[Originally published at acloserlisten.com]
Our friends at Experimedia are currently doing a Spotlight feature on Giuseppe Ielasi. Head over to their site to check out 28 Ielasi-related albums, and check out this playlist highlighting the many sides of this very singular talent.
I know this will appear very simplistic, but I think that choosing to work within a non-mainstream system, self-releasing records (or releasing them on like-minded labels), playing low budget concerts is a choice that has very strong social implications. I’m not interested in using the word ‘artist’. What we do has much more to do with small scale economy, sustainability and the necessity to remain an independent individual.
These words offer much insight into Giuseppe Ielasi’s approach as an artist. Few producers can rival the mastery of sound heard on his diverse catalog of recordings. Though his instruments and equipment have changed almost constantly since his debut solo release, a technical exegesis can only reveal so much. Perhaps the key to understanding his talents lies in his ethos. Aside from his dedication to the integrity of his work and his commitment to the broader community, this ethos also reflects on his core aesthetic practice as an improviser, granted an improviser who now produces compositions.
Ielasi began his career in the early ‘90s as a guitar player in the European free improv scene, but has long since been known primarily as a deeply skilled producer of inventive elecro-acoustic music. But how can one sum up the ouvre of an artist like Giuseppe Ielasi? Any attempt to pin down a body of work that is in constant motion is sure to be reductive, highlighting one strain over another dependent upon the critic’s personal bias. At any given time Ielasi seems to have several projects in motion, constantly pushing himself to find new means of working with sound. This hasn’t been a linear path; one doesn’t get the impression from the early recordings that Ielasi has been working on refining a particular method or is headed towards a particular sound. Each project is unique, with its own telos and its own contours. It doesn’t require a hermeneutic approach; understanding the parts in relation to the whole tells us only that Ielasi strives not to repeat himself. All that is gold does not glitter,: Not all those who wander are lost.
Generally, we tend to overstate the importance of novelty. I’d much rather see more composers dedicated to their craft hone their voices and develop their own idiom than pursue novelty for its own sake. Ielasi has managed to develop an identifiable voice as an artist despite the diversity of his catalog. He has continued to push himself, and his listeners, into uncharted territory while still refining and progressing as an artist. His early interest in improvisation seems to have manifested itself through his process. Improvisers may not know what they are going to play, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t prepare. One hones one’s skills, whether practicing a saxophone or practicing rhyming. In regularly changing his set up Ielasi is forced to work within new confines, searching for what works within a given framework. But he is not so dogmatic that he can’t make adjustments, instead using his own rules as guidelines rather than immutable laws.
His work isn’t driven by high concept. Though each work stakes out a conceptual realm for exploration, ultimately he is a sophisticated artist who creates work to be listened to. In no way sentimental, the impact of Ielasi’s work is felt, not apprehended.
Ielasi’s influence is not confined to his own production as an artist. He’s become the go-to mastering house for many other innovative artists, in his native Italy and beyond. Even before moving to Milano as a teenager he was booking and promoting concerts in his hometown of Reggio-Calabria, deep in the rural and culturally isolated south of Italy. He didn’t cease his activities upon relocating to the big city but instead became more active, playing and booking concerts, running a book store and heading a series of boutique labels: Fringes, Bowindo, and Schoolmap. These labels showcased the work of some of Europe’s most interesting avant-garde composers, including David Toop and Eliane Radigue, as well as contemporary masters such as John Butcher, Annette Krebs, and Akira Rabelais. Ielasi’s latest label is Senufo Editions, in my opinion his strongest curation to date. Each release is limited to only a few hundred copies. Though the album art and design are always excellent, the absence of liner notes or inserts quietly insists that the music speak for itself. More than in the past Senufo demonstrates the efforts of an interconnected community of artists. Senufo published a tape by Allon Kaye, who in turn released several of Ielasi’s projects on his own Entra-acte label. Kaye’s cassette was mastered and dubbed by Adam Asnan, who recently collaborated with Ielasi on an LP released on Holiday Records, and who has released several of his own works through Senufo. Alessandro Brivio has released only two records, both on Senufo, and has contributed photographs to the album art of other recordings on Senufo. And so on, each of the artists working with Senufo is part of the broader community.
As curator of Senufo he and his partner Jennifer Veillerobe have supported many like-minded artists, united not by a common sound but in a common sense of formal experimentation. Senufo’s members tend to refine a process or set of limitations and see where it leads. Veillerobe’s own recent LP Luftlöcher features only the sound sparkling liquids recorded through small holes poked in their containers, with no processing, overdubbing, or postproduction. Nicola Ratti’s Streengs used transducers in the inside of a piano to capture one of the most interesting sounds in recent memory. Alessandro Brivio’s rhythmic explorations are intensively hypnotic and have gone critically overlooked by many.
