In this sixth installment of the USG blog, I talk about some new releases and interview the talented instrument maker, sound maker and artist Massimo Olla to discuss his latest release with the Unexplained Sounds Group and his self made instruments.
Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light. Theodore Roethke
The new Unexplained Sounds Group experimental survey has been released and it is focused on Mother Africa. It includes a diverse range of countries from North Africa and Sub Saharan Africa. It is hopefully just the start of a sonic and spiritual exploration of the African continent. In this modern world, I find this is a welcome return to the soul and substance of some familiar yet somewhat forgotten places. Listening to this album, there is a sense of illumination. A sense of a luminous path taking me back home to my underground roots. As beautifully said in the Heathen Harvest blog article on the release: ‘There is no underground more buried than that which is hidden in scarcely represented geography, so we encourage you to support this effort.’
After 5 years, Unexplained Sounds Group is proud to release an expanded version of an experimental music masterpiece. It includes 6 unreleased tracks in the only digital version ever published. ‘A poisonous black and white extended’ includes instrument maker Massimo Olla and 4 other veterans from the Italian experimental music scene: Gianluca Becuzzi (limbo, kinetix, pankow, and many more projects), Stefano di serio (lyke Wake), Paolo Bandera (Sealingum s, shee retina stimulants), and Corrado Altieri (uncodified, TH26) . The last track was made by Simon Balestrazzi, another veteran of the Italian experimental music scene, who reworked and reassembled material from the new pieces.
For this interview, I was lucky to interview instrument maker Massimo Olla who was born in Cagliari, Italy, in 1964. His research in instrument building led him to create the [d]Ronin Custom Shop, named after his signature instrument, the [d]Ronin, an acoustic-electric array of strings, springs and metal plates that soon became appreciated and used by experimental musicians worldwide, including the likes of FM Einheit and Eraldo Bernocchi.
Q. Tell me about the USG release: ‘A poisonous black and white extended’ , how did this project come together? What is the story? How do you know the other artists on the release? Where was this recorded?
The idea came to me in 2013. Except for Corrado Altieri who is from Cagliari like me, the others artists were contacted on social networks. In my experience, Facebook, if used wisely, allows you to connect with your peers and can give birth to many artistic collaborations.
In terms of the process, each member of the collective created a mother track that was then shared via we transfer and prepared a second track on top, then a third and so on up to 5 tracks for all the songs that make up the album. Once all the sonic collaborations were ready, it was decided that Gianluca Becuzzi would do the mixing, a very complicated job to make the contributions of 5 completely different artists as a stylistic element convincing, going from the synths of Lyke Wake and then colliding with the noise generators of Bandera and Altieri up to my electro-acoustic sounds, at the time as Noisedelik & Becuzzi. The result of the operation is what you can listen to directly on the CD re-edited by Raffaele Pezzella for the Unexplained Sounds Group label.
Q. Tell me a bit about your instrument building? How did you start making instruments? What do you use to build them? How do you come up with them and the sounds they make?
It all started in 2010 when for a need of in-depth research for my projects and a boundless love for musical instruments and also for financial problems since I was fired, I decided to be a full time professional artist (not just as a hobby). I designed and built the first rudimentary [D] ronin and started using it in my works, I liked many musicians in the area and began to ask them if they wanted some of my designs and eventually, the operations grew to the point that it now has become a real job.
The materials chosen for the construction come from hardware stores. The only parts related to the actual acoustic string instruments like the violin are the strings and the mechanical parts to tune the instrument as well as the pickups for bass and electric guitar, the rest is modified and made entirely by hand. My experience as a musician allows me to have an idea of what sounds will come out. Any object can be useful for the realization of an instrument, I have a passion for springs and reverbs and my tools are mainly composed of those elements. For one to get good results, it is necessary to make mistakes and to start again from the beginning. Part of the experimentation is sitting down for hours and just trying.
The inspiration regarding the aesthetics comes from my love of the industrial art and music scene of which we are all supporters. Inspiration on the design of each individual instrument? For me the important thing is not the size but the effectiveness and portability. These are tools that are used in live settings but can also be devastating in the studio. I like when they have endless uses and sound possibilities. I also hope that the artist who uses them can make it his and make it personal.
Q. Name your three favorite instrument makers and their most famous creations.
Hans Reichel’s daxophone. I have always found it interesting and intelligent as a conception that allows for a wide variety of sounds. I built it and used it in several of my works and then modified it to my taste using materials of all kinds.
2. The original creations of N.U. Unruh and Fm Einheit (einsturzende neubauten). I have always found them brilliant and now they have also adopted my creatures and Fm Einheit for years has been bringing a [D] ronin on stage for his performances.
3. The waterphone invented in the 70’s by Richard Waters. I find it ingenious and it would be interesting to study it in depth. It is unfortunately very difficult to build and very expensive to buy from the various builders on the planet, but I sincerely prefer to continue with my originals and I do not like to copy the work of others.
In this fifth installment of the USG blog, I talk about some new releases and interview the talented painter, sound maker and artist JS Horseman to discuss color-hearing aka synesthesia among other topics. Enjoy!
