an interview by gianmarco dal re here
2012 has been a busy year for you with the release of two solo albums and others in collaboration with Ennio Mazzon and Stefano Gentile. As a matter of fact you have been quite prolific for the past couple of years, considering you only just started releasing albums in 2010. What is your background and how did you develop such an accomplished sound in such a short space of time?
Music wise, I started out as a singer in the early 80s within punk music and new wave. I then took a 30 year long sabbatical, until I was asked back for a reunion gig by my friend Pietro Zanetti with whom I used to play at the time. This got me back into the groove, so to speak and spurred me on to try out new avenues. Using a laptop as principal instrumentation, felt like the natural thing to do, since the majority of music I listened to was electronic and digital. I found it relatively easy to compose on a laptop and I believe the speed with which I started producing music came from so many years of listening to this type of music, which meant I had a clear enough idea of what I would’ve liked to achieve right from the word go.
Back to 2012 and your solo albums, Inner Sky and Outer Sky… The field recordings for both albums were taken in Paris at the end of 2011 and the albums were completed in Treviso between January and February of 2012. They are quite complex works completed in a remarkable short space of time and they seem to point to some kind of urgency behind them. Inner Sky, in particular, inaugurated Enrico Coniglio and Leandro Pisano’s netlabel Galaverna devoted to field recordings based works and yet, this is far from a “purist” approach to field recordings. Could you describe your working method starting from your use of microphones, which I get the impression are quite an integral part of your equipment? And could you explain how you go about mixing tracks to obtain that narrative quality which seems to run through them?
As a basis for both works you refer to I actually used the same field recordings material that I took in Paris with a simple digital recorder: I don’t use any kind of specific microphones and I am not even that knowledgeable when it comes to the technical side of things. Furthermore, I don’t really have such a strong interest in pure field recordings as such. To me, they only represent a starting point from which I try and develop a more complex discourse.
Generally speaking, to gather material, I set off for a walk allowing my digital recorder to capture anything that any given place might have to say, which is normally a lot more that one might realise at first because of all of our senses are inevitably distracted by different stimuli. Once in the studio, I try to replicate in musical terms any itinerary I might’ve followed. This is where the narrative element you were talking about might come into place. With Inner Sky, I was lucky enough that both Enrico and Leandro expressed their interest to release it on Galaverna.
Did you conceive the work from the start in two parts as Inner and Outer Sky or did Outer Sky come as a reaction against Inner Sky or rather as a reflection on the journey undertaken with the same album and centred around the 15th arrondissement in Paris? Also the cover of the albums are polar opposites going from a tele-lens shot to macro detail.
Outer Sky was composed after Inner Sky was released. When Ennio Mazzon asked me to release something on his label Ripples, it felt natural to use the same field recordings from Paris to try and tell the same story from a different point of view while only concentrating on a small part of the territory (rue Lecourbe in the XV arrondissement), whereas with Inner Sky I included recordings from all over Paris, including the airport. From this point of view the album covers, reflect the subject matter.
Music can be a lonely business, but you seem to favour collaborations as Zbeen, a project with Ennio Mazzon, and Under The Snow, your duo with Stefano Gentile. Do you see this as a way for you to come out of your comfort zone and try things you wouldn’t normally be inclined to, or is just a matter of survival when overcome by cabin fever?
Collaborations are my preferred working method. I feel a lot more at ease working with someone else rather than on my own. On my own, I find it difficult to achieve something I may be satisfied with, and it is due more to Enrico and Ennio’s determination that I’ve agreed to release the two albums we were talking about under my own name rather than my own conviction. As a matter of fact I’ve just finished a new album, but I am still reluctant to send it out. If there’s anyone out may be interested, please get in touch!
How would you characterise the music of both collaborative projects?
They cover to a large extent many of the musical topics that interest me. Under the Snow is a more ambient project and one which, to a certain extent, harks back to the 80s in terms of mood and tone. This is only natural since both Stefano and I were already grownups at the time, and it also means that we have good chemistry since we used to listen to a lot of the same music.
Zbeen, on the other hand, is more experimental, musically speaking, and at the same time highly stimulating because it allows me to work with Ennio, who is much younger than myself but very competent in terms of digital programming. His age also means that his listening history is not as extensive.
