In His Own Words: Giorgio Magnanensi
As a long-standing composer of orchestral, chamber, electro acoustic, and multimedia works that have been performed throughout Europe, Asia and North America, Giorgio Magnanensi has a passion for creating and presenting works that challenge our preconceived notions of what music and performance are. In 2000, several years after arriving in Canada from Italy, he took over as artistic director of the Vancouver New Music Society, an organization that was founded in 1972 to initiate performances of contemporary music. At the helm of the VNMS, Magnanensi has continued to programme and produce innovative and original new music events, concert series and festivals. In fostering a wide and experimental curatorial approach, he has gained recognition and appreciation from audiences, musicians, performers and funding agencies.
In 2007 the VNMS was awarded the 2008 Alcan Performing Arts Award, a $60,000 production fund awarded annually to a British Columbia-based performing arts company. From February 20 – 23, the VNMS presents Marginalia : re-visioning Roy Kiyooka at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Composers Jocelyn Morlock, Stefan Smulovitz, Stefan Udell and Hildegard Westerkamp have been commissioned to write four new works within a strong relationship to Kiyooka’s works.
Just before Christmas I sat down with Giorgio at the VNMS office on Davie Street to talk about the upcoming show, Marginalia : Re-visioning Roy Kiyooka.
INTERVIEW WITH GIORGIO MANANESNI
by John Endo Greenaway
Why Roy Kiyooka?
Kiyooka represented and still embodies an idea of art making in which the main focus and value stay with the making, the process of making beautiful things; the perspective being on the process itself and not so much on the final object. When creative energy manifests itself as such a force, beyond disciplines and aesthetic definitions, that energy needs and wants to be taken care, to continue to inspire people so that we can feed our hopes that self expression as a sellable item will be eventually substituted by creative energy as an agent of change. Kiyooka was also aware of the power of sound, sound making as a social-dialogical process, an improvised collaboration among creative minds and souls: the value of difference as a patrimony to share.
How did you get to know Roy’s work?
Last January I was looking for some ideas for this Alcan project proposal. I was talking with a friend of mine about the idea of creating a project that would involve some visual artist, that would bring some sort of a different energy to the project. My friend mentioned Roy’s name, he said do you know Roy Kiyooka? So that was the beginning. I started researching and looking into the work, reading, finding information, and I was really fascinated by this very rich personality and that shifting from painting, sculpture, photography, poetry, sound improvisation, reading—a very fascinating figure. So I decided, yes, I’m going to work around this kind of energy. So the project is not about Roy but is about what Roy gives still in terms of inspiration and use of creative energy and force, to share in this awareness that being creative doesn’t mean to do only one thing, but is a kind of process-oriented approach in which you can shift from painting or music improvisation or poetry and still engage yourself and other people with the same kind of level of intensity.
How directly are the composers influenced by Roy’s work? And what is the structure of the show?
Some of the composers may be more inclined to get more inspired or get more information about the painting, or some others more from the improvisations, some from the poetry. It doesn’t matter. It was interesting to have that rich source of material. So we’re working right now, the composers have being working on the pieces. The project is not going to be like a concert, in which the format is one piece/applause, one piece/applause, etc. It’s going to be like a 70, 80 minutes flow of sound, music and pieces. But some of the pieces also have been composed in a way that they can be modular, so we don’t have the same thing happening every night. That’s also in the spirit of Roy, I think, leave things not too much in the box, but let them kind of breathe, you know, in time and space. Definitely we need a certain kind of structure and organization every night, but at least there will be the flexibility of, say, if you come the next night you may see or you may hear something slightly different. That’s what I think. So it’s not like a precooked kind of material. And we have a set designer working with us. We will use images and words, not necessarily to display Roy’s work but to use as raw material, available for re-creation, and not just, you know, in the museum form. I don’t think Roy would have been happy to have his stuff in boxes, available for research. Sellable objects are fine, but they’re dead, in a way. The ensemble will be performing. We’ll have some electronics involved in the set. We’ll have sound poetry, and poetry. Kedrick James is a poet that actually knew and met Roy, he’s going to be like a wild card in the mix, with words and presence, at this stage, so there will be some theatrical aspect too. Plus, in the lobby we want to prepare some sort of introduction—a space, again, not to display any specific work, but to create a kind of a colourful space, you know, the early painting, really some of them are really beautiful, and just beautiful shades of orange, blue, you know, very nice.