Jeton Hoxha’s album Vowel released by Eight Tower Records was recorded live in Struga, Macedonia in June 2018. The recording is mainly based on loopy electro acoustic sounds created by sources like field recordings, computer and synthesizer. This fusion has been treated through various filters, plug-ins and hardware signal processing. Listening to this piece made me imagine desolate, abandoned industrial wastelands filled with detritus and decay in a post-apocalyptic world. In a previous article, we explored some of the key elements of drone music and also some prominent drone artists. Hoxha is able to use drone in a masterful, fundamental way while keeping just enough variables throughout the piece to weave an intriguing story that keeps the listener captivated.
Artist and writer TJ Norris writes of the album: ‘Jeton Hoxha is a welcome newcomer in the world of drone and all that is darkly mysterious. The Macedonian artist’s forty-five minute singular work is coated from end to end with a shmeared landscape of reverb and resonance, mastered by the hard working label runner, Sonologyst. It’s layered with a thick sonic wall, but intermittently a melodic chord rises and pierces through the thick foggy surface.’
On the other hand, Unexplained Sounds Group recently released the Electroframework compilation that stays true to the spirit of the avant-garde and keeps pushing the boundaries of pure experimentation.
Unexplained Sounds is also working on the next experimental survey release. This time the focus will be on Africa. It should be coming within March 2019 so stay tuned!
I had the pleasure of interviewing artist Jeremy Santiago Horseman. Based in Providence, Rhode Island, JS Horseman is a multidisciplinary artist working in experimental music composition, sound installation and a variety of visual media. His work includes several mixed- media processes such as field recording, noise, and acoustic instrumental and vocal composition, modular synthesis, and experimental tape and vinyl recording.
Q: You have mentioned that your music is sometimes influenced by folklore and mythology. Which ones, any type in particular?
J.S: I think about the golem a lot, the iconic clay android of Jewish folklore and Kabbalistic texts brought to life through incantations. For me, it represents a cross-section of mysticism and science-fiction, desperation, anxiety, naivety, innovation, physicality, and supernaturality, all wrapped up into one theme; the desire to bring life to an inanimate object. I have created many sound driven installations contemplating this subject. They are surreal, spatial assemblages of clay, apparitions of light/color (both artificial and natural) with multichannel, computer-generated sound processes. Some of these projects have also included performers with traditional instruments and voice, modular synthesizer, and looped tape and vinyl recordings. Likening sound processes to “incantations,” all of the ingredients of the installation work together as meditations on bringing life to a body.
The above being said, in the last several years, my artistic goals and interests have shifted to primarily composing within the stereo field, minus the installation. Rather than trying to follow a specific narrative about the golem, I have discovered more value in considering a more conceptual, less literal process. I focus more on asserting formal elements of design as a sonic experience to the listener (especially space, shape, form, color, texture, timbre). As a synesthete artist, I want to stress that those formal ingredients are experiential in their own right and that personal synesthetic phenomena such as hearing color or seeing shapes in a sound can be made palpable to any listener. With this, I do believe that the years of contemplating the subject of the golem arrived at what I’m currently after: formation. I continue to sonically compare ideas about object and space with a formless substance that becomes shaped by surrounding circumstances, a subject sculpted by a context, a form tempered by the space that surrounds it. Here, the formal elements such as color function as ‘incantations,’ metaphorically breathing life into space and form. My goal for manipulating these elements is to confront the listener with physical and emotional awareness, memories, as well as surreal/uncanny feelings ( those in-between feelings that one can relate to but not describe).
Q: You mentioned in another interview that sound guides the rest of the elements in your work. Can you explain this in more depth?
J.S: Regarding the installation work, I have playfully likened physical space, organic materials( clay, tar, straw), and color as components of a body. I want this “body” to feel as if it were born from the underlying presence of sound, where the sound sources not only bring meaning to these other characteristics but is somehow the origin of their physical manifestation. Focusing on stereo works, as a composer/ sound artist, I continue to identify these physical characteristics as variables within the recording process. I consider the traditional fields of drawing, painting, and sculpture as nonspecific to a material medium. They are applications, ways of thinking. So, for me, sound drives the action of these traditional applications, where I aspire to sonically “draw” shapes, and “sculpt” form, and “paint” colors within the stereo field. And, about the golem, this too is a conjuring process. Whether there is narrative present or not, it is the abstract method that taps into the subconscious and invokes familiar and unfamiliar sensations, then emotions, then memories.
Q: What elements of sound drive these other characteristics?
J.S: I identify the elements of design as synonymous to both sound and visual content. The aspects that I consider to be the driving forces of visualization are how frequency drives color, how harmony relates to color mixing, how timbre drives color intensity, how audio textures are comparable to visual/ tactile surfaces, whether an installation or a stereo recording.
Q: How much is musique concrete an influence in your work?
J.S: Music concrete is a tremendous influence. Many years ago I discovered the music of Stockhausen, Messiaen, Varese, Xenakis, among other 20th Century composers associated with musique concrete, and I fell in love with this type of music. A recorded sound, warped, sliced, diced, and reassembled, often to the point of unrecognizability is what initially excited me about musique concrete. Then a few years later, a friend reminded me about the tape genius, Delia Derbyshire. I think I owe the original gratitude to my older brother Mike, who forced me to watch Dr. Who, and of course, hear the fantastic work of Derbyshire and the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. At some point in my young 20’s, a friend introduced me to C-Shultz, who remains a favorite. I’d say listening to and learning the history of the artists mentioned here have undoubtedly supplemented my fascination with both making concrete recordings and with the medium of tape.
