The Power of Sound

Eclectic, innovative and talented, Milanese composer Roberto Cacciapaglia has managed to create a musical language that builds a bridge between very distant musical genres to unveil the endless potential of sounds

  • The Power of Sound

The public learned to know him three years ago when he composed the soundtrack of the light shows at the Tree of Life, the beating heart of Milan’s Expo 2015. Yet as it often happens, that popularity peak is just one of the many manifestations of Roberto Cacciapaglia’s talents. Born in Milan in 1953, the world-famous composer and pianist has always expressed courage and innovation though his works, combining his training in classical music with the exploration of electronic sounds. From a very young age, he collaborated with the Rai Phonology Laboratory, an institution in the field of musical innovation, and with sophisticated pop music songwriters such as Franco Battiato. Poised between tradition and innovation, he is appreciated both by critics and musicologists, classical music and pop music fans. We met him in his recording studio, a quiet oasis housed inside an elegant building in the heart of Milan.
Your approach to music has always been really experimental, in the scientific sense of the word.
RC: Indeed. ‘Sonanze’, my first work which I composed when I was eighteen, was an experiment integrating the dissonance of avant-garde music (think Stockhausen and John Cage), and the consonance of pop music. My debut LP was recorded in Pisa in collaboration with the National Research Council, working on the first IBM audio terminals. Italy was once an excellence in this field.
When did your musical growth begin?
RC: I started playing the piano at the age of four, prompted by my mother. I remember I had quite a hard time: the piano was right in front of the window, from which I could see my friends playing soccer in the courtyard, and I had no doubts about what I would rather do! In middle school I rediscovered my love for music by playing in bands with friends. I enrolled in music school and tried the synth, which had just debuted on the music scene. Throughout my career, I have tried to balance my classical training with my love for rock and roll: they were apparently incompatible, but I have always been very open to all influences.
What do you like to listen to these days?
RC: Basically everything: Händel, Puccini, Brazilian music, Neapolitan songs, Cesaria Evora… recently I even attended Eminem's concert. As a composer, I like to keep updated on everything that happens. When it comes to work, however, I need silence, because it provides me with the interior space and the isolation that I need to leave unnecessary thoughts and influences aside. Inspiration and sounds always come from within.
According to a popular theory, since the notes are only twelve and the possible combinations are not endless, it will soon become impossible to create music that is truly new. Do you agree?
RC:In fact, it’s quite the opposite: with no disrespect to Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, I believe we still have to start creating new music! I think this is a truly extraordinary moment. We are entering an era where the sound, and not the melody, is going to rule. Since ancient times, mankind has attached a very special power to sounds: in the Bible sounds demolish the walls of Jericho; in Greek mythology they allow Orpheus to calm down Hades; in the Eastern world they enchant snakes. In terms of technologies, possibilities and awareness, we are only just beginning to discover its true potential. If we didn’t have anything more to say with music, we wouldn’t have anything more to say at all. Yet now is the time to say something important.
You are known for composing your works in the most unexpected situations and places...
RC:Inspiration can come from anything: a sound, a ray of light, a scent. I call it "the fourth time" (which is also the title of one of my works), that universal instant that blends together the past, the present and the future. I experienced it at the foot of the volcano in Stromboli, where I composed a piece, and even on a train: as a child, I looked at the rails and they looked like a pentagram to me, whereas the houses and the trees that dotted the landscape were like notes ready to be played. Sometimes the melodies that are born in these moments are so vivid that I remember them by heart, without having to write them down immediately. Our soul resonates in a different way according to where we are.
So what’s next for your career?
RC:At the moment, my main interest is developing the potential of acoustic and electronic sounds. I am working with a software which amplifies frequencies that are normally not audible to the human ear.I am also very excited about my new album Diapason, in collaboration with the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra.

Author : Marta Blumi Tripodi

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