“Silence is the starting point of any musical creation.”
Please tell me your background, and how did you first start doing music? (Renzo VITALE) I’m both an electronic engineer and a musician. I was mostly interested in acoustics and you can approach acoustics from different perspectives, or the one I chose was electronic engineering. And I did both for actually, forever. I got my degree in concert piano and chemistry and I studied composition, and a bunch of things in music. And at same time, I moved forward with studies in science, and I got a PhD in acoustics. I was mostly dealing with the acoustics of concert arts, psychoacoustics, like perception of humans in space, was mostly my interest. And then that’s what I’ve been doing for a couple of years. Then I also began to enter the world of art, doing some performance art. And got a more broad field of interaction.
And how did you move to Munich and work with BMW? (RV) I moved to Munich. It was 2015. I was living in New York right before then. I got this call from BMW that they were looking for an acoustic engineer. I said no the first time because I was in a different mindset. I was very much into art at the time. Then they asked again and I changed my mind. I think the reason why I ended up accepting is because I was at a time building art installations, mostly like interactive art installations. So made up of a bunch of sensors with light design, with live electronics and algorithms, with interaction with cameras. So I had the feeling that a car is like the magnification or the perfection of a potential installed artist’s solution. So I thought if I joined BMW, maybe I could have an opportunity to understand how you can build such incredible machines that allow for interaction? And that’s how I moved to Munich.
“Music is more about the horizontal timescale, and the car is more about vertical like this instant acceleration.”
And how is creating music for EV drivers different from creating music for the general audience? (RV) To me, it’s about thinking of the performative aspect. At the very moment I see the drivers performing in the car. What changes is the timescale. When you work with music, you have a different timescale in general, which is either related to an event, the concert, or to peace, or to the expression of an idea. Whereas for a car, you cannot really set your timeframe, it’s more dependent on the user. So it’s about interpreting different scenarios, and reducing to the essential the idea, this metaphor of the driver as a performer expressing themselves through one touch point, which is the pedal and the steering wheel that’s desired is his or her controllers. And so it’s more about reducing the timescale that you are analysing. But then like, crafting this in such a detail level, that sometimes it’s way deeper than what I do for music. Because music, again, it’s more about the horizontal timescale, and the car is more about vertical like this instant acceleration.
Was there any specific person that you’re thinking of when creating music for drivers? (RV) Because I would say, you know, I never thought about it. But I’m thinking of artists being at the steering wheel, or musicians or dancers, people that have a feeling about the performative act per se. So they know what’s the relationship between a gesture and an emotion that is in my head. And they also interpret the car not just as a machine, but as an extension of themselves. It’s as if the person has a superpower and you can extend the superpower into the artistic domain.
And why do you think that an EV needs a better sound to save time than a combustion engine based car? (RV) I wouldn’t say that the electric car needs a better sound system. Since sound is my main discipline, I would like people to experience the sound at its best capacity, so that you can really understand what it means to sound and with this intention, I would say that regardless, any vehicles should have, if possible, like the best sound constellation which is possible to implement. So now that being said, for electric cars, specifically, since you have like a reduction of what we call background noises, or some kind of components that usually have been more evident in combustion engines or there are components that somehow were masked by other sounds. For instance, let’s talk about 10-15 years ago, at least where the acoustic insulation, or soundproofing of cars was not as developed. The combustion engine was kind of occupying the lower part of the frequency spectrum, so that you could not really hear any other sound in that range, because they were masks. Now with the electric vehicles, it’s known that all these sorts, noises are basically gone.
(RV) However, we have new ones, because the electric vehicles are introducing many high frequency meters that could be disturbing. And there are some parts of the frequency spectrum now that are free or not occupied by noise. Given that the car has very good acoustics now if you’re introducing the sound, you want the sound to be really top notch. This allows the experience to be as effortless and ruthless as possible. And this is the reason why sound has to be at a certain level. There is a difference between a composed sound or a fake sound. And there is always this kind of misunderstanding, in my opinion, since we are introducing something new as if it is fake. But it is not the case, it’s a different way to portray information.
“If art is not self-referencing, then it’s just a clone of something else, or just a copy of something else.”
You mentioned ‘silence is a starting point of any music creations.’ Please elaborate this. (RV) Silence is one of the best conditions of humans, because it’s the condition in which we are most capable of connecting to our inner self. And to me, the connection to our emotional essence, your inner self, should be the starting point for creation. It’s the way you can be the most authentic. A friend of mine used to say, ‘If art is not self-referencing, then it’s just a clone of something else, or just a copy of something else.’ And in order for this to happen, I personally searched for the silence to search for this condition. Without silence, you couldn’t really perceive the music as discussed. So silence is a necessity.
“You close your eyes, you cannot touch it, you cannot see it, you just feel it. And then it goes straight into your soul and it can melt it.”
Why is sound and music so important to humankind in general? (RV) That is a big question (laugh). Why? The easiest answer would be… because the sound and music have the power to make us cry to make us feel things we didn’t think we were capable of. It opens the doors to territories that we couldn’t explore otherwise. And sometimes music and sound allow us to understand things differently. And it is a universal language. I couldn’t speak to you in your language. But I could speak in the language of music, and I could reach the entire world without the need of them speaking my language. If there was a way before the language was created, to allow one spirit to communicate to another one that would be music. There are lots of neuroscience and psychology studies trying to explain why we cry when you are, why we feel moved, wild and feel sad and happy and so on. We can only explain this up to a certain extent, but it still feels like a miracle happening to this intangible entity, which is music. You close your eyes, you cannot touch it, you cannot see it, you just feel it. And then it goes straight into your soul and it can melt it.
Where do you get inspiration the most when you’re creating music? (RV) I think if I reduce it to the essence, it would be people and what people are capable of expressing. And then I’m thinking about art or artists or dancers because art is also a big source of inspiration for me. Ultimately, it’s seeing other people expressing itself. And probably it would be maybe too banal to say nature, but it’s the mystery around us, it’s these moments of asking questions without having an answer. And music is sometimes an attempt to give an answer to something for which there is no answer. I think that the idea of mystery and the unknown is a big driver behind the inspiration. Why is this happening? Why do I feel this way? why there is light and all the train of thoughts that get started with that brings me somewhere and that somewhere lends sometimes to music creation.
Going back to vehicles, If you could design sound for any vehicle, what would you like? (RV) I would like to explore how a flying sound works. This idea of elevating yourself, something that goes beyond gravity and beyond yourself. A car is basically almost bidimensional, it can go left and right. But you don’t have other degrees of freedom. And then suddenly, if you are adding the X axis and Z axis you’re morphing the sound suddenly. You have a totally different possibility of modulating and more elements than you would have on the ground. Also the range of speed and acceleration would also expand further.