Q: How do you use sound objects in your composition?
J.S: For me, a sound object could be any sonic experience with a physical item that I find intriguing, often by an accidental discovery. It could be a crackling eggshell, a breaking glass, a bowed piece of metal, or it could be a musical instrument. I consider the most exciting stage of composing as recording an object with a variety of different microphones. Here, as mentioned before, two very elemental things are at play: the object, and the space that surrounds it (which I consider even more important). In conjunction with the microphone type, the object itself provides its own unique set of color, texture, and timbre. Importantly, it is also a measurement of proximity within the depth of physical space that surrounds it. So the shape and scale of a room can be drawn by the specific characteristics of the recorded object. Transversely, recording the reflections in the room will reveal unique qualities of that object. Thus the room sculpts and conditions our perception of the sound object. Rhythm and harmony are not innately structural to me as much as the relationship between the object and the surrounding environment. Please don’t misunderstand. I love rhythm and harmony, and I have no intention of ignoring them but, for me, the traditional aspects of musical experience are born from object and space.
Q: What does this approach mean to you and how do you utilize these techniques?
J.S: The most exciting part of recording an object is experimenting with what characteristics of that sound I want to bring to life. Here, I spend a tremendous amount of time with microphones, where I engage with space. For example, if I record a crackling eggshell in a basement, that specific environment’s reflections and absorbency rate are going to reveal specific qualities about that eggshell. The room itself and the distance between the microphone and the object are already forming the shape of the eggshell’s sound, before any special manipulations– sort of a real space equalizer. I think the above can also provide one of many examples of how capturing specific sound qualities can automatically draw a sense of space/ place, without narrative explanation. So, for me, the microphone recording of an object and space further becomes the underlying compositional fabric to evoke other types of sound processes. Here, I listen for note intervals and harmonic possibilities, then rhythms, etc. This is where I might begin writing down notes for musicians to play and record, or where modular synthesizers might show up to the party, it depends on the project.
Q: Why is sound such an essential tool for telling stories?
J.S: Sound is such an essential tool for storytelling because it is automatic. It is visceral, and a mysterious, ephemeral, invisible force. Sound is immediately atmospheric, colorful and textural having the ability to alter perception and build an experiential relationship to a text or a scene. I believe that it tells the part of a story or scene where words and visuals simply can not.
Q: What emotions did you feel growing up that were sound related?
J.S: A few microphones and modular synthesizers later, I don’t think much has changed since my childhood. I have always listened with curiosity. When I was little, long before I was interested in spatial music and music concrete, I mostly listened to classical music. My mother had a small vinyl collection that represented significant composers of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. Oh, and of course, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf! When I was very young, my experiences with synesthesia were the most intense. This music would put me into an indescribable visual/ emotional trans. I recall Bach’s Toccata and Fugue as one of the first compositions that taught me that music could make you cry. Not because of sadness, but because of awe. I found that music could invoke these in-between feelings, where words have no description.
Q: Name one sound that makes you the most scared?
J.S: There is a sound in nature that I have only heard late at night, in rural wooded areas. I still don’t know what it is. Some have told me that its a possum or a fox that makes the sound. To describe it, it sounds something in between a baby crying, a cat, and a porpoise all at once. When hearing that at night in the middle of nowhere, It’s very unsettling and haunting–right out of a horror movie.
Q:What colors do you associate with the following sounds? Scraping, Wheezing, Cough, Rustling.
J.S: That’s a loaded question and not a simple one to answer. However, I am excited that you ask. Color-hearing is a considerable part of my process. So I will attempt to give general applications to that question. Fair warning, you are asking a very neurotic person this question:
Scraping: red, orange, brown, with aggressive, sharp, cold, bright greens on the outer edges.
Wheezing: a complex greenish hue, a minty green with yellowish tendencies, fine grains of brighter yellow almost white on the outer edges.
Cough: a punchy flash of dark red and blue-green.
Rustling: very warm, somber tonal blues, shifting brown, with asymmetrical pointed silvery edges.
Q: What sounds do you associate with these colors? Red, Purple, Green, Black.
J.S: Red: Depending on the temperature and value of that red, to generalize the neighborhood of 341-370 hz, or any related octave, F-F#. So yea, that cough I imagined was F, with a quiet B/C surrounding it.
Purple: Depending on temperature and value, the G-G# note, or any related octave.
Green: Depending on temperature and value, C-C#, 523-554 hz or any related octave.
Black: As a non-spectral color, I have no pitch association. However, I perceive it as infinite space. In a recording, it is the stereo field itself.
In recent USG news, continuing in the spirit of Lovecraftian lure and ancient subterranean rituals, Eighth Tower Records presents a dark aural journey through caves and underground choirs. Julien Lacroix’s Moloch Conspiracy musical project offers a stunning work of electroacoustic music and masterfully mixes a diverse range of sound sources. Many field recordings were done, according to the artist, in abandoned structures of the first World War. This record presents an intriguing story that should be listened to in one sitting if possible. Music reviewer TJ Norris writes “This is pure unadulterated atmosphere with a capital ‘A’ with the tracks easily flowing into each other as if it were a singular lengthy piece, yet it’s broken into seven parts”.
