Automata in extremis: Mauro Lanza’s sublime sound machines
Nuove Musiche Numero 5 - 2018, pagine: 53-94
DOI 10.12871/9788833395374 | @ Pisa University Press 2021
Pubblicato: 20 settembre 2021
Mauro Lanza and composer-technologist Andrea Valle’s cycle Systema Naturae (2013- 17) combines acoustic instruments with computer-controlled mechanical sound objects. The first work of the cycle, Regnum animale, surrounds a string trio with a circle of computer-driven, electro-mechanical devices, whimsical creations that offer a second life to discarded consumer electronics such as hair dryers and electric knives. Every performance of Regnum animale will be different, as the jerry-rigged mechanical objects necessarily break down or malfunction, as part of an instrumentarium in a state of constant becoming. Regnum animale thus represents a paradoxical combination of ideals. The composers demand extreme rigor from themselves and their performers. Yet both composer and performer blend their efforts with the the contingent sounds and rhythmic qualities of found and discarded consumer objects. Lanza recomposed five of the Regnum animale for orchestra as the basis for Anatra digeritrice (Piccola Wunderkammer di automi oziosi) (2014), inspired by the Eighteenth-century inventor Jacques de Vaucanson’s duck automaton Le Canard Digérateur (1739). Although the recomposition imparts a certain a sense of depth and grandeur to its source, Anatra remains, in Lanza’s words, «a little collection […] of precision-made mechanisms that move about pointlessly». Lanza’s The Kempelen Machine from 2015 celebrates Wolfgang von Kempelen’s speaking machine developed at the end of the 18th century by orchestrating the results of a human mechanical voice hybrid.
These “characters” – the mechanical sound objects, defecating duck, and talking machine – represent automatons in the most general terms: contradictions in the delicate balance between nature and artifice that flaunt their own “insoluble paradox”, in the words of Minsoo Kang. The figures of Vaucanson and Kempelen marked the beginning and end of the Enlightenment’s fascination with automatons, and their respective “failures” only heightened the fascination of their creations for contemporary and later audiences. In a similar way the clash between precision and chance in Regnum, Anatra and Kempelen highlights the allure of technology’s flawed analogues of the real. As Regnum brought the flawed sound of discarded objects to a chamber music stage, Anatra digeritrice transforms actual automata into that most deceptive machine, the modern orchestra. The Kempelen Machine recreates the acoustic grandeur of its namesake’s failure, a ventriloquist’s dummy speaking not for its master, but for what its master desired.
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Peer reviewed. Certificazione della qualità