Marcello Lussana, Olga Kozmanidze: Deepen sensory perception

Seventeen annual of Malá inventura Festival will also present a participatory performance Sentire created by Berlin collective Pragmata. We talked about the interconnection of science and art and also the functioning of independent scene in Berlin with Marcel Lussana and Olga Kozmanidze.

Dear Olga and Marcello. For me Sentire is a very special project that combines art & science. From which backgrounds did you approach it?

Olga: My background is music, sound, and performance art. Since the audience is meant to take active part in our performance, I am contributing to the project as a performer and also I conceptualise and elaborate what we call “interactive scenarios” which help to deepen sensory experience of performance participants. In the past, I have worked as a project manager and a business development executive in advertising and now I use these skills to work for Sentire when organising and planning various activities that we’ve been carrying out as a collective.

Marcello: My background is very different: I have been doing music since I was 15, playing guitar was the first thing. I formerly studied foreign languages and literatures, which gave me a philosophical and humanistic background. After that, I did a masters in technology and communication and I started to program computers and work with them. At the same time, I started to get more and more into computer-made music.

This brought me from Italy to Berlin, where I did a soundart masters at the University of Arts, Sound Studies. Since then, I have been working on interactive music systems, both as an artist, as well as a researcher. I see Sentire as a synthesis of this interdisciplinary path.

Sentire is an italian word which stands for both “to feel” and “to hear.” It is somehow the essence of your performance / research. How did it all start?

Olga: Everything started when I and Marcello met in 2016 and discovered we shared common interests. Particularly, it was the subjects of closeness and interpersonal interaction which I had explored in my participatory performances and which Marcello had explored through his work with interactive technologies, as well as our mutual interest in body-based somatic and artistic practises which enhance human perception. Marcello then introduced to me the system he had, which allows transforming human interaction into sound.

Marcello: When I discovered this proximity/touch system in 2014, I was immediately very interested, because it allows us to give value to a sense we experience all the time, but are usually unaware of. I kept working on it and the concept of Sentire emerged from this background.

At what point was the performative part included in your research?

Marcello: After meeting Olga, who shared my interest for somatic practice and had already worked on concepts of performance and proximity.

Olga: I suggested a setting for a participatory performance, where I am guiding people from the audience through different interactive scenarios, causing and changing the sound. In 2018, Pascal Staudt, a sound artist and instrument developer, joined our team and has been contributing to further development of Sentire hardware, as well as sound environments.

Sentire is a very beautiful word, especially in connection to your project. How did you come up with it?

Marcello: The word “sentire” emerged almost naturally for me, because in Italian, we use it all the time as a part of a general way to talk about hearing and feeling – and that fits very well with what you experience during Sentire: you are deeply submerged into hearing and feeling in a reciprocal loop of perception.

I see the relationship between research and performance is very tight. How do you understand this hermeneutic attitude?

Marcello: Research and performance have always been very closely intertwined. As the goal of my PhD research is to create a system that support body awareness, I need to know what are the participants actually experiencing and feeling during Sentire. To do so, I have been using a phenomenological interview method to uncover a level of experience which usually stays unconscious. Based on these results, I adapted the design of the system for further use. This research happens at two levels: on one hand, it is about design of the interactive music system, on the other hand, it is a purely qualitative research about users' experience.

There is a wide variety of possibilities, besides art itself, where your research might be beneficial. What are your next plans with Sentire?

Olga: The feedback from performance participants helped us to see the potential Sentire has in music therapy. We dispensed our hypothesis to therapists, sharing with them the results of our artistic research. They then started to test Sentire on people with neurological and/or mental issues and we are now helping them to adapt the interaction scenarios, depending on the patient and their situation. This provides us with insight useful for further development of the performance, our sound environments, and the hardware we use.

One of the place that you find your background for your work is project space Spektrum. What role does it play in development of Sentire?

Olga: Well, first of all, I met Marcello at Spektrum. Furthermore, our first performances were presented there within MoveLab community showcase. Spektrum has created a very special environment which allows for many interesting encounters and collaborations to emerge; some of them end up as projects and collectives, Sentire is one of them. We have been collaborating with Spektrum and presenting our projects there, which include satellite activities such as the “Enhanced sensing conference” on cognition and human-computer interaction and non-public sessions with Sentire for research among others.

Marcello: I have been visiting Spektrum since its conception and I am an active participant of the its MovLab community. I have been presenting different projects there, which were always related to new music, sound art, and performance. Later on, I have also been giving workshops about how to design interactive music systems.

Recently, you found your own community, the Unfold collective. Can you disclose your activities and plans for the future?

Marcello: Unfold has been an experiment so far, we felt the need for a community working on the subject of human perception and interactive technology. We would like to do more meetings and involve the visitors in an active way, collaborating with each other. Unfold is supposed to be a space for creating art and holding productive discussions.

Your collective was founded in Berlin, Sentire was developed in Berlin. It is also the place where you met. How do you think about Berlin in relation to your work?

Olga: I think Sentire happened thanks to Berlin and its unique environment. There are various venues and events for people like us to meet and collaborate with each other. Being an emerging artist, I feel very encouraged to experiment and to share my research with the audience and colleagues, even if it is a work in progress. It is a very important stage in any project which premits its further, more solid, states. It is very helpful to know that in Berlin, there is always a room for any kind of artistic experiments.

Marcello: That is true, Berlin is a very lively city, especially for the arts. I have been living here for almost 11 years but back then, Berlin used to be cheap and affordable, that was the key to the success of its underground scene: you could come to Berlin and give it a try. Nowadays, rents are more and more expensive and the people who come here are also changing. The process of gentrification changed the city a lot, especially in the last 3-4 years. Still, I really hope that Berlin keeps this special atmosphere, giving space to artists and young people.