Senufo is not dominated by a particular instrument or sound or style, but by the never-ending search for new challenges and new ways of thinking about composition. Communities like this are important because genre is not just a question of form and style but also of social practices more generally, and hence even extra-musical factors are essential in the construction of a shared identity. Creating music is both extremely personal and also embedded in larger, communal practices and taste. The latter is always inter-subjective, a matter of judgment that we understand can be shared or not, but regardless taste is never the purvey of one individual. The means by which we engage with music as individual remains relevant, but in part because the practice of the group changes. Our practice of listening has changed quite a bit since the introduction of the first Walkman, enabling a level of personal connection (or alienation) not previously conceivable. Before audio recording, music had to be performative. With records, fewer people learned to play instruments in favor of the ‘choice’ of controlling what to hear at home. In the post-war period home hi-fi systems became more common, headphone listening proliferated. Magnetic tape made it easier to record and edit sound, leading to more participants and greater experimentation. Music was no longer tied to performance but became a studio practice as well. The radio, headphones, and car stereos all opened up new possibilities for listening, as well as new means of thinking about and composing with sound.
Ielasi has cultivated not only a keen ear for nuance, but an aesthetic of sonic space itself that seems not unrelated to the changes in listening in physical space made possible by technological advances. His approach lends itself well to manipulations in the tradition of musique concrète, a tradition that explicitly downplays, indeed seeks to abolish, the origin of a sound in favor of an openness to sound-in-itself. In an interview with The Wire (2009), Ielasi admitted a long-standing interest in musique concrète , stating that “For me it’s about making a strange balance of the planes of the image. That’s what I’m interested in, the spatial qualities of the sound.” Ielasi’s take strikes me as philosophically more sophisticated, as the move he makes is to acknowledge that even in this setting the hardware that captures, manipulates and eventually outputs the sound all leave their own mark on making the sound what it is.
Ielasi’s output over the last several years has more than anything been about a careful look at those characteristics, both eschewing an interest in the “original source” while simultaneously drawing attention to the apparatus at work, the character of which indelibly shaping the character of the final product.
He has gradually articulated an interest in exploring not only the spatial aspect of sound but the hardware used to record and play media, creating a sort of interpretative feedback loop that obscures the role of the artist while sharpening an appreciation of the “sound-itself,” which paradoxically draws attention to the structure and technique employed by the artist as producer. Why pick these fragments, why arrange the piece in such a way, why develop a particular space? It is in these perhaps unanswerable questions that a deep appreciation for Ielasi’s output emerges.
In 2003 Ielasi released Plans, his solo debut, and his work since seems to cluster into one of several distinct if occasionally overlapping projects. After Gesine and August pushed the ambient electro-acoustic post-guitar concerto direction as far as he could take it, Ielasi began to pair down his tool kit and explore a more restrained process. Aix, released on the eminent 12k, was made manipulating samples with just a laptop (while in Aix-en-Provence, France). The rhythmic grid of the compositions seemed well served by the difference and repetition of the album cover, a theme that would recur throughout his work for several years following that release. The Stunt trilogy (and recent appendix) pursued rhythmic exploration more explicitly, and remain extraordinary for their humanity and accessibility, even among similar work by artists like Christian Marclay or Martin Tetreault. Ultimately Ielasi’s turntable experiments are a fitting homage to his interest in hip-hop, while remaining true to his own influences and devising techniques to suit his material. 15 Tapes, 15 CDs, and 15moretapes are a suite of micro-compositions of manipulated recording and playback media. Almost Serialist, they eschew repetitions in favor of carving out a sense of place from limited materials. The study Tools which predated this series was more interested in timbral qualities of mundane objects, however it’s best compositions (“Aluminum Foil,” “Paper Lamp”) exhibit the rhythmic possibilities of playing with the stereo image. During these same years, Ielasi produced collaborative records with Nicola Ratti under the name Bellows. Handcut, universally acclaimed as a masterwork, also used vinyl records as a sound source, but with the help of Ratti the duo manipulated them by dragging contact microphones over their grooves, creating a series of live recordings of surprisingly depth. The next Bellows record was Reelin’, which like the 15 series was more interested in the recording apparatus than with the origin of the sound sources. In retrospect, such experimentation seems like the logical outgrowth of the musique concrète tradition, yet Ielasi’s work remains human and moving, and never with the academicism and disinterest that some note in the work of academic composers. In short, more Luc Ferrari than Pierre Schaeffer.
