Monday, October 02, 2006

Radio shows in MP3

"Who Do You Think You Are?"

Rare and cult songs from 70s, 80s and beyond, prog and psych rock, world, ethnic, punk, new wave, avantgarde, ambient, electro, funk, jazz, reggae. Every week a selection of music connected by genre, historical period and/or place of origin, and a non-musical theme that blends in with the music. Anything ranging from the end of creativity in the postmodern era to the connections between art and politics. Turn on, tune in, drop out.

Listen to the following radio shows in MP3:

With John Sinclair From All Tomorrow's Parties 2006 - Minehead, UK
Another show with John Sinclair, live from the Sonic Youth chalet at All Tomorrow's Parties 2006, curated by Thurston Moore. Recorded in Minehead (UK), 10/12/2006.

Special Guest 3DM - Cambridge-based electronic musician
An hour of music and talk with Marc Abraham aka 3DM (Deliberately Different Dance Music), Cambridge-based electronic musician, lyricist and sambista.

Freewheelin' with John Giorno and John Sinclair
An hour of mad talk, wild recited poetry and musical accompaniment by Mark Ritsema. Recorded in Pitigliano (Italy), 10/09/2006.

The Israel-Lebanon Conflict
Anti-war ballads, mediterranean and Middle Eastern sounds, noises and voices from the 5th August London demonstration.

Reggae Roots and Dancehall
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What are the constituent elements of the reggae rastafari utopia?
THEME: Reggae, rastafarianism and cosmpolitan utopia

Canterbury Prog Rock
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Why is music from 30 years ago still listened today as a brand new product?
THEME: Old musical products, new reception and the recent classic prog revival

South African Music - The Post-Apartheid
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Black or white?
THEME: Music, race and politics in the new South Africa

South African Music - The Apartheid Era
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Black or white?
THEME: South African music: authenticity, African roots and cosmpolitan influences

New York Punk Rock - The First Wave
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What’s the meaning of “decadence”?
THEME: The New York scene, late 70s and decadence

70s Italian Prog Rock
QUESTION OF THE DAY: How do utopian visions impact upon the production of music and art?
THEME: Art and utopia

Basque Music
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Can we meaningfully separate our appreciation of art from the socio-political context within which it is created?
THEME: Basque music, art and politics

Contemporary Avantgarde Music
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Is the world of arts and creativity coming to an end?
THEME: Postmodernism in the arts and beyond

Southern Italian Folk Revival and Ethnica
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do we come from where we really come from?
THEME: Ethnic music, folk revival, tradition and the question of authenticity

British Punk - The First Wave
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Have we all sold out?
THEME: Situationism, punk and personal freedom

Captain Beefheart
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Is Madonna a true artist?
THEME: Commercial success, experimentation, taste and the criteria for true art

60s West Coast Psychedelic Rock
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What were Cambridge students doing in the 70s?
THEME: Hippies, revolution and Cambridge University

Nick Cave
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Why is it so difficult to understand and to be understood by others?
THEME: Personal relationships

More shows coming soon! Keep checking out this space.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Radio Show on the Israel-Lebanon conflict

The following is an adapted version of the script for the radio show "Who Do You Think You Are?" dedicated to the Israel-Lebanon conflict. The playlist is also included.

Click here to listen to this show in mp3 format.

A special thanks goes to Irene Peano, Keston Sutherland and Alexandra Tsella: without their voices and informed opinions, today’s radio show would have not been possible.

Keston is a politically engaged poet and a lecturer in English at Sussex University, Check out his political blog Conspiracy Practice, a peculiar take on news and current affairs. Keston is also the editor of Barque Press, a publishing house specialised in poetry.


This show is dedicated to the Israel-Lebanon conflict. You will listen to an eclectic collection of songs, blending classic Anglo-European protest songs with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern sonorities, and to excerpts from the demonstration against the war held in London Saturday 5th August, voices, noises, slogans and spontaneous music. This is not meant to be a statement in support of one side or the other, but rather an acknowledgement of the lacerating polyphony of war and of discussions about war.


Paul Brady - The Island
Written and sung by the popular Northern Irish singer songwriter, this song contains reminiscences of to the previous conflict in Lebanon in the early 1980s.

Phil Ochs - The Men Behind the Guns
An anti-war ballad by the king of American protest singers.

Boris Vian - Le Déserteur
One of the most famous antimilitarist songs, the original manuscript is from 1954. A fictional letter to the French president by a deserter. Click here to read a translated version of the lyrics.

David Broza & Wisam Murad - In My Heart
The most popular Israeli singer songwriter performs together with the founder of Palestinian ensemble Sabreen. More about the joint performance on Voice of Palestine radio and Israeli Army Radio here.

Marcel Khalife - Strike
This is an instrumental piece by a great Lebanese instrumental composer and singer songwriter. Click here to download some of his songs from the official website.

Ani DiFranco - Self Evident
A long poem written and performed with 9/11 and Bush's "war on terror" in mind. «Well it's difficult to be part of the problem... this song is about the sorrow and the rage to have a goverment that export wrongness» (Ani's introduction to the song in a concert).

Sabreen - In the Silence of the Night
Palestinian ensemble blending contemporary music with traditional arabic rhythms. Their work contains strong references to the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Billy Bragg - Like Soldiers Do
At the intersection between folk and punk, an inspired song about war by singer of the British working classes.

Marcel Khalife - I Am Arab Ahmad
More than a song, a poem in arabic, accompanied by the sounds of war.

Eugenio Bennato - Che il Mediterraneo Sia
By mixing tarantella with arabic rhythms, the father of the Southern Italian folk revival delivers this celebration of the cultures of the Mediterranen Sea.

Joan Baez - Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
A classic anti-war ballad sung by the flowers' child singer songwriter symbol of the protests agains the war in Vietnam.


It was extremely difficult to avoid the temptation of writing an end for this radio show. At times, I would get absolutely convinced of the need of providing some authoring to the incoherent blend of voices, noises, music, cultures, contradictions, and yet I could not manage to write anything resembling a 'final statement'.

I could not even manage to render in words my state of confusion, I failed to describe what goes on when I am overwhelmed by ideas and emotions, and I can only sit back and watch my mind splitting into pieces, obsessively thinking about who’s got it right and who’s got it wrong and what’s the point anyway, why do I care and where will it go from here, am I just baking in the sun of London or doing some hard-core militant action, what are we supposed to do when we watch the slaughter of civilians and the horrors of war, am I compelled to take a stand and what should this stand be, should I just forget about it and get back to work or …

And yet, I thought, it would be disrespectful to put my own psycho-intellectual struggle to grasp this reality before the tragedy of war itself.

This radio show is dedicated to the victims of war, in Lebanon, Israel and elsewhere.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Radio Show on Basque Music: can we separate art from politics?

The following is an adapted version of script for the radio show "Who Do You Think You Are?" dedicated to Basque music. It includes a playlist and it is followed by some comments on the show itself.

Click here to listen to this show in MP3 format.

Many thanks to my Basque friends, without whom I could have not produced this show. They know who they are. Translation from the Basque in [].

An excellent source of information about Basque music can be found at Buber's Basque Page.

THEME: Basque music, art and politics

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Can we meaningfully separate our appreciation of art from the socio-political context within which it is created?

In simpler words, when we consider Basque music, can we really make an artistic judgement that is completely independent from the political values that have stimulated the production of this music? Do we listen to Basque radical rock ‘neutrally’? Are we moved at all by the evocations of struggle, war, violence, oppression? More generally, this question is also about the conditions of artistic production: is an artistic product, once completed, detached from the environs in which it was created?