In the last blog article, we talked about a specific type of musical element and a genre in itself that derives from ancient, traditional and usually meditative musics, the drone. In the spirit of continuing our research on drone sounds, I have decided to record a short drone mix for this installment of the USG blog. Hope you enjoy it.
On another note, I had the pleasure of interviewing a USG collaborator, experienced music writer and multimedia artist. As a music journalist, TJ Norris has been writing about music for about two decades. He gives us a look at what that means in times of ‘recycled’ music. One that is, in his words ‘thin of meaning and context/content’ . He is the founder of Toneshift.net that contains reviews of new music and sound works from around the world.
TJ: Actually when I built Toneshift.net, it was really only going to be an archive project of prior writing. It was also a reaction to the loss of years of columns that I wrote for Oregonlive.com (‘Is It Art?‘) and my own self-penned ‘unBlogged‘ that because of changes in technology, editorship or other circumstances, were so ephemeral, and eventually became lost texts referred to and without hyperlinks to click back. Both of these were taken offline without a trace, and without compensation. So, knowing the importance of critical words (for those on the other end of my writing) I had to determine best practices for documenting these reviews for the long-term. When Toneshift.net was conceived I made sure to cull everything that I had written about music/sound into one space, some were hard to locate, others were a few Google pages away. This included pieces from defunct glossies like I/E Magazine, Signal to Noise, FO A RM Magazine, Grooves Magazine and online publications like Dusted, Brainwashed and Paris Transatlantic among others. From there I developed it between 2008-2010, adding several new reviews, interviews, etc. In the years between I put the pen down on music-related reviews to focus on teaching, and writing cultural/art reviews for the Willamette Week (Portland, OR) until my relationship grew, and I eventually relocated to the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Since 2014 I began publishing GoFigureNews.com – a site completely dedicated to the art/artists behind the making of designer toys, which went on to be nominated for two awards in the official Designer Toy Awards in 2016 and 2017 – for Best Media Outlet. I’ve also been recently married, purchased a new home and this past Spring brought Toneshift.net back as a daily venture.
Q: As someone who has spent 2 decades as a music journalist, how do you approach your writing when observing and critiquing a piece? How did you develop your unique flow and style of writing?
TJ: I’m all ears. I listen and write, simultaneously. I practice and encourage deep listening. I’ve been fortunate over the years to engage in live performances of otherwise nearly invisible music like that of Robert Rich or Francisco López. But I do not write about the sound composition at the fringes without a pretty diverse knowledge of other genres. I’ve been exposed to a lot of jazz, for instance, from be-bop Blue Note to the avant players of out work like Sun Ra, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor and the list goes on. And often more popular music informs how I write about the world of electronic music, from my early days with new wave/punk rock to experiencing countless live performances of Spiritualized, Pan Sonic, Human League, Sigur Ros, The Legendary Pink Dots, Pet Shop Boys, Sisters of Mercy, Atom Heart, Jesus & Mary Chain….I’ve seen everyone from Nurse With Wound to Sylvester, Pole to Thomas Dolby, Abbey Lincoln to Bow Wow Wow live in concert – and from every experience I gain a knowledge of the history of various vestiges of sound-making. Beyond the ‘show’ – listening is the central experience.
Writing about music sort of comes naturally to me, I am in no way intimidated, because I appreciate so many things about silences, stops/starts, strange timbre and cadence, the flow between songs/tracks, pitch and beat…there’s so much to describing what you hear, how you can observe it from either/or a clinical/cerebral approach or something more emotional. I think I employ both somewhat. When I was only perhaps 10 years old I wrote my first music magazine, edition of one, with illustrations on white lined paper, all in ballpoint pen. I may still have it somewhere deep in my old archive boxes. From an early age I collected music, and as a kid who grew up in the late 70s/80’s mostly on vinyl LP at first. I must have had nearly 20K records before I sold them in the late 90’s to prepare for relocating across country from Boston to the Pacific Northwest.
Q: As a music writer, do you pay a lot of attention to the words you use to describe sound?
TJ: However bastardized, urbanized, digitized, truncated with emoticons, etc. language grows and/or changes – for me, words mean everything. I most definitely have a trusty Thesaurus always standing by just in case. It is literally one of my favorite books. That said, sometimes I feel as though I write in an ‘automatic writing’ style, as I lose myself in the music, I just write, not paying as much attention to what I last said previously, and more about how the sound makes me feel, and imagine scenarios. There is a meditative state of consciousness reserved for the sense of hearing.
On another side of the music biz, as it were, it can’t go without saying that we are in a time of recycled (regurgitated) ideas. In many ways we have so much flat-line, exclamatory, bubble gummy, over-produced music, thin of meaning and context/content, in the general entertainment market these days. It’s innocuous and therefore easily consumable. I realize I could never really write for one of the major outlets because it requires deriving meaning from proven marketing formulas rather than talent. This has driven many to seek out new artists with something to say, rather than simply replay.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration from? What sounds interest you in your daily life? Do you wonder about unexplained sounds or sounds of unknown origins?
