The Milan Electronic Music Studio or ‘RAI Studio of Phonology’ was designed by Alfredo Lietti in 1955 with the guidance of the musicians Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna, and remained in use until 1983. In 2011 the entire studio was archived at the Municipal Collections of the Castello Sforzesco.
The studio was primarily created to produce experimental electronic music but also to create effects and soundtracks for film and TV (and was the model for the 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio). Berio drew inspiration from the working methods of American serialist composers Ussachevsky and Otto Luening at the Columbia University Computer Music Center and from GRMC in Paris through his friendship with Pierre Schaeffer and the Club d’Essai. Maderna’s influence came through his time studying at the Darmstadt summer school with Stockhausen and Meyer-Eppler.
At he beginning in 1955 the studio consisted of a few variable speed tape recorder, some filters, an oscillator and an Ondes Martenot. This soon changed with the acquisition of eight sine and square wave oscillators ( the ‘ninth oscillator’ being the voice of Cathy Berberian. Luciano Berio’s works of this period with Cathy Berberian include Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) and Visage), pulse and white noise generators. These generators were patched manually through a bank of processors; modulators ( including the ‘Tempophon’ a tape device with rotating heads that allowed to vary the duration of the playback of a previously recorded sound, while maintaining the original pitch ), frequency shifters, filters and various types of echo and reverberation units. The output from the studio was monitored on a system of five speakers and recorded to a four-track tape recorder.
“Two of the first electronic works in my record collection – Berio’s Visage from 1961, and John Cage’s Fontana Mix from 1958 – were created there with Zuccheri (Designer and technician at the RAI Studio) . Even today, both of these pieces sound impressively vivid and dynamic, and what we should now recognise is that such qualities should be attributed to the technician as much as to the composer.”
David Toop, The Wire, 2008
Musicians and composers who worked at the studio include Berio, Maderna, Nono, Castiglioni, Clementi, Donatoni , Gentilucci, Manzoni , Marinuzzi Jr., Paccagnini Sciarrino, Sinopoli, Togni , Cage and Pousseur.
“… I like remembering Marino in his Phonology Studio, master among masters, master of sound among masters of music, because sound for him did not have any secrets, since he was trained in auditoriums while working for the Radio together with the most famous directors of the time. He would always recall how he begun working in Phonology by chance, but it is certain that it wasn’t because of chance that he continued during the years, considering he’s been the only holder of the Studio from when it was created (1955) until it closed down (1983).”Giovanni Belletti, “Marino Zuccheri in Fonologia”, 2008