The shadow of ETA seems to haunt pretty much any rational discussion about what’s goes on in the Basque countries. The arguments of the so-called Basque radicals get often discarded on the basis of their alleged support to ETA. Once you start delving a bit deeper into Basque reality, walking around the streets, talking to people over there, these black-and-white categories stop making sense. I haven’t met any ‘terrorist’ in the Basque, and yet, many of the people I came across had some family relatives or friends in prison, condemned for crimes related to terrorism. As soon as I started to ask for their stories, for the reasons why they were condemned, I discovered that for an act of vandalism (i.e. putting a few trash bins on fire), if you are Basque you could end up in prison for a few years. More often than not your ‘crime’ will be related to ETA, even though most likely you have no connections to the organisation and you never had thought to make any.

I do not intend here to make a call for the Basque cause or any other radical statement as such; as a matter of fact, as much as I personally support the wish of Basque people to have their own state, I can’t really do much. Rather, what I would like to point at is that, as a Basque in the Basque countries, it is not so difficult, given the special laws into place and the coercion of the police forces, to finish into the traps the so-called ‘machine of justice’. Simply showing up at demonstrations gives you high chances of passing the night in some police stations, in the hands of people who are not really known for their nice manners. If you do end in prison, the likelihood that you will be exposed to some acts of psychological and/or physical torture from the officers is rather high. Only few weeks ago (March 2006), two political prisoners were reported dead one day after the other; one apparently died of heart attack and the other killed himself. The ‘unfortunate’ coincidence for the Spanish authorities is that only 24 hours passed between the first and the second death.

Anyway, I did promise to myself not to end up in political denunciations, but I really struggle to understand how I could ever detour my personal commentary on Basque music from facts which are so compelling. Just another example of how, once political persecution and social injustice becomes part of the everyday reality of a people, it is pointless to try to separate the artistic from the political. These harsh facts impact on the subjectivities of many Basque people. They are part of their everyday life. The artists in this music selection live in this context. For them, politics is personal. In such a situation, their desire for expression cannot transcend this political dimension. What bands like Hertzainak or Negu Gorriak represent is much more than simply a musical movement: their songs sing the disappointments, the anger, the political aspirations and the wish for emancipation of entire generations of Basque youth, starting from the 1980s up to the present.


From the bits and pieces I have put together for this show, how would I answer the initial question? When I listen to this music, I can’t really isolate a purely aesthetic appreciation for the music from my own emotions, from my personal experiences in the Basque and my connection to the place. I listen to this music and I remember my two trips there. I remember the tanks on the streets of Bilbao, when Batasuna was banned. I remember the magic atmosphere of the Fiestas, so many young people in the streets, the music, the stalls. I recall my admiration for the people I have met there, for their incredible taste in matters of arts, architecture, food, pastimes.

One step further, the emotions of this music awake my social consciousness, some kind of romanticism about the suffering of people in many other parts of the world; I remember Swaziland somehow; I think of Southern Italy and the social problems there. The politics I am talking about here, however, is not an academic subject; it’s not an abstract discourse about power and political structures. It is something embedded in my personal experience of reality. It has to do with the fundamental human capacity for empathy.

As much as I tend to put on the mask of the skeptic when in the company of the so-called ‘radicals’, I believe, like many of my Basque friends, that the personal is political. I believe that one can’t find happiness when one is surrounded by other people’s sufferings. This is what this music reminds me of. It reminds of the existence of other people outside the four walls of my small room; it reminds me of reality.

MUSIC:Basque music - Hertzainak, Kortatu / Negu Gorriak, The Dirties, Oreka TX


While Hertzainak were extremely popular in the Basque, some say that their choice of singing in Basque has in fact limited the possibilities of reaching to a wider audience. Nevertheless, they did have a following in other countries, like Cuba and Germany. Hertzainak, which means ‘policemen’ in Basque, formed in the early eighties and were strongly inspired by the Police, the pop-rock band led by Sting. As time passed, they developed their own unique style, fusing pop-rock with soft touched sonorities borrowed from a number of different traditions. When the band dissolved in the mid-nineties, Gari, the lead singer, started a solo career.


Guantanamera – 4’44” (from the album ‘Mundu Berria Daramagu Bihotzean’ [We Have a New World in Our Hearts], 1991)

The song is a re-elaboration of the original Cuban song “Guantanamera”. The lyrics contain references to the abuses carried out by the U.S. government in the naval base of Guantanamo Bay. As a matter of fact, the Basque political aspirations for self-determination are not put forward in a vacuum; rather, the Basque have established strong ties with Latin America (which is still the preferred destination for ETA exiles) and insert their own claims within the wider discourse of international solidarity and of global struggle against imperialism. It is this wider breadth of Basque political claims that made it possible for the Basque to have a huge number of sympathisers in many parts of the world.

Aitormena [Confession] – 4’42” (from the album ‘Aitormena’, 1989)

This is the song that best represents the band’s musical evolution towards a brand of pop rock which is never superficial or forged as a shortcut for commercial success.

Larru Beltzak [Black Skin] – 4’44”


Kortatu was formed in the summer 1984. It was strongly inspired by the Clash and the spread of the punk wave throughout Europe. Just like their cousins Clash, Kortatu mixed ska, punk, classic rock, reggae and dub influences rather successfully.

What also reminds me of the Clash is the militant content of the lyrics. Fermin Muguruza, the lead singer and founder of Kortatu (later renamed Negu Gorriak), now pursuing a solo career, has often been criticised for being an apologist of ETA. The lyrics he wrote and sang for Kortatu and Negu Gorriak are often pointed at as proof of this. He denies that and has often called for a peaceful resolution of the never-declared war of the Spanish state against the Basque radicals.

Kortatu was renamed Negu Gorriak in 1989. With the same line-up, the band steadily moved towards hip-hop, hardcore and crossover. If Kortatu were close to the Clash, Negu Gorriak music reminisces Public Enemy. This is obviously an oversimplification, as Negu Gorriak production moves easily from rock to hip-hop and reggae, back to ska. Rather than a break with the past, Negu Gorriak is simply one of the possible evolutions of the Kortatu experimentations. Negu Gorriak dissolved in 1996. After this, the leader of the band Fermin Muguruza started a solo career; his works include a collaboration with Manu Chao.


Jaungoikoa Eta Lege Zarra [God and the Old Testament] – 3’32” (Kortatu, ‘The Frontline Compilation’, 1988)

Bertso-Hop – 3’38” (Negu Gorriak, ‘Negu Gorriak’, 1990)

That sort of recited chanting you hear in the song is taken from the tradition of Bertsolaritza. Originally, this was a kind of verbal fight between two contestants that took place in the streets; the contestants had to speak following complex poetical meters. Today, these contests happen in the form of a public performance, often comprising more than two people; the contestants are given a theme upon which they have to improvise a rhymed speech. It reminds me a bit of the MC battles and the whole phenomenon of freestyle. Just like in the MC battles, it is rather self-evident who wins the contest and the winner is usually almost anonymously acknowledged by the public and by the contestants themselves. In Francoist times, bertsolaritza became charged with strong political overtones, even though the references to current affairs was always in the form of allusions, to avoid censorship. Since then, politics has become a rather recurrent element of bertsolaritza contests. However, these duels are never really meant to be explicitly political; rather, the content of the lyrics is directed towards everyday life. Politics features in it only insofar as it is part of the everyday experiences of the Basque people.

