Simone Forti - Al Di Là (Saltern)


By: Mark Cutler



1. Molimo (1970-present)
2. Censor (1961)
3. Face Tunes (1968)
4. Dammi Dammi Quel Fazzolettino (folk song)
5. Bottom (1968)
6. Largo Argentina (circa 1968)
7. Thunder Makers (1969)
8. Dal Di Là (1972)
9. Night Walk (1984)

The album Music and Dance (Revenant, 1996) is attributed to two performers: Derek Bailey, who plays guitar, and Min Tanaka, who dances. It is not obvious what—if any—sounds on the record are Tanaka’s. The recordings are murky and take place half in the rain. Nevertheless, Bailey stresses in the liner notes that the album is correctly attributed. There would be no music without Tanaka’s dance, no dance without Bailey’s music. Even if his presence in the music has been largely or wholly mystified, Tanaka is decisive in what we hear.

I recalled this album while listening to Al Di Là (Saltern, 2018), the recent disc collecting works by artist/choreographer/performer Simone Forti. Though Forti has produced discipline-warping performances, installations and books for sixty years, this is the first release to focus explicitly on the musicality of her practice. Like the Bailey/Tanaka album, what’s presented here is both bound to and cleaved from a visual or physical element. Some tracks are drawn from performances which Forti herself thinks of as primarily choreographic or theatrical. Some come from complex visual works. ‘Bottom’, the album’s centrepiece, originally scored a four-channel video installation. Here it is dismantled and presented in sequence across twenty minutes.

Yet this is not to say the pieces lack for musicality. If Al Di Là works as an album, it is partly because Forti’s choreographies themselves often draw the viewer’s attention toward the audible. This may be explicit accompaniment—she has collaborated with dozens of composers and musicians from La Monte Young to Charlemagne Palestine—or it may be the percussive slaps and steps that are usually considered extraneous to dance itself. Some pieces, too, utilise constructions which function like giant, improvised instruments. There are steel pipes played like flutes; enormous, nooselike swings that hum and creak under the strain of human bodies. The longer recordings here are accomplished explorations of these incidental musics. We hear vacuum cleaners, late night traffic, and a pan of nails—all shorn from but no less identifiable with their visible sources.

Then, of course, there’s Forti’s voice. In her performances, Forti often sings, chirps, and shouts; she recites poetry and speaks directly to the audience. On Al Di Là, she sings folk tunes and original works. The generally fleeting vocal tracks punctuate the much longer instrumental ones in a way exactly opposite of Richard Dawson’s harrowing magnum opus The Glass Trunk (Richie’s Own Label, 2013). Though the pieces were all devised between 1960 and 1984, the recordings date from the early 60s to as recently as last year. The most striking result is that we hear Forti’s voice grow and stretch from her thirties through her eighties—over half a century. ’Largo Argentina’ is the only longer sung piece. One of the earliest recordings, it is virtuosic and abstract. The other, more recent recordings are brief and direct. Forti sings songs she loves from her childhood in Italy. We hear her voice tremble and sometimes break. We hear her sing and remember; for a moment, we see.