Part 1

Name: Roberto David Rusconi

Nationality: Italian

Occupation: Composer

Current Project: World Premiere of Variazioni Tiepolo by Minguet Quartet at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on 17th May
Recommendations: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells/ Melencolia I by Albrecht Dürer/ Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss

Website/Contact: Learn more about Roberto at his website www.robertdavidrusconi.co.uk

When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?

I began writing music before I started my composition studies. When I was six, my grandfather who was blind, taught me how to play and improvise by ear; this increased my interest into creating my own works and developing my individual approach.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

My formative years were really thorough - I learned how to copy and analyse everything from Gregorian chant, fugue and counterpoint in many styles right through to piano sonatas, quartets etc. I was already an encyclopaedia of styles at the end of my studies. During my Masters and PhD I studied all the major contemporary masters - Nono, Berio, Sciarrino, Ligeti and Grisey - so I was really a caged bird in the middle of my career. Working in the commercial cinematic business and studying electronic music really helped me ‘loosen up’.  I have to admit, it has been only in the last five years that I have really found my unique voice. Before, I was just a compilation of influences. I am a free man now, which is why I constantly say: there is no contemporary composer here, just a craftsman wondering in the world of sounds.

What were some of the most important creative challenges when starting out as a composer and how have they changed over time?

The real challenge of being a composer is and will always be to get a commission, especially for the larger and more audacious works. This has never changed throughout time, and is the reason why Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner among many others, struggled financially for most of their lives. To be innovative costs and scares the more conservative and traditional producers. I was not born in a wealthy environment and my music has become quite demanding and expensive recently: fully immersive, electroacoustic, often with dance and powerful storytelling. Even in solo works I often need to interact with virtuosos who do not give their art up for free. Recently some patrons have decided I was worthy of their attention, to whom I am eternally grateful.

Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?

Nowadays for me everything is grounded in silence, technology and electronics. I love and need to work on real matter so I need to have everything at my fingertips. DAWs, virtual orchestras, audio editors, paper, colours and one million different instruments, immersive audio are all at the foundation of my studio. I tend to mimic the final outcome down to the very last detail, even and especially when writing electro-acoustic music, and obviously when I work with surround immersive hyperrealism. Silence, on the other hand is very rare, and that is why my studio is on the third floor, fully insulated. When I have finished editing and I am finalising everything on paper, I prefer working in the hub my grandfather left me in the Italian Alps where there is absolute stillness!

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

I sleep very little - too little - so I write and compose throughout the night: when silence rules and the veil hiding the unknown is thinner. Early in the morning I go training and jogging. I love martial arts, and they keep my body fit and my mind sharp. I follow a traditional Mediterranean lifestyle during the day and try to eat well and relax, no social media, no digital addiction, no TV or games. Later in the day I meditate, trying to get rid of my madness and my darkest thoughts: I keep on failing. Dreaming is also an excellent playground for my work, over there I get my very best ideas.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

I get possessed. It is very simple. I start hearing sounds, feeling sounds, seeing sounds and touching sounds. The structure and the framework appear to me in the distance and slowly, approaching with extreme care, I hunt the fragility of my imperfect vision: sometimes everything collapses, sometimes I get really close, but I never succeed in creating my original idea. Obstacles come from every direction, usually financial ones, I try to simply hack them or to knock them over.

Could you take me through the process of composing on the basis of one of your pieces that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?  

My dearest work is my new opera, Dionysos Rising, which will be performed in September at Vienna’s prestigious MuseumsQuartier. The idea for this opera came from my personal experience with ADHD, and the desire to relate today’s mental distress in ‘mythological terms’ was very strong. Dionysos Rising is about music today, but it is also a little about how music always has been.

During the second half of the 19th century, concert halls were designed to minimize social interaction and de-emphasize the visual, fostering instead a direct and purely auditory communication between the musical work and the listener. Outside academia, however, the world moved on. In Dionysos Rising I tried not to create music, words and moving images, but rather designed music as one dimension of a holistic experience in which meaning emerges from dynamic interactions between multiple media.

I was offered to stage the opera in more simple, more traditional ways, but I declined. I had to compromise in writing the libretto because nobody wanted to support my short hermetic verse. I had to find the incredible world-leading brand of l-Acoustics for the fully immersive help I needed; I had to find two mad producers who saw eye-to-eye with my concept and decided to push it forward. In Dionysos Rising the transition from music as medium to music as multimedia gives a new significance to the empirical orientation that lies at the heart of my work, with its focus on the perceptions and experiences of real, situated listener/viewers. The meaning emerges from dynamic interactions between media and emerges in real time.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

Technology nowadays is extremely useful and practical. I use it a lot, not only to find new timbral solutions for my electro-acoustic pieces but also for some specific aspects of the composition process with acoustic instruments. I use audio-editors for spectrum analysis; it is very useful for me to exactly know which are the upper and lower harmonics of the sounds I use. I also work a lot with multiphonics, or sounds in-between noise and pitch. Technology for me is like a microscope that allows me to work on the micro-detail. I never use it as a structural compositional aid, and I never use algorithms. I think of myself as a sculptor. I can have many tools but I will never use a 3D printer. The art is in the craft.

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