Sarri, Sarri – 4’07” (Kortatu, ‘The Frontline Compilation’, 1988)

This song is dedicated to the mythical (and successful) escape from prison of Joseba Sarrionandia, Basque poet and writer involved with ETA, on 7th July 1985. 7th July is a national holiday, San Fermin, when the famous bull race in Pamplona takes place. Since then, for many Basque people the holiday has been connected to the escape of the famous writer Sarrionandia.

Denok Gara Malcolm X [We Are All Malcolm X] - 1’40” (Negu Gorriak, ‘Borreroak Baditu Milaka Aurpegi’ [Politicians Have Multiple Faces], 1993)

Hipokrisiari Stop! [Stop to Hypocrisy] – 2’17” (Negu Gorriak, ‘Borreroak Baditu Milaka Aurpegi’ [Politicians Have Multiple Faces], 1993)

A good example of the evolution of the early Kortatu ska/punk into the later Negu Gorriak hardcore/crossover.

Desmond Tutu - 2’46” (Kortatu, ‘The Frontline Compilation’, 1988)


Kortatu on the Wikipedia

Negu Gorriak on the Wikipedia

Fermin Muguruza’s official website; contains lyrics of Negu Gorriak and Kortatu songs translated in English


Album: ‘Borroka ‘n Rolla’ [Fight ‘n Roll] (2002)

They make an excellent blend of classic rock and soft metal; the electric guitars solos and the screamed vocals remind of the golden 70s, names like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin come to my mind. “The Dirties” are the new frontier of Basque revolution rock; they are from Durango, a small pretty Basque town near Bilbo.

They sing both in Basque and English; some say they will fill the vacuum left by Negu Gorriak and Hertzainak. In the wake of globalisation, mass cultures, and political scepticism, there are still lots of Basque youth who are as radical as the generations from the 70s and the 80s; they must be craving for new music too.


Rock N Roll (You Know I Need This Sound) – 3’11”

Ez Zara Ezer [You Are Nothing] – 2’42”


Official website


Album: ‘Quercus Endorphina’ (2001)

The misty sound of the txalaparta is the most distinctive feature of this Basque ensemble, Oreka Txalaparta (Oreka means balance). The txalaparta has been used as a communication device in Basque villages for millennia. During the Roman invasion, it was used to make rallying defensive calls. In the 1950s, it was almost extinct. It is in this period that it was revived by folklorists, who transformed it into a musical instrument. It consists of several thick planks of different woods, which are struck gently with two pairs of sticks by two performers who play in synchronicity.

Fusing traditional Basque sounds with world music and new age tunes, Oreka Txalaparta’s music is incredibly catchy and relaxing; Oreka’s compositions do not have a direction, a finite musical structure, with a beginning and end; they are rather focused on the experience of listening itself. Like in much traditional music across the world, Oreka’s tunes have a tendency towards transcendence and altered states of consciousness.


Keinuka Ilargiari [Praising the Moon] – 3’25”

Txalaparta Dantza [Txalaparta Dance] – 2’03”


Info about the Txalaparta

Review of a concert in Glasgow by Oreka TX


This time it was a real struggle to get to the end of the show. Whenever I would try to concentrate for a few seconds to prepare the links, there would be something to disrupt my attempts. The mouse froze a few minutes after the start and made it very difficult for me to manage the beds. I had to get in and out of the Outlook with the keyboard commands to check the email messages that were sent during the show. Half way through the show I had to leave the desk to open the door for the next show guests who arrived 25 minutes earlier than their scheduled slot. I had then to go back to open the door for the show presenter towards the end of the show. Besides these small incidents, when I listened to the show again I could hear the weariness. I needed a break from the Cambridge work routine and was about to leave for Italy the day after. Overall, not a bad show, but not the best either.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Radio Show on Contemporary Avantgarde music: is the world of arts and creativity coming to an end?

“I have a kind of cultural map in my head, where I find similarities between different cultures. For example, domestic Japanese pop music sounds like Arabic music to me - the vocal intonation and vibrato, and in my mind Bali is next to New York. Maybe everyone has these geographies in their heads; this is the way I've been working.”
Ryuichi Sakamoto

“Tutte le machine al potere, gli uomini a pane ed acqua”
Franco Battiato

The following is an adapted version of script for the radio show "Who Do You Think You Are?" dedicated to contemporary avantgarde music. It includes a playlist and it is followed by some comments on the show itself.

Click here to listen to this show in MP3 format.

THEME: Post-modernism in music and beyond

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Is the world of arts and creativity coming to an end?

Has everything already being done? Is there hope that something radically new in music and in other artistic fields will come up, something as revolutionary as let’s say the rock experiments of the 60s and 70s? Does post-modernity mean that originality will never be achieved again? It’s a time of crisis. Deep crisis. Whether as social scientists or writers or musicians, we have lost our reference points, we don’t know why we are doing what we are doing anymore, we lack a sense of direction, a sense of purpose that could channel our creative energies.

This overwhelming sense of nothingness, of the ‘already done’ is growing to a level that does not seem to leave many options open: we either get stuck forever into this broken disc feeling of the ‘already heard and actually, it was better in the 70s’ (i.e. just keep on watching MTV crap) or we move towards something new, a new beginning. But maybe this is just an optimistic take. Maybe what is happening will keep on happening. Maybe something new will eventually grow from this mess, but only at the expenses of man and sociality, of life itself.

I look at Sakamoto, Eno, Battiato and many other contemporary musicians, writers, performers, intellectuals and what I see is implosion: atomised, lonely individuals locking themselves in their golden prisons to create, at the expenses of their own humanity.

This is how I see myself and my contemporaries at times: I pass my days in front of computer screens, writing, listening to music, browsing the internet, getting millions of information in one day, something that was never possible even just 20 years ago, and as the amount of information gets bigger and bigger, the degree of impersonality grows exponentially. What was once information about something, becomes now information for the sake of information, I have lost the external referent, I have flushed human reality down the toilet.

It is hard to maintain a sense of agency. I sit back and observe my own mind and consciousness grow beyond my control and my will. When I stop asking myself “why?”, I start wondering “who am I?”, “who is doing all this?”, “what is reality?”. This deep exploration into cosmology, however, is not driven by a sense of interconnectedness, a sense of sharing some important features with other beings, as it might have once been. It is caused by the very opposite condition: loneliness, estrangement, alienation, apathy, loss of self-and-other dimension. If the self is nothing but a web of connections, then these connections do not need to be ‘human beings’ anymore. In my own intricate post-modern kosmos, humans are replaced by machines, objects, abstract concepts, artificial images, internet pages, movies, books and CDs.


The music I have selected does not hide strong overtones of anguish for a world that seems to be approaching its end: in this particular instance, the end of music. Getting a taste of what these musical gurus are up to in the late 90s through the beginning of the millennium gives you an idea of the state of the art. Some critics would be ready to label this as lack of inspiration. I think there is a more complex story to be told. The fragmentation, the loss of ambition, the anaesthetic dreamy synth sound textures alternated with the paranoid distorted cacophonies, are the most sincere expression of what all that these artists are feeling at this time in history, and the music can only reflect this condition.

Post-modernity is then exemplified by the act of waiting. I look back, see how great all that was, I feel I have missed something, something might have changed irreparably within and outside myself. But I have not lost hope, not yet, maybe; and even if I did, it is only too rational to think that chaos evolves and as I sunk into chaos, I should be able to work my way up through it.

