Project Finito

After almost a year from planning and researching, to living in Trieste for 3 months, to writing my documentation and giving a presentation, I have finally finished my Practice in Context project. Without a doubt, I’ve learnt loads and really enjoyed the process.

So this is just a post to say…. thank you to everyone who:

hosted me, gave me a bed, played music to or with me, taught me tunes, gave me advice, gave me contacts and put me in touch with people, fed me, clothed me, watered me, talked with me, gave me information, invited me, gave me music c.d’s and other resources, drove me around, taught me Italian and was patient enough to listen to me in Italian.

I could not have done this project without the amazing contributions from the citizens of Trieste and around!! There are so many people who fit into one or more of these categories, so thanks! It’s been a joy.

In other news my band, Four People have been invited to play at a festival in Lake Garda this Summer with a stage from from a folk music bar in London. So tour of Northern Italy 2014 is looking very hopeful!!

I’m re-performing my presentation again tomorrow for other students who are about to plan a project to see how its done and give some tips etc. How well I’ve fared in the module is yet to be seen – I think I’ll find out in a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed.



An extremely overdue post about my trip to Milan.

First of all, I think this post is about two months late. Since I returned from Italy I have been manically documenting my project for university deadlines. I made a book with photos, diagrams and c.d. and last week I gave a presentation. I made a theatre studio into an osmiza to make my presentation nice and informal. So it is only now that I’ve got around to updating my blog – apologies to my most dedicated fans!!

So a bit of context about this last venture in my trip: I briefly met Stefano Schiraldi at the Barcolando in October. He then contacted me through this blog and we began meeting informally to play music. He told me about this project he was working on, creating original music and songs for a theatre piece. He was writing for many different arrangements such as solos, group vocal pieces, accompaniments, so I we were able to try out various parts and develop the scores.


(performance flyer)

After a few of these meetings, quite unexpectedly, Stefano asked if I would like to join him and the theatre company in Milan. Of course I willingly accepted the offer and couldn’t quite believe my luck. So on Monday 25th November we drove to Milan to start rehearsing – the performance would premiere on the Thursday and ran for 4 nights and 1 night in Trieste the following week.

The company had only these three days to rehearse the piece pretty much from scratch so the rehearsals were quite tense at first because many things had to be achieved before opening night. As a result the music changed a lot, having to cut and paste sections here and there. Having to navigate the situation solely in Italian was… challenging. Not being familiar with the performance or cues was an added difficulty especially as there was little time to faff about/continuously ask people to repeat themselves! But luckily I soon caught on the the structure of the performance.

By the opening night Stefano and I were confident that the music would go well. We had developed a good rapport and communication over the rehearsals and his ruthlessness over accuracy and selection of the final performance material had paid off.

(Rossi 2013)DSC03638

Dell’Umiliazione e della Vendetta (of humiliation and revenge) dealt with attitudes and violence towards women in Italy but, moreover, it celebrated womankind, femininity and girl power. It was a piece of Music Theatre devised by an all-female company.

(Rossi 2013)DSC03698

In discussion with the director, Marcela Serli, I found out more about the devising processes. Although the piece was contemporary there were quite a few influences from traditional practices such as the Tarantella dance  and Marina Abramovic’s Balkan Erotic Epic.

(Rossi 2013)DSC03848

In short, it was a great opportunity to be able to work on and perform in this piece and I am reaaaally grateful to ATOPOS (the company) for letting me play and to Stefano for guiding me through! It was whirlwind of a week – I stayed in no less than 4 different people’s houses in various locations around Milan which was quite disorientating but also pretty exciting.

Overall it was heaps of fun and I am very happy to have been involved in such a quality piece of theatre.

Porto Vecchio round 2 and End of Project!

Today is my last day in Trieste and I will be flying home tomorrow so I can start crackin on with the documentation… I haven’t been up so up to date with blogging ’cause I’ve had a mayyd last couple of weeks. Last week I was in Milan working with a theatre company – we did four performances there and one in Trieste this week. The last three nights in a row I’ve ended up at some kind of celebration or another (wahoo!). So this will be a mini post about my last day. Bumper post about playing in the show in Milan to come.