TJ: My inspiration comes from so many places and sources. I’m mostly attracted to the mysteries of the ocean, the wind, the moon. I’m inspired by dancers with fluid and jerky movements. I’m not religious but I love ancient musics based on spirituality like Gregorian chant and also Javanese Gamelan. For making art I get my inspiration from looking at the world that surrounds me, in real time, I love the woods, the oceanside and architecture. In terms of sound I hear everything from the birds that visit my backyard, Mariachi sounds from the neighborhood, the spinning house fan – everyday sounds really.
Q: I read that you are also a multimedia artist. Please tell me more about your work. What is your most recent installation project?
TJ: Right now I’m in a transition where I want to connect new dots, where I want to fuse media in new ways. So, work-in-progress is yet unwrapped. That said I love the idea of fusing photography with sculpture – shifting planes, dimensions. I’ve used the format of installation in my own work, and in my curatorial work as well. In the past I’ve presented installation work that incorporated soundtracks made by various composers. In 2008 I was awarded a grant to present a 72 minute silent film I had created called ‘Infinitus’. The audience were asked to watch this film, but it was presented on two screens, playing forward and backward simultaneously, side-by-side via a very large screen mounted to the ceiling of the gallery. Visitors could lie on custom reclined lounges crafted for the installation. This was set to a soundtrack of the same length by French composer Christian Renou (Brume) (a review: http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-9047-the-aftermath-of-experience.html). This was the finale of a trio of installations where I also had the pleasure of also working with other composers Asmus Tietchens, Frans de Waard, Robin Storey, and others. There have been several projects where I’ve also curated sound artists into projects including Scanner, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Terre Thaemlitz and many others. I tend to work with diverse people who understand the complexity of sound as something malleable.
Q: How important are visuals to music creation?
TJ: Well, being one who grew up with the first wave of MTV culture, I understood the connection early on (actually I even pre-dated this with shows like Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert). But aside from the glow of television visuals come from design, costumes, even the instruments people play create an image. These days the impact of “branding” sort of steals from the message of the music, but beyond the package the visuals of music come from the actual sound. Sometimes an artist/composer might use an old school synth that recalls something by the Beach Boys while the sound may be far devoid from the image, but it has this urgent sense of recall. In this way the visual is more like memory. I’m a huge fan of powerful design, in record covers, presentation, there are countless examples – but this is all part of the overall visual marketing of music. In the moment I’m recalling Raster-Noton and their 20′ To 2000 set. If you don’t know it, check it out (http://www.raster-media.net/shop/20-to-2000).
Q: How important are other human senses such as olfactory and touch to music making?
TJ: The age old question, the impact of the five senses. It’s always deeply relevant, of course. But it’s when in combination that something new is conjured, the sixth sense as some believe. Back in the early 90’s I curated an exhibition that tested that theory exactly, it was called ‘Uncommon Senses’ and it included multisensory work that could be experienced by its audience. It was shown at Cambridge Multicultural Art Center (Boston), SUNY/Binghamton Art Museum (NY) and at the Smithsonian (Washington, DC). Nothing was edible, however 😉
In this third installment of the USG blog, I talk about some Lovecraftian sounds and interview machine maker, sound maker and USG collaborator Nicola Locci to talk about drone sounds among other things. Enjoy!
In recent USG news, Eighth Tower Records presents a dark aural tribute to H.P.Lovecraft, the XXth century master of supernatural narrative. Lovecraft once said that ‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’ How convenient that the Unexplained Sounds Group, a group that is known to go head first in to the unknown, should delve deep into a soundtrack that H.P Lovecraft himself would be proud of.
Iranian Xerxes the Dark returns in full form with ‘Dagon (MMXX)’, in which he entrances the listener with a riveting and ever changing soundscape that puts us face to face with one of the hideous, scaly, aquatic monsters from Lovecraft’s stories. With ‘The Haunter of the Dark’, Noctiluctant manages, with simple but powerful elements such as some wind and bells, to create a spine chilling soundscape that can take the listener near the forsaken church of Lovecraft’s tale of the same name where the most occult of beings awaits….
The Head Banger blog writes of the compilation: ‘the great vast majority of this piece is unknown to me and I’m enthralled by every one of them. So not only did we all get a tremendous display of power and love in regards to Lovecraft, we’re greeted with twelve captivating acts that show us the current state of ambient music, and it couldn’t be any more enticing.’
Nicola Locci has been making his own electronic instruments for about 8 years and has been recently focusing mostly on a mysterious type of unexplained sound: The Drone.
A. How long have you been making electronic instruments and what is your usual process?
NL: I studied electronics in school and I can say that I have always tried to apply my knowledge in this field to the music and instruments I played, starting from the electric guitar and some of its effects, but the creation of something of my own from start to finish dates back to about 8 years ago. Usually I can think of a rare or unexplained sound and try to create something compact and portable starting from that sonic idea, which I regularly change in the design phase, but that remains more or less close to the initial idea. Many other things, however, come out when I experiment with bizarre and unusual circuits, which I still try to design based on the desired function. For example, with my project STIGMATE, where I try to use my equipment as much as possible as the sound source.
B. How did you get in to electronics?
NL: As I said, everything started through my school studies, but the passion exploded many years later, when I started producing electronic music. I started making small music software patches that I still use to this day, then one day I told myself: why not try to implement some of these as hardware versions?
C: Tell us more about the drone instrument, why is it called insecto#1- the white fly?