I can’t believe people will continue to accept this limbo of ideas, emotions and meanings. The emptiness that invades newspapers, tv broadcasts, academic publications, fiction books, concert halls, this lack of content, cannot be going on for very long. On the other hand, the emotional and intellectual desert I have discovered where I had least expected it does not make me hope for the best. But it could be that for some perverse effect taking place on the macro-structural level, something that only the so-called ‘post-modern theorists’ seem to understand, it is from the peripheries that new stuff will come up. Digging into less prestigious university communities, ghetto movements and third world city alleys, will produce better results in this search for art, for new art and new ideas. Or, maybe, just more despair. In either case, it is still worth leaving that laptop screen by itself sometime, forget about emails, BBC news and Wikipedia for a while, and go check out there, in the real world, what’s left of reality.

MUSIC: Contemporary Avantgarde Music – David Sylvian, David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Brian Eno, Franco Battiato


Album: “Dead Bees on a Cake” (1999)

“Dead Bees on a Cake” is a pleasant exploration of different musical genres, from the 80s Sylvian-style dark ballads, to light jazz, new age and world music. Nothing of the calibre of his vocal landmark “Secrets of the Beehive”, but surely gives us an idea of contemporary musical evolutions. David Sylvian’s voice remains a rather distinctive mark in the post-modern hyperreality: it evokes those endless and ever mutating landscapes of city life; also it renders well that feeling of suspension and resignation to the impenetrable complexity of the outside world.


Pollen Path – 3’25”

The post-punk reminiscences and the electro-percussions tones seem to anticipate the latest Nick Cave experimentation by a few years. David Sylvian lacks however the coherence and persistence of Nick Cave. This is just one of the examples of the uncultivated eclecticism of David Sylvian.

The Shining of Things – 3’10”

A classic ‘Sylvian-style’ ballad, reminiscent of the tracks in “Secrets of the Beehive” (1987). Beautiful sound arrangements by the friend Ryuichi Sakamoto.


David Sylvian from

David Sylvian on the Wikipedia


Album: “Earthlings” (1997)

The album was recorded right after the tour with Nine Inch Nails and the electro influences are evident. David Bowie, like a child never tired of new adventures, throws himself carelessly into the 90s mass phenomenon, rave music. Drum&bass, techno, jungle, mixed together with electric guitars, contemporary rock riffs, and a touch of the old Bowie-style new wave. I must say a rather successful mix and sure one that is appealing to the millions of people who would have never cared to check out “Space Oddity” (1969) or “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” (1972).

A true chameleon, David Bowie’s avantgarde consists in nothing but masking himself under the fashion of the moment. Among the musicians in this selection, he is the one less troubled by the commoditisation of music; sometimes I think of David Bowie as the arty mirror of another ‘chameleon’ phenomenon, that of commercial change-your-clothes-as-the-money-flows Madonna. His ability to shift from one mask to another, from one character to the next, makes Bowie a post-modern artist: I wouldn’t be surprised if we will see him one day playing Bach or Beethoven with a huge motherflipping grand piano. Anything is possible, anything goes, life goes on, and David Bowie will keep on top of things, his latest video always there on MTV.


Little Wonder – 6’02”

Drum&bass, hints of electric rock, minimalist piano notes and dreamy vocals successfully blend together into a rather innovative electro-Bowie.

Telling Lies – 4’49”

The vocals here more markedly reminisce the 70s Bowie style. However, the similarities are counteracted by the radical move towards electric rock in the refrains. The minimalist techno background makes this a rather ‘soft’ track. Oblivion and suspension are the dominant feelings: this is Bowie’s ‘full immersion’ into the 90s music culture.


David Bowie on the Wikipedia

Interesting essay on the occult symbolism in David Bowie’s work; even if you are not so interested by the theme of the occult in itself, it is a very good analysis about David Bowie’s own philosophy and the way this is transposed in the music.


Album: “Chasm” (2004)

‘Chasm’ has been criticised by some as a rather incoherent album; critics have noted how it explores too many different themes without really delving in depth on any. I argue that this is exactly the point that Sakamoto is trying to make. Japanese composer Sakamoto is evidently abandoning any pretence to completeness. A broken self is what Sakamoto is trying to render here. And yet, it is not simply ‘chaos’: something more troubling is taking place, a continuous explosion and clash of sounds and experiences, the failure of producing coherence, resignation to schizophrenia and fragmentation. Sakamoto has put the basis for the future of music. Or for the end of it.


World Citizen – 6’03”

The vocals are performed by David Sylvian. The song is not just the nth softly spoken dark Sylvian-style ballad. The instrumental accompaniment is made of fragmented electronic tunes, with numerous breaks and reverbs as to capture and represent the chaotic nature of reality. It is as if in the background we hear the infinite possibilities that any piece of music offers to its composer. This is a truly post-modern song: “World Citizen” is not a thoughtless superficial hymn to globalisation, but rather the acknowledgement of an existential condition where concepts such as tradition, roots, locality have all lost meaning.


Biography, chronology, discography, filmography, links

Check out Chain Music, Sakamoto’s original musical project on the theme of the Iraq War.


Album: “Another Day on Earth” (2005)

After 20 years of silence (or better, of entirely instrumental ambient productions), Brian Eno is back with a vocal album. And yet, what the tracks in “Another Day on Earth” really mark is the break down of the classic dichotomy ambient Eno vs vocal Eno. “Another Day on Earth” is a journey through reminiscences of a past now gone that will never be recovered. As the vocals become gradually more functional to and absorbed by the synth sounds, the listener sinks into a deep black hole without end, slowly mutating his initial feeling of nostalgia into despair.


And Then So Clear – 5’49”

Brian eno’s voice is pitched an octave higher than the original. This produces an effect in between tragedy and grotesque.

This – 3’33”

In the song ‘This’, the fusion between ambient and pop vocals is achieved with brilliance and grace. It is a rather sad song. There is something in the voice that recalls the old Eno; this jump into the past is further reinforced by the dreamy synth sounds and the basic lyrical structure.


A website dedicated to the life and works of Brian Eno; check out the section ‘Contacting Eno’ for some interesting thoughts about audiences and music production from the master himself.

Brian Eno on the Wikipedia


Album: “Dieci Stratagemmi” (2004)

“Ten Stratagems” is the most apocalyptic album in this music selection. The loss of self, the existentialist incapacity of making sense of one’s own world, are complemented by political paranoias about dystopic world orders and global warfare. Battiato releases his own fears and frustrations by pushing the musical experimentation in to the extreme. He successfully manages to put together the classic Italian song tradition with electronica, contemporary classic music, traditional rock structures and world music. In this respect, he is the Italian avantgarde artist par excellence. The feeling of global ‘musical’ convergence is very strong, the feeling that he too could have been sitting anywhere writing these songs. And this is the reason why we can pass from Brian Eno, to Battiato, to David Sylvian without much cacophony or a sense of disconnect.


I’m That – 3’33”

Entirely in English, this song is a statement about Battiato’s reflections on the role and the nature of art. The basic message is well summarised by the following lyrics: “I’m neither Muslim nor Hindu nor Christian nor Buddhist, I am neither for the hammer neither for the sickle and even less for the tricolour flame, because I am a musician”.

