John Cage, author of the silent composition 4′33″, claimed that there is no such thing as a completely empty space, there’s always something to hear or to see – total silence is absolutely impossible to obtain. Some years ago Alberto Boccardi and Nicola Ratti, two experimental musicians based in Milan, decided to open a studio that wouldn’t be a simple studio, but also a shared place for sound experimentation. It’s called Standards and was initially designed to be an empty space: a big room with white walls, the neutral background where Alberto and Nicola – and their guest artists – could start their sound research.
“We felt the need to combine the authorial and public dimensions of our work”, Nicola tells me. “Our main goal was to create a research center dedicated to music and sound – something that still didn’t exist in Milan, even if there are many people experimenting with music. We needed a meeting point, a catalyst that would connect artists and create a link with the audience.” Even if Nicola had curated a series of events for O’Artoteca in the past, he and Alberto are essentially musicians, so they asked Basemental’s help to conceive the events at Standard: it’s a booking agency that has been organizing S/V/N/events in Milan for years, ranging from the most refined clubbing to auditorium performances.
“We come from different experiences both regarding the musical field and the kind of events”, explains Michele Lori. “They come from the electro-acoustic, a more refined experimentation, so we decided to meet half-way and create something new. That’s how we began to organize concerts. At first we were really amazed that – in spite of our different backgrounds – we could merge our visions in such a natural way. For us, another interesting part of this collaboration is the chance to work in a hybrid space, a concept-studio where from time to time you can target a very wide audience or choose a niche. There’s much more freedom in planning events for this kind of places, compared to those where you have to meet the market’s demands; it also allows you to fluidify the offer and reach a different kind of public each time”.
Thanks to Basement arrival and the contribution of every single artist that visit Standards, the place abandoned its total emptiness and took on its own peculiar shape, even if Nicola and Alberto try to keep it as neutral as possible and modulate it according to the artists’ needs. “The room”, says Nicola, “at first was completely white and empty; even the sound was not good, but we didn’t want to cover it with horrible insulating panels. So we designed the permanent installation you now see in the room, it’s called Cavo. We’ve created it with Frequente, the cultural association I manage with Gaia Martino and Attila Faravelli, artist Nicola Martini and designer Vittorio Cavallini. We decided to adapt the room with wooden boards that would break the sound waves. This way, every single performance here is totally unique and original. We know that the sound at Standards isn’t straight out from an acoustic manual, but we like the idea of using the space’s imperfections to our advantage. I’ve studied architecture – to me sound experimentation and the study of spaces and materials go hand in hand.”
“This year”, continues Nicola, “we have also collaborated with two curators, Gaia Martino and Roberta Pagani, which brought a purely artistic curatorial approach to Standards. We want the exhibitions here to have a connection to sound. For what concerns the musical programming, I brought my previous experience to Standards, but we’ve also worked a lot on an international scale, to value the connections we have with associations and similar spaces abroad. In a way, this place has a bigger echo out of Italy than here.” Standards’ international imprinting was already granted by the participation of Archive Books, explains Michele. “They are a publishing house between Milan and Berlin. The presence of professionals from so many different fields in the same studio highlights Standards’ multidisciplinary soul: they take care of the sound art, we organize everything and Archive deals with all the theoretical part. The circle is complete.”
A place that aims at leading a sound research and keeping a dialogue with the public at the same time would have been a challenge in any area in Milan. Even more so in Bovisa, where Standards is located because of personal reasons – a neighborhood far from the city centre where there are no trendy bars and tourists only go by mistake. What could seem like a downside is now an incentive to Nicola, Michele and the others who devoted a lot of thoughts to the way Standards could contribute to the life in the neighborhood – without turning it into a cool place, but actually respecting its suburban nature. “I’m part of a cultural association called Terzo Passaggio,” says Michele. “The name “third passage” comes from a botanical theory on the importance of the passage between urbanization and nature. This is an area to preserve: in order to contrast gentrification we need to go towards a theory of inclusion and valorization of the suburbia. In its own way, Standards manages to embody an artistic residency, hospitality, and giveback while respecting its context.”
“For this reason”, concludes Nicola, “we want to intensify our relationship with the territory promoting, for example, musical education classes for children, to help them develop their listening skills – in a wider sense, not exclusively limited to the musical fruition –, instead of learning how to play an instrument. We are aware that this is not a concert hall or a bar, so we want to involve the public under many respects, not limited to performances. Another project we’re planning is a series of performances organized around the neighborhood, outside of Standards. You should come when we do that, it’s gonna be fun.”
*5 places suggested by Standards:
LATTERIA MAFFUCCI: A mixed couple with Sardinian and Campanian roots, delivering incredible dishes (even the side dishes are amazing). You can go for a cheap lunch there, or enjoy the whole dinner available only upon reservation, based exclusively on Sardinian dishes (watch out: their seadas are said to be the best in town).
ROBB DE MATT: A place with a beautiful garden, a glimpse of hope in this neighborhood, run by very cool people.
O’ARTOTECA: To us and many other artists in Milan, O’ is a landmark.
SERENDEEPITY: Among all record shops in Milan, this is our favorite
MACAO: Probably the most important space for sharing and experimenting in Milan. We hope it will resist as long as possible.