Voyage under the sea of sound

Clara Iannotta, the Italian composer-in-residence for this year’s Musica nova, uses noise as her material. Carving and feeling her way through masses of sound, the composer is an explorer that creates information using the senses. The sound waves washing over our skin are a physical force that brings the surface of the body and the deepest recesses of the mind together. The theme for this year’s Musica nova festival is “Emotions and sensations”.

It may look like a combination of a laboratory and an operating room, in which the musicians are operating a workshop of sound set on the stage. Classical instruments are heavily prepared with paper clips and tinfoil. However, Clara Iannotta’s works are not about the visual appearance of the performance, but rather about what happens when the listener closes their eyes. They may feel that they are at the bottom of the ocean, deep underground or inside a decomposing corpse. The mind is filled with worlds, the existence of which one could not imagine beforehand.

In new music, noise and so-called concrete music form a long continuum that can be seen as an opposing force to the values of absolute music and abstract ideas typical of Western art music tradition. Today, the essence of sound, the physical ringing as well as the body that produces and receives the sound are highly significant dimensions for many contemporary composers. Iannotta dives into the physical experience of sound by using concrete and electric mechanisms to draw other realities out of instruments and objects.

Iannotta uses a lot of plastic, metal or paper preparations for instruments, different mutes for string and brass instruments, wooden and metal rattles, whistles, sound bowls and humming pots (‘Waldteufel’) which are small drums swung at the end of a string. The instruments are played in certain, precisely-defined ways. Iannotta’s music has a strong tactile dimension.

Carving her way through masses of noise, the composer is an explorer that creates information using the senses, not the brain. Sound is often perceived as abstract, invisible content that awakens specific aspects of our mind. However, the sound waves washing over our skin and shaking our innards are a tremendous physical force. Sound overwhelms and binds the surface of the body and the deepest recesses of the mind together.

Spatiality is a central element for Iannotta, and her works also include audiovisual installations. Her compositions often pierce the narrow, line-like sound surface to reveal new depths. For example, dead wasps in the jam-jar (ii) for string orchestra is like a cavern or an abandoned building with chambers of different sizes one after the next. The tangibility of the noises is comparable to scents that have the power to activate images and memories buried deep in our brain. Iannotta’s music has its own moisture and lighting, scent and colouring. Its rusty metallic tones may bring to mind a crumbling world where barely visible but very powerful beings take control. The chirring sounds evoke images of insects, arthropods and protozoans. The starting point for the orchestral work MOULT (2018–19) was a spider shedding its exoskeleton. At Musica nova, a new version of the work, entitled a stir among stars, a making way (2022), is played. The work takes us concretely into the body of a spider while exploring temporality and change.

Several of Iannotta’s compositions have received their names from the works of Irish poet Dorothy Molloy (1942–2004) that have influenced Iannotta’s imagination considerably. The relationship of the compositions with different exterior influences is, however, indirect. Sound has the power to create interpretations of the world that visual or verbal interpretation cannot repeat or replace.

Text: Auli Särkiö-Pitkänen
Translation: Scandix

Clara Iannotta (b. 1983)

  • from Italy, lives in Berlin
  • works with the most significant contemporary music groups in Europe, such as Quatuor
  • Diotima, Ensemble Intercontemporain and Klangforum Wien
  • studied composition at the Paris Conservatory and IRCAM institute as well as at Harvard
  • University in the United States
  • member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin since 2022
  • artistic director of the Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik
  • works are published by Edition Peters
  • Profile albums:
    MOULT. Kairos 2021.
    Earthing. Wergo 2020.
    A Failed Entertainment. Edition RZ 2016.

Clara Iannotta at Musica nova:

1 March 2023 at 7 p.m. – Klangforum Wien
a stir among the stars, a making way (2022)

3 March 2023 at 7 p.m. – Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
where the dark earth bends (2022, premiere)

10 March 2023 at 7 p.m. – Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
dead wasps in the jam-jar (ii) (2016)

11 March 2023 at 4 p.m. – Earth Ears Ensemble
The people here go mad. They blame the wind. (2013–2014)

12 March 2023 at 7 p.m. – Avanti!
We left her in a sack for fairies to reclaim (2021)