2016-03 Recitativo by David Ryan at 395 London - Long Trailer.mp4.00_09_22_12.Still001

Recitativo – Fragments after Lucretius and Negri is a video piece with live recitation and sound, part of an ‘open work’ that integrates sounds, words and images. Central to this project is the creation of a spoken text that interweaves aphoristic statements from Lucretius’ philosophical and epic poem De Rerum Natura (‘On the Nature of Things’) and, as a contemporary intervention, Antonio Negri’s political reworking of these ideas in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The work is conceived as drawing on a ‘palette’ of materials: images, text fragments, sounds and music. The piece essentially examines the relationship between the speaking voice (as a kind of narration) and the possibility of ‘wrapping’ this narration with both sounds and images. This approach to the voice, and the fact that it is in fact the driver, or conductor, of the piece, creates an emphasis on the actual nature and sound of the voice: singing, speaking, and whispering.

Why Lucretius and Negri? Both are involved with presenting ideas around materialism and power; in Lucretius’s case, he unfolds a theory (closely following his ‘master’, the earlier Greek philosopher Epicurus) of atoms and nature, and a refutation of active, intervening, punishing gods. Gordon Williams, in his Nature of Roman Poetry (1970), talks about, as have others since, the fact that for Lucretius – in the original Latin – the sound of the text is as important, if not even more important, than the sense. Negri was included as a contemporary voice, another Roman, committed, as Lucretius was, to a philosophy of materialism and therefore making the patchwork of fragmented texts itself a dialogue across time. A controversial figure of the political Left who was imprisoned for many years in Rome, Negri once said that Lucretius was ‘his book’ during his incarceration, and helped him formulate Kairós, Alma Venus, Multitudo (1999), which was a kind of prelude to Empire (2000), authored with Michael Hardt. Negri’s thoughts on time (deeply bound up with his politics), are foregrounded here. In particular, the emphasis on ‘Kairós’ (the right or opportune moment) as opposed to ‘Chronos’ – continuous sequential time – underline this. His reflections on time find its parallel in the moment of the ‘decision’ or the timely moment of agency that can change our conception of things and how we operate in the world itself (in Lucretius’s arguments, this is the swerve – the clinamen – of the atoms that deny a purely mechanistic motion underpinning the atomic motion of the universe – the possibility of intervention, change and choice). These ideas are not presented didactically, or in any ‘documentary’ informational type of approach, and it is not about Lucretius or Negri in that sense, but more a playing with, and off, their thematics as raw material. It might reflect a term coined with Lucretius in mind: “aleatoric materialism”, translated into a situation that allows images, texts and sounds as material to be unfolded in performance, each time creating a different journey and a different amalgam of sense.

Parts of Recitativo have been performed at Kettle’s Yard and Aid and Abet, Cambridge; Gallery 395, Borough New Music, London, and the British School at Rome.



William Crosby – guitar

Kelcy Davenport – speaker

Kevin Flanagan – bass clarinet

Cristina Grifone – speaker/voice

Ian Mitchell – bass clarinet

Alberto Popolla – bass clarinet

David Ryan – video/clarinets/direction

Clare Simmonds – piano

Gianni Trovalusci – bass flute

Joe Zeitlin – cello


Krisztian Hofstadter – sound

Justyna Latoch – production assistant/video editing