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



listen to>>>

Who Do You Think You Are?
Real Music For Real People
presented by Vito Laterza

For real music lovers. Rare and cult songs from 70s, 80s and beyond, prog and psych rock, electro, new wave, ambient, funk, jazz, reggae, world music, avantgarde, ethnic. Not only music, but also ‘experimental’ talking about literature, philosophy, the real world, personal experiences and a particular take on the history of the university. Turn on, tune in, drop out.