Ermeneutica – 3’34”

In “Hermeneutics”, the essence of the late Battiato is distilled. On the one hand we have the philosophy, the spiritual search for order, a man, an artist who desperately seeks to understand a world turned schizoid. Political commentary (surrealist lyrics that refer to a president whose wish is to take over the world and ‘invent’ democracy everywhere) alternates itself with the existentialist search for truth and peace of mind (“and what is kosmos? What is the meaning of the word? History is bunk” sings Battiato in his own peculiar English). The fragmentation and the difficulty of making sense is reflected in a form that becomes ever more experimental.


Franco Battiato on the Wikipedia (in English)

Franco Battiato’s official website


In this radio show I have managed to talk about some of my most pressing concerns. The music fitted perfectly with the theme, and this contributed to the overall positive effect.

However, I have experienced in a very direct way what it means to go on air live and with a strict timetable. Towards the end, I have miscalculated how much time I had left and I got confused while reading the last link. Overall, it sounded fine when I re-listened to it, but I had to jump a few sentences which were rather important for the general message I wanted to convey. Considering that my final link is always the most important (it summarises the whole journey), I should really be careful with times in the next shows.

I have had some feedback from Florian. He did like the show and the music. However, he did notice that I could read more ‘freely’, with more intonation. I think that’s going to come with time and practice; also, given the limited time I can dedicate to the show weekly, it does take lots of effort to write the script and I cannot take too much care of the reciting bit. I am thinking about just rehearsing the script a few hours before I go on air from next time. I don’t know if I will always manage to do that. Many times, the hours before the show I am still in the process of writing the script.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Radio Show on Southern Italian Folk: do we come from where we really come from?

Here follows an adaptation of the script of my radio show, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, dedicated to Southern Italian Folk. Pieces of the script are complemented with playlists and links. At the end, some comments on the show itself, how it went, etc.

Click here to listen to this show in MP3 format.


Bands and musicians from the Apulia region, Southern Italy: Eugenio Bennato, Cantori di Carpino, Matteo Salvatore, Officina Zoe', Pizzica Salentina.


Do we come from where we really come from?

I know that the question sounds just like an empty game of words, but it is not. Do we really belong to the places we have been born? Is there something from our place of origin that is unequivocally and irremediably impress upon us? Is there something called ‘culture’ that leaves its print on people, a mark that can never be deleted or reneged?


Eugenio Bennato is originally from Naples and he is one of the driving forces behind the folk revival wave that is spreading throughout Italy, especially the South, in the last years. His artistic merits are beyond doubt, his songs being the result of a fusion of different genres, that of the Italian song, the influences of the rich Naples tradition, justaxposed on the ethnic beats borrowed from the ‘traditional’ music of Southern Italy, tarantelle, pizziche, all blended into arrangements that breath air from beyond Italy to touch the shores of North Africa and the Arab world.

In the attempt to produce a total music experience where interpretation and source material enter into a real dialogue with each other, Eugenio Bennato’s musical career has gone hand in hand with his work of rediscovery of the remnants of musical traditions which are centuries old. It is only thanks to his work and that of other enlightened musicians and intellectual that we can still enjoy this music. If we look at today’s music selection, he played a crucial role in the rediscovery of Pizzica from Salento (i.e. Officina Zoe’) and in the Gargano’s Tarantella (i.e. Cantori di Carpino). He has successfully launched a number of tournees over the last few years under the brand “Taranta Power”. After Matteo Salvatore’s death, Eugenio Bennato is now touring around Italy with the two guitarists who were supporting Salvatore in his latest performances. The ensemble performs a selection of Salvatore’s songs.


Taranta Power – 3’06”

Carpino, Italia – 3’45”

L’Anima Persa – 3’35”


All songs in the playlist are from the album “Taranta Power”, released in 1999 by DVF; this album is a good example of how Eugenio alternates moments of personal creations (he composes his own songs) and of re-interpretation of ‘traditional’ folk songs.

Among his latest works, you should definitely check out “Lezioni di Tarantella” (DVF, 2000), an example of his work as ethnomusicologist: it’s a collection of traditional tarantella songs, mostly from Apulia (including pizzica and Gargano’s tarantella); all the songs are recorded from the eminent bands and singers that dedicated their musical careers to this repertoire. Two songs played in the show (“Montanara di Andrea Sacco”, see playlist for Cantori di Carpino section; “Lu Rusciu De Lu Mare”, see playlist for Pizzica and Officina Zoe’ section) were from this collection.


Short info on the cd “Taranta Power” in English; you can also listen to a sample and buy the cd from the same webpage.

A biography of Eugenio Bennato and more info on the Taranta Power project (in Italian).

Two of his songs (among which Taranta Power; see playlist) were played on 1st October 2005 on Frank Hennessy’s Celtic Heartbeat radio show, BBC Radio 3.


The song “Carpino, Italia” by Eugenio Bennato is the musicated story of one of the miracles of the Apulian folk revival. In this small village in the interior of the Gargano promontory named Carpino, a group of over-70s continued to execute and reinterpret with voices and traditional instruments (the most important of which the chitarra battente, ‘stuck’ guitar, used since the 16th century in many parts of Italy) music that has been handed down generation after generation for centuries. Rediscovered by Bennato and other protagonists of the folk revival, the Cantori di Carpino (Andrea Sacco [in the photo], Antonio Piccininno and Antonio Maccarone) have since been touring in various parts of Italy. ‘Cantori’ is the plural of ‘cantore’, which means ‘traditional singer’ in Italian. Most surprisingly, their public is not constituted by middle-aged intellectuals romanticising about a lost age, but young people who launch themselves in crazy dancing, a modern yet instinctive re-elaboration of the tarantella beats.

Carpino itself is home to an international folk festival that takes place in the first week august each year. I have been there last year, if you are around in Southern Italy in that period of the year, do go check it out, highly recommendable.

I have listened to the Cantori live and it is a rather moving experience. The intensity the voices reach, it really gets at your guts, it is an overwhelming feeling, it’s something comparable to (and yet very different from) those opera pieces when you can’t help it but cry while you are listening.

I wonder for how long still we will be able to enjoy these live performances. Andrea Sacco, the oldest of the Cantori, has died on Friday 17th March 2006. Andrea was probably the most skilled among the surviving Cantori and his “Montanara” has become famous in the last decades, featuring even in the soundtrack of a movie by Mario Martone, “L’Amore Molesto”.

I wonder what this means; whether with the death of these great musicians we are not actually losing pieces of history, a history that can be remembered, can be recorded on CD, but will never be there again as a lived experience. Yes, it is an interesting time; the time when you can see the present turning into past, life turning into history, and yet a very sad time too. I now understand what some anthropologists mean when they put forward desperate-sounding calls for the recording of ways of life which might soon be wiped out. It has nothing to do with romanticism or the idealization of a golden age; there was nothing necessarily bucolic about the past history of Southern Italy and Apulia; a long history of domination, starvation and exploitation. And yet I feel respect for what has been, a natural respect for life in itself, in all its manifestations; the music of the Cantori is one of these manifestations and carries with it a long history.

This does not mean that the sound structures themselves have remained unchanged. Compare for example the famous Montanara performed by Andrea Sacco in “Lezioni di Tarantella” (curated by Eugenio Bennato, 2000) with another version recorded in 1980 (from the cd “La Tarantella Del Gargano”, edited by ethnomusicologist Michele Gala), when the Cantori where closer to the original tradition and virtually unknown outside Carpino: the differences between the earlier sound and the more ‘contemporary’ version are noticeable. The guitars sound out of tune and the whole rhythmic structure shows a syncopation of some sort. At first I found it hard to get accustomed to. Now, I prefer it by far to the newer versions. Call me a romantic, but there is something purer, a touch deeper, about it.


