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Francesco Corvi’s live coding builds his digital and audiovisual installations

In a conversation with STIR, Italian artist Francesco Corvi discusses his fascinating explorations of digital art and coding, and the audiovisual practice he builds from it.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Mar 05, 2023

Francesco Corvi produces sublime audiovisual art that speaks to the modern technological zeitgeist. His work stands at a strange crossroad—exulting the artefact of technology for its incredible selfsame properties, while also demystifying, if not humanising it, through layers of back-end work, that he reveals to the audience. He tells STIR, “The relationship I have with technology is quite eclectic and depends a lot on the type of project I am working on. I think one of the central aspects I look for in technology is the ability to reflect a personal way of conceiving sound and the influence between various elements. In particular, I am interested in going beyond just connecting various media, and blurring the boundaries between them. This challenge is tackled through several of my works, from live coding performances that mix image, text, and music, to collaborative performances in virtual reality environments, to installation works focused on the relationship between sound and image. As an algorithm artist, I prefer open-source tools, programming languages and live coding environments such as Supercollider, Glsl, Javascript, Tidalcycles and Hydra."

Live coding with Adapt, 2022, video Video: ICFP22; Courtesy of Francesco Corvi

The audiovisual artist explains that he gravitated to these workspaces, over time, despite their purportedly steep learning curve. He reveals that he has come to favour them over popular commercial products, since they allow him to create his own manner of representing ideas in a very flexible way, even if the process of creating things can sometimes take longer. He adds, "often, being open-source is associated with the idea of being ‘free,’ but for me, the most interesting thing about open-source is the ability to study how things are implemented, just as I can analyse a musical score to understand how the composer represented a certain type of music. I also use other environments such as Touchdesigner, Max/MSP, and Unity that while not open-source, allows me to deeply customise the type of environment that I am working in."

Parallel Metaverses, 2021, video, Francesco Corvi, Ivan Abreu, Laura Luna Castillo Video: Courtesy of Francesco Corvi

Corvi was born and raised in Rome, and his relationship with art began at an early age, with him playing various musical instruments for recreation. He soon gravitated towards improvisation as a means of exploring and researching new sounds and forms of expression. The artist became interested in electronic music by frequenting the underground experimental scene in Rome. This path led him to study in Italy at CREA, the Research Centre for Audiovisual Processing, and then in the Netherlands at the Institute of Sonology in The Hague. Corvi mentions, "I have always found the moment when the mind can untangle the complexity of symbols to be mesmerising. It allows me to reach a deeper understanding of my craft. This is definitely related to my interest in mathematics and programming, but it was in music that I found a way to explore this passion through an emotional experience and an embodied form of expression. My work in recent years focuses on programming algorithmic systems to play live or to create installations and fixed media, often using live coding techniques, meaning the reconfiguration of software in real-time without interrupting the flow of the performance."

Scenes from Parallel Metaverses #1, 2021, image, Francesco Corvi, Ivan Abreu, Laura Luna Castillo |Francesco Corvi | STIRworld
Scenes from Parallel Metaverses #1, 2021, image, Francesco Corvi, Ivan Abreu, Laura Luna Castillo Image: Courtesy of Francesco Corvi

What Corvi finds most interesting about the idea of reconfiguration and live coding is the change in his relationship with musical instruments. Instead of controlling the parameters of an instrument, such as pitch, duration, and timbre, he changes the instrument itself, or rather the symbolic representation of that instrument through code. Most digital instruments tend to emulate an acoustic or analogue approach in which the user is always constrained to changing certain parameters, but the artist is far more preoccupied and interested in the ephemerality of software and its ability to evolve. This is true during his performances as well. The Italian artist explains, “In my performances, I always tend to leave a certain degree of autonomy to the software I program, while also giving it the ability to monitor itself and alter its structure in relation to its behaviour. In these cases, my role tends to shift between a series of equilibria and I work to direct the evolution of this adaptation toward results that I find perceptually and emotionally interesting. My interest in new technologies has also led me to give various master classes and workshops, ranging from DIY settings to universities and academies such as KABK and NABA, or in galleries such as Contemporary Cluster and also in festivals such as WeSa and Robot.”

Scenes from Parallel Metaverses #2, 2021, image, Francesco Corvi, Ivan Abreu, Laura Luna Castillo |Francesco Corvi | STIRworld
Scenes from Parallel Metaverses #2, 2021, image, Francesco Corvi, Ivan Abreu, Laura Luna Castillo Image: Courtesy of Francesco Corvi

The digital artist has been working towards getting music programming into Italian middle schools and other like-minded institutions, over the last year. Corvi is interested in uncovering how his creative activities might fit into an academic environment, and how digital art might extend beyond being considered a mode of entertainment to a means of spreading knowledge and stimulating collective discussions, on ethical and philosophical aspects, related to modern technology—the direction it is headed in and its implications.

Francesco Corvi’s profile– Live at C(A)OSMO Festival, 2021, image| Francesco Corvi | STIRworld
Francesco Corvi’s profile– Live at C(A)OSMO Festival, 2021, image Image: Clarissa Strolighi; Courtesy of Bright Festival

Corvi concludes the interview by elaborating on the link between technology and the artist, and telling us what’s NEXT for him, narrating, “We often hear about technology as an inscrutable black box. I am convinced that a heuristic and spontaneous approach does not always need to imply this obscurantism. This does not mean that the artist should necessarily have an engineer’s understanding of the tools they use, but rather that they should be aware of the aesthetic, political, and cultural values they embed within their practice. I am currently working on several collaborative projects through which I would like to experiment with new strategies of creating an interplay between performers, by building intelligent instruments that can share data with each other and adapt to various possible configurations. At this stage of my journey, I would like to explore how my personal approach can enter into a dialogue with the work of other creative minds through the development of dedicated adaptive instruments, creating a symbiotic interaction that appears also in the performative act itself, and is thus also intelligible to the audience.”

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