THE POE PROJECT is a constellation of musical works conceived as a tribute to the poetic and imaginative world of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).
It is no doubt that in Poe there are massive doses of typical ingredients of Romanticism: frightening settings, psychological abysses, a taste for the macabre and the fantastic. And yet, in approaching Poe—just like any other interesting author—it is necessary to go beyond the more stereotyped readings. In addition to the horror stories, which rightly made him famous, his work includes poems and a novel of great value and originality, satirical and humorous stories, reviews and literary criticisms, detective stories (well before Arthur Conan Doyle), science fiction and adventure stories, essays on literary theory, philosophy and cosmology.
Talking about Poe, therefore, means talking about a complex and multifaceted artistic personality, in which the most typically Romantic and Gothic elements coexist with others of a rationalist and Enlightenment style. The deductive approach of detective Auguste Dupin, for example, is not confined to what Poe himself defines as “tales of ratiocination”, but can also be found in his most horrifying stories. After all, what is fear, if not a lack of control by reason? Poe’s characters are often called upon to explain phenomena that seem to escape their understanding. They often formulate hypotheses and forecasts, relying on sensory perceptions. But most of the time their reasoning turns out to be faulty, and a sense of impending and uncontrollable threat arises. In Poe’s stories the situations of immediate danger are rather rare; on the other hand, anticipated and imagined fear is much more common. It is precisely in this exploration of the boundaries between reality and imagination, between sensory perception and elusive mystery, between rationality and irrationality, that my fascination for the world of Poe resides.
Another peculiar element of his poetics—almost a corollary of his reasoning attitude—is Poe’s preference for environments, objects or phenomena endowed with an abstract, if not even geometrical quality. The pendulum of The Pit and the Pendulum, the floor plan of the palace of The Masque of the Red Death, or the abstract and phantasmagoric paintings of Roderick Usher, in The Fall of the House of Usher, are only some of the many possible examples. Form and space, in Poe, are very often described in scientific, geometric, quantitative terms: this approach has left its mark in THE POE PROJECT.
All in all, the aspects that make Poe our contemporary are much stronger than those who confine him in the nineteenth century.
ENSEMBLE / SOLO WORKS
for ensemble (2015)
This piece was inspired by two of Poe’s tales: the incomplete The Light-House and The Fall of the House of Usher. Each tale was boiled down to its main dramatic moments, and the piece was structured as a continuous, cinematic juxtaposition of such moments, aiming to reveal the complementarity of the two tales. My sonic imagination has been driven by images such as the ripples on the surface of the sea, the echoing walls of the lighthouse, the fleeting appearances of the mysterious Madeline Usher, the meticulous exploration and measurement of the lighthouse, or the destruction of the Usher mansion. Nevertheless, each listener of Edgar’s Visions is invited to freely shape her own semantic associations between my sounds and Poe’s visions.
6 pieces for amplified guitar (2016)*
Roderick Usher, the tormented protagonist of Poe’s tale The Fall of the House of Usher, is used to accompany his rhapsodic singing with a guitar. The narrator reports the words of one of these improvisations, in the form of a ballad titled The Haunted Palace. The palace of the title is a symbol of Roderick’s disturbed mind, and the whole plot of the tale, leading to corruption, is reflected in the poem. My six short pieces of Haunted were inspired by the sixth stanzas of this poem. In the first stanza, Poe presents a valley inhabited by angels, where stands a radiant palace. In the second stanza, the poet describes the waving banners and the perfume that flows along the ramparts of the palace. In the third stanza, the point of view is that of some wanderers who can see, through the windows of the palace, spirits dancing to the sound of a lute. The fourth stanza is pervaded by the sparkling echoes coming out of the main door. A decisive change of mood occurs in the last two stanzas. In the fifth, the palace is assaulted by «evil things» that soon make its glorious past a «dim-remembered story». The last stanza evokes the apparition of forms that «move fantastically / to a discordant melody», while a burst of hideous laughter is heard.
* N.B. There is an alternative version of this piece, for ensemble, titled The Haunted Palace (fl, cl, perc, pno, vln, vc), recording available on request.
Then silence, and stillness, and night
for prepared piano and ensemble (2017, rev. 2022)**
The title is a quotation from the famous tale The Pit and the Pendulum, set in a dungeon of the Spanish Inquisition. The main character explores his dark prison, searching for a way out. In absence of the sense of sight, his perception of time and space is guided by hearing. Every single sound becomes an instrument of knowledge, that brings more definition to his mental map of the place… but perception can be illusory. Then Silence, and Stillness, and Night is a nocturne, to be considered as “a piece set at night”: a dark space inhabited by sounds that shape different plausible dramaturgies.