Montanara di Sacco Andrea – 3’22” (version from “Lezioni di Tarantella”, 2000)

Montanara di Sacco Andrea – 2’58” (version from “La Tarantella del Gargano”, recorded in 1980)

Viestesana di Antonio Maccarone – 1’56” (version from “La Tarantella del Gargano”, recorded in 1981)

Rodianella di Antonio Piccininno – 3’14” (version from “La Tarantella del Gargano”, recorded in 1969)


We don’t have much recorded material from the Cantori. Three albums are worth of notice (and might indeed be the only ones in circulation at the moment). “La Tarantella del Gargano”, curated by Michele Gala, contains recordings from the end of 1960s until the early 1980s; the sound here is closer to what must have been the original tradition. In “Lezioni di Tarantella” (DVF, 2000), curated by Eugenio Bennato, the Cantori feature prominently in many songs. Bennato also curated the cd “La Tarantella del Gargano” (different from the one mentioned above, released in 2001 by DVF), which features exclusively Cantori di Carpino and their traditional songs.


A review in English of the cd “La Tarantella del Gargano”, featuring (relatively) old recordings of the Cantori di Carpino. You can buy the cd here (scroll down the page and you will find it, it’s listed together with other cds produced with the Ethnica series).

Information on “La Tarantella del Gargano”, released in 2000 by DVF and curated by Eugenio Bennato, featuring Cantori di Carpino; you can listen to a sample of a few songs, among which the famous Montanara di Andrea Sacco (in this cd called ‘Per Amare Questa Donna’ [‘To Love This Woman’]); you can also buy the cd online from the same webpage. If you prefer a UK online store, click here.

Check out the movie documentary “Craj” (‘Tomorrow’ in many of Apulian dialects), released in 2005 and presented to the Venice Film Festival; it’s a journey through Apulian musical traditions. It contains a section on the Cantori di Carpino, where they are interviewed and excerpts from live concerts are shown. Click here for more information (in English).

Carpino Folk Festival


Pizzica, the oldest form of tarantella, originated in Salento, in the southern part of Apulia. In recent years, Officina Zoe', Pizzica Salentina and other local bands that rediscovered this music which dates back to a millennium ago have been the protagonists of one of the most successful experiments of cultural marketing: Salento, known for its beautiful beaches, gets literally invaded in summer by tourists coming from all parts of Italy and beyond. The highlight is the big festival ‘La Notte della Taranta’ (‘The Night of the Tarantula’) that lasts two weeks, taking place from mid to end August. During these two weeks, folk and ethnic bands from all over the Mediterranean get together, and obviously pizzica is heard everywhere.

What’s great about all this is the way in which the new generations have been able to re-appropriate a piece of history and make it their own not by a passive act of submission to ‘changeless’ traditions, but by dancing and moving and listening to these archaic sounds in their own way. The very label ‘traditional’ music is in this respect misleading: the folk revival is a new cultural production altogether, and execution is never neutral. What was once meant as a dance for couples or bigger groups rather orderly moving from one position to another, from one partner to another, now becomes an occasion for hundreds of people who ecstatically push one another, expressing all their inner desires for physical contact and psychological liberation.

And I don’t think it is too far-fetched to draw parallels with the collective musical rituals of the 70s. In some ways, the original tarantella (from Salento and from Gargano) is as explosive and innovative today as let’s say Pink Floyd were a few decades ago.


Lu Rusciu de lu Mare – 3’02” (performed by Pizzica Salentina, in “Lezioni di Tarantella”, curated by Eugenio Bennato)

Canuscu na Carusa - 4'21" (from the album "Terra", by Officina Zoe')


Check out the live cd of the final night of the folk festival “La Notte della Taranta” in 2003; it contains traditional pizzica alongside re-interpretations and fusions with more contemporary traditions. This is one of the best final concerts for the folk festival in the last years. The artistic direction was given to Stewart Copeland, the ex-Police drummer, who literally fell in love with the pizzica beats.

Another interesting album is the soundtrack of the movie “Life Blood” (original title: “Sangue Vivo”), set in Salento and directed by Edoardo Winspeare (of mixed descent, half British, half Apulian from Salento). The members of the local folk band Officina Zoe’ (their work is entirely focused on the rediscovery of pizzica) feature in it as the main actors and have also composed the soundtrack. The movie has been appreciated well beyond the Italian boundaries and has greatly contributed to the ‘cultural marketing’ operation recently taking place in Salento.


Info about Officina Zoe' (in English)

Script of an interview with musician Luigi Chiriatti about pizzica, broadcasted on TV by BBC as part of a series of two programmes on Italy.

A review in English of the cd “Pizzica Tarantata”, released as part of the Ethnica series (same series under which “La Tarantella del Gargano” was released; see previous section on Cantori di Carpino).

An article from the Guardian about Salento and its ‘cultural tourism’ boom.


Born in 1925 in the small town of Apricena (at the border between Gargano and the Foggia province plain, the ‘Tavoliere’ area), Matteo Salvatore occupies a very special place in the history of Apulian and Italian music. His work is not directly related to any particular tradition and does not consist of re-interpretations of traditional songs. He couldn’t read and write, and yet he is a natural poet. He composed all his songs, from the music to the lyrics. He is the precursor of the glorious tradition of Italian singer songwriters. His simple and gentle words, often in local dialect, together with the lyrical intensity of his voice, make him by far the greatest musician Apulia has ever given birth to. A great loss for Apulian and Italian music, Matteo died 27th August last year.

His songs are the harsh and factual commentary of what life was like in the forgotten lands of Southern Italy before the economic boom. Many of Matteo Salvatore’s ballads are sad representations of a social reality that resembles in many ways the images that pop into our mind when we think about the medieval ages. There is nothing bucolic about the life narrated by Matteo. The classic social structure of Gargano villages was that of a very small class of landowners who lived at the expenses of the exploited and resigned peasantry.

No wonder then why my parent’s generation show very little nostalgia and romanticism about the ‘old ways’. The material conditions and the level of social exploitation were simply appalling. In the 1950s, it was still common practice for the ‘padroni’ (the masters) to dispose of the male workers’ wives as their own personal property. Sick children were brought to the local witch and many reached the hospital and proper medical assistance when it was already too late.

It is through him that I started to listen to and appreciate Southern Italian ethnic music. Among all the songs in today’s selection, his are the most depressing and yet the most touching ones. The creativity of this man who through an amazing mix of genius and expediency made it up from street singer to internationally renowned performer, the existentialism and serene pessimism that resonate through his lyrics, the natural and unconventionally trained musical touch, these are all elements that have touched me in a unique way, that magic touch that distinguishes what I consider my favourites of all times from lots of other good music.


Fra Me e Te – 3’44”

In “Between me and you”, a man phantasises about a future when him and his lover will manage to break the ‘wall’ in between them that makes it impossible for them to understand each other. Recorded in 2001.

Li Chiacchiere de lu Paese – 2’14”

Matteo Salvatore’s repertoire is constituted by two main types of ballands: those that narrate the harshness and misery of peasant life; the light, soft-touched ballads that he performed to cheer up those very peasants in public gatherings. “The Gossip in Town” belongs to the second type. Recorded in 2001.

Pasta Nera – 2’17”

“Black Pasta” is set against the background of the striking poverty of Gargano villages in the 1950s. Matteo narrates the story of a poor man who works, works, works but can never eat; the only kind of pasta he can afford is what was then called the third quality, the worst. Matteo has later revealed that the poor man was his father. Recorded in 2001.