NL: INSECTO is a word that buzzed around me for several years. I heard it in a contemporary music show, and it immediately fascinated me. In essence, it is the same word in Italian and English that were joined together (INSECT + INSETTO). I chose it because the machine I designed is quite versatile, and some of the drones it produces can recall the sound of an insect (the white fly). I envisioned designing a trilogy of INSECTO, all three very noisy machines!
D. How important are drone possibilities in your machines and where does this type of deep listening come from?
NL: Basically they are essential, since currently the machines I create produce a continuous sound. They are built without a keyboard and with an envelope circuit, but I do not stop there since today it is possible to create drones in a multitude of ways, for example with electroacoustic instruments. This stems from a desire to create something that is on the one hand alternative to the classic analogue synthesizer that is now very fashionable, and on the second hand to inspire the artist to create some interesting and unheard musical timbres.
E. Do you plan to make machines based on other animals or even bacteria and fungus?
NL: As I said, I planned three generators inspired by the concept of INSECTO but bacteria and fungus seem to me two other good possibilities! Can I steal the idea?
F. What hopes do you have for young machine makers?
NL: Beautiful question! I hope first of all that they do not create a sort of new moog, we already have too many clones!!! I am a small experimenter, certainly not an electronic engineer working in a large company. I do it as a passion and only hope to one day be able to do this as a living, but it is the passion that also allows me to go beyond a strictly commercial concept. So my hope is for young machine makers to be carried away by passion, as in any respectable art form!
G. What is your favorite electronic music instrument ever created?
NL: I delete everything I’ve said about it in the last question: The Moog of course !! The progenitor of all musical electronic instruments .. In reality there is not only one instrument as all of its subsequent evolutions are also very important! Ever since it was discovered that it was possible to generate sound from electrical energy, I believe that an enormous world opened up, which is to this day very unexplored. it is precisely this desire for experimentation that I hope to preserve.
In this post of the USG blog, we will set an eye on the Iranian scene and its’ recently held Heka Music Festival in Tehran that was partly sponsored by the Unexplained Sounds Group. Long time USG collaborator Morego Dimmer (aka Xerxes the Dark) presented a live performance for the opening ceremony, as part of an art exhibition, as Xerxes the Dark where he played live about 1 hour using his waterphone (more on that later in the article), and then experimented withsound design , mostly dark ambient, drone and noise.
Live Shows: A look at the Heka music festival
I had the chance to interview festival organizer Ehsan Sobhani. Ehsan told me he had always wanted to manage a music festival inside Iran. After feeling a need for a specific festival focusing on ambient music, about 2 years ago, he decided to establish the Heka Music Festival. So, In November 2017, his team made an open call for artists and the Heka festival was officially started in March 2018 in Tehran.
Artists that performed this year include Limen (Nariman Ali Akbar), XSIX (Farhan Mohajerani), Bernisaun (Behrouz Farahani – Hesam Kardan), Alphaxone (Mehdi Saleh), Tarxun (Farshad Khajeh Nasiri), S.S.M.P ( Siavash Sojoodi), Omnium band ( Alireza Ashraf pour – Kaveh sajjadi), Mahavoice ( Ali Pour Motamedi), Mehdi Behboudi, Vahid Ghaderi , Soheil Soheili , and Sina Shoaei .
A Short Interview with Ehsan Sobhani:
What is the influence of Iranian history and culture for the festival and how do you hope to inspire young artists in the country?
ES: Generally, we are influenced by Iranian culture, but this influence is not very tangible these days. Music wise, whether directly or indirectly, we use some Iranian rhythms, melodies or instruments in our creations. I hope we can improve our audience’s understandings of electronic music, especially ambient music. We hope to introduce our history, culture and art to our next generation of musicians and fans and are working on developing workshops and educational programs for this.
Also, we insist on including Q&A sessions between artists and the audience after each performance, so that fans can ask questions and become familiar with the artist and his/her music and ideas. We are currently trying to find bigger and better venues for our performances with a focus on finding old places to perform modern electronic music, and through this, to connect our ancient culture to modern and contemporary music.
The new release ‘new modernism’ might be one of my favorite releases on USG until now. However, I am biased as abstract, weird and unexpected is my favorite type of musical style. But of course, what else to expect from an experimental music community? This release seems like it should be the soundtrack to a 70s or 80s psychedelic movie or an old abstract cartoon à la ‘Planète Sauvage’ (Laloux, 1973) or the stop motion feature ‘Chronopolis’ (Kamler, 1983). I hope to hear more of these compilations on USG in the future.
Eighth Tower Records’s latest release is called Polar Shadows. American reviewer TJ Norris aka Tone Shift describes it: ‘a handful of powerfully atmospheric soundworks slowly emanate from this highly developed record, with tracks from: A Bleeding Star, Experiment#508, Weeping Glass and Sun Through Eyelids whose track Ascetic Imprint is inebriatingly haunting. It lingers in quietude and slow motion like a snow globe in fog. Throughout these ten tracks there is a cautionary post-apocalyptic tale told in short ambient vignettes. It’s gorgeous.’
I had the chance to interview Morego Dimmer (aka Xerxes the Dark) about the local music scene in Iran and about his cherished sound tool the waterphone, as well as his hopes for future generations of young sound producers.