The album covers are suggestive of the aesthetic of the work themselves, often utilizing a simple mechanism to create a beautiful image. In addition to the cover of Aix, take for example the cover of Bellows, his first collaboration with Nicola Ratti. The image on the cover is repeated several times but on different angles, against the backdrop of a cloudy blue sky.
For Sol LeWitt, “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” Ielasi isn’t quite so dogmatic as this, using his process as a guide without being slavish to it. But there is something of this in his work, a willingness to see where a process goes, to let his machines speak through him. It is irrelevant to the listener what process was used to generate the structure of the work. Ielasi would rather the work speak for itself. His work is often untitled, or else bears a title that speaks plainly of the origin of the work. This is not necessarily out of some commitment to transparency, but to put the listener at ease enough to just listen. His titles relate the sound generating object (“Rubberband”) or the medium (Holiday for Sampler), but stop there, letting the listener impart the meaning.
In some ways his process calls to mind the combinatory literature developed by the European group OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. OuLiPo authors are known for creating works of literature through the use of formal constraints, such as writing novels entirely without the letter e, derived from homonymic puns, or applying mathematical procedures to dictate the direction of the novel.
Ielasi applies his training as a chemical engineer, if only unconsciously, to create procedures for generating new works. Unlike the OuLiPo writers the procedure is meant to remain opaque and is more a means of creating new ideas, not unlike William Burroughs’ cut-ups. In all these cases the artist chooses a protocol to guide the artistic process, a method that doesn’t bear directly on the result but on the process of it’s making.
Speaking of the work of Argentine writer Cesar Aira in relation to OuLiPo, translator Chris Andrew’s writes that through his process he is “attempting to redeem the errors or inadequacies of what he has already written by adding, by writing more, by improvising retrospective explanations.” Though not working in literature, Ielasi’s process isn’t so far removed. Like Aira, Ielasi uses a protocol to guide his work, but without being slave to formalism the way the OuLiPo writers were.
Music needn’t be (only) mere entertainment. Aesthetic pleasure can be self-justifying, certainly, but like literature serious music deserves serious criticism. Sound Propositions strives to identify interesting aesthetic practices that are consistent with our core ethic, to present the work of artists who engage in work relevant to our contemporary experience. Work that doesn’t ignore the context of the present, that operates on multiple registers and asks more of its audience than to be amused. Giuseppe Ielasi has maintained a sense of integrity, creativity, and dedication throughout his work that cannot be denied. A character in Pontecorvo’s classic film Burn! tells us that “it is better to know where to go and not know how than it is to know how to go and not to know where.” One gets the impression that Ielasi’s artistic compass is leading somewhere, and I’ll continue following Ielasi on his journey of trying to figure out how to get there. (Joseph Sannicandro)
I’ve created a playlist of some of my favorite tracks from Giuseppe Ielasi’s catalog, as well as some chosen from among the work of his favorite artists. You can stream that playlist here.
What are some of your early memories or impressions of sound? When did you realize you were interested in sound (as such)?
I cannot tell exactly when I discovered my interest for sound and music, but I remember that I always wanted to listen to music, at home, in my parents’ car, with an early Walkman. Since when I was very young, my requests for birthdays or other occasions for presents were either record/cassettes, or money to buy those, or guitar related stuff.
In your interview with the Wire magazine, you mentioned your early interest in the punk/hardcore scene, prior to your discovery of free improv through figures such as Keith Rowe and Derek Bailey. I think this path isn’t so uncommon, the desire for freedom, to resist institutional restrictions. Your talk of wanting to “build something” through your shows and labels in particular resonated with me. Can you maybe expand on this, how the ethic of these scenes may have influenced your aesthetic, your attitude towards promoting concerts, releasing music and your evolving material practice itself?
Hardcore punk was my first strong passion, probably around age 13 or so. I lived in Reggio Calabria at the time, a small town in the south of Italy, and there was no real scene there, except for a small circle of friends. All I knew came from magazines or records (luckily there were a couple of decent record shops). No shows at all. In a way it was very pure, just about the music and what came with it. I wasn’t interested at all in the self-destructive elements, in fact I was a straightedge even before I knew what this meant, and had an enormous admiration for those normal guys that were self-releasing their records, touring everywhere with no support or funds, and most of all playing extreme and sometimes very complex music.
In a constant research for more challenging records, freejazz and free improvisation were the next steps (jazz was a parallel passion, mostly due to my guitar studies). Strangely I have never been so much into noise, and I’ve always found (and that’s still valid today) industrial music terribly boring. That said, I don’t think it could have gone differently: if I wanted to see some shows, I had to organise them myself (with a little help from some friends), and running a label was what everyone else in the field was doing. Incus, Acta, Random Acoustics, FMP and many others were surely models.
