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Water music: recording Rimini’s Pigna fountain

Italian sound engineers’ record and process an ancient fountain, writes Mike Clark.

On the occasion of March’s World Water Day and the centenary of the inauguration of Rimini’s aqueduct, events organised by Consorzio dei Saperi included a unique audio installation entitled The Harmony of ancient and modern waters by sound engineers Andrea Felli and Francesco Penolazzi.

Leonardo da Vinci visited Rimini in the 16th century and his comment on the beauty of the town’s Pigna fountain and the possibility of creating music with water falling into various sized vessels is inscribed on the fountain: “Make harmony with the different falls of water, as I saw in the fountain in Rimini”.
The main circular drum on which the pinecone that give the fountain its name stands dates back to Roman times and the basins under the 15 spouts are 15th century. Until 1912, the fountain was the only source of drinking water and is still a thirst-quenching stopping point on hot summer days.
Felli was fascinated by the inscription and often considered creating an audio installation dedicated to it: “I finally decided to proceed with detailed recordings of the fountain, in order to reproduce the sound’s effect indoors as accurately as possible.”
Veteran FOH and monitor engineer Penolazzi also has a microphone rental company and explains: “This was the first time I’d mic’d a fountain, so we decided to do several sessions to test the sound. The initial set-up consisted of eight AKG C414 B-ULS large-diaphragm condenser microphones recording the spouts in pairs, and two more in omnidirectional configuration to record the sound of the square. We then repeated the sessions using Sennheiser MKH 40s and lastly used four AKG C451 mics with CK8 capsules to record the details of each spout, such as the water starting and stopping, and the gurgles as it ran off.”
Recordings were made from 1am to sunrise, when the pedestrian-only square was at its quietest, using a Millennia Media HV-3D 8-channel mic preamp, RME Fireface 800 and Pro Tools 9.
At Felli’s Farmhouse Recording Studio on the outskirts of Rimini, without adding any musical instruments, the pair processed the sounds to create the harmony Michaelangelo referred to. “Running Logic Pro 9.1.6 on a Mac Pro, we used the effects bank on the Native Instruments Absynth 5, Roger Linn’s Adrenalinn Sync and Waves Renaissance Reverb,” he explains.

The high-impact installation featured 14 Sound Advance System BT82i omni-directional enclosures powered by four Proel HP-D 3000 four-channel digital power amplifiers. Eight formed the octagonal ‘virtual fountain’ in the centre of the (blacked out) room, while four others were flown from the ceiling round the room, recreating the square’s environment, and two at the entrance. The signals were routed and controlled via Yamaha DME64 and playback with Logic Pro 9.1.6 and an M-Audio ProFire Lightbridge audio interface.

After the event, Felli said: “Knowing of Michelangelo’s love for all things technical, I’d like to think he’d have appreciated the harmonies we created with digital technology.”