A. What role does the internet play in music production collaboration between international artists?
MD: Well, this is an old but important question. No one can neglect the importance of the Internet in these decades. It is the only way (at least for us) to communicate with foreign artists. We can exchange our ideas, experiments and thoughts and also collaborate musically with the help of the Internet. Also, young artists can watch tutorials and learn to use DAWs, study music theory, mixing and mastering audio techniques in an easier way. My first collaboration with a foreign musician was on a split album with the Greek artist called Ego-Death. We talked to each other and soon decided to make an album in 2008. Ever since then, I have collaborated with many artists from around the world. The internet is also ideal for finding a suitable label, distributor, and for pressing and publishing purposes. It is also possible to share your music with more people then ever before.
B. What advice would you give young sound makers in terms of marketing their music in this digital age?
MD: I want them to be brave and dare to release their materials. They must believe in themselves and show their true talents, observe feedback and constantly improve their career. Also, they must remain motivated. Drugs and depression are not the keys to success. If music is their true passion, they must fight for their passion with a burning desire. When I decided to produce music, I sometimes skipped high school classes, girl friend duties, and did not have regular sleep patterns (and I have insomnia since then). I was forced to work hard during summers and earn my own money to buy music instruments. I found that the proverb “no pain , no gain” is true. When my noise project “Nyctalllz” was invited to join an international noise compilation by Syrphe Records in 2007, I realized that my efforts had paid off and have since then doubled my efforts. Schopenhauer once said “Most people take the limits of their vision to be the limits of the world. A few do not. Join them.”
C. What is your hope for future generations of young musicians from Iran?
MD: I hope they can easily release their music within Iran, earn money for their work and play their music in better and bigger venues and festivals. Due to current Paypal rules and restrictions, Iranian users are completely blocked so we can not receive our royalties from outside the country. On the other hand, It is very hard to release this kind of music inside Iran (many artists tend to skip this option), and so the only available way to make money is to play live here, to teach music lessons or to teach DAWs (and the income usually is very low in these situations). I truly hope that one day we can have a good market for electronic music on our own soil since we have many fans here and many of them are very supportive.
D. Why did you choose the name Xerxes the Dark as your name? Is it based on the ancient king Xerxes?
MD: Surely the name is inspired by our great King of Kings, Xerxes I (aka Xerxes The Great), although his true Iranian name is Khashayarsha (which means ruling over heroes). When I started the project, I decided to attribute this music to our ancient King, and I called my project simply “Xerxes”. I released some material under this name (2 solo albums, 2 split albums, some singles and an EP). But in late 2009, I changed the project’s name to “Xerxes The Dark” to not cause confusion since other projects are also called Xerxes. Also, there are some hidden codes behind this name, maybe someday I will reveal them to the public…
E. Tell us a bit about the compilations USG curated on Iranian music and what role the USG played in recent years to support the experimental music from Iran.
MD: I would like to thank Mr. Raffaele Pezzella for all of his efforts. Not only for introducing and supporting Iranian experimental musicians, but for introducing and supporting all the experimental musicians throughout the world. He trusted me, and i really appreciate that. We were lucky to make unique compilations on USG such as the “ Iran Experimental Underground 016 Survey ” in which we gathered old and famous Iranian musicians along side young and talented artists. This album paved the way for the next big step: ” Visions Of Darkness In Iranian Contemporary Music “, which attracted much attention from all over, including music magazines that wrote very positive reviews. UK based legendary label Cold Spring released our compilation in 2xCDs and this gave us a lot of motivation! We reached our main aim: To introduce the Iranian experimental electronic music scene to the world. In Iran, we have been an official partner of Tehran Annual Digital Art Exhibition (TADAEX 2016) and recently, we have made an agreement with the Heka Music Festival for further collaboration in the future. USG has helped us to introduce our music to a large audience and I hope we will continue our collaboration.
Through this new segment. I hope to introduce an interesting sound tool being used in the scene. The waterphone (or ocean harp), developed by Richard Waters in the lates sixties, is a type of inharmonic acoustic percussion instrument consisting of a stainless steel resonator bowl or pan with a cylindrical neck and bronze rods of different lengths and diameters around the rim of the bowl. The resonator may contain a small amount of water giving the waterphone a vibrant ethereal sound. This instrument is also used for film scoring, specially for horror / thriller movies. With the help of his cousin, Morego Dimmer made his waterphone with copper. He mentions it is also possible to make it with stainless steel or brass. His waterphone has a big bowl, but he mentions that one can find other ones with a pan. Morego suggests using this instrument for making dark ambient pads, and can be used with external analog effects to record bizarre and nasty sounds.
Stay tuned for more information in the next USG blog post!!!
What would a UFO sound like? Who killed JFK? Who is the Mothman and what are his prophecies? What are those strange sounds coming from your basement? Find out the answers to all these exciting questions and more in the first post of the Unexplained Sounds Group’s official Blog.
I was lucky enough to attend the 2018 Beirut based Irtijal experimental electronic music festival’s 18th edition. It is known to pay homage to the purest expression of experimental music. I chose the third night of the event (April 5th) since I would get to catch some of my favorite local talent.