I think all of this has influenced my approach to so-called music business: trying to work and survive within a very low scale economy, doing it honestly and in the most non-competitive way. As a musician, I stay away from grants or public funds (well, not that there would be that many in Italy), and since a few years also from commercial or commissioned works, and I think that the label should be able to sustain itself just with the sales and the support of those amazing people that keep buying records: I don’t collect royalties for instance (not even for my own music as I’m not registered with any copyright company), I don’t do advertising or promotion (and tend not to participate to promotional events or showcases).
Believe it or not, I’ve actually been to Reggio Calabria. My grandmother was raised in a small village in Calabria, and I went to visit my relatives there several years ago. It’s quite different from other parts of Italy, even in the south. Very little infrastructure or tourism. Based on your answer above, I’m struck by the social isolation of developing an interest in marginal music cultures in such a place. With punk and hardcore, for me at least, the scene as a social aspect seemed as relevant to the construction of the genre as anything else. But experimental music is often more removed, in small communities, often “virtual” communities, and I think this often fosters a different type of aesthetic engagement.
It’s a really nice coincidence that you have a connection with Calabria. I’m also glad to know that you can understand that situation quite well then. So, basically the only choice was to approach those ‘scenes’ from magazines (not a good filter sometimes) and records. I have to say that this had some advantages: for instance my approach has always been purely musical; I didn’t care (or I didn’t know much) about the other aspects. After moving to Milano the situation changed a lot, but my practice has remained quite isolated, besides releasing records of other people, and organising concerts (which was also the only way for me to see those concerts, meet musicians and understand how they operated).
How do you approach listening to music?
My approach to listening is very simple and old-style: besides album previews when I’m online, I don’t listen to music from the computer. I burn cd’s also for most of the stuff I download, which is not so much anyway. And I never use portable devices, I find it quite disturbing to walk or sit in a bar with headphones, I feel like I’m missing too much of real life (but I use them quite often on planes and trains, mostly to isolate myself from conversations that I don’t need to hear). At home I have a decent hi-fi system, and I play music constantly, from vinyl, cds and tapes. On speakers most of the time, unless my son is sleeping and I need more volume. The car is almost strictly hip-hop, to make the whole family happy.
Ok, so now to focus a bit more on your artistic practices as such. Please describe your working process a bit. I know the actual material practice varies tremendously, as does your conceptual underpinnings for different projects. Though you have something of a recognizable sound, a sense of space and depth. An attention to often subtle details. Do you have any techniques that carry across your projects?
The techniques used to produce the raw audio materials change drastically with every project, and most of my records have been produced in very different environments, sometimes at friends’ houses or in places where I happened to be during a trip. That said, all of the transformations of the material and editing and mixing of course, are done on the same software platform, so I guess that would be the common factor. Mixing was probably the most time consuming part of my recording process. This has changed a bit with the recent productions: for the “Untitled, 2011” cd on Entr’acte every song was realised by overdubbing two or three audio tracks that were recorded live with not many edits (the computer has mainly been used as a multitrack recorder). The two Bellows cds were entirely recorded live in the studio. And at the moment I’m working on material which has some similarities with the Entr’acte cd, but it’s much more skeletal, with no overdubs at all (or very minor ones on some parts).
Can you talk a bit about the mastering process? You seem to keep really busy mastering releases, for Senufo, Fratto9, Die Schachtel and many other labels. I understand how your musical projects engage with gear in a very particular way such that the specifics aren’t so relevant, but how about mastering? There are also many misconceptions about the mastering process, so maybe you can clear some of that up. What gear do you use, what’s your approach, do most artists give you directions or free reign? Do you have a preference to your DAW, or your hardware, etc. Maybe not in the production or source of the “raw sonic material” but in the mixing and compositional stages?
Mastering is my main occupation now, or at least the most regular. It’s something I enjoy a lot, especially because I’m mostly asked by artists or labels operating in a similar musical field as mine. I’m normally given free reign (there are exceptions of course): I’ll work on my version, send it back, and always ask the artists to check it very carefully. After that I’m usually asked for small corrections (mostly volume or timing adjustments), but of course it can happen, luckily this is quite rare, to misinterpret completely someone else’s work, in which case I tend to start again from scratch. As for the setup, I use a combination of analog/tube outboard and digital plugins (there actually are a lot of them that work very nicely, if you take time to do some research and choose what’s better for your working method or for the sound you want to achieve). I’ve been using Genelec monitors for years but I recently upgraded to PMC’s.
I take it your musical output is very much a ‘studio art,’ rather than a performance art, though you do both. How do you reconcile your ‘studio’ practice with your live practice? Not that you have to, but I guess what I mean is, unlike painting or visual art/gallery art, where a ‘finished’ object is presented as something closed, generally, live music has a performative dimension, a temporal dimension. Perhaps this is a way into talking about the details of your live performances. Again I’m sure this changes, but what has your recent live set up consisted of?
