The Music of Numbers di Roberto Gramiccia

From when we were children, they have taught us that the arts are something quite different to the sciences. Music is different to mathematics. Dance, a different thing to geometry. For the more sophisticated - ésprit de geometrie, a different thing to ésprit de finesse. In short, there were the technical-scientific disciplines and the humanistic ones. And the lives of those who could afford to study were (and still are) moulded by the profiles of these meretricious classifications. Those able in Italian became journalists, lawyers, writers or, at least, singer-songwriters. Those who did well in mathematics, engineers, asronauts, scientists or, at least, surveyors. An extraordinary, obstinately Crocean spirit of inspiration was, firstly, designated to literature and philosophy and, then, secondly, to those disciplines more in line with carrying out practical activities in the important, but minor, role of organizing our material lives.
Adele Lotito's exhibition is the high point along a road, after I dadi di dio and De le stelle fisse, that is attempting to alter the ideas that filled and conditioned our childhood, and that still pervade our lives. This is further aggravated today by the finesse/geometrie dialectics, the toxic molasses of the dictates of technology and communications that seeps into and sticks to everything. Extinguishing critical intelligence, inhibiting the arts and imposing the rules of a singular thinking, lined up in defense of the only, true, unique dominus – profit.
The guiding idea of this original artist is that, to be able to understand something, we need to return to the origins of our thinking. She does this through the speed of art, that in showing there is no need to demonstrate. She does this by presenting, at the beginning, the reification of her intuition encompassed in an object, in a plexi-glass case, resting on a small base of smoke swirls scored by flying numbers. This object is very old. The Greeks called it Kanon. We call it monochord. And to understand just how old it is, suffice to say, it was Pythagoras who invented and built it about 2,500 years ago. Giamblico speaks about it in his 'The Life of Pythagoras' which places the activities of the great thinker in Crotone di Samo in Calabria.
One day, Pythagoras, while walking through this town, passed in front of a blacksmith's workshop and was stuck by the sounds produced by hammers beating on an anvil. Some were consonant, others discordant. A sudden flash of insight. Pythagoras entered and grabbed the hammar from the blacksmith's hand, bringing it down onto the anvil, observing that two hammers of the same weight produced the same sound, but if the hammers were of different weights, the sound was also different. This illumination dispersed the fog of archaic superstitions which held that the phenomenon of sound was like the frightening border separating the world of abysses from the visible one of nature. Pythagoras realized that, at the basis of the phenomenon of sound, there could be a measurable and rational explanation.
It then occurred to him to construct a kanon in order to study this phenomenon. The Greeks gave it this name when they understood that it could represent the rule and the reason within visible matter. The kanon, today called a monochord, was created from a rectangular box on which an ox string was stretched with an underlying bridge, useful in dividing the vibrating parts of the chord into measurable segments. Pythagoras realized that by dividing the chord into two with the bridge, the resulting sound causing each of the two halves of the chord to vibrate, was in close relation with the sound coming from the vibration of the internal chord. However, the latter produced a more piercing and sharper sound, resonating with a double frequency. They had discovered the octave. With the same procedure, dividing the chord into different length segments, they obtained what we call today the fifth and the entire diatonic musical scale. The variable numerical relations along the length of the chord that were made to vibrate, produced the changes in the quality of the sounds and these changes were predictable and reproducable.

The mystery was unveiled and numbers became the basic constituitive element. And from this point, to maintain that everything is number, that everything is rational number, that everything is rational, the past is brief. The art of music founded on numbers had unveiled the origin of science and its language. And it had done this by showing the close relation between mathematics and music, between mathematics and art. The Greeks called the arts musiké, for a reason, that is everything that is protected by the Muse. Music became the queen of the arts and Pythagoras showed it, by basing it on mathematics. In short, exactly the opposite to the artificial and Manichean counterposition between ésprit de finesse and ésprit de geometrie.
