Interview with Composer Luca Longobardi

Alongside the launch of the playlist he curated for Spotify, Italian composer Luca Longobardi joins us to discuss his latest project: the soundtrack for the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit. Coming off their highly acclaimed Atelier de Lumières exhibition in Paris, Longobardi once again partners with Artistic Director Massimiliano Siccardi to create an imaginative soundtrack for a fully immersive experience. In the interview below, he invites us to lean into the power of art and beauty to ignite our imagination as we all search for a new normal in a post-pandemic world. From his weekly live-streamed concerts to writing new music, the composer discusses the many ways he’s been keeping busy, as well as his sources of inspiration for a soundtrack which he calls his ‘most honest and true work’.

How did you become involved in this exhibition? 

LL: What binds me to Artistic Director Massimiliano Siccardi, in addition to a long-standing friendship, is an elective affinity that has always allowed us to work creatively in a very fast and direct way. From the contemporary ballets which he curated to the performance installations that saw us together on stage, there has always been a very pragmatic approach based on a shared method, creative genesis and philosophical vision of art. I have been involved in fifteen other immersive shows with him, but I think this Van Gogh, this Vincent of ours, is perhaps the most honest and true work done so far.

Your works are known to have a strong integration of classical and contemporary music, who are some of your favourite composers in both genres? 

LL: Beethoven is my first choice. During my study in New York I took a monographic course for a semester and had the opportunity to analyze almost his complete works and also read a lot about his life and his approach to music. His concepts of musical writing, of ‘thinking by parameters’, of cohesion and timbre division have been a real epiphany and have strongly influenced my approach to composition over time.

In the contemporary scene, my choice is Arvo Pärt, for his minimalism and expressive purity. In the electronic scene, I really appreciate Alessandro Cortini and Murcof: both of them manage the concept of noise and silence in such a way that they become structural in the compositional process.

Do you have a favourite Van Gogh painting? 

LL: I do! Bedroom in Arles is one of my favourites. The intimacy of the place represented on canvas is a very powerful sign of total openness towards the world. It is a sort of invitation to find out about his fragility.

The second one is Cafe Terrace at Night. I particularly love the underlying symbolism that reflects the personal, almost therapeutic role that Van Gogh’s painting had come to represent to him. In this particular moment, I can relate to this connotation of art more than ever.

'Bedroom in Arles' — Van Gogh. Copyright vangoghmuseum.nl

What are some of the main elements of the soundtrack that you’d like attendees to focus on?

LL: Immersive art is a very complex concept, it is not just a technical way to represent A/V in huge spaces. The word immersive indicates a deep commitment of intentions which connect images and sounds in a way that the audience is able to experience a different perception of the art.

The music does not ‘overpower’ the images but, on the contrary, allows a diverse approach to them, one that is more personal and intimate. Music like soundscapes or even very famous tracks like Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne Regrette Rien’ recall that involuntary memory (to use Marcel Proust’s concept) that allows people to generate new and specific attachments to the experience, a new madeleine moment. 

What are the main instruments you’ve chosen for the soundtrack, and how do you feel they resonate with the visual experience?

LL: The soundtrack of this work of art develops by following two main narrative concepts: the human and emotional condition of the artist and his way of expressing his sensitivity through creative action. 

The clear image of Van Gogh is one of often looking for understanding in other artists, though he ends up finding solitude as his only possible condition — both in a positive and negative sense — and that is the constant that connects the two concepts. Be it the introspection he often abandons himself to or isolation in nature in order to paint it in all its power, Van Gogh is alone in his uniqueness and psychic brittleness. He’s alone with his way of thinking ahead of his time. 

Only while creating, while painting can one become many, through the repetition of the strokes, the thickness of the matter on the canvas, the use of colors. This process of the multiplicity of inputs is represented in the music for this exhibition by the combination of solo pieces and pieces for ensemble. There are combinations of choir and solo voice, piano and synths, strings and symphonic orchestra. And as the instruments merge in order to create richer and more complex timbres, a new meaning insinuates and holds his timeless art still. 

The classic is given new nourishment, written anew, again and again, styled inside our production, it is something alive and contemporary. All this, together with a sophisticated selection of pop songs that could be played on the radio even today, puts in our minds the seed of intimacy, moving us all, in spite of cultural or age differences, towards a wider sense of belonging.

'Cafe Terrace at Night' — Van Gogh. Copyright www.vangoghstudio.com

What’s been your experience of this lockdown? 

LL: Well there are ups and downs. My main concern is the health of people I love, especially my parents who live in the South of Italy in a little town that has been declared a red zone almost since the beginning of the quarantine. It was hard to see and face what was happening in cities like Bergamo or Milano, thinking about all the sorrow people were going through.

But I’ve believed,  since day one, that playing for people is a good way to stay connected with reality. So I started live-streaming sessions from my home studio to be in touch with my family, my friends, my fans and even with myself. It became a daily rendezvous that’s  helped me a lot. At the same time, I started to receive invitations for online festivals and Q&A sessions, and that was a sign for me that people needed to be entertained, to be involved in the power of music, to stay in touch with artists they appreciate and love.

I’ve also written a lot of new music and have enjoyed a chance to dedicate myself to music in a way that was not possible before. It was not only a matter of time but also a matter of feeling. Even though all my live concerts, performing acts, workshops and visual exhibits have been postponed, there is one thing that stands clear in my mind: once this is over, we will all need art and beauty to recover from this exceptionally strange time.