My solo set in recent years has mainly been based on the use of prerecorded audio as raw material to be processed, layered and recomposed. I’ve been using a laptop streaming continuously eight audio channels, a mixing board (which is probably the main tool), very few outboard effects and at least four speakers. I improvise quite a lot, as most of the tracks that are streaming are very long and continuously evolving. I might open one channel without knowing at which point the track is, and use this surprise as a cue to change direction, or as extra material to be incorporated in the flow. Soundchecks can be pretty long, when possible, and are crucial to define what kind of audio materials will work well in the space I’m in and with the given sound system. I never sit on stage or behind monitor speakers, as I really need to be in the same listening position as the audience to be able to work this way. Recently I’ve been working on different approaches to live performances; that also means imposing myself some limits and work with a narrower sound palette. When the space is small and quiet, I sometimes use small audio transducers attached to surfaces or objects, portable speakers, portable playback equipment (walkman, cd player), and small electric motors (I’ve been recording those quite a lot recently, controlling them with unstable LFO’s).
Boutique passive matrix mixer from xiwi electronics, mini cassette player, Doepfer modular units, an EHX Stereo Memory Man, and Mackie 1202 vlz mixer.
You have a now well-established partnership with Nicola Ratti (Bellows), and with Renato Rinaldi (Oreldigneur). You’ve got a new disc coming out with Enrico Malatesta. Can you tell us about this release, and maybe a bit about what it’s like to collaborate with others verses your solo practice?
While performing with other people I try not to use the same setup I use for solo concerts. With Bellows we actually change all the time, sometimes using turntables and reel-to-reel tape machines, sometimes smaller objects or instruments. Recently we’ve been playing some shows using mostly analog electronics (small synthesizers, a Moog bass synth) and a few effects for reverberation and looping. We’ll start recording a new album soon, and as for the previous ones, we have no idea of what we’re going to use.
Oreledigneur has been working on installations lately, so we don’t perform much (for our last concerts, we were mostly mixing pre-defined sound materials, as a soundtrack to Armin Linke’s films or photos).
The CD with Enrico (Rudimenti) has been released in November 2012, also on Entr’acte. It’s a studio edit of various recordings (some actually recorded as a duo, while others recorded separately and then overdubbed). We’ll have some concerts and our setup is going to be pretty small and portable: small drums, one cymbal, audio transducers, a couple of walkmans and my electric motors. We’re probably not using any PA.
I’ve been enjoying collaborating with others quite a lot recently (there are actually two more LPs recently released, one with Andrew Pekler and one with Kassel Jaeger). I’m quite interested in changing my approach: not sure towards which direction, but I feel the need to experiment (and fail) more; working with others is stimulating and inspiring and it pushes me in unfamiliar directions most of the time.
You also talk about a very low scale economy, being honest and non-competitive. This reminds me, Steve Roden and I recently discussed something similar in our conversation, the idea that there is a level of integrity in this music, uncommon in many other artistic scenes I’d contend, both aesthetically and in the “business” end, and this is in some sense an outgrowth of DIY punk attitudes, that anyone can produce interesting and evocative work despite (or because of) a lack of certain training, that the end result isn’t about being famous or rich but of producing a work with integrity, of fostering contemplative and appreciative and sophisticated audiences, of maintaining positive and fair business practices. There is a political dimension to all of this, political in the broad sense, of course, not political parties or civic administration. I wonder if you have any thoughts of strong feelings about the connection between art and politics.
I completely agree with Steve on all this, and it might be the only kind of ‘politics’ (in relation to art) that I’m interested in. But I also want to stress the importance of the word ‘economy’ that despite being ‘low scale’ should still allow musicians and label owners to survive with their work. In this sense, I’ve never been happy about the idea of giving music away or performing for free, exactly as I wouldn’t ask a worker of any other category to work for me for free.
The context of working in Italy strikes me as particularly relevant. If I can generalize a bit, at least in contrast to the North American tradition of anti-intellectualism, Italy has a culture which affords a rather prominent place for the intellectual in public life (though this may also seem an odd contradiction to anyone who has watched Italian television…) So I ask this because this history has had an impact on the reception of foreign music in Italy, which is often lagging. There seems to me to be a correlation between the political turmoil of the ’70s and a sort of anti-institutionalism in art and music in the ‘80s. You mention that you aren’t so interested in Noise or Industrial music, but even so I suspect the development of those scenes helped clear a space for more abstract and improv electronic music. Any thoughts on this?
