicing. I worked on different projects but each time the question of voice was central, from speech to sung voices. But moreover, a place where I’m involved is on sounds dramaturgy, the connection between the content and the shape, aesthetic choices. My approach differs according to each project and it took me a lot of time to understand precisely where my strength are and it is still something I’m figuring out. From now on, I can say that my approach is the following: first deeply understand what are the project’s issues through discussions with the author, then thinking about amplification, sounds, music and where is the voice inside. For me everything is music on stage, even the text, bodies and especially silence. Maybe because I come from visual art, my listening is very concrete.
F.I.: You also probably got to know some kinds of local and folk music, thanks to your travels to different parts of the world. Do you think this influences your work, depending on the place where you record and compose, too?
M.P.: Yes of course traveling allowed me to discover artists and their work but mostly, made me understand how they lived with music, their daily approach. Traditional and folk music for example are perceived very differently in Europe and in South America. Here we are pretty conservative, probably because of our museum culture but more importantly there is a strong gap between popular and “erudite” music. In Chile, boundaries between different types of music are more porous, you can hear traditional Cumbia music in clubs. More specifically, it is not so much traditional music I am interested in every kind of singular music, outsider music and art actually. Finally, the “local” for oneself. Lastly, my very first approach is improvisation and this is still fundamental in my way of thinking and compose music, I haven’t really learnt any song by heart, but what I retain from the folk music of the past years is the story, sung story.
F.I.: You had to re-create a workspace and you brought some necessary work tools with you. Do you feel you can build a connection with the architectural space you're in? What features should it have to be useful?
M.P.: The ceiling of the villa is very high, like a little «concrete» church, therefore its sounds are interesting. Originally I had planned to record in the chapel but that was not possible (the chapel is still owned by the diocese…). So I settled in this Villa, got familiar with it, with those weird angles, the lack of windows downstairs. Building a connection with a place is not obvious, sometimes it happens immediately, sometimes it doesn’t. My relationship with this site is linked with my relationship with this island, somewhere between fascination of beauty and discomfort.
"At last I can say that my project has completely changed from what it was in the beginning, I expected to melt into the landscape and eventually I was in a very lonely and introspective mood."