** N.B. There is an alternative version of this piece, for prepared piano and iPad, titled Then Sound, and Motion, and Touch, recording available on request.
for flute and guitar (2019)
Red is related to The Masque of the Red Death, a tale set in the closed palace of prince Prospero where people are partying and dancing, while a terrible pestilence is infuriating outside. A pendulum clock can be heard from seven rooms of the palace, decorated with different colors. Death will make its appearance eventually, and kill everybody. This piece is a lyrical reflection upon the human body, the passing of time, the qualities of space, and the unpredictable manifestation of death. Breaths and sighs, frantic movements and slow transitions, “tick-tocks” and bells, snippets of songs and distant cries can be heard throughout the piece. My personal homage to a friend who died in 2018 is also included, in the form of several quotations of a late medieval cantus firmus titled O beate Sebastiane: in this tenor, liberation from plague is petitioned.
for ensemble (2020)
Uncluttered was crafted as an object of Italian design—or like a carefully furnished room. It is based on transparent lines, accurate details, delicate nuances, logically conceived cross-references between recurring sonic categories. My leading idea was to reject all unnecessary clutter. The range of compositional possibilities was thus significantly narrowed, starting with pitch classes. Anti-expressionistic in style, Uncluttered is nonetheless expressive: it has been strongly influenced by a little-known essay by Edgar Allan Poe, titled The Philosophy of Furniture. In this text, Poe criticises the «perposterous want of keeping», and describes his ideal room in great detail, as «a small and not ostentatious chamber with whose decorations no fault can be found». The deep influence of an essential and beautifully furnished space on the psyche is also highlighted: «What is ultimately haunting about the setting itemized by Poe as ideally conducive to relaxed and imaginative speculation is its ability to evoke, despite its rational organization, its luminous openness and its simplicity, a troubling sense of the unknown» (Dani Cavallaro).
MULTIMEDIA / ACOUSMATIC WORKS
audiovisual work (2015)
The Light-House is an experimental short film drawn upon the last, unfinished tale by Edgar Allan Poe. In 1849, the year of his death, Poe wrote 4 pages of the so-called “Griswold” manuscript, where the draft for this incomplete tale is found. It is in the form of a diary kept by the new lighthouse keeper, who has just arrived in such a remote and solitary place. The main aesthetic and cultural reference for this work (for which I made both the audio and the video) is the silent cinema of the 1920s and 30s, and in particular its abstract and non-narrative experiments. The original text has been reduced to a few, significant excerpts that form a wandering and vague narrative, ending in the final dissolution. All images were made using home-made objects and old-fashioned optical special effects.
TECH SPECS full HD video, stereo audio
La chute de la maison Usher
live soundtrack to Jean Epstein’s 1928 film (2016)
La chute de la maison Usher is a film that, about 90 years after its making, still strikes for the originality of its language and the mysterious charm it emanates. Inspired by the poetic universe of Edgar Allan Poe, director Jean Epstein did not limit himself to showing what is visible but managed to evoke invisible dimensions such as the interiority of the characters or the atmosphere of the places. Music, the art of the invisible, lends itself well to dressing images with a “sound possibility”. We set out to perform live, in order to react with the necessary sensitivity to the vibratile succession of frames. By means of the instrumental performance and its manipulation with electronic means, we intend to function as a “medium”, a sound guide that can accompany the viewer inside the imaginative world of Epstein and Poe.
DURATION 60 min. approx.
PERFORMERS AND INSTRUMENTATION Pietro Dossena (electronics, sound objects), Miguel Angel Frausto (electronics, classical guitar)
TECH SPECS video, stereo audio
Edgar’s Beats is an exploration of the concept of beat—a recurrent element in Poe’s works. In this piece, two kinds of beats are found: those produced by the human body of a young woman, an incarnation of Poe’s fragile heroines, and those produced by objects such as clocks or bells. Although human beats are typically irregular, they can try to approach the regularity of a machine. Similarly, mechanisms can get out of control. Beats are seen as an ambiguous combination of two contrasting emotions: the reassuring tranquillity of the foreseeable, and the disturbing obsession of perpetual and unstoppable movement.
TECH SPECS stereo audio