I agree with most of your historical analysis, and it’s true that Italy has always been very slow in catching up with the current trends in music. On one side that has meant legions of cheap second hand copies of foreign models, but on the other hand we had quite a nice tradition of originals and outsiders (not only musicians, also small independent labels), working in relative isolation and producing very weird music (speaking of the Industrial scene, MB is certainly one of them). As you say most of the ‘high culture’ in the seventies and eighties was somehow related to the Communist Party, as was a large part of the free-jazz scene (the squat scene, traditionally anarchist, was instead very close to the extreme left wing), and it’s true that the industrial networks were quite far from all that. But I’m not sure that the development of the Noise and Industrial scenes helped creating space for more abstract areas of music (or, at least, not more than in any other country). My feeling is that those scenes were quite isolated and with their own specialized audience. On a side note, the improv scene has always been small but very active in Rome, Torino, Pisa, (one of the Company LPs on Incus was recorded there) and various other locations.
In your interview with Gianmarco for Fluid, you mentioned Akio Suzuki performing at A+M. Both your work and Suzuki’s seem really interested in the idea of space, with Suzuki’s musical interventions dependent on his unique instruments and the site specific interactions. Are your installations in this sort of vain or more sculptural? What kind of genealogy of sound installations are you inspired by, if any?
I didn’t do too many installations, maybe ten or so, some alone, some with Renato Rinaldi, two with visual artist Kristine Alksne and the last one as Eselsohr with Jennifer Veillerobe (my partner and co-founder of Senufo Editions). In all cases, I always used audio transducers on surfaces, objects (being pre-existing architectural structures, objects found on site, or snare drums as in the Eselsohr case), and audio material. All the audio, the objects and the structure of the installation are arranged and composed on site: no pre-planning is actually possible for the way I work. In some cases the visual aspect of the work might be very important, while in some others it’s only functional to the aural results I want to achieve (so my interventions might even be invisible, as in the case of the metal tower installation with Renato). Chances to visit sound installations while living in Italy are pretty scarce, but I had the possibility to visit some amazing works while travelling (quite a lot of Rolf Julius pieces, Max Neuhaus, Alvin Lucier, …) and those have surely been inspirational. Two of my favourite pieces are Bruce Naumann’s “Get out of my mind, get out of this room” from 1968 (which was recreated in Berlin a few years ago) and Michael Brewster’s “Aerosplane” (permanently installed in the marvelous Villa Panza in Varese).
These photos are from the “Landmark Sedlizer See”, a metal tower not far from Dresden, which was the site of an installation I did with Renato Rinaldi (audio transducers on the metal structure, which made the whole tower vibrating and resonating quietly).
Could you share some of the records that were influential in shaping your path, those you describe as “classical electronic” of the ’80s and ’90s that lead you away from improvised music?
Ah, that’s a hard question, in the sense that a lot of records come and go: i tend to change my listening habits quite often, so many of the things I’ve listened to a lot in the past (and that surely influenced my path) disappeared from my collection during the years, while a few of them are still very important. I could drop a few names, not necessary from those two decades you mention: early Mego, Robert Ashley, Bernhard Günther, Hands To / Jeph Jerman, Bernard Parmegiani, Oval, Steve Roden, Luc Ferrari, everything from WrK, Brandon LaBelle, Eliane Radigue, Tom Recchion, Keith Rowe, Mika Vainio‘s stuff on Sähkhö, lots of non-electronics stuff (Radu Malfatti, John Butcher‘s trio with Phil Durrant and John Russell), ….
The rise of digital music files and file-sharing has certainly changed the industry, for better or worse. Though I think the immateriality of the mp3 has helped renew interest in the question of media specificity, it certainly makes selling recordings more difficult. How has this played out in Italy thus far? I’m always a bit shocked when I come to visit to see how many of my Italian friends still really enjoy the CD as a format. Again, not making a judgment, it’s just that a similar scene of music fans here in North America seems to have shifted to vinyl and tapes as the new pillars of material music buying. Vinyl for its fidelity and large ‘objectiveness’ and tape for its mobility and unpredictability.
I’ve been running a label since 1997, and I’ve always used to release various formats, but never a single release on double format (cd and lp). I have mixed feelings about vinyl: I think some music works very well on it, while other deserves a CD edition. Tapes are quite interesting as you say for their unpredictability, for being easy to produce (arguably, they are now what CD-Rs used to be ten or fifteen years ago), and in general I like how the reduced frequency response in the high-end results in a less tiring listening experience compared to a lot of digital-only productions. That said, sales have been a disaster compared to the early years of Fringes (my first label): I used to almost make a living with the label, while now I’m happy if I can cover productions costs within a year. I still buy lots of CDs and I can be very happy when a record I really want to buy is released on vinyl, but if both editions exist, I might end up buying the CD. Not sure if that answers your question, but what I can say is that I only care for the music, as long as it’s on a physical format !
