REAL TIME is a software for installations that plays selected MIDI scores by capturing ambient sounds in real time from geographically distant devices. It executes the silent notes of the track by replacing them with the closest acoustic frequencies in tone.

The project, conceived by Alessio de Girolamo, has been welcomed by LIM (Laboratory of Musical Informatics at the University of Milan) and developed by the Department in collaboration with Jacopo Silvestri for his Bachelor's Thesis (click here for Thesis link)

The project is in the experimental phase due to its innovative nature and is continuously being improved.


1. The Problem of Time as a Number

The experience of sound in real time seems to flow beyond the notion of number itself. It naturally flows into a hypothetical uniqueness, even though there exists a complex system to guide it. Listening occurs in the moment when it creatively self-generates within us, and each time, it's as if for the first time. It's a moment that never repeats, even if we're listening on loop to an old recording played by a gramophone or a computer. The mere fact that the experience unfolds in space and time makes it an original event closely linked to the humanity of the listener and the environment hosting it. To exaggerate, we could argue that sitting on the couch and pressing the "play" button, instead of attending a live concert, does not alter the originality of the experience nor the performance. It may seem absurd, but since nothing is ever the same as itself, neither is the recording medium, the player, nor the natural conditions in which the track spreads.

In any case, whether listening is or isn't philosophically an original act, there exists a scientific difference between a gramophone and a computer, and it's a categorical difference in which technique and philosophy merge into what we might call the sense of continuum. With Alan Turing, the idea of continuum is lost because sampling is entrusted to statistics in combination with binary calculation. It's an unprecedented structure that makes mathematics a god definitively distant from nature, dehumanizing the information retrieval (previously performed by a needle always in contact with the medium) with the distance of the digital interval. Even today, considerations of this kind seem like a labyrinth with no way out, where reconciling the new logic with the old continuous living is banned. Sometimes, considering some works of interactive self-generative music, I had the illusion of finding an emergency exit. This is because often between the detection of reality by devices and the listening perception, there seems to be no gap, resulting in an audience immersed in seemingly analog reactivity. Some works of sound art use human material to calculate algorithms and generate sound patterns as variables such as position, warmth, noise, etc., change. As a witness to some of these interventions, I can say that the result placed a new distance between the track and the listener-author. The calculation aimed at generating a predetermined compositional result, even in terms of performance, calls into question the "fusion" between the listener and the sound, making the individual feel inadequate as a "retrieval device".

What would happen, instead, if alphanumeric programming were simply aimed at creating the conditions for a sonic incident in which space, time, and listener themselves are the sonic matter? How would a calculation manage to nullify the very idea of number in order to achieve a fusion between person, landscape, and time?

Before getting to the deep meaning of the "Real Time" project, I want to emphasize that this discussion shouldn't seem like an escape from binary calculation, nor should it appear as nostalgia for the analog. Instead, the foundations of the project should be sought in the need to restore a hierarchy between natural soundscapes and human artifice, highlighting the intrinsic limit of technology, whether digital or analog.

Rapidly retracing the history of musical instruments, from primitive ones initially created to defend against the hostile nature to classical orchestral ones, children of civil craft; from synthesizers created to have no more timbral limits, ending with digital computers that abstract and continually implement, we can argue that they are all pitilessly trapped by an underlying: emulation. This way of approaching creative expression is anthropologically ancestral and above all transversal to all technical fields, to the extent that it becomes the ultimate limit in which to choose to stay, or the greatest challenge possible to overcome. "Real Time" finds its genesis here, in the attempt, that is, to restore the execution of musical scores to the original soundscape, surpassing the very idea of real-time and raising, in the attempt to resolve it, the problem of a more concrete limit given by the necessity of pre-sampling in the compositional phase. But here, technique doesn't have a role of self-exaltation, but rather a purely ontological purpose: to restore a dialogue in the presence between man and nature without any closure or emulation by the former, who, in the testimony of oneself and the other from oneself, can rediscover the inherent meaning of history and memory.

2. The Incident

How does the sonic incident occur in this real-time project? And what kind of incident is it? Imagine, if you haven't already, being in the countryside early in the morning and opening the window of your room. Birds singing, the sound of a stream, and your neighbor chopping wood. Many other sounds and noises can suddenly happen, just use a little imagination. Voilà! This landscape replaces the orchestra that should play you a welcome tribute that morning. Clearly, being a tribute, it's a specific piece, and therefore the notes must be precisely those, arranged in a precise sequence and in a predetermined time that inexorably flows without waiting for anything.

