“It’s been an absolute joy to work at the residency… the darkness outside and the time we spent focused on the work allowed us to develop many new ideas with a refreshed perspective and to collaborate with other artists on a common ground”.
~ Christopher Salvito and Nicoletta Favari of Passepartout Duo
T: Teresa Cheung
C: Christopher Salvito
N: Nicoletta Favari
T: Can you share with us your background and how it relates to your artistic practice here?
N: The Duo was created at first as a long-distance partnership in 2015, therefore we’ve always been very happy to work in the context of artist residencies where we could deliver results on strict deadlines taking advantage of the special resources of each institution. Since then, our interest in residencies has changed from a necessity to an artistic choice: in fact, these environments now allow us to reinvent ourselves in every new place, to meet artists of other disciplines, and in the best cases to collaborate with them.
C: Residencies have become part of the way that we work, and they are at the same time an important moment for self-reflection for us. During them, we are able to describe and question our practice, and the connection of our music to the “real world,” and we get the chance to work within a community where we can test the impact of our work. We have also been able to put thought into the possible lifestyles artists and musicians can adopt outside of the predetermined teaching or freelancing careers that are often the predominant dichotomy of choices.
T: Can you tell us more about your work?
C: We are a duo of piano and percussion performing contemporary music. For me as a percussionist, contemporary classical music comes very natural. The history of my instrument started during the turn of the 20th century and most of our music is written after the 60s. Although some of the instruments we play are among the oldest in history, plenty of them are pretty recent, for example, vibraphones are around 100 years old, very different from the piano in this way.
N: And as a pianist I find in contemporary music sounds that are very refreshing, distant from what has been inherited from the classical repertoire over the centuries.
C: Sometimes we find ourselves in pockets of artistic practice where many questions are asked and too few answers are given. I think that part of the identity of our group is to present very complete products to the audience, rather than research projects that are in progress.
We are also very interested in answering questions like what being a musical group entails – a contemporary music group, a classical music group, or a band… there are differences between the music industries and sometimes we can’t easily find for us a fitting into any one of these specific categories.
T: Why did you decide to join the Skammdegi Festival?
N: A few years ago I spent 6 months on an exchange in Finland, and I got a taste of the Nordic artistic landscape, and by now it was about time to rediscover it. For a while, we had heard a lot about Iceland and were looking for the right opportunity to come here. We finally found out about Skammdegi. The fact that it was possible to present the results of the residency during the festival represented a big part in our decision to apply.
N: Then we thought, let’s make the project bigger. We had met quite a few composers from the Nordic countries that we were interested in, and we happened to find grants that could support artistic creation in the North (Nordisk Kulturfond), so we applied; by now we have four residencies lined up between Skammdegi, Finland and Norway, four commissioning projects for new musical works and hopefully even more opportunities will come up.
C: Iceland itself is an inspiration to many musicians, and the fact that we could come to Ólafsfjörður and have at our disposition the facilities of the music school was very important to us too.
T: Is Listhús your first residency?
N: No, we’ve been to a few residencies in the States (Avaloch Farm, Hill & Hollow Music and The Hill House), but also in Spain (La Casa del Herrero), Morocco (Dar Slimane) and Canada (Banff Centre).
C: After two weeks had passed here, we realised that, for our usual standards, we haven’t gotten anything done yet. When we had only a two-week long residency in Morocco or Michigan, we started working intensely right upon our arrival, learning notes, rehearsing, filming, just because everything had to be done in two weeks. Here it’s a completely different timeline, I feel like we’re in an incubator where our ideas can fully develop.
T: How do you feel after living in Ólafsfjörður/Iceland for a month (December) so far?
N: This is new for us. It was interesting to meet people in Iceland and find out that they are like a kind of “Renaissance man”. They usually do a number of different things, not just one profession. I am also amazed how tuned the choir at the church was during the Christmas concert! Never heard that in a church before…
C: I think we had no expectation about the residency itself. We just came to this land of Bjork and Sigur Rós, and we found some very musical people. Also the music school, with that great stage downstairs – for an 800-people town it’s really remarkable. In the States it’d never be the case, not in Italy either.
I’m inspired by the Icelandic poetry. It’s not like I even understand a word of it, but the lilts and the sounds of the structures are sonically interesting and understood beyond the meaning of the text. I am also impressed by the strength of tradition and how universally respected it is here. The idea of reciting the long saga is also very cool and very inspiring. Somehow we feel like their cultural strength lies more in the words, in this language and its sounds, rather than in a repertoire music or instrument making.
T: What is your plan for the second half of Skammdegi, in January? What are you going to create/present during Skammdegi Festival?
N: So we have recently been thinking about those concerts we had in the past when we are playing in fantastic spaces, but somehow very few people show up, and we thought that here we could have a chance at trying out a different format, bringing the music to the people straight into their houses (Mobile musical moments).
C: I’ve had two experiences with mobile concerts like this before too. In Austria, for example, I took part in the Klangspuren Festival. There we had some concerts at people’s houses, where the owners invited friends and it was a great experience all around. People have a different kind of expectation for the music in those settings, and they can be pleasantly surprised even by weird music too.
Another experience that worked in that direction was in Baltimore, created by Seth Knopp, who runs a festival called Yellow Barn. He started this initiative called Music Haul, where a U-Haul converted into a travelling concert venue stops at different cities and neighborhoods delivering pop up concerts. The results were great, as Seth is a master of programming and curating the concert experience. He put together different kinds of music that were very accessible to the audience.
N: While in Ólafsfjörður, we are also working on the filming of two pieces, for which we’d like to try out some light design ideas inspired by the extreme light conditions in this location. Every time we create a video, this becomes a sort of time capsule that we like to take with us after the residency. The videos are always publicly uploaded to our website and on YouTube.
T: What is your plan for 2018?
N: Most of the year will be spent working through the project related to the Nordic countries, and with 2019 we will probably undertake a similar network of collaborations across Asia, developing a couple of new programs that try to bring the Duo to a new level, going beyond the execution of repertoire pieces.
~ Teresa Cheung, Culture researcher from Hong Kong, China. She is recently received a Master of Arts in Cultural Studies from KU Leuven, Belgium. Her background in Anthropology and study abroad experience give her opportunity to meet different people. Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/icelandwhatever/
~ Christopher Salvito and Nicoletta Favari are the musicians of Passepartout Duo, a piano and percussion ensemble that is working in the field of contemporary music through new commissioning projects, interdisciplinary collaborations and music video recordings. Website: http://passepartoutduo.com/