At the beginning of 2013 you started to issue some self-published miniatures via your wordpress blog. Can you tell me a bit about the motivation behind this endeavor? Also, I noticed that your username is Rayuelasss. I assume this must be a reference to Cortazar’s Rayuela. Am I right? This seems appropriate to me as Hopscotch, as it is known in English, is the masterwork that prophesied the destabilization of the text that would be driven home by hypertext, a material reaction to the destabilization of narrative, of meaning. The realization that sound can be manipulated similarly (as demonstrated by music concrete, tape music, hip hop and any sample-based music) challenged preexisting musical notions, destabilizing concepts like original and copy, even the question of “authenticity” itself. Do you think your aesthetic concerns translate into other media? Any non-sound oriented projects you’re interested in pursuing? Or any artists working in other media from which you’ve taken inspiration?
Before starting my blog and the series of self-released works (just two for now, but I’m working on some new ones) I had been thinking a lot about all the aspects I don’t like in the music ‘market’, and the way that even what used to be called the ‘underground’ uses (and is dominated by) exactly the same strategies / mechanisms as the ‘mainstream’ (promotional strategies and advertising, social networks hyper-exposure, sales directed mostly by very few retailer outlets, magazines, websites, limited and special editions…. and maybe it will be record of the week/month/year somewhere ?). Honestly, I’m almost 40, and I couldn’t care less anymore. I just want to play and release the music I enjoy to play, make it available for those few who care, possibly at a decent price by keeping production costs low, mostly selling the releases directly to single customers (at the moment I don’t do wholesale except for some very small overseas mailorders, to help with shipping costs), avoiding when possible limited editions and all those collector’s baits. It’s really as simple as that, and I want to self-release more and more music, slowly getting rid of the necessity of a label.
If they end up on Soulseek after a week, as it happened, it might even make me proud. And, speaking of ‘rayuelasss’, that was my first pirate name on file-sharing sites (maybe I shouldn’t say that ? I think it’s ok, given the enormous amount of music I legally buy). And then it stayed….
I don’t particularly like other Cortazar’s books, but Rayuela is really fantastic, and I was reading it when I chose that stupid username (the three ‘sss’ were added by Thomas Ankersmit, who introduced me to piracy, as ‘rayuela’ was already taken). I had never thought about the possible connections with tape music though, but it’s an interesting consideration.
I used to read a lot (much less now with two very young kids in the house) and watch a lot of movies, and I’ve surely been influenced or inspired by those activities, but I find it hard to make rational connections in this sense. In recent years though, my working/playing/listening methods have surely been changed for good by the writings of Morton Feldman, John Cage and Edmond Jabés, which in fact I keep re-reading quite obsessively.
Talking about movies, and sound/image relationship, the films of Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel have surely been essential.
Tell us about what else you have going on these days. What sort of techniques are you interrogating lately? How has your live show changed? Do you ever find yourself missing the “directness” of acoustic instruments? You seem to be especially interested in Processes. Do you organically investigate the potential of a process, or do you approach the compositions from a particular set of rules or compositional structures?
After so many years of working exclusively with a computer and two microphones, I’ve decided to stop using software, except for simple editing or mixing purposes. This also means that my music has to change drastically, being it so based on quite extreme editing and layering until now. I bought some new equipment (mainly pedal effects, small synthesizers, tape players, microphones) and I’m recording quite regularly, with very different setups. One interest at the moment is the exploration of very static but dense sound fields, more ‘aural environments’ than proper compositions with a beginning, development and ending. I’ve also worked quite a lot with small electric motors controlled by two LFO’s (see my duo CD with Enrico Malatesta on Entr’acte, or one of those self-released cdr’s). I still use the laptop for some concerts (mainly those that need a lot of sound pressure, for example a festival with larger and noisier audiences), but it’s not in my setup anymore in smaller and quieter situations, which are my favourite of course.
True, I work quite a lot with processes, intended as a set of rules, or a set of consecutive actions/transformations of the sound. But at the same time I don’t consider those processes too important for the listener, they are mostly ‘frames’ I need to concentrate on a specific soundworld instead of going all over the place as I could. It might be a consequence of being a chemical engineer (not that I ever worked in that field, but I studied it for seven years). Sometimes I also use those ‘frames’ to find sounds that surprise me and that I wouldn’t find in any direct way. A bit like planning a certain trip by looking at a paper map, just because the path looks interesting, and then find out that the reality is completely different from what you had imagined, and that it offers a lot of other options and possibilities (in this sense I’m not strict or dogmatic: I might easily change the whole process if I find out that a diversion is more interesting than the original plan).
