Perfect Sound Forever

Marta Zapparoli

photo by Corinna Harl

Experimental sounds via Berlin
by Michael Freerix
(August 2018)

Originally from northern Italy, the sound artist, performer, self-taught researcher Marta Zapparoli, has set up her home-base in Berlin, Germany since 2007. But she has come a long way.

Marta Zapparoli grew up in a small town in northern Italy and started to play saxophone as a teenager. She played in the local brass band and developed her interest in music, but was not sure which direction to follow.

She moved to Bologna to study Fine Arts at the "Accademia Belle Art" and concentrated also on performance art because she was fascinated by dance and theater at that time. She says "I still like to move a lot during my performances, which may be an aftermath of these studies."

Music was a key part of these performances and Zapparoli was always very involved with this music- how it was recorded, and what effects microphones have on recorded sounds. Microphones fascinated her so she moved away from dance and performance to the technical side of recording things, and she finally found a sound engineer who would accept her as a student. But she did not only record music or rehearsals in performance spaces, she would also walk around with portable equipment to record whatever sounded interesting from the outside world. She created sound-collages out of these recordings, which she finally presented on stage as impro-live performances. She went on tour and after performing at all the stages in Italy that were available for these kind of impro-live gigs, she traveled to France, Austria, Germany and other countries to present her work.

But traveling with all this analogue gear is rather complicated and sometimes frustrating, so she turned to digital technology post-2000. But soon, she discovered that working with software and midi controllers is an entirely different thing. So many possibilities, but she wondered which are the best ones, and how do you get the most out of them? Working with digital forms also caused a great deal of frustration, and finally Zapparoli decided to abandon it, turning back to analogue. This also sometime has complications too in the digital world we live in. Analogue is getting rare and expensive, and it is hard to find somebody capable of repairing the old-school-technology. But nevertheless, the cool element of working with tape and tape-machines is, as she says, "a materialization that runs through my fingers. I can slow it down, or speed it up using my fingers. I like this energy that runs through my fingers and the machines. The secret of sound for me lies in its connection to my body."

In 2006 Zapparoli got a grant to do an audio-portrait of a city project. She decided on Berlin. For weeks, she would travel around the town, record everything that sounded interesting or strange. She did not understand German so most of what she heard was just sounds, and so she build a sound-collage about Berlin purely through sounds that communicated with each other. She even got the opportunity to present this audio-portrait in a performance space in Berlin. And because she discovered Berlin through pure sounds, and was so overwhelmed by the many possibilities the city offers for experimental art, she decided to stay in Berlin. Here, she saw possibilities to delve deeper into the world of sound without having to work for money too much.

She developed the idea of building an archive of a variety of sounds from field recordings, vibration sounds and ultrasonic sources. Using many kind of different types of microphones, she wanted to explore worlds people hardly ever set foot into. For example, she wanted to explore the world of the London Underground with its many empty or unused tunnels, or rooms that where needed when the Underground was build but have not been in use for ages. Naturally, you cannot enter these spaces legally so she needed someone who could guide her through these dark areas of the Underground-system and bring her back to the surface.

Another sound-world she is interested in is electro-smog: radio waves and electromagnetic fields. Capturing these signals with antennas and radio receivers, she would pick up unwanted transmissions from the air. Focused on this problem, she realized how many of these transmissions float around us, how we are polluted by electromagnetic waves. She began to read books about electromagnetic waves and antennas, about the inventors of electromagnetic transmissions like Alexander Graham, Guglielmo Marconi, Nikola Tesla and Heinrich Hertz. Together with her boyfriend and with the aid of manuals, she started to build her own antennas.

All of these antennas have different sizes, different designs, each one built to pull a different parameter of electromagnet waves out of the air. In her studio, these antennas look like sculptures, the way they hang on the wall. In fact, Zapparoli is a sculptor, but in this case, a sound-sculptor: sculptures you cannot touch, but hear and feel. There are a lot of sounds around us, sounds nobody is aware of. The way she works with them, she wants to "make people aware of these waves, the way we are constantly poisoned with them, and affected by them."Which also means that these performances should be loud.

But Zapparoli does not only perform as a soloist. Usually, she joins forces with other artists on stage and she has different projects and collaborators she works on a regular basis. Some of them are the Berlin-based Splitter Orchester, which is kind of a big band of 24 impro-musicians. Together with Kai Fagaschinski, Billy Roisz and Liz Allbee, she performs and releases records as The Elks, and together with Liz Allbee she performs in a duo called Pareidolia. Recently, her activities with Pareidolia have increased. This duo tries to capture the specific sound character each building has. Electromagnetic waves are everywhere (some of these can even travel through mountains) so each building does have a specific kind of an outfit in sound, and "Pareidolia" work with this in combination with the modified quadraphonic trumpet and voice of Liz. They try to find specific buildings, where they give concerts, working with antennas and radio receivers that pick up the electromagnetic waves crossing trough the building, in combination with Liz's inner world of sounds coming from the trumpet and her voice. She composes with these signals and sounds in real time during live performances. Sometimes these spaces are hard to find, and so it can be quite adventurous and unique to see Pareidolia perform.

With her antennas, Zapparoli tries to overcome the magnetic field of the earth too. One of her dreams is to go to Chile and work with the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub millimeter Array (ALMA) in the Atacama Desert, in the Andes, which is known as the driest, non-populated place in the world. With these radio-telescopes, she would like to reach into outer space, and try to find sounds that have never been heard, to add to her ongoing sound art project: an "archive of unheard sounds," which she using to create imaginative performances around the world.

See Marta Zapparoli's Bandcamp page

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