Sempre Poveri – 3’03”

“Always Poor” starts with the spoken piece by Matteo which shows his striking poetic imagination. He coins a catchy and ambiguous metaphor for the state in its relation to the southern Italian people: ‘the state is a stone wolf, it can’t bite because it has no teeth, but it is still a wolf. The poor southern sheep starving and without shepperd are scared of it. The stars of the law cannot protect them’. This is the saddest ballad of Matteo, where poetry, social commentary and a universal consciousness merge into a lacerating chant. Recorded in 2001.

Curre a Mamma Tua – 3’13”

“Run Towards Your Mum” is an old live take, probably from the 1970s. The song was later called “Lu Bene Mio” (“My treasure”). You can notice a much younger voice and how some of the arrangements and vocal styles have changed over time, if compared to the previous songs in the playlist (all recorded in 2001, when Matteo was 76).


Very little is available for sale of the immense discography that Matteo Salvatore has put together throughout his life. Lots of his albums have never been reprinted and a number of rows over copyright issues have further decreased the chances of reprinting.

The first four songs from the playlist are from the cd recorded in 2001 and sold together with a book about his life, written by his friend and manager Angelo Cavallo, and published by the Italian press Stampa Alternativa. If you can read Italian, click here for more info on book and cd and/or if you want to purchase it.

Another album that is available on a number of online stores is “Lamenti di Mendicanti” (“Beggars’ Songs”). Available at CD Universe and Studio 52.

Two of his songs (“Il Pescivendolo” and “Mo Ve’ la Bella Mia da la Muntagna”) are also available in the soundtrack of the movie “Big Night”. You can buy the album on Amazon US or Amazon UK.


A review in Italian of the book on Matteo’s life and the attached cd with his music published by Stampa Alternativa.

A review in English of the album “Lamenti di Mendicanti”. Written by violinist Zhang Zhang.

Check out the movie documentary “Craj” (‘Tomorrow’ in many of Apulian dialects), released in 2005 and presented to the Venice Film Festival; it’s a journey through Apulian musical traditions. It contains a section on Matteo Salvatore, where he is interviewed and excerpts from live concerts are shown. Click here for more information (in English).


I seem to have eluded the very question I set to ask at the beginning; I got lost into the music, into the meanders of tarantelle, pizzicate, old ballads, and I didn’t say much about how I feel about my Southern Italian origins, whether I identify in any way with my place of birth, etc etc. I have avoided the topic of my own departure from the South and of the likelihood of living abroad for many years to come.

Maybe I have done this to preserve that feeling of nostalgia and belonging that I only get when I listen to this music; it is a very natural feeling, and I don't think it has much to do with Southern Italy in itself. I used to experience something similar when I was in Swaziland, listening to Myriam Makeba or Kwaito.

Music has this magic power, the power of creating spaces and emotions to be remembered, places to phantasise and be nostalgic about which have never really existed and do not have a definite spatial configuration. This explains why rationally I will always deny that there is anything intrinsically Southern Italian about the way I do things, the way I think, the way I talk; after all what is culture? Just a fiction, my mind tells me. True. And yet, this fiction we call culture becomes so powerful at times to get a life of its own, where explanations, justifications, questions, answers, rationalisations, seem to make little sense. I like this music. It makes me want to dance and jump around. Some times it makes me cry. And there is nothing I can do about it.


From the feedback I have got for this show, the music was very much appreciated. I was quite surprised of these comments. I was a bit scared that for people who have never heard these sounds before it would have been hard to get quickly into this music. This tends to confirm the potential this material has for attracting audiences beyond the local boundaries. Something similar is happening with lots of other so-called ‘ethnic’ music.

As for the talk, this time theme and music seem to fit together more harmoniously than in other shows. However, it was mostly music-focused, and the purely ‘personal’ element was minimized. In a sense this was due to the fact that I felt compelled to present this music in the appropriate manner, to provide some context for a better understanding of the music. Overall, I think that my passion for this music and how deeply personal it is for me did transpire and that is probably what made the spoken parts work.

I am starting to see some patterns in terms of brilliance of exposition and tiredness. The first half an hour is very good. In the second part I start getting tired. I then put extreme care again in the very final link. Next time I should try to keep the tension all throughout. I also think that besides the script preparation and objective quality, a lot depends on the performance at the moment. This time I seemed to show a particular energy which was lacking in some of the previous shows.

Also, a small detail, but with a significant effect: the beds this time very high enough and complemented the voice for a very pleasurable result. Again, part of it was due to the nature of the music itself.

One technical cock-up: I pressed the wrong cd player to pre-fade (i.e. setting the volume at the right level) the next song; the song that was actually playing on air stopped and I had to restart it again (it was towards the end of the first half hour; the interrupted song was "Li Chiacchiere de lu Paese" by Matteo Salvatore).

Overall, I do make progress, but I realize how difficult it is to build your ‘radio persona’ in a way that truly expresses your potential and your messages. It takes lots of practice and perseverance. I have to keep on trying, trying, trying, until something close to satisfactory, with a definite structure and purpose will emerge. This process does take lots of faith too…

Friday, March 10, 2006

SPACE IS THE PLACE - From Cultural Geography to Psychogeography

Wednesday I have attended a very good lecture on cultural geography. It was part of the lectures offered by the Joint School of Social Sciences at Cambridge University, which present a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods to students coming from all the different social science departments. The lecture was delivered by James Duncan from the Geography Department.

It was a good overview of the development of the discipline, from the pioneering work of Carl Sauer up to contemporary developments.

The topic is fascinating: the study of the interactions between humans and landscapes; the ways in which landscapes are socially, historically and culturally constructed, the multiple readings of the same landscape which are carried out by different actors; reading the landscape as a text, as a synechdoche where discourses are inscribed into buildings and architecture which become representative parts of a bigger whole; and so on.

The emphasis of the last decades has been on textual analysis and interpretivism. At least this is what I gathered from Duncan. More specifically, his latest work is really an ethnography of landscape. As far as my limited knowledge of anthropology goes, something of this kind could easily have been the work of an anthropologist. He wrote together with his wife "Landscapes of Privileges: The Politics of the Aesthetic in an American Suburb", published in 2004 by Routledge. The suburb in question is Bedford, where Duncan's wife is from and the book is the product of about 30 years of close interaction with the place and its people. Duncan presented it in a rather stimulating fashion, and I think I will get it from the library in the next days and have a go at it. The way I have understood it, it's really the deconstruction of the collective dream of a 'classic' New England village in a very affluent suburb, just 45 mins drive from New York, a collective dream pursued through a careful manipulation of landscapes and the environment. Just to give an idea of the level of wealth in the suburb in question, the average number of acres per lot is 7-8 ca. The smallest lot does not go below 4 acres. George Soros has got a lot there too.

Themes like that of the 'American pastoral' (check out the beautiful homonymous book by Philip Roth on the subject) are explored. The study is a deep dive into the whole hyperreality of this 'traditional' New England village, which turns out at a deeper look to be not so 'traditional' but the result of a manipulation of the physical environment informed by a mix of conservatism, middle bourgeois values and a high valuation of wilderness (albeit a very 'artificial' one).