As for playing acoustic instruments, I really don’t miss the directness and physicality: I’ve always tried to play with the ears and not with body and hands. I might go back to the guitar for a couple of projects in the future, but mostly because I need certain sounds and possibilities, not because I need that kind of energy.
Can we expect any visits to North America anytime soon? I’ve been singing your praises to some promoters in Montreal.
Well, I’d love to visit someday. But it’s not that easy, for financial reasons and also for time constraints (having a family with two very young children I prefer not to travel for too many days). So, hopefully a good occasion will show up soon.
In your “Postcard” with Gianmarco for Fluid you say of field-recordings that “The so-called purity of an aural environment is a concept I don’t really care for.” I quite agree with this. I think R. Murray Schafer and his ilk are fundamentally wrong in their approach to capturing authenticity as their approach isn’t properly reflexive of their own role in producing the recordings. (Though they have of course produced interesting and valuable work.) On the other hand are artists like Ultra-Red, whose politics is very explicit and who have a much more complicated sense of the integrity of the recording as being linked to its reception and its evocation of a social space of conflict. So, do you never use field-recordings in your work? How do they differ from sampling music recordings ?
Yes, as I was saying in the Fluid Radio interview I’ve never been very interested in Schafer’s approach and in the concept of acoustic ecology. But very interested instead in artists who use field recordings in a more ambiguous way, one that actually pushes us listeners to be more active. Two good examples in this sense are the work of Toshiya Tsunoda, especially his most recent one, and the “Transparent City” series by Michael Pisaro (which consists of 24 pieces, all 12 minutes long, each made of a long unedited recording realised in an urban environment, on which the composer overdubs a few tuned sinewaves, mixed so quietly that it’s always very hard for the listener to decipher if they are part of the original recording or not). In a way, I still find the ‘constructed/fake realism’ of [Luc] Ferrari‘s “Presque Rien” unsurpassed….That said, I can also enjoy some ‘documentaristic’ works, I’m thinking in particular of Ernst Karel’s recordings like “Swiss Mountain Transport Systems” and “Heard Laboratories”.
To answer the second part of your question, I do use some field recordings in my pieces, but I use them exactly as I use any other (acoustic or electric, digital or analog) sound: no particular meaning attached, only considered for their aural or structural qualities.
I was just reading over the booklet that comes along with prix italia and thinking a bit about how such radio works are ephemeral in an interesting way, their broadcast akin to a concert. making such compositions available in an archival edition like this is rather significant on a cultural level, which must make the mastering process a bit significant for you if nothing else. but it also changes the nature of the piece, making it “accessible” to the general public, in a way. i am hoping that you might have something to say about the prix italia project, your experience mastering it, working with die schachtel, or any reflections along those lines.
I agree with you, there were some similarities between the unique experience of a live concert and a live broadcast. This is not so true anymore, mostly due to the fact that every broadcast seems to be available online after a while…The main difference lies probably in the fact that radio pieces were ‘fixed’ and made to be listened by someone, probably alone, on his own equipment. Not so far away from listening to a record, so it’s quite interesting to have those pieces available now. Speaking of the Prix Italia, I have very mixed feelings about those works. One one side they are good examples of a lost era in Italian culture, when experimentation in an institutional context was possible and supported. At the same time I feel that most of this material aged quite a lot, especially because of the very strong contrast between new music and old theatre. Of course you could say something similar about many reissues of historical material, it’s a highly subjective opinion.
It happened to me quite a lot to work on mastering or restoring archival pieces, for Die-Schachtel and Alga Marghen mostly, but also for my own labels or various others. It’s a very different process compared to mastering recent music: in many cases the material is very fragile, and you can’t alter it too much especially because most of the times the composers are not there anymore to approve or disapprove; let’s say I’m a bit more intimidated by it, but also very honored to have this responsibility.
And as a finale, what new or upcoming records should we know about?
Planam/Alga Marghen has released a duo lp with Andrew Pekler, Holiday With Sampler.
Holidays Records, the label that released the bellows reelin’ vinyl version (the cd is on entr’acte) released two new things of mine in September:
– a one-sided lp with Adam Asnan (where i only play aluminum foil on a turntable)
– a very limited 3×7″ boxset called stunt (appendix) which is the ‘almost secret’ fourth volume of the stunt trilogy
there will be also a new release from my self-released series, a collaboration with photographer Traianos Pakioufakis (4 prints and a 7″).
I also just finished a new piece commissioned by the GRM, which will be premiered in Paris on January 15th.
Giuseppe Ielasi and the Acousmonium! I wish I could be there. Thanks for everything.
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