Debora Petrina: ‘NuovoMondo Symphonies is a surreal ethnomusicological report of an imaginary journey’

I don’t exactly remember how or when I came across Debora Petrina and her music; I know there’s a definite ‘before’ and ‘after’ effect when it comes to my state of mind (i.e. before Petrina: mind not blown — after Petrina: mind blown). This was particularly evident and deeply felt when I heard NuovoMondo Symphonies, her ‘pata-physical’ musical project with composer Giovanni Mancuso; it’s a multi-layered musical landscape where a myriad of influences (pop, jazz, minimalism, opera, the works) seamlessly blend together, creating something of its own. This album, along with Petrina’s latest one, L’Eta del Disordine, are playing in a loop in my devices (and my head) for the past few months, so when I heard that they are coming to Australia, I knew I had to touch base and ask her for a guided tour in this ‘new world’.

Debora Petrina | Photo: Chris Drukker

What would you say to a stranger to invite them to a NuovoMondo Symphonies performance?

If you would like to experience a diverse musical world, ranging from jazz to contemporary to improvised music and surreal soundscape recordings, and movies, please come with your ears wide open!

How did you get to come to Australia?

The Italian Institute invited me to the Women’s Jazz Festival and I thought of bringing the NuovoMondo project with Giovanni Mancuso. 

Being in Australia is really a ‘nuovo mondo’ (new world) experience for us, especially for nature which is so exotic, flourishing, and strong.

You are playing at a church; what makes it a fitting place for your music?

Any place can fit our music, any place can be the right place for an experience like this. The music itself creates inner spaces in each listener.

What is the Nuovo Mondo Symphonies backstory? How did that project come to be?

It began during the lockdown, when it was impossible to travel. Giovanni lives in Venice, while I live in Padua; he was sending me photos of the lagoon, the clouds, and the water. Then we started sending samples, recordings, songs, imagining a sort of surreal ethnomusicological report of an imaginary journey. 

How would you describe your music?

The music has many different intentional and unintentional references that come from all our experiences — minimalism, songwriting, contemporary jazz, contemporary music…

How is this project different from your solo work?

The challenge was to put together our different skills, but otherwise, we have known each other and collaborated together since 1999 in so many various musical fields. In 1999 we participated in the Biennale of Young Artists in Rome, and from that moment our individual paths grew in many different forms, even if we have both the same classic piano training. Giovanni has also written some contemporary operas in which I took part as a singer, and now it’s exciting to experiment with new ways of recombining the growing of our experiences.

Video plays a big part in your performances; how do you choose the footage?

The video is a collage of anonymous home movies taken from Super-8s from the 1950s and 1960s, silent films from the 1930s, and expedition documentaries. The film is functional to the fiction of the project. It is not intended to follow the exact sequences of the music, but can be an extra medium to amplify the imagination. 

If you could choose any artist in the world to be part of a trio with yourself and Giovanni, who would that be?

Terry Riley for sure. He is one of our heroes because of his fresh approach to any musical material and for his enthusiastic reaction to the listening of the project. 

Giovanni Mancuso, Debora Petrina and Terry Riley

Who are your heroes?

For Giovanni, they are Alexander Skriabin and Frank Zappa, for me Bela Bartok and Kate Bush.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

The adventures of Greggery Peccary‘ by Frank Zappa, for Giovanni. ‘Plastic Palace People‘ by Scott Walker, for me.

Debora Petrina and Giovanni Mancuso present ‘NuovoMondo Symphonies’ at Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church (299 Ann St) in Brisbane, on Friday 3rd November at 6.30pm