I spent my last day busking and I also went to the Porto Vecchio again. This time I was with a friend so it wasn’t quite so scary as I remembered! The hole i found last time had been fixed(!) but luckily we still managed to get through and have a good look around. We even managed to go inside some of the buildings and explore the different floors. There were a few lorry drivers and the like hanging about but they didn’t seem to mind our presence.

DSC02681 DSC02682 DSC02679 DSC02675 DSC02691 DSC02693 DSC02697

I took this photo on a first floor balcony – amazingly quite a few trees have burst through the concrete from underneath.DSC02699 DSC02702 Concrete Jungle.DSC02704 DSC02703 DSC02718 DSC02720my friend Daniele.

Daniele noticed that it was really echoey in one of the buildings so we made this film.

I’m feeling pretty shattered from the last couple of weeks – there has been a crescendo to the end of the proj, complete with fanfare and fireworks etc. but I definitely don’t feel as though it has concluded. In a way, I feel like it has only just begun – I’ve just got to know this place and am feeling pretty settled. So it feels like I am being catapulted back to the UK prematurely – maybe thats partly because I didn’t design and ending for my project or didn’t set my self a final achievement type thing. I just left it open-ended. So, unsurprisingly, it has ended openly. I guess I will try and make sense of all these ‘loose ends’ while I document. In the meantime I am already planning a comeback tour for Summer 2014 – a result of a loose end, i suppose. Well hurrah for ‘loose ends’ and ‘open endings,’ then!

Exploration in Resia Valley

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit the folkloric group in Resia Valley.

Resia Valley is situated in the mountainous Carnia region of Friuli in the North-East of Italy also know as the ‘Pre-Alps.’ As the valley is situated right on the Slovenian border, there is a very old Slovenian dialect spoken here. Though, due to the remote location of the valley and Italian and Friulian influences, the dialect is not really similar to Slovenian at all.


The folkloric group began in 1838 to kind of ‘officiate’ the traditional music and dances of Resia. I was greeted by Pamela, the president of the group, at the train station. It was my first time in a mountainous area, so I was amazed by the snow-capped mountains and couldn’t stop looking up and around at the scenery – it felt quite surreal to be so close to them. We took a walk around the town of Venzone (not actually in Resia but near) and she explained to me that in 1976 there was a massive earthquake in Friuli that destroyed many of the towns including Venzone. In this time, many people were left homeless and had to move away from Friuli for a couple of years while the towns were rebuilt. As a result of this lots of the traditions and customs were lost or changed – so when people were able to return to Friulian towns and particularly Resia, it brought their attention to the fact that they have really unique traditions that they should try and save as best they can!

The border location of Resia has caused some political represssion, really affecting the customs and traditions. After the 2nd World War, it was part of Zone A in the Free Territory of Trieste. Tito and Yugoslavia wanted to claim this area due to the Slovene population but it became a part of Italy with the rest of Zone A in 1954. This left Resians in a difficult situation as authorities did not recognise the area as an official minority and they were forbidden to speak Resian when dealing with authorities. Italian was enforced in schools etc. so thus began the decline of the Resian dialect. It wasn’t until 2001 that the government recognised the area as a Slovene minority.

Later in the afternoon the folkloric group were performing at an event in Moggio, so I was able to see them perform in their traditional costumes. The musical ensemble is usually two violins who play a melody and a kind of cello with three strings that plays a plays line. The violin in the Resian dialect is called citira and the cello, bunkula. On first sight, the bunkula looks like a cello that has seen better days(!) but when you look closer you can see its quite different – the lowest string is made of a pig’s gut and the bow is enormous – like a saw! The tunes they play are all quite similar – they play an A tune in d major and then the B tune is the same but in a major. This is repeated until the end of the dance. Sometimes the musicians sing along with the melody and the dancers echo them, like a call and answer. I was quite excited to try and play some of the music later on.



In the evening we drove to the cultural centre of Resia – kind of like the group’s headquarters! In the winter, the group doesn’t have so many performances so on Saturday evenings they organise talks and events as a way for everyone to spend time together. nice. The evening I was there was a presentation of two Resians who had trekked across iceland this summer. It was very well attended – maybe 50 people came and there was a huge mixture of ages. I was quite curious as to how they had managed to keep young people interested in such old traditions. I was informed that now, everyone learns the dances in primary school and it is optional to learn citira or bunkula, so young people are familiar with and fond of the tradition. The group also makes regular trips around Europe to folk festivals and have also been to Japan and Peru – so there are quite a few perks of being a part of the group!