It sounds like a project he’d be pleased to take part in himself.
I hope so. But I’m not so worried. He’s a complex figure to really embrace all his work and all his ideas, so there will be always something missing, but it’s in the nature of things. I’m a newcomer to this country, I’ve been here for ten years, so when I arrived he was already dead, but that doesn’t really matter, the fact that I didn’t know very much about him, and that I know now that there are a huge number of people that are really nurturing the cult of this man in poetry, painting, is also significant for me. It means that, you know, he’s not still a very poplar figure. That is okay. But I think is a good thing to kind of re-expose his ideas through his presence, make him alive again. So I think that’s good.
When we won the Alcan prize I was surprised but I was happy at the same time because the project, as I say, is not just simply a new music event, it’s something that stems out of a different kind of a quest, a search, for something different, and the composers are really excited about it. Some of them didn’t know the work of Roy either. One of them actually found a huge amount of tapes of Roy reading, improvising music. So it was very interesting to find that material. And maybe he is actually going to use some of that material. We have been in touch with all the family—Fumiko, Kiyo, Mariko—and they were really gracious and nice, especially for the use of the material, so we can use all the images that are available, scan images and work with them, texts, sound. Michael de Courcy has a nice ten minutes video of Roy improvising with Rhoda (Rosenfeld) and Trudy (Rubenfeld), so we may use some of that. But it will be not a too overwhelming complicated set because it’s still a music project. The images, as I say, won’t necessarily explain his work, but will kind of come out of his material and become something new again.
So I would say actually it’s kind of a fresh project in the way that no one really know or knew about him very much, me included. But I’m excited about it, there were wonderful discussion with friends, people that knew him. We had a beautiful meeting a few weeks ago with Rhoda, Trudy, Maxine the poet, and Fumiko, and all the composers, and it was really great to hear all the people that actually worked with him to be so full of his energy, and so this energy is actually carrying on—and being nurtured—by these people. So that was a beautiful thing to see.
You’re not only new to Roy’s work, you’re relatively new to this country—what’s your background?
Mainly I’m trained in Europe. I am a composer, conductor and improviser, I do live electronics. I write pieces for new music ensembles, improvise. I moved to Canada in 1998, and then I started working here with Vancouver New Music. The position was available at the time, I applied, I got this position. I was really happy to be maintaining my good energy and doing some sessional teaching at UBC and VCC and, yeah, I’m pretty happy here. It’s a wonderful opportunity to work in this kind of an environment. Vancouver New Music is a 36-year-old organization, but in the last seven, eight years, we have a new management team that started with me, so we kind of reassessed the focus of the organization to kind of open up to a 360 degree perspective on new experimental music, sound. So this project, the fact that there are possibilities of intersection between disciplines and different kind of creative energies, is important for me—not just not be stuck with your own music, to branch out, to kind of link more what you’re doing with creative energy that is not necessarily are always connected, but you can find connections. My background is very much more academic, my background in Italy. You know, Italy is a very conservative country, in terms of music education. It is great, I don’t regret being trained there, but I think I like this space (Canada) because of the lack of strong or heavy historical backgrounds, you know, and baggage. Here, you know, maybe it is not great all the time, but at least you don’t have to be reverent all the time, and it helps me to look forward instead of always being worried about my background and traditions and past, which is not so great anyway. What’s so great about the Coliseum? You know, a bunch of people were killed every day. I don’t understand people who go to Rome to see the Coliseum. Horrible place. People romanticize about everything. So you know, Italy is a great place, but unfortunately has been destroyed by bad management, politics and economics. And Italians are, you know, not particularly good in keeping their own things together. Now everything is super over-produced. Everything in the world is over produced, even sound. That’s what I like of Roy Kiyooka, too, the kind of state in which you do something, and that’s fine, and then when the process is finished, you know, do something else. But it’s not about obsessively over-producing things.
He had too many interests for that, I think.
