Stefano D’Alessio




Giudecca is a piece entirely arising from a field recording sampled in the Giudecca island of Venice. The recording captured church bells chiming from a close distance, from the fast and powerful tolls descending to the sparse and delicate and ending to almost silence where just the sound of the tense oscillating rope is hearable. The bells recording has been cut and digitally modified in variable manners, detaching it from its natural sound but without loosing its particular timbre.

Giudecca, the piece you present to Helicotrema is a field recording of the sound landscape of the island, edited digitally. Can you talk about how did you record this piece and the conditions under you registered?

I lived in Venice for four years and I go back there every summer, the ensemble of Venetian bells have always aroused the interest of my ear and some few times even irritated. When the chance gives me the opportunity and I am in the right place at the right time, I stop walking and I get enchanted by the ‘composition’. My brain reads it as an aleatoric piece, performed in real time. Each bell emits sound from a different location, the sound comes from different angles, different distances and different altitudes, many sounds bounce off uneven walls, multiplying themselves.
Each bell starts at a slightly different time, some even with a five minutes delay, their chiming generates complex choral polyrhythms, that my ear always tries to de-encrypt, most of the time failing because of the complexity. Their pitches are different and they generate a soundscape wanting to reach the “beautiful” harmonies that pleased the Western popular culture, but fails, betrayed by the imprecision of the human handcraft and the “decadence” that physical time, in an entropic reality, gives to all things.
The composition is based on a recording taken from a terrace in the Giudecca island. The bell tower is very close, in so far as also the sound of the bell rope becomes hearable, as its clutching generated by the effort the rope must perform to move the bell. The proximity also allows the bell sound to be fully perceived, getting that high frequencies usually absorbed by the air dividing the bell from the listener.
All sounds evolve from the original recording, being reworked or transformed through digital process, so to modify their characteristics, giving the composition a wider sound alphabet.
The incipit of the whole piece is the recording and its time structure, inside of which are present all moments of the venetian church bell-ringing. A beginning, where still most of the lagoon’s typical background noises are hearable. A crescendo where the bell sounds starts, one at a time, adding to each other and growing in intensity. A central peak, where all bells ring at maximum volume. A diminuendo, where the chimes fade unevenly, one at a time. A finale, the return of lagoon sounds, accompanied by the sound of the nearest bell rope, which, thanks to the friction, decreases more and more its oscillation, slowly reaching stasis.
By analysing the different recorded sounds, I created through digital tools, specifically programmed, an alphabet that would fulfil my compositional ‘needs’ and that would distance itself from the classic bell sound, changing most of the original sound characteristics, but taking care not to get completely unrelated to the original sonorities.
With this alphabet I composed a series of moments with different dynamics, keeping faith with the events and the intensities of the original recording.

How did you start working with sound and what are your references or inspirations?

I am a self-taught musician and composer, I started playing drums and the electric guitar at twelve years old and a few years later, when I “found” a computer at home, I immediately started compose on it. I played drums with different bands (Midian, Fronecaust, Criminal Café) in my hometown (Trieste), then, after moving to Venice, I started composing electronic experimental music, using my laptop. In 2009 I started my journey into experimental sound design, using modular environments (Max, Reaktor) and programming.
I do not have a list of music genres that I prefer but I’m pretty selective and i get easily bored. I listen to any anything, as long as the music has some unique aspects and innovative twists. Having said that, I admit that a redundant record to which I am often referring is “De Natura Sonorum” by Bernard Parmegiani, although in this period I’m listening to very different music, such as the experimental metal of Fantômas and the electronic music of the recent Gazelle Twin.

Can you talk about the relationship between your videos and these works sound?

I studied art and i always made music. Since 2009, after meeting Klaus Obermaier and his work, I realised that  there was no reason to keep separated those two activities. I treat anything like a composition, could be audio, video, physical performance. Everything always takes place in time and / or in space, everything can be composed and structured, containing several “moments”, tense and relaxed, full and empty, everything can go through dynamics variations and intensity changes.
I do not believe in a dogmatic and sacral formality, as it must be considered that anything can be differently perceived, depending on the established relations within the hosting context (social, historical, etc …), but I think that the formal manifestation of an artefact and its quality, defines the way it is perceived through human senses. Intellectual contents and/or abstract concepts are carried within the formal structure but is the formality that relates to time, space and consequently with sensations, being the most influential factor on the fruition of the whole piece.