"Artists have a huge power in building a vocabulary that people can understand without the use of scientific concepts and, at the same time, I believe it is such an emotional job that can reach not only people’s minds but also their hearts." Simona Mannu
In this week's interview, cellist Simona Mannu talks about her research in biophony and geophony, and the artists and natural phenomena that inspire her.
Question: Could you introduce yourself and your research? Answer: My name is Simona Mannu and I’m a freelance cellist based in London. I have a BA (Hons) in Classical Music at Leeds College of Music and I’m currently studying for a Master of Music at Codarts (Rotterdam).
fMy research consists o collecting textures (rhythm, melodies and sound effects) from natural sounds - biophony & geophony - that I will use to compose music for solo cello.
Q. How has nature influenced your work?
Answer: Immensely! Especially in the past year I’ve been feeling more and more the need to connect with nature through music also because nature has such strong musical abilities that we, humans, have been imitating since many years. Nature is a healer and is also incredibly inspiring, and often just a short walk in a forest or a park can provide us with so many resources and ideas. I believe that without nature the work I’m trying to do now wouldn’t be possible.
Q. As a performer, have you played any compositions inspired by nature which had a strong impact on you? How did they affect you? And how did the audience respond to them?
Answer: I’m actually preparing my Master recital based on that! I’ve recently discovered the work of Carola Bauckholt which is very much inspired by nature and, one example for solo cello is ‘Ohne Worte’, performed with tape and quite rich of microtones. Another composer worth mentioning is Carol J. Jones who deconstructs sounds of nature to use in her compositions (there is currently an installation at Kew Garden called ‘The Tree Listening Project’ she wrote music for) and I’ve put my eyes and ears on a piece for cello solo called ‘In the shadows’ based on the movements of a spider hunting for food. These are pieces I haven’t yet performed publicly but I’m definitely curious to see what the audience’s response is going to be!
Q. Has an artwork ever changed your perception of nature?
Answer: For me personally it is probably the opposite, in the sense that nature is such a solid affirmation that whatever artwork I have the pleasure to see doesn’t change the prospective I have towards the natural environment but, of course, there is always something new that I learn from any form of artwork. I feel I own a lot to artwork which is focused on nature, because it can be a representation, an homage, a report or a perception (you name them!) of what nature is or means to a specific artist, and I can see the importance of reaching the audience’s awareness and curiosity in looking into a message or issue or aspect that we didn’t know about and that, hopefully, might also inspire us to take some action, even if it’s a small one. I recently had the pleasure to interview sound ecologist Bernie Krause who has been working extensively with artists of all kind with the aim of making people aware of the strong impact of nature gradually disappearing.
Q. What are the roles art can play in fighting the climate emergency and environmental crisis in your opinion? And what are the roles artists and art organisations can play?
Answer: Definitely the one of reaching their audience to pass an important message, which is the one of the environmental crisis we are currently experiencing. Artists have a huge power in building a vocabulary that people can understand without the use of scientific concepts and, at the same time, I believe it is such an emotional job that can reach not only people’s minds but also their heart, and that’s what will push them to make choices that can help this unique Mother Nature we have.
Q. And finally, where can we find out more about your work? Are there any projects you would like to promote?
Answer: Currently I’m taking a little break from performing as I’m soon starting the adventure of becoming a first-time mum! However, there is definitely going to be musical work carried ‘behind the curtains’ and once back on stage the next projects can be followed on my website: http://simonamannumusic.com
I really enjoyed discovering Simona's work through this interview, as well as the works of the artists that inspire her, some of whom I didn't know: Carola Bauckholt, Carol J. Jones, and Bernie Krause.
Simona's quote about the power of art to help the audience grasp complex scientific concepts by gaining an emotional understanding of them particularly resonated with me. This is something that I have experienced myself many times, and that I have been exploring in my own work for the past few years. Coupling art and science allows the qualities of one medium to transfer to the other, and enables us to gain a deeper appreciation for a specific topic. What are your views on this? Have you ever gained a different perspective on a scientific concept thanks to an artwork?
Please share your thoughts with us by commenting on this post or on social media, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate on the blog.
"After my studies at DAMS University (Music) in Bologna, I moved to London in 2009 to pursue a deeper musical experience. Since living in the UK I have been professionally working as a cellist in projects such as ‘DeLooze’, ‘Kat May’ (singer-songwriters), ‘The Collaborative Orchestra’, ‘Notting Hill Film Music Orchestra’, ‘World Harmony Orchestra’ and ‘RCM Film Orchestra’.
In 2014 I received a Scholarship from ‘Thwaites’ for an instrument purchase, via ‘Leeds College of Music’, where I Graduated in Classical Cello in 2017 under the teaching of cellist Alfia Nakipbekova (ex pupil of Mstislav Rostropovich).
While studying at Leeds College of Music I have been touring the UK with pop singer Marc Almond (ex Soft Cell member), performing at the Royal Festival Hall and Leeds Town Hall, taking part in a BBC documentary for ‘iPlayer’ called ‘InsideOut’. I also took part of in the video ‘I am Spark’ recorded in promotion of Leeds 2023 and delivered Dementia friendly community workshops at West Yorkshire Playhouse.
In London I had the opportunity to perform in venues such as Tate Modern, O2 Academy, Royal Festival Hall, St John’s Smith Square and Barbican, collaborating with composer Matthew Herbert and being a member of the ‘WOW Orchestra’ (Southbank Centre) for 5 consecutive years, sharing the stage with Sue Perkins, Anne Sofie von Otter, Sandi Toksvig, Jessica Cottis & Björn Ulvaeus (ABBA). I performed for the video recording of ‘Vanara The Musical’, starring singer Carrie Hope Fletcher and I have been part of Bernstein’s ‘MASS’ cast, performed at Royal Festival Hall alongside Marin Alsop, Chineke! Junior Orchestra & National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.
I have been teaching cello and music theory to children from the age of 5 years old through the award winning company ‘The Strings Club’, I recorded at Abbey Road Studios with my string quartet for a new single by rock band ‘Duke of Wolves’ and since 2018 I have been member of the 100 Cellos project, lead by Giovanni Sollima that brought us on tour to different areas of Italy.
I am also Cello Specialist at Stringers London in Marylebone. Latest performances include The World Economic Forum in Davos with Taki Concordia, conducted by Marin Alsop (2019) and the Masterclass with cellist Mario Brunello (winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1986) in San Ginesio, Italy. I am currently studying a Master of Music at Codarts, Rotterdam."