Visualizing Berio’s Sinfonia: Choreographing Animation for Indeterminate Narratives

  • Rose Bond Institute Boundary Crossings


In 1968, a year of massive political and cultural upheaval, Luciano Berio composed a score that would shape his legacy. Entitled Sinfonia, which literally means sounding together, the symphony was sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King. Heralded as “the ultimate pre-postmodernist musical palimpsest” (Service, 2012). Sinfonia reverberates with the political assassinations and massive protests punctuated by police repression that marked 1968. 

In late 2019, I was offered an animated projection commission with a primary voice in choosing a piece for live symphonic performance/projection. After some researching, I found Berio’s Sinfonia. It had what I was looking for - a “contemporary” piece, it resisted illustration, linear narrative and 19th century romanticism while eschewing the rigid formality of serialism. Instead, it embraced two core Modernist principles – fragmentation and use of the archive. Berio quoted/sampled disparate chunks of literature, music, and events of 1968 in the service of the political and the poetic to discover unity in the heterogeneous. His score seemed ripe for visual interpretation - and exposition - with animation as the prime driver. Following Berio’s lead, I chose visual sampling as my entre and turned to Google. By animating in and out of iconic (and lesser known) images in the orb of 1968, I created a commensurate puzzle piece that mirrored the suggested avant-garde intent I found in Sinfonia  – “Where now? Who now? When now?” (Beckett, 1965, p. 291).