Sound Check: Feeling The Good Vibrations

Rather than attempting a written portrait of Marco Barotti, it would have been far more fitting for this particular artist’s practice had I simply uploaded the muffled iPhone recording of our interview. While I can transcribe the spoken content of our conversation, it is difficult to express in words the tapestry of city sounds that formed the backdrop for our meeting that Friday evening, as we sat on plastic crates in the spacious lot behind PLATOON Kunsthalle on Schönhauser Allee.

Extracting The Sounds Of Berlin

Urban soundscapes form the basis of Barotti’s art – they are a source of inspiration as well as his raw material. His highly trained ear is sensitive to the background fuzz the rest of us are so accustomed to filtering out and ignoring. “Now we are sitting here; I listen. I can hear the guy with the tape there, I can hear the guy talking over there, I can hear the flag in the wind there. I can filter them, I can track them and can cut them out of the soundscape and make just a single element of it.”

The stage is set for Marco Barotti's Pneumatic Drums project. Photo: Chris Phillips

Originally trained as a jazz musician in Siena, Barotti moved to Berlin six years ago, and gradually his artistic practice was completely transformed. “I left classical band playing, instead performing in urban places, adapting the show to the urban environment.” Marco now defines himself under the vastly broad label of performance artist, and with an artistic practice that includes innumerable multimedia and cross-disciplinary collaborations, it would be a lengthy affair to attempt to describe all of Marco’s projects. However, at the heart of his artwork is always the urban environment, particularly Berlin – “Berlin is the art of what I do. There is no me without Berlin"

Today, Barotti’s art seeks to challenge and renew our experience of urban environments, and his main way of achieving this is by calling attention to its sounds in various ways – bringing sound to life, so to speak. Marco’s newest work (a work so new, he still refers to it as “The Volcano which I am going to finish and find a title for before Sunday”), created especially for REMAKE Festival in collaboration with musician and sound artist Marco Madia, is perhaps the most straightforward representation of what his art achieves. In this piece, sound is reduced to its most fundamental entity – vibrations. Sound is thereby made visible as a physical event, as the vibrations bring to life a pile of woodchips on a table that begin to crawl like insects, threatening eruption.

Marco Barotti working out the finishing touches of his volcanic installation. Photo: Chris Phillips

By bringing life to sounds, Marco’s art renews our daily perception. This is the aim of Tape Riot – a collective performance art project that combines graphics, architecture, music, and dance to create traveling, site-specific shows in city spaces. With small, transportable recording technology, Marco records urban sounds in real time, modulates them, and projects this new soundscape through two small speakers. In this way, he draws attention to sounds audiences would otherwise fail to notice. “When [a sound] is really beautiful and strong, but people don’t notice it, it’s just normal, it’s just there, it’s not standing out. If you just point your mic in that direction, record that sound, and play it back through the speakers, they realize there was that thing; they think ‘I've heard that!’”

Marco’s music is a crucial element in helping achieve these transformations. Along with playing his music inside 3 mm thick plastic bubbles to huge effect (overwhelming audiences with the acoustics achieved in this cocoon), the bubbles themselves have also become an instrument – in the form of Pneumatic Drums, which he will perform for the opening of REMAKE Festival on Wednesday. He defines the bubble as “something between a synthesizer, a drum machine and a controller.” This inflatable instrument allows him to play anything he wants – but in particular, he uses it to experiment with his love of disco music. The music is accompanied by video sequences displayed on the actual instrument, created by Japanese composer and video artist Arai Tsatsuro, such that music and visuals combine to give sound a strikingly visual presence. 

Sneak peek: Pneumatic Drums project by Marco Barotti and Plastique Fantastique. Video via Anna Andereggg 

Fascinated by Marco’s remarkable sensitivity to sounds, I ask him what is unique about Berlin’s urban soundscape. “Berlin sounds really good anytime, actually. In the beginning [when I arrived], it was all this bass from the ground coming up, there were more clubs, so you had vibrations and bass coming from the ground, really strong. There is a big difference from Paris to Berlin – it’s insane, so much more stress. Berlin is so huge, so calm, so relaxed. You need to go looking for sound!”

Marco Barotti [Price range of works: 1,000 – 10,000 Euros]

Article by Jennifer Russell