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Sounding Out Sicily

Field Recording1

Jimmy recording sounds of Sicily as artist in residence in the small town of Ficarra

Jimmy Power, a sound artist from Mansfield, tells CN about his time in a tiny Sicilian town …

During April 2015 I spent a month in Ficarra, Sicily, as part of an Artist in Residence program with i-art Thirty artists from all over Europe and the Mediterranean working in a range of art forms, spread out across different municipalities of Sicily. The residency was designed to take the artists out of their normal artistic surroundings and their usual working environment, giving them a chance to establish a more authentic and direct relationship with a territory and its inhabitants; the audience for the finished piece.
After 10 hours and 3 flights I finally arrived into the city of Palermo, Sicily. With each flight there seemed to be fewer English speaking people until finally I was the foreigner standing out like a daisy in a dead patch of grass! Then, no pick up as was expected and no trains or buses. It quickly occurred to me 4 weeks of self-taught Italian wasn’t holding up like I imagined. I managed to use my mobile’s mailbox to retrieve the organiser’s phone number. My ‘It will be fine’ attitude was rapidly disappearing! They didn’t speak English. Feeling tired, alone and very naive I was able to communicate just enough to get into a pretty expensive taxi, with a driver who ignored me but did get me to my hotel.
I had the pleasure of meeting 30 amazing artists of various art forms from all over Europe, getting to know them along with the local wines until the early hours! Sitting in a 2 hour Italian press conference as they went through all of our artist proposals was less of a pleasure! So too was the early morning pick up to head off to my small town of Ficarra for 4 weeks on my own.
3 hours later I was dropped on the side of a road to meet the man who would take me into the town. I was in the middle of nowhere; in the most beautiful mountainous environment I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

Jimmy's Palace Bedroom Studio in Ficarra, Sicily

Jimmy’s Palace Bedroom Studio in Ficarra, Sicily

My studio space in the town was the master bedroom of the palace, now a museum/art gallery with a large terrace perfect for my al fresco lunch in the sun. The relaxation was short lived however when I realised that I had no basic equipment; no speakers, wire or soldering iron! Luckily I was able to catch a lift with someone going to the hair salon in the next large town around 30 minutes’ drive away where I was able to buy some essential bits of kit.
I could go on about my experiences, there’d be more than a paragraph a day, but as this is a blog not a book I’ll get to the project!

Contact Microphone in situ recording the sounds of the Sicilian town

Contact Microphone in situ recording the sounds of the Sicilian town

I created an experimental sound piece based around the sound of the town of Ficarra. I used the sounds that are unique to the place including the sounds of the people. I wanted the people of the town to be part of the actual recording process. I used contact microphones that were made in combination with some old headphones (which I was able to source from a local lad!). These were sited at points that I felt were the most active; railings that stretched throughout the small town and the cattle grid like grates that were audible constantly throughout the day. My vision was to allow the people of Ficarra to interact with the microphones, capturing their everyday movements in both raw and abstract ways.

Recording Ficarra's ancient church organ

Recording Ficarra’s ancient church organ

I recorded the town’s most characteristic sounds; its church bells and 18th Century pipe organ and capturing convolution impulses, was an amazing experience (CN editor That means the real acoustics of the space itself or that’s what Wikipedia leads us to believe!) Though I did feel quite bad when they brought the organ player 15 miles to meet me, only to watch as I played one note at a time (to use later as a sample library).  I manipulated the recordings using them in a musical way, combining the tonal properties from the contact microphone recordings with analysis of the deeply rooted folk genre, resulting in the finished piece’s chord structure, time signature and overall feel.
After a couple of weeks it seemed I’d become a local hero. In every shop in town (a grand total of 4!) I’d be greeted with “Jimmy” and a nod, when I asked how they knew my name the result was a lengthy conversation between 2 confused people – me and them. This went on for some time and I thought it was crazy how the word had spread so fast about my presence. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to speak some English with a shop keeper that I found out that they weren’t saying “Jimmy”but “Dimmi” asking me what I would like!

But word of my work did eventually spread. I was stopped by some policemen (they don’t get many tourists, especially when it’s not summer; I was obviously up to something suspicious or just a lost fool). After I explained why I was there, they said “you’re with Jimmy?” and I informed them that I was Jimmy!
There are other stories from my visit; from the fresh meat, when I say fresh I mean pulling half a cow out the fridge and turning the local butchers into a Rocky scene with an axe saw, to locking myself out and the landlord turning up with a 5 foot ladder and turning into middle aged Italian Spiderman and breaking the window!

View of Ficarra, Jimmy's 'home' for the residency in Sicily

View of Ficarra, Jimmy’s ‘home’ for the residency in Sicily

When my time came to an end I presented my work (accompanied by some visuals so they could see what they were hearing) to an audience including the Mayor and his associates, local politicians, curators, art students, other important figures and a range of locals. They titled my piece ‘The Soundtrack to Ficarra’.
When we are surrounded by beauty we don’t always see it and it can be taken for granted or become ‘normal’. This piece really allowed me to show this concept, giving a new perspective that highlights the beauty in a condensed way.

Jimmy Power

Twitter @thatjimmyperson

More information about all the artists who took part in the project can be found on the i-art website