Certainly, the illusions which a bunch of very rich families want to pursue shouldn't constitute a matter of scandal for itself. After all, anybody has got the right to pursue his/her own illusions. The problem kicks in when the realm of personal dreams and social values start to clash and mix with rather more political agendas. Is it just an 'accident' that all the Central American migrants working day labourers in these lots and performing all kind of maintenance tasks do not live in the town but commute from outside? According to Duncan's account it is not. There seems to be a 'politics of landscape' at work which does not see these labourers as 'fitting' the ideal type of the New England village town settlers are trying so hard to stick to. A particular aesthetic view then turns into a discriminatory policy, no matter how consciously it is pursued by its perpetrators. If you wanna know more about the whole project that the Duncans are carrying out and which includes the publication of the book mentioned above, click here.

The lecture did stimulate me into some deep thinking about the connections between human beings and the spaces in which they conduct their lives. What was really missing from the lecture was a more radical approach to tackle more directly the question of how human consciousness interacts with the environment. In other words, what are the feelings that certain buildings and architectural/urban structures create? How is consciousness, in its most obscure non-discursive dimension (yet a rather compelling one for all our actions, thoughts, moods, emotions, etc.), affected by particular landscapes?

To be fair, I don't think that this is a criticism of the lecture itself, but rather something that has been missing from landscape studies in particular and social scientific approaches more in general. Social scientists are scared to look at consciousness beyond what people say and claim, or beyond what is most visible and 'empirical'. Duncan gave good explanations for that: he is scared, he said, of approaches that might just reflect the author's consciousness and experience rather than that of other people. How is he supposed to know what other people feel beyond what they tell him?

I think he has got a point. But there are ways to get around it. There is a need to abandon altogether all the residuals of empiricism left even in approaches which are apparently the antithesis of it (i.e. interpretivism, Geert'z interpretation of cultures and Duncan's own 'textual' analysis of landscape). Until such faith in 'science' as a collection of empirical evidence through some established and formalised method is not forgone, we will still be left with a social science devoid of content. That's very much the situation for Anglo-Saxon social science. In U.S. or Britain the validity of social scientific research is established according to the degree of perfection that the researcher achieves in terms of applications of formalised methods. Whether these methods, even if correctly applied, lead to the discovery of any 'real' or 'new' knowledge does not seem to be a question for Anglo-saxon epistemology.

Does social science have to be 'objective', in the sense that research results are universally acknowledged and based on large samples? This approach has not led us far. We won't probably be able to say much beyond the fact that humans eat, sleep and engage into sexual activities.

Objectivity and truth should not be foregone as concepts in themselves. There is need for radical reformulations. Reformulations that have already been done by a number of philosophers and scientists (see in particular French and German schools), but still fail to break through the 'rubber wall' of Anglo-Saxon social science. Even the most radical approaches are still impregnated of positivism, in a much more subliminal and perverse way than it was in the past, because at the formal/rhetorical level this very same community has declared positivism long dead.

We should reconsider the objectivity of personal observation. We should reconsider the possibility that the only objectivity possible is indeed a sincere account of what one personally sees, feels, thinks. That truth becomes a a matter of dialectics between personal experiences and abstract thoughts. We should accept that we will always lack absolute criteria to absolutely determine what can and cannot be accepted as valid theory or fact.

If one accepts these basic principles, the horizons of social science could be enlarged to embrace what has been often categorised as a separate and unrelated field, that of the arts. As a matter of facts artists and vanguardist movements in the arts all have their own theories of truth. They are no less concerned with truth, society, intersubjectivity and reflexivity than are social scientists of all extractions. It is for these reasons that some of the best ethnographies of industrialisation and factory work are to be found among literary works (see Philip Roth's "American Pastoral" once again for the glove trade; or Zola's "Nana'"; and many others of course); or that some of the best theories of post-modernism came much before the now 'established' academic production and from a vanguard of artists-revolutionaries, the Situationists (see Guy Debord, "The Society of Spectacle).

The Situationist International, a very small collective of artists and thinkers that was formally born at the end of 1950s and continued to produce works of relevance throughout the 1960s and 1970s (even though the group never grew beyond 30-40 members, the influences they have exerted in a variety of fields and 'situations' are huge; see May 1968 for example, or the evolution of British punk), also contributed precious insights, precepts and methods for the study of the impact of landscape on human consciousness. The Situationists are the pioneers of "psychogeography". What's psychogeography? "The study of specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals" (from 'Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation', in Situationniste Internationale no.1, 1958).

The traditional tools at disposal of Anglo-Saxon social science are not apt to conduct such an analysis. The main object of study becomes oneself, the psychogeographer learns the effects of landscapes on human consciousness by experiencing it on herself, wandering around cities and places, stimulated by what she sees and feels, playing around with maps, people, ideas and symbols. If she wants to go beyond introspection, then she should simply involve some other individuals in the psychogeographic enterprise: no separation between observer and participants, all psychogeography is conducted by participant observers on participant observers.

'Drifting' is the key word here, in the tradition of the 'flaneur', "a stroller or dandy spectator of the Parisian scene who had emerged in the early nineteenth century and later celebrated by the likes of Charles Baudelaire" (from the article 'Situationism and Rock', by Paul Fitzpatrick, 2000). Again, the arts here have much to teach us. Psychogeography was practiced by many writers, long before the name even emerged. Dickens, Baudelaire, Apollinaire, Musil, Hesse, just to name a few. How many novels are built around the notion of characters wandering around the streets of big cities or taking a pleasant walk through the wonders of the countryside? Landscapes then become dreamscapes, surreal personal reconstructions half way between physicality and transcendence, between emotions and brute materiality.

And certainly in writing 'psychogeographic' texts, one cannot ignore such a tradition. Literary writing styles, narrative experiments, will all have to be rigorously studied and adapted to suit the need. Academia should 'extend' beyond its narrow courtyard and absorb, like a sponge, the lessons of the great writers, who are no less scientists than many eminent and respected academics.

The very notion of 'writing' psychogeography should be complemented by visual techniques. How can we forget about the great cinematic masters? Isn't cinema the best example of merging images and emotions, landscapes with social and political messages, atmospheres with cerebral activities? How can one separate the landscape from the spoken word in the director's intent?

A camcorder here could become the best friend of the psychogeographer. What the psychogeographer might not be able to communicate with words, she will leave it to the camera eye to show. Other items which will have escaped the psychogeographer's discursive consciousness will appear and will allow other spectators-participants to continue in the enterprise, in the endless journey of self-and-other discovery through space and place.

We might be able then to say something more interesting and more 'objective' about what it is that characterises let's say London as opposed to Paris, the Southern Italian countryside as opposed to the Swazi countryside, and so on. We might be able to communicate something more meaningful about the people who live in these places, what they feel and what makes them humans, emotional and material at the same time, conscious and unconscious, animals and thinkers, perceivers and theoreticians.

I have just hinted at some of the 'theoretical spaces' where we can look in order to produce more innovative and challenging analyses of the interactions between humans and physical environment. I hope I will be able in the future to develop some of these ideas further. Lots is already out there to start an adventurous dive.

I came across this interesting article which shows how you can do 'psychogeography' within the existing academic structures. It's called 'Inscribing the city: a flâneur in Tokyo', by Raymond Lucas, a PhD student in the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Aberdeen. He is supervised by Tim Ingold, well known for his 'subversive' and 'eclectic' approach to the anthropology.

Obviously, never miss the first necessary step of any knowledge gathering enterprise in the 21st century (or should we say in the Third Millennium): check out the Wikipedia, their rather short entry on psychogeography contains interesting references to continue the journey.

For writings on psychogeography and other situationist themese, also check out the Situationist International archive.

Friday, March 03, 2006



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