But how can the natural soundscape prepare to perform tuned frequencies and perfectly timed on a musical score? How can a chance occurrence of sounds that express themselves freely in the surrounding reality coincide with an orderly and coded system of notes that runs parallel in real time? Answering absurdly with an analog example (but which paved the way for the concrete realization of the "Real Time" software), the only way would be to have a gigantic roll of music box paper scrolling over reality and filling its gaps (i.e., its notes) with some sounds of the landscape which, by coincidence, are synchronously necessary for the execution. We can argue, therefore, that if the passing of the corresponding hole corresponds to a B-flat (for example), and if fortune hasn't provided a robin to sing that note at that moment, the system doesn't work. In conclusion, it's evident that the conditio sine qua non for a recognizable result is that frequent sonic coincidences occur to perform the score, minimizing the sonic vacuum as much as possible.

Now, moving on to an analysis of the "Real Time" program developed by the LIM (Laboratorio di Informatica Musicale of the University of Milan), we find no major divergences, compared to this example, in the overall concept. Through a microphone pickup, the software identifies the sound frequencies of the landscape, attempting a continuous match between these and the notes of the score (which run silently in MIDI format).

Moving now from the countryside to a city square, we can deduce that at night, unless there's a specific party, it will be difficult to detect relevant matches (or incidents) between sound events and notes of the score. While, on the contrary, from morning until the peak vitality of the day, the sound spectrum will increase significantly, offering a denser and more concrete possibility of "making happen" the execution of the chosen notes. Absence or presence of humans, animals, elements, machinery, etc., therefore seem to be an essential factor for the final quality of the audio feedback, defining the degree of recognizability of the chosen musical score. The incident is, in light of all this, the annulment of the vacuum time through a fortuitous occurrence, a "collision," in our case, between a coded language and the continuous acoustic flow of the landscape. In this sense, it's implicit that categories such as "beautiful" or "ugly" are not applicable to Real Time, and even less so the ideas of "success" or "failure," while "coincidence" becomes the unique and foundational value to consider both in its occurrence and in its "not happening". The manifestation of an overlap that becomes in this case a true fusion between the expectation of a written sign and a natural occurrence, places us as never before within the flow of time and for the same reason beyond it. From listening to the results produced together with the LIM, I want to explicitly express a further consideration: returning to nature the musical execution historically assigned by civilization to the artificial emulation of it, yields a surprising result, which necessarily makes us reflect on the human construction of language and its rules.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
(Alessio de Girolamo)




The project was presented on the occasion of Jacopo Silvestri's bachelor thesis at the LIM headquarters in Milan and during the TRE exhibition by Alessio de Girolamo at the Linea spaces in Lecce.

Real-Time in Real Time Placing musical (and non-musical) language under siege, revealing its illusory nature, is one of the central characteristics of Alessio de Girolamo's work. In the piece UNO, the artist employs the Real-Time software, a sound innovation project developed in collaboration with the Department of Musical Informatics of the University of Milan, in which the sounds present in the gallery are used as a real-time orchestra to perform, on this occasion, the score "Sonata a 3, Op. 1 No. 11" by the Salento composer Pietro Migali (1635-1715). The artist examines the relationship between human temporal perception and the natural soundscape. In the artwork, a ceramic sculpture is used as an acoustic diffuser through which it is possible to listen to what is returned by the software. The sculpture takes the form of a wolf with wide-open, sharp jaws, as if ready to bite the listener, but actually engaged in a kind of surreal howling. The wolf serves as an image of an undeniable nature, which in the artist's poetics has the possibility to reposition itself, on a scale of values, on the altar from which it has slowly been dethroned as human actions above nature have become increasingly aggressive. To emphasize this relationship, not by chance, the head of this wolf could also remind us of the shape of a hunting trophy. The impossible note to play because it goes unheard is a cornerstone in the theoretical framework of this work, participating as a de-transcription of the note from the score to the natural environment. The software is not designed to create yet another special effect, to reinforce the schematic coherence of human language, its perception, and framing of reality; on the contrary, through the intermittence and conflict between success and failure, constant throughout the experiment, the work can momentarily aberrate time and, if not subvert, at least reorganize the hierarchy between human perception and natural life, suggesting a coveted access. Another immediately available section is that of the factual basis on which the entire process is based. The software exclusively plays with the notes present in the environment as a matter of fact. Sound is made only where sound makes itself, in its randomness, incidence, or rather: in its synchronicity. This concerns "fate", the imperative of facts over time, through which the presence and absence of every sound are written precisely because it is there, present or absent. The sounds of this factual music seem to tell us, as a certain Oracle affirmed: "we are all here to do what we must all do here."
                                                                             
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
(Marco Vitale, curatorial text of the exhibition TRE, Linea project, Lecce, Italy)
    
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