Ad lib., discreet machine requiem


Medicine and music have an intertwined history, going back to shamanic traditions that live on within contemporary practices aiming to heal body and mind through sound. Michele Spanghero taps into this notion obliquely with “Ad lib.”, a disquieting sound sculpture in which medical equipment is used to sound a set of organ pipes. A machine designed to provide automatic pulmonary ventilation to patients with conditions affecting the respiratory system is hooked up to the sounding component of the instrument most associated with Christian liturgy. The organ, formerly one of the most complex man made machines, is also a precursor of modern pneumatics and automation. As in other early pneumatic inventions, inanimate objects were brought to life simply by force of air pressure. The title of the work, the abbreviation of “ad libitum” is musical terminology for “at discretion” which gives freedom to the player over parameters such as how many times to repeat a number of bars in a musical score. The sound produced by the sculpture is a continuous drone interspaced by the regular rhythmic pattern of the breathing machine, a frozen fragment that only allows for variation by flipping the switch off. Under its aesthetic and minimalist cover the work raises questions over our efforts to artificially extend life by replacing bodily organs with machines. Who is in power when we become dependent on such machines for our biological existence? The reference made by the artist to the musical form of the requiem, a Christian mass in remembrance of the deceased, seems to suggest that keeping patients in a frozen state of suspense, when it’s not effective at healing the patient, has the purpose of facilitating the mourning of those who will continue living. Matteo Marangoni


Michele Spanghero “Ad lib.” sound sculpture