After the presentation, the president congratulated and thanked the trekkers and then grandly announced my presence to the audience, telling them I’d come to see some Resian songs and dances – to which I was given a round of applause! Then everyone gathered for what looked like some civilised drinks and nibbles – it actually turned out to be quite a party! After everyone had had a few drinks the musicians began to tune up. I whipped out my recorder and asked if I could try and join in. When they started to play, a space was cleared for the dancers. I quickly realised that the Resian instruments are tuned a tone higher than the standard tuning… so I was hideously out of tune for a while! Another thing that characterises the Resian music is that the players stamp their feet in time with the dancers and at the end of a phrase there is a particularly big stamp and then you switch foot to start the next phrase. Here are some of the recordings I made. I’m playing in these recordings too – sometimes you can hear that one of the violins is a bit behind and out of tune! It was a mega fun evening and I felt really lucky to be able to take part.

I stayed in the house of one of the members of the group in Gniva or Niwa – in the Resian dialect. The next day she showed me around Stolvizza – another village in Resia. It was quite a grey day – so the pics aren’t so clear!

Resia Valley on a cloudy November day:DSC02604

DSC02603 DSC02605 I was borrowing this fetching orange number – very sad to let it go…DSC02608 DSC02610 Some kind of Christmas performance happens here – the star remains there year-round.DSC02613

I caught the train back to Trieste that evening after a home-made Polenta lunch. To cut to the chase, I was absolutely spoilt rotten by the people of Resia! They hosted me, fed me and moreover, gave me a ton of merchandise from the folkloric group archive – c.d’s, books, tapes, leaflets – literally a whole bagful! I am so grateful for these things and can’t thank them enough. I haven’t really had a chance to have a look yet as I shot off to Milan first thing the next day. But that’s another story. Anyway I cannot wait to delve into my presents! I really enjoyed my time with the folkloric group, there was a huge sense of community and collaboration that I had not experienced before. Hearing and seeing the traditional performance of Resia is something that I will treasure for a long time – it was a real privilege. I really hope to return in the future – maybe to the infamous Resian carnival!


Expedition to Croatia!

As part of my traditional music research, I decided to take a trip to Istria last week. The region is a peninsula on the Adriatic coast and the western part of Croatia (a tiny part of the peninsula is in Slovenia and Italy too but maybe 90% is in Croatia.) Istria has a very interesting history, which is closely connected to that of Trieste. Along with Trieste, it used to be a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it dissolved in 1918. There was a large Italian population at this time and Italian was the official language of the area, along with Croatian. After the Austro-Hungarian period it became a part of Italy – things began to turn sour with the arrival of fascism and forced Italianisation so lots of the Croatian population left for Yugoslavia. Then towards the end of the Second World War, Tito occupied and forced out the opposition – this led to the gruesome Foibe killings and mass Istrian Exodus. When the war ended, a part of Istria was split in two parts, North and South – Zone A and B. Zone A was the Gulf of Trieste and Zone B began at the south of Muggia. It became known as the ‘Free Territory of Trieste’ to diffuse conflict between Italy and Yugoslavia as to who owned this area of land. In 1954 Zone A became a part of Italy whilst Zone B was given to former Yugoslavia. Now the population is largely Croatian – there is a small Italian population, I think somewhere between 5 and 10% and an Italian dialect is spoken in some areas.

So, how has this turbulent time in the 20th century affected the culture and music? Given that there were constant changes of population due to forced emigration, constant changes to the territory and borders, different governments, communism – I thought there could be a rich music tradition – so I got myself a bus ticket and went to find out more.

First of all I spent a few days in Bale in an ecological arts centre as a volunteer. Image

In the Summer they run workshops for the public, in Winter its quite quiet. Between building fences and chopping firewood etc. I was able to go on walks and explore the Istrian countryside and landscape. It was a good to be away from the city for a few days and to have time to reflect and evaluate(?!?!) the project so far. I’ve realised, one of the ways my project has transformed from the initial proposal, is that instead of me sniffing around for traditional music styles, it has become more about how a place makes music and how music makes a place (and this includes tradition, obviously.) For example how the location, geographical features, traditions, polictical situations influence the music created and in turn how music that is brought to or created in a place shifts the traditions, landscapes and helps maybe define a place. 