Together with Stefano Gentile you have been able to indulge in your love for field recordings, which culminated in Under the Snow’s open homage to Alan Lomax. This reminds me of Muddy Speaking Ghosts Through My Machines by Fabio Orsi and Gianluca Becuzzi. Indeed Lomax carried out several filed trips in Italy. What is, or should, be the role of sound archives and did the work of Ernesto De Martino, Diego Carpitella, and Giovanna Marini have any influence on you? Is it still relevant today?
Granted that I consider Becuzzi and Orsi’s album to be a landmark, Stefano and I used Alan Lomax’s field recordings to embellish what was an already completed work, which was loosely centred around some field recordings taken on the Po delta. Since traditional music from Polesine wasn’t suited to our work, I tried with Lomax’s recordings from the Mississipi delta and found that the voices suited so perfectly the music that we decided to leave them. Our relationship to sound archives is limited to this experience.
You also worked with Enrico Coniglio and Under the Snow on the album Dialogue One, which has been described by Richard Allen as a Winter album about Winter, who concludes that “location authenticity will guarantee its durability”. How important is to you to be “coherent” in terms of locations when using field recordings in a particular album?
I don’t really feel any obligation or any need to be coherent. It’s more a question of mood: if I work on field recordings that all come from one place, I find that the work acquires a sense of unity.
Still in its infancy, Zbeen, your collaborative project with Ennio Mazzon, has been going from strength to strength. So far you have released two well-received works, the ep K-Frame and an album Stasis coproduced by Entr’acte and Ripples. You have also just finished a new album, which is currently being mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi. I suppose the fact that you both live in the Treviso area does help as it gives you the opportunity to play live together rather than just send files to each other. Is this an important aspect of the work for you?
It is not so important to live in the same city. I don’t think I am revealing any secret when I say that Ennio and I never do get together to record material four our albums or to rehearse live sets. What we are mostly interested in when playing live is the impro factor, nothing is ever planned in advance apart from the possibility of actually playing on a stage.
You seem to favour Scandinavian titles with Zbeen’s albums. Is there any particular reason for this? A reference to Touch artists such as Biosphere and BJ Nilsen?
Ennio is the one passionate about the Norwegian language. The title tracks of the next album, though, won’t be Scandinavian!
Ennio Mazzon wrote that “the backbone of Stasis is rigorously digital, but contrary to the EP K-frame (Ripples, January 2012) its sound is rather more organic, thanks in no small part to the use of a vast array of different sound sources: field recordings, contact microphones, guitar and clearly synthetic sounds.” Is there anything you would like to add in particular on the digital aspect of the album and what direction did the sound take on the as yet to be released new album?
In order to answer this question, I should specify that Stasis was recorded before K-Frame and that album, to a certain extent, was rooted in tried and tested working methods for both of us and to a sound we were both comfortable with when we started collaborating. With K-Frame we took a first step in a new direction away from the original sound source in order to interact on a higher level with the laptop thanks to a max patch Ennio had created especially for this album. From there on, we progressed naturally to a type of sound, which falls clearly in the digital synthesis bracket whereby all digital processing renders unrecognisable the original sound source. The creation of new patches allows us to achieve sounds that are different each time. That is why I consider the new album, which you were referring to, Eigen, as a first point of arrival for Zbeen.
This is the third postcard from Treviso in the series, after the ones from Ennio Mazzon and Onga. It seems like a vibrant place far removed from the backward image conveyed by racist and homophobic remarks by the likes of its former mayor Gentilini or the satirical picture given by Pietro Germi in the1966 film Signore e Signori (The Birds, the Bees and the Italians), which ridiculed the hypocrisy of small town mentality and the middle class. Is the truth somewhere in between?
What Treviso is like is quite evident. The situation has become even more tragically ridiculous since the times of Germi’s film. Having said that, there are indeed a number of people from Ennio and Onga, to Nico Vascellari & co with Codalunga in Vittorio Veneto and the Dirtmor Collective in Treviso, who do really interesting things with no support whatsoever from the institutions and the city.
Giuseppe Verticchio and Giuseppe Ielasi seem to be your preferred choices when it comes to mastering. What have they revealed to you about your own work?
Both of them made me understand how important are precision and clarity, even within music.
Are there any underexposed artists on the Italian scene, which you feel deserve a closer listen, and how do you see the evolution of electronic music in Italy?
I always try and listen carefully to the artists I am interested in and always try and dig extensively into their catalogue, so I wouldn’t be able to give you any specific names. In terms of the evolution of electronic music in Italy I don’t think I have anything particular new to say. What is striking is how vibrant the scene is with so many great works being produced in spite of the considerable drop in sales of the past few years.