Stefan Beyst On Luigi Nono’s Prometeo


I came across this essay by Stefan Beyst on Nono’s Prometeo – a revolutionary work, if there was ever one in this century (although calling it “revolutionary” is already lame since everyone who ever comes across it immediately does so). Nono worked on Prometeo for a long time in collaboration with an Italian philosopher (and all-around intellectual) Massimo Cacciari. The result was a performance at San Lorenzo in Venice in 1984 that was quite interesting – a new sort of stage production was constructed with electronic and spacial innovations. Some background info for the curios can be found here.

I thought this section of the essay was curious:

What catches the eye in such evocations is the emphasis on the hearing of things that are invisible. But foremost the fact that, in audible space, the sounds seems to break loose from the source of sound in visual space. That is why every soundscape – think of the sudden outburst of bells ringing over the city – has something of an epiphany – an auditory version of Plato’s cave wherein only the sound of the voices would resound. However much the prisoners in the cave would – this time freely – look around, they would never lay eyes upon the visual appearance from which the lovely voices were emanating.

Such disentanglement of audible and visual space is precisely what Nono is seeking. For, according to Nono, musical space has been subordinated to visual space: since the advent of the concert hall and the opera house, everything is focusing on the actors or the musicians on the scene, or, worse still, the gesticulation of the conductor. Nono’s philosophical friend Cacciari is referring to Foucault – theatres and concert halls appear simultaneously with jails and asylums – and to Derrida’s ‘idein’, the critique of the dominance of seeing. In a ‘tragedia dell’ascolto’ such subordination to the eye has to be undone: the instruments should be displayed around the listeners: the Venetian soundscape as the realisation of Nono’s dream to free sound from its visual fetters.

Here’s the Prologo from Prometeo (again, for the curious) – turn up the volume and sit back (make sure there are no small children or unsuspecting spouses sitting around).

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