We went on trip one day and saw these stone huts. Shepherds used to use them to shelter from rain. You can find them all over Istria and some other parts of the Mediterranean. It was also quite interesting to find the deciduous Oak trees that we have in England as well as another species of Oak from the Mediterranean that is non-deciduous – I found it cool to find natural elements that factor the Eastern/Western location, i.e. it’s not just man-made elements like borders that define areas.Image

(there were amazing sunsets there!)

After my time in Bale I went to meet a friend of a friend in Pazin, to tell me about the Istrian music tradition. I was in for a treat-and-a-half!! After joining a very lively Croatian family lunch, we spent the afternoon playing instruments and listening to recordings, old and new of Istrian music.

He played pretty much every Istrian instrument going! I was introduced to Dvojnice, a kind of wooden double flute so you can play two notes at once. Sopele – a reed instrument, sounds quite like an oboe. Usually two are played together. Mih – a kind of bagpipes. The bag is made of a goats skin, the pipes are of wood and you can also play two notes at once. 

This is a soundclip of the instruments in the order that they are mentioned.

I was curious about the so-called Istrian scale that I’d heard about. As I thought, the term ‘Istrian scale’ started to be used for notation purposes but refers to many different styles of music e.g. vocal, instrumental pieces, music for dancing etc. I had also heard that Istrian music contained quarter-tones – this was another term that came about to describe any interval smaller than a semi-tone. Before there were standard models of instrument making, hand made instruments were quite unique from one another, i.e. holes were in slightly different places, they varied in size etc. This created the ‘quarter-tone’ sound, which is harder to hear now that instruments are made more or less the same. 

The vocal tradition is really interesting – usually a male voice leads and a higher female voice accompanies. The female voice is really nasal – i think it’s maybe to imitate the sopele. There is an improvisation element, but most singers must end on the same note. There are also many other arrangements of singing e.g. 2 men, 2 women, sopele accompaniment etc. 

I can’t find a really old example of singing – this video from unesco is really touristy and polished, which is the opposite of what i’ve heard and enjoy about this music, but it gives you an idea.

There is also a strong tradition for dance music, e.g. waltzes and polkas. This is quite an anarchic example!

Goran (who was hosting me) also plays the fiddle, so he, very kindly, taught me some tunes from the fiddle tradition. Hooray! Here’s a couple of videos – one is a march and one is a polka.

This is Goran’s band – Veja. They are mixing older Istrian instruments and styles of singing with new instruments and arrangements. The result is very cool – I was lucky enough to sit in on a rehearsal.

In short, I have learnt a lot from my trip to Istria!! Traditional music is certainly alive and well and responding to its surroundings in so many forms. It was a privilege to hear some of it. 

Disused Trieste & the Tram to Opicina.

One area I always like to walk past in Trieste, is the Porto Vecchio (old port.) I love looking at the abandoned warehouses and disused machinery. They’re all fenced off but you can still get pretty close. Trieste was the only port in the Austro-Hungarian empire, so was extremely important and very industrial and became even more so when the train lines arrived. Today there is not so much of a ship-building industry so this large area, which stretches for miles, has been abandoned and left for dead. Having been the ‘heart’ of Trieste, the decline began in 1918 and I’m not quite sure when it was finally closed. I think there are plans know to ‘re-develop’ the site and turn it into some kind of shopping centre. What a surprise…DSC02386

This Crane is the ‘Ursus’ – was used for ship building, lifting machinery etc. It’s size pretty impressive.DSC02389

Those are the abandoned warehouses in the background.DSC02395

It floats!!DSC02400

These buildings stretch down the coastline for miles and miles… i don’t know how how many but I know its loads. Obviously, its all fenced off and there’s no public access – many people probably are unaware of its existence.DSC02406

These green avenues are where grass have grown over the trainlines. DSC02414

There was a gap in the fence here, so I decided to step through and have a look. As soon as I was on the other side, I became aware of an unpleasant noise the buildings where making. A cross between groaning and dripping. When the wind blew, it went straight through the buildings, causing this noise. It was as if they were translucent, or not solid, or ghosts (there is probably a word for this kind of physical state but I don’t know it.) It was very unnerving and felt as if they might crumble to the ground at any moment. I was too scared to move any closer so I went right back to the other side of the fence and felt ridiculous that a tiny metal barrier between us made me feel so much safer!DSC02418