Yeah, it wasn’t really about the object of the painting or the music. It was about expressing and being that kind of energy that was beautiful, and it’s so important to create a community that is recognizing itself not in an object or in a discipline itself, but in a way of being. That’s for me the most important thing. As an artist myself, I have found this really restrictive. I mean, people ask me, what do you do? I’m a musician, yeah, yeah, I’m a musician because I like to work with sound, but I’m really interested in many different things. I don’t have time to do very much else, but I’m definitely interested in connecting with different kind of artistic expression and making that my everyday kind of art.
What I perceive is that there’s a sense of respect around his figure, but at the same time there’s a sense of, I don’t know, maybe he didn’t conform, and when people are not easily classifiable, like say, oh, he’s a painter, or he’s a poet, or he’s a musician, then people don’t know what to do with that. You know, in the institutionalized world, the one that seems to rule everything here, gallery, collectors, bla bla bla, you see the visual art community and the sound and music are all very different worlds and there’s no communication happening, not so much.
I think Roy saw himself as an artist, not as a visual artist or a painter or a sculptor, he just thought of his whole being as just . . . he didn’t want to be stuck in a box.
I figure that kind of idea, that synthetic kind of vision is very Japanese, too. My experience with Japan is mainly about sound. I knew Japanese musicians before, but when I went to Japan the first time it was really different. If you come from a European culture, you grow up with kind of an historicistic approach, when in Japan, the sound is perceived in the moment in which it’s done, and that’s it. It’s just that kind of ability to perceive a whole thing in the moment, as it is, and you don’t need to analyze it. It’s just there. For example, a friend of mine was walking with me in the countryside and there was, like, some sound coming from an instrument, and I was focusing on the instrument, saying, oh, listen to this beautiful music. He said oh, but listen to everything around you, the cricket sound, the wind . . . this kind of idea of wrapping up a perception into a whole, like it’s not just about that specific sound, everything contributes to the beauty of what we’re living in this moment. So that kind of idea I think is really close to what you just said about, you know, he was feeling of himself or perceiving himself as such, you know, complex at the same time as whole unit, and with many different links and antennas that can be linked to many different things, and that’s beautiful. Isn’t that the most important thing we should nurture in ourselves? the idea of being so rich and open so that we can communicate with many different things, and get the energy from, and produce energy out in many different ways, not just, oh, I’m working here. You know, the knowledge base, culture western society is mainly a cumulative quantity driven thing, but quantity doesn’t have to do with quality. It’s not about numbers. And that seems to be the way everything is running now.
What always impressed and surprised me about Roy was that while he often seemed to be in his own world, I’d read some of the things he’d write, or hear him give a talk and so much of it was just so bang on, just beautiful. He was also very well respected as a teacher.
Yeah, there are a couple of people that I know that met him at school, and they told me exactly the same. Unfortunately, there is still a very rigid structure and environment, a passive approach to delivering information in a very institutionalized way, and he was bringing a kind of fresh open mind, where the teaching itself becomes a process of instigating energy. I mean, the best teachers for me have been the ones that not necessarily give me lots of information, but just stimulate my imagination, my curiosity, and give me lots of, you know, enthusiasm and energy. I think when you do something like that you have to accept the risk of, you know, selection, self selection of people around you. On the other hand, you can’t please everyone all the time. And I think he was kind of uncompromising in that regard, and that’s something I really like, too.
I mean, he’s one of the few people that finally recognized that, you know, the object in itself is irrelevant at the end. I mean, how many things you want to accumulate on your desk? How many pieces? How many sculptures? Then they go to the gallery, someone else is taking advantage and selling them. The process of making beautiful things is relevant for me, because it’s something that is constructive. Doing beautiful things is actually making something—it’s a dynamic process, it’s not building an object. And sure, I mean, he did lots of objects, painting, writing, sculptures. But I was really interested to know that at the end he was mostly doing this kind of free improvisation, because that is actually the perfect medium, the perfect space to be in. The sound and music are in time, you can’t box them. I mean, you can, everything can be boxed, but the real thing, it’s in this kind of open flow, where everything is done and is gone. It’s very metaphorically linked to our own way of being. You can capture it, you can record it, but still, who cares? I don’t listen to recording of improvisation. I want to be in an improvisation. I want to be in a set, a live set, in which I’m playing. I want to just observe people playing, you know—play, play.