Through the use of the monochord, the primum movens of Lotito's current exhibition, Pythagoras inaugurated his idea of the world that saw mathematics as the bridge between the objective world of nature, external to us, and the subjective one, internal to us, where the arts are conceived before seeing the light. A single fabric without artificial divisions, without platonic (the world of ideas and the world of things) and Cartesian (res cogitans and res extensa) dualisms that will subsequently occur and then will finally reach us.
Establishing a thinking in divisions (Plato, Descartes), that underlies our modern Western culture, will be the basis for that exaggerated gap between doing and knowing which has resulted in the shattering of our present life and our relationships. Without having a concept of the whole we are condemned to being prisoners of the specific. Today, this means being slaves to the I-phone without realizing that the world is moving ahead at a rapid pace towards ruin. The economic crisis that we are now going through, the spectre of poverty that is also emerging increasingly in the traditionally wealthier countries should, at least, make us think about our future and the root of our problems. Adele Lotito gives her authoritative contribution towards this. She does it with lightness and also a depth that is all her own.
La musica dei numeri is attempting to place stress on the consubstantial ties that exist among worlds that appear to be only apparently different. It attempts to explain that a true mathematician is not a book-keeper. And an artist is not a cloud-chaser. And that both have clear responsibilities concerning the world, and their being ethical figures derives from this. Ethics, aesthetics, art, knowledge and language become the basic elements of a weltanshauung that enters into conflict (but not from a position of force) with the principles that, today, govern the world (the market, cut-throat competition, tyranny and war).
Adele's concreteness, which lends weight even to the smoke swirls left on the surface by a candle's flame, aims at proposing a living example of a possible integration, at the most, at a level of the basic noble elements of an "indivisible entirety". This living example, because his teachings have survived his death, is Renato Caccioppoli. His spidery figure floats in the rooms of Nuova Pesa and lends a meaning to the reflections that the exhibition arouses. Caccioppoli was an extraordinary mathematician (he became a university professor at 27) who sustained that, to be a true mathematician, it was necessary to be, above all, a poet. As he was, and an intrepid anti-Fascist during the dark years of the regime. O' genio or the crazy mathematician, as they called him in Naples, where he was born, was also an extraordinary pianist, a lover of the cinema, literature and the visual arts, a fascinating orator, but an imperfect man, full of weaknesses. Yet, his life was a living example of how we can be complete beings bringing together our different passions into a single combative frontier.
The music of Debussey floats in the air of the rooms (the mathematician's favourite) and, every so often, the Marseillais resounds, that he had the courage to play, insulting two Germans sitting in a trattoria in Naples during the Fascist era. With this exemplary and crazy act, he ended up being beaten, thrown into prison and, then, into a psychiatric hospital. This was Renato. He could be nothing but a scientist, poet and a man of justice and freedom (in fact, Bakunin's nephew).
Unfortunately, today, Pythagoras's and Caccioppoli's teachings are no longer relevant. However, the hope has not been lost that, in facing all the disasters we have before us, a new era of constructive questioning can arise. An era that can identify the cultural, political and economic reasons for our crisis. A time for redemption that will be decisive for the civil survival of our species.
This is not a banal market-oriented vision that will save us, nor will globalized neo-liberalism or the miserable culture of the 'three' (computerization, English, companies – Berlusconi's public priorities) save us, which should have been, according to the general thinking, able to shape our future generations. In order to save ourselves, we need to do the thinking, each one of us. Beginning with reading about the life of Pythagoras and Caccioppoli and holding dear their theories, their calculations and their harmonies.
Just as this artist has done, with her many experiences and far-sightedness (also being an avid traveller), who, today, has shown us a possible way forward. Her aluminium surfaces painted with black candle smoke and etched with numbers, letters and musical notes design the basic ideal space for a synthetic representation made up of images, music and relevant ideas (exactly those which we need today). In the last room of the gallery, great musical scores take us back the idea of musiké, as the Greeks conceived it. Then, the Arab letters remind us of the genius of a people who laid down the principles of mathematics. A return to the roots. Not to repeat them. But to save ourselves.