I wonder how long this Christmas star has been up there?DSC02419

Another place I have been wondering about is the Tram to Opicina. This historic line opened in 1902 and is another ‘one of a kind’ feature to Trieste – it is the only hybrid electric and funicular tram in the world. Over the years it has been through many renovations and modernisations but in the last 10 years these have been more frequent and the line has been out of action since September 2012 and will probably start running again sometime in early 2014. So as I won’t be able to ride on tram, and as there is a famous song dedicated to it, (featured in my last post) I thought I would follow the tracks from the Station in Trieste all the way to Opicina. I wasn’t sure how possible this was going to be or how long it would take – but I wanted to find out. Luckily it was completely possible, it took me maybe 2.5 hours. I’ve made a video to document my journey  – coming up later on! The station sits in one of the main squares, graffiti’d and looking pretty battered. Within 5 minutes following the tracks, I was out of the centre and following a steep incline! This is the funicular part of the tram line – so the steepest part was over first.

This was the first stop I reached – already after 1 year it has become completely overgrown and almost hidden with these vines.DSC02442

Amazingly, this relic has survived. I found one in each of the stops I past – undamaged. It says: Informing users that from 3 september 2012, the line 2 service will be suspended. The service will, however, continue with the same hours of service from a substitute bus 2/DSC02443

I also found this broken sign on the floor beneath some detritus. It should have been on top of the stop. It says stops by request – i.e. if you want the tram to stop you have to press the button.DSC02445

At points on the walk I was alone and other times I was joined by runners, dog walkers and people passed me the opposite way. As the area is not so pedestrianised anymore, urban wildlife is flourishing, I was constantly accompanied and greeted by cats, lizards, rodents, grasshoppers, etc.

As I ascended, I was beginning to wonder how legal this activity was as I kept seeing these signs – access forbidden to unauthorised persons. At one point a past a still-functioning Trieste Trasporti office either side of the tracks – as I walked passed the workers were completely unfazed by my presence, so I assumed these signs were out of date. I thought it would be pretty cool to work somewhere semi-deserted.DSC02453

Whilst following the tracks I couldn’t help but imagine a tram whizzing round the corner – it seemed so unnatural to not be cautious about it. Well, turns out, one actually did come round the corner! It didn’t whizz though, I had plenty of time to get out the way! I suppose they must take the trams out for a spin sometimes so they don’t get rusty. The driver even gave me a wave.

About after 1.5hrs I saw this – Ivy hanging over a door. This is a signal that an Osmiza is open for business. I think I will have to do another post about Osmize because there is a lot to say about this tradition. For now I’ll say that they are a kind of informal cafe/bar/restaurant often in peoples homes where they sell there own produce e.g. ham, wine, cheese, olives, eggs etc. and you find them by following these Ivy branches! The name Osmiza is from the Slovenian osem – meaning eight – as they were originally only allowed to open for 8 days a year. Anyway, more on that another time. I stopped off here for lunch before continuing on to Opicina.DSC02462

This is one of the trams in the station at Opicina.DSC02485

Here is the video I made of my journey, I managed to capture the moment of the tram appearing – I felt like a right trainspotter! I hope you aren’t sick of the song by the end!

Its been quite difficult to describe this place and experience, you may have noticed I used phrases such as ‘kind of abandoned’ and ‘semi-deserted.’ It is and it isn’t abandoned at the same time. There are still people working there, I even saw the tram working, even if it wasn’t in use for its intended purpose and there is the knowledge that it will eventually return to a working service. Maybe, because the tracks are not being used for their intended purpose, the place has had an opportunity to temporarily change function and meaning i.e. its now very overgrown and dishevelled in parts and is being used by dog walkers, runners, explorers etc. I suppose the place is going through a liminal phase that will cease to exist once the service is reinstated, back to normal, giving the impression that there was no ‘in-between’ period. So although I am disappointed not to be able to ride on the Tram di Opicina that I’ve heard so much about in books, songs, word-of-mouth, I also feel quite lucky that I’ve had the chance to follow the tracks on foot.