Ian Costabile is a Brazilian composer and sound artist resident in the UK since 2009. His works often explore interactivity, lights and sound spatialisation. He gained a BA degree in Composition from FAAM (Brazil) and an MA in Art Aesthetics from the University of Liverpool, where he is currently a PhD candidate in Composition. Ian has also performed popular music, taught in different institutions and published fiction and non-fiction books.
AS A SOUND ARTIST…
Since 2014 Ian has been working with sound-light installations. Notable works are Bamboo Heaven–a music sculpture comprised of 8 ethnical bamboo flutes that together play a composition through air pumps–and the various Sound Canvas media that he has been producing. The Sound Canvas is a new type of ‘digital wall art’ which consists of mixed media art that presents sound and light interaction through embedded loudspeakers, LEDs, sensors, microcontrollers and compact multichannel systems. Similarly, his Sound Graffiti project takes this approach to outdoor installations, creating webs of sound in public spaces through customised urban loudspeakers.
AS A COMPOSER…
Ian has composed experimental music for orchestra and chamber music, working with renowned artists from around the globe and performers from the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Riot Ensemble and RNCM. His most recent musical explorations have engaged with spatial sound, the use of light devices and themes related to stars and constellations. One notable example is his suite for harp and lights, Intersidereal. His music has also been the soundtrack of documentaries, such as the award-winning Ultraviolence.
AS HIMSELF… (AUTOBIOGRAPHY)
I think I’m still an early-career artist, but I thought it would be nice to include here a longer bio with a more personal touch. I’m 36 years old (last updated: 2021) and I was born in a busy city full of skyscrapers called São Paulo, in Brazil. People usually ask: “How come your name is Ian and you were born in Brazil?” – Yes, that’s my real name. There are so many ‘Ians’ in Brazil nowadays! São Paulo is a city with a lot of international music influence. I can’t say much about the scene now – I’ve been living abroad for almost 15 years – but in the past, it was replete with concert music, nice jazz bars and its own dedicated neighbourhoods for rock, etc. It’s a city full of luthiers where you can easily find someone who can fix your viola or make a baroque recorder from scratch. My birth name is Ian Gottschalk Costabile, my grandparents were immigrants from mostly Italy and Germany.
As today my musical career involves domains beyond clefs (e.g., electronics, programming), I will trace here my past through all different aspects. When I was a child, in the 1980s, my parents listened to classical, jazz, blues and rock. But as an ordinary kid, I enjoyed playing games and exploring my dad’s 486 computer. At that time there was no internet as we know it today. There was something called BBS (bulletin board system) where I used to communicate with other people in the world by typing over the black screen background of MS-DOS (there was neither an OS nor a mouse). In those times I explored adventure games (LucasArts’ were my favourites) and the early-internet culture, films and music from the 80s or those super-productions that emphasised light and colour (Cmaj7(9/11+/13)/B chords) also helped to shape my cultural development. As a kid, I wanted to be an inventor and design spaceships. If I only knew how complicated the world of patents could be!
Almost every Brazilian has an acoustic guitar in the house, even if they can’t play it–the old samba spirit of Brazil. When I was fourteen, I borrowed my dad’s guitar and began learning it. In those days, I was also enjoying classical music and learning how to listen to composers of the Baroque and Romanticism period. As my parent’s financial situation wasn’t good, I soon began teaching the little music I knew and designing websites. I began working at a web design company where I worked after school, splitting my learning between music and HTML. Those were the times where people used ICQ and mIRC instead of the social media we see today – and ICQ was definitely more fun, with that super cool real-time chat typing function!
In those early days, I was lucky to be admitted to the public conservatoire (ULM/Centro Tom Jobim), where I started with the basics of theory and aural, and later studied a bit of classical guitar privately. I began performing and recording with popular music and I also studied at the guitar institute of São Paulo (IG&T).
Those initial skills gave me the financial support I needed to study music at an academic institution (FAAM/FMU), where I took modules such as orchestration, counterpoint, aesthetics, piano, percussion, and developed aural skills. During that time I also played in several bands, my favourite being Selene, a trio (electric guitar, bass and keys) where we performed live trance music (with dodecaphonic material and all sorts of experimentation). I finalised my BA in composition with a modest portfolio of pieces, at a time where I was highly influenced by the paintings of Matisse and wanted to make Neo-Impressionism music (thus I developed my own ‘musical pointillism’ technique). After my BA graduation, I continued my compositional studies through a course with Almeida Prado, a prestigious Brazilian composer who published an incredible book full of compositional techniques. In 2009, I migrated to the UK to look for work and developed my career further.
When I arrived in the UK I was 24 and I had to take any work to support my life as an immigrant. Among painting ceilings, cleaning toilets, serving food, interpreting and teaching languages, I returned to music by playing weekly in restaurants and pubs (Lilium Guitar Duo and Uaná Duo) and also worked on a solo album for the electric guitar (Masks, Devas and Aliens). I made the album available for free on my website, but despite receiving many visits, I think no one ever downloaded the album. So I tried to sell it while busking in Liverpool’s city centre, but an undercover police officer threatened to fine me. I think I had no luck as a recording artist, so I kept my guitar playing under the bushes, keeping my focus in experimental composition, where I could become a mad scientist (like Schoenberg) and take chords and frequencies as ingredients, manipulate them in all sorts of configurations to then analyse those mysterious and magical aesthetic results.
I studied for an MA degree in Art Aesthetics & Cultural Institutions, which I achieved in 2013. My goal was to understand aesthetics to a deeper level and to incorporate this learning into my compositions. In my dissertation, I investigated ‘originality’ and ‘innovation’ in 20th Century Art. I became very much inspired by Susanne Langer’s writings and my understanding of the world of abstractions, patterns and symbolism became much more clear. From there, I realised that I had to open up from the traditions of instrumental composition and explore what is sometimes known as ‘sound art’ to be able to manipulate sound abstractions further (thus I developed some music sculptures through the Static Music concept).
In 2016 I began a PhD journey at the University of Liverpool, which allowed me to rapidly develop several skills and acquire a deeper knowledge of electronics and technology, which supported the development of my sound canvas creations. This also inspired me to found a startup company called Sonalux, where I commercialise some of my design and prototype ideas (like the MagicPick, an electronic guitar plectrum with a metronome).
My most proud achievements are the soundscape recordings I did when doing field-work in Indonesia (presented through my sound canvas collection), my work at the Pisa Baptistery and most recently, the Intersidereal suite for harp and lights, which expressed 21st-century music through a virtual light concert and performed by the fabulous Bethan Griffiths (she inspired me to compose this when I saw her performances on YouTube). Through all the art I produced, I’ve been a perseverant explorer in search of innovative aesthetics and meaning that can be disseminated and shared with our society.
Other creative work I have expressed through writing. I have a few self-publications, including a novel (The Wizard’s Lilies) and a book about meditations on time (Meditations on Past, Present and Future). In my spare time, I’m a yoga practitioner, vegetarian, guitarist, nature-lover and I enjoy my large collection of recordings of Debussy’s music, organised by Lesure number.
As a result of all my previous activities, my daily life is now rich in content (in other words, it’s a mess!, but I prefer to call it ‘an organised chaos’). At the moment, I’m producing new sound-light canvasses for exhibitions, reading about constellations and playing instruments such as the guitar and the oscilloscope. — Wow, you read all this!? Phew! Thank you so much for reading it! 🙂
last page update: 29th August 2021