‘Milan Electronic Music Studio’ or ”RAI Studio of Phonology’ , Marino Zuccheri & Alfredo Lietti. Italy, 1955

MIlan Electronic Music Studio
Oscillator bank at the Milan Electronic Music Studio

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, Milan. The studio was constructed at a time (1950s-60s) when electronic music studios were seen as an example of ‘national modernity’ and cultural progress and sprung up around Europe and globally – initially with NDR/WDR in Germany, GRM/Ircam in Paris followed by studios in Finland, Netherlands, Italy, East Berlin, Japan, Israel. Strangely the UK had no state funded electronic music studio – the BBC Radiophonic Workshop being the closest example.

'RAI Studio of Phonology
Marino Zuccheri at RAI Studio of Phonology

The studio was primarily created to produce experimental electronic music but also to create effects and soundtracks for film and TV (and 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 somewhat contrasting influences originated from his time studying at the Darmstadt summer school with Stockhausen and Meyer-Eppler.

protagonisti_in-piedi-berio-zuccheri-maderna-seduti-lietti-castelnuovo
Berio, Zuccheri, Maderna, Lietti, Castelnuovo at the RAI Phonology Studio Milan

At the beginning in 1955 the Milan 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, pulse and white noise generators – the ‘tenth oscillator’ it was joked, was the voice of  the singer Cathy Berberian (Luciano Berio’s works of this period with Cathy Berberian include Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) and Visage)1David Osmond-Smith, & Cathy Berberian. (2004). The Tenth Oscillator: The Work of Cathy Berberian 1958-1966, p4.. These simple sound generators were patched manually through a bank of processors that included modulators such as 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.

Mixer and tape recorder at the Studio di Fonologia Musicale della Rai di Milano,1968. Image Archivio NoMus, Fondo Zuccheri.

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.

Marino Zuccheri and Luigi Nono - courtesy of Fondazione Archivio LN
Marino Zuccheri and Luigi Nono – courtesy of Fondazione Archivio LN
“… 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).”2Giovanni Belletti, “Marino Zuccheri in Fonologia”, 2008

 


References:

  • 1
    David Osmond-Smith, & Cathy Berberian. (2004). The Tenth Oscillator: The Work of Cathy Berberian 1958-1966, p4.
  • 2
    Giovanni Belletti, “Marino Zuccheri in Fonologia”, 2008

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