Tick Tock Goes the Clock

Civitella Ranieri Center

I rented a car and went to visit the Civitella Ranieri Center, a veritable 15th-century castle in Umbria that hosts a small handful of artists for six weeks at a time. On a beautiful early evening, thirty or so guests sat to hear each of the eight fellows give 5-minute presentations:

  • Yoko Inoue, installation artist, Japan/NYC. Yoko presented her anthropology-meets-art in a series of works concerned with Andean exported handiwork that is sold in New York’s Chinatown.

  • Diana Bellessi, poet, Argentina. Diana read a poem and told her family’s story of leaving Italy for Argentina in a haunting, mesmerizing voice.

  • Raul Brasca, writer of the super-short, Argentina. Raul, who moonlights as a chemical engineer, read some of his extremely brief, surreal stories.

  • Josh Goldfaden, writer, USA. Josh read the first few hilarious pages of a story about a group of pretentious writers at a writers’ workshop in Italy.

  • Jonathan Dove, composer of 21 operas, UK. Jonathan showed a brief scene from his new made-for-TV opera about the first moon landing, Man on the Moon (“This bit comes right before the commercial break”). Dove also said a few words about his so-called community operas written for Glyndebourne that use over 600 performers and take the audience on a romp around town.

  • Soren Nils Eichberg, German/Danish composer. Soren played the slow movement from his cello concerto, a rhapsodic and lyrical piece.

  • Milind Raikar, classical Indian violinist, performed a super-condensed, 5-minute version of a raga, accompanied by an electric drone and tabla.

  • Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen, Danish composer, chose to speak about, rather than play his music. I wondered if this was a good idea, considering that English is not his first language. Still, it was intriguing enough that I went to his website and listened to excerpts—very impressive, especially the gutsy Tonkraftwerk.

The castle is quite isolated and Fellows aren’t allowed to bring partners or spouses until the last week of the program. As I hear more about the projects that have been realized in past residencies at Civitella, I think about how much—or rather how little—I accomplished work-wise in my first six weeks at the American Academy, knowing full well I would have 11 months. It’s really quite remarkable how we use time.

There is, I think, no proper recipe for working. Some people (John Williams comes to mind) have to compose two minutes of music a day. Others think for months before writing a note. But when a group of artists works in close quarters, we are conscious of each other’s progress, of each other’s writer’s blocks, and our own productivity becomes effected whether we like it or not. At times, for me, it is a useful tool in jarring my lazy ass out of bed and into the studio. Yet sometimes, when I see too many busy bees arduously working, my own drive becomes diminished, and I crawl back into my hive and take a nap.

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