A free-lance composer, audiovisual artist, sound-engineer, and performer of electronic music Marko Ciciliani since early 2000 plays an active role in the Dutch music scene. His work focuses on audiovisual contexts built with light or laser designs, live and video manipulations. The music of Marko Ciciliani has been performed in more than 35 countries across Europe, also Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. He had performed with many leading ensembles and orchestras, such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, or the SWR Orchestra, as well as MusikFabrik and ASKO. Today Ciciliani works as a professor for Computer-Music Composition and Sound Design at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz. In the interview the composer shares his insights on different music scenes and creativity.
You are from Croatia, but most of the time you lived outside of the country. Did the athmosphere changed or influenced you as a composer?
Music scenes of individual countries are indeed very different and the cultural scenes in the countries I lived in definitely had a strong impact on my work and my understanding of art. What is most precious about having lived in different countries is that you are confronted with different discourses – different value systems – as to what is considered important in music. Therefore you learn that there is no single truth and that many different perspectives and approaches to music have validity. You thus learn to differentiate and to appreciate a great variety of artistic practices in another way, I believe.
That said, of course you don‘t even need to leave a country in order to discover the mulitiplicity of musical scenes. Every culture has so many different musical and artistic cultures that often ignore each other. Especially in the field of electronic music, there are so many different movements. It‘s impossible to keep track of all of them, but even if you follow just a few of them, you are finding different sets of criteria what is most valued in a particular scene, style, discourse or however you want to name it.
This multiplicity of discourses, for me, is what is maybe the biggest challenge of being an artist today but also one of the most exciting characteristics of our time. Especially since I am working with different media and art forms, there is not a single discourse that I feel I belong to. My origin lies in a sort of post-avantgarde experimental composition and in some way I do identify this as my root. However, my work today can hardly be understood from that perspective alone. I think this is what differentiates many artists today quite fundemantally when compared to – say – 50 years ago. In the 50s, 60s or 70s it would have been much more plausible to function within a single discourse where you share the same cultural identities with its set of historically important works etc.. But today, I feel that every artist developes their own patchwork of discourses that their work refers to. This has complex and far reaching implications.
First of all, when you look at a musical community, no two artists share the same system of references. To a certain extent this has of course always been true, but in my opinion, these individual differences are fundamentally more diverse today. What does that mean? You could compare it to language. The way how people speak – their accent, language and dialect – mirror their place(s) of origin. The discourses an artist refers to is similar to a place of reference – these are pointers to cultures that have shaped their thinking as an artist. When I say that every artist identifies a different patchwork of discourses as relevant for them, it means that everybody speaks in a slightly different language.
What are the consequences of this? You could argue that everybody should use the same language in order to cultivate it; and if you take this to an extreme and everybody speaks differently, we won‘t understand each other anymore and art will loose its ability to communicate anything. However, you could also argue – and this is my perspective – that when you have people speaking in different accents and dialects, you learn a greater variety of how one can express themselves. Your vocabulary grows and your idiom becomes more complex. And this is how culture evolves.
Secondly, another challenge is how you deal individually as an artist with your personal multiplicity of discourses. When you are working interdisciplinarily as I do, it means that you are often crossing into entirely different disciplines. Through this you are confronting not only artistic challenges but also technological ones, e.g. when you apply other media that you have not originally been trained in. You can‘t excel in every individaul discipline, however, but in order to do your work – you also can‘t rely on always collaborating with others or getting assistance from experts. You become an expert of being a ‚beginner‘, so to say. It‘s part of the artistic practice that you keep stumbling into new fields that you have to learn from scratch.
What do you value the most in the music performance?
When working with technology, it is quite common to produce so-called fixed-media works (a finished and polished film or audio track). My approach to music, however, was always guided by the idea of producing a live event. I have composed very few fixed-media works. As long as I am a composer I have also always regularly performed myself and the questions, how a work is performed live is something I‘m very interested in. Although quite a few ensembles have performed my works, I was always more drawn to working with individual performers that I know well.
Have you ever had an impossible idea that you could never implement?
One of my most recent works, Anna & Marie http://www.ciciliani.com/anna–marie.html is based on an idea that took me quite a long time to realize. I made some attempts to realize it that failed. Only the third attempt led to a result that I‘m satisfied with. It‘s rare for me that projects turn out to be so hard to realize, but in this case I think it was worth the struggle.
Have you ever doubted your talent? How did you work through your doubts?
Talent is highly overrated. Talented artists are often boring. My main talent is that I never loose curiosity.
How being the researcher had influenced you as a composer?
My research is in the field of artistic research, so my practice as researcher and as composer are intimately intertwined. What characterizes artistic research is that you have a particular question you want to investigate and you develop a well defined framework how you want to learn about it through your own artistic practice. I have found this very rewarding as it deepened my understanding of what I am doing in my art and thereby I feel it has widely expanded my abilities. I have conducted artistic research in different scopes. For example I am running a larger state funded artistic research project since several years, such as GAPPP http://gappp.net. In this project we are a team of three artists/researchers and we have investigated the artistic potential of elements from computer games in performance based audiovisual works. As part of this research I have also created a series of works where I applied game elements and game mechanics in different ways, from competitive scenarios to ergodic storytelling. We are now in the last phase of the project and preparing an elaborate multimedia book publication titled LUDIFIED with the art-book publisher The Green Box in Berlin (https://www.thegreenbox.net/en/books/ludified).
But I have also realized smaller projects for myself that I consider artistic research, such as my Pop Wall Alphabet http://www.ciciliani.com/pwa.html (if you want to watch the video, the password is PWA).
How do you define creativity?
Connecting the unlikely in plausible ways.
Thank you for the conversation!