Sound in Stone: Day 8

Monday 6th March 2023

A scribbled mapping of Dimora Cagnazzi

Returning our attention to our surroundings, we perform a geographical, political, social and spiritual mapping of the Dimora Cagnazzi. This exercise is a cornerstone of our practice, one we have returned to again and again since we began our experiments in ritual with the Critical Magic performance and album. It is a way of centering ourselves and opening up our attention to what is around us, the political fault lines, the unseen architectures, the elusive details that elude easy capture.

We drive out of Altamura and through and beyond the town of Matera to another network of caves. We meet GianFranco Lionetti, who has spent his life since a teenager exploring the Murgia’s caves. Joining us is Michele Garofalo, a local guide who acts as our translator. He speaks a beautiful, literary English that he picked up, to our surprise, living in Bulgaria, where English is of course a lingua franca among non-Bulgarian speakers. Domenico Profido, a self-taught biologist, accompanies us as well.

Spontaneous Cave Melodies

GianFranco imparts on us what he knows ancient rituals that were performed using the water bestowed drip by drip from the stalactites above. The water emerges white like sperm or milk, and was said to give the women who rubbed this brew on their bellies and breasts the nutrients they need to be fertile or to breastfeed. Women seeking to become pregnant would rub their breasts with this cave brew.

Knowing that we are there to make recordings, we sit in silence together for a full five minutes to try to capture the sound of one drip of water falling from the tip of a stalactite. We take all the lights off and in the dim light Kate turns off the camera and Adrienne captures the sound of the drip-drip-drip. It is, unspoken, a holy moment for all of us to experience.

The cave becomes narrower, and narrower, and narrower as we press in to the chambers said to be inhabited by bats, but, alas, they had all migrated for the winter months, and so we rested a moment in an empty crevice whose ribbed walls evoke an abdominal cavity. GianFranco tells us the caves were used by cults for rituals and was even for some time consecrated as a church.

As we approach the growing light of day at the mouth of cave we ask GianFranco if he has ever slept in a cave.

Adrienne capturing the cave’s silences

“Once,” he replies, “when I was a teenager, because the storm outside was so strong.”

What was it like?

“Like being in a womb.”

As we make our way back to the car, Domenico picks herbs and native asparagus for us to eat. They taste different, he explains, because of their proximity to the life-giving minerals that shelter in the caves. The aliveness of these caves overflows, and saturates everything around them.

He also seems to know about plants that grow where the land has been finely trampled, and these are signs of where the dead have been buried. We know that the signs of life and death are everywhere for them if we begin to understand what they are.