Jawad Nawfal’s Munma project explores oriental harmonies and rhythmical patterns, with a strong reliance on sampled traditional music and vocal sample from politicians’ speeches and radio broadcasts. Rabih Beaini, who runs Morphine Records, is well known for his deep, otherworldly experimental sets and unique dj skills. I met Belgian sound artist Cedrik Fermont who presented a deep vocal performance alongside Munma’s modular electronics. Together, they record and perform as Tasjiil Moujahed. I also met the French experimental rock band Oiseaux Tempetes who played an explosive psychedelic show accompanied by visuals and field recordings.
Samples from Rabih Beaini’s 2013 album “Albidaya” on Annihaya label, Lebanon
Tasjiil Moujahed’s Moussafer album on Syrphe Records
I am looking forward to hearing more from these artists’ work and also to experience the burgeoning Lebanese experimental music scene in the coming years. Irtijal is an unmissable festival and I hope it will be around for a long time. Some more experimental music festivals to watch out for this year include Terraforma 2018 in Milan, Unsound Festival in Krakow, and the Roadburn Festival in Tillburg, Netherlands.
I have been enjoying the new Eighth Tower records release by Belgian Steve Fabry aka Hezaliel. His Paradise Lost album is based on the epic poem by John Milton about the fall of Satan and the banishment of Adam and Eve.
It is very dark and one for the dark ambient lovers.
I was lucky enough to help with vinyl editing and publishing of Sonologyst’s notorious Silencers album.
It explores themes of conspiracy theories such as UFOs. Uexplained Sounds Group founder and sound producer Sonologyst aka Raffaelle Pezzella was nice enough to sit with me for an interview to discuss some of the inspiration behind the album and production techniques used for the album. Enjoy 🙂
A. So Raffa, what conspiracy theories do you discuss in these dossiers? How did they push you to create this album and what was your process?
RP: Many of my works are like documentaries in music, mostly focused on unexplained phenomena science cannot yet explain. In this case, I chose the “Silencers” also known as Men in Black, a mystery that represents one of the most obscure matters related to the extraterrestrial intelligence on Earth. I collected some field recordings that could be related to the subject, including a JFK speech about secret societies in USA. Afterwards, I composed some parts with a dronin instrument and synthesizers that were also used for the final mix.
B. Regarding John Keel the American journalist, can you give us a brief background about him and his research and how he influenced you in the creation of this album?
RP: Silencers are one of the most mysterious subjects related to UFO conspiracy theories and plots. Many versions about their identity have circulated over the last 70 years, that are more or less reliable.
The most influential of them is certainly the John Keel theory. He was a journalist and paranormal investigator and writer. He was born in 1930 in NY State. He is known to have said “I am not an authority on anything”. I like this ironic and low profile approach. As a journalist, Keel investigated difficult and elusive things, many times at great risk. Influenced by writers such as Charles Fort, he began contributing articles to the Flying Saucer Review and took up investigating UFOs and assorted Forteana as a full-time pursuit.
The most interesting aspect of John Keel’s research, that influenced me in the creation of “Silencers”, was his novel approach to these kinds of phenomenon. I mean this revolution about how he considered all these mysteries like UFOs, ghosts, demons and paranormal activities in general. Not like physical entities in the obvious term the most people think about, but like a sort of revelation of an implicate and hidden dimension, completely separated by our plane of reality. It is still an important field of research on the paranormal, that followed by many scientists, physicists, psychologists and others such as those researchers working with the Holographic Theory of the Universe.
C. Which of his books influenced you the most, can you talk about them a little bit?
RP: It certainly was “The Mothman Prophecies” book. An eerie story of John Keel’s investigations in to sightings of a large, winged creature called the Mothman. It combines these accounts with his theories about UFOs and various supernatural phenomena.
D. What does it mean to you to use machines to create music? What types of sound inspire you the most and how do you create them?
RP: I think machines are just the equivalent of a piano or a violin, in our age. It’s natural to work on machines, and when I work with some acoustic instruments, the first thing that comes to my mind is how to process it electronically. The same is for the sounds that inspire me to make music. Usually I’m inspired from strange sounds, no matter if they come from artificial or natural world. The aspect that intrigues me is the timbre of sound, and the stranger it is in its’ frequency spectrum, the more it inspires me to create something with my equipment.
E. What would a UFO sound like if it has a sound?
RP: In most of cases of UFO sighting, there are reports of silent objects moving in the atmosphere. It’s funny that in a world so full of noises and screams, the UFO sound can be silent. It is possible that, if some extraterrestrial life form does exist, it would be wiser than the human race, and thus prefers silence to loud noise. That’s the kind of UFO sound I imagine, a sound very close to silence.
F. Can you tell us a bit about field recording and the process behind it and how field recordings help you create your work?
RP: Field recordings are a fundamental component in my musical process. They are the ingredient that help create visual atmospheres, vivid landscapes, even stories. The most important thing with field recording is that to use them in music, is like taking a piece of reality in to the musical composition, or alternately, to take the music into the reality. That being said, I am not a professional field recordist. I use a simple condenser microphone, or even a smartphone when I am out and about, to catch anything that might be interesting.
G. What is your favorite movie on this subject and why?
RP: My favorite movie about this subject is a 1978 Italian b-movie, “Eyes from the Stars”. The critics considered it rough and incoherent, but I like the claustrophobic atmosphere and feeling of total conspiracy that pervades it.
H. Are you ever going to do a second part to this majestic album?
RP: It’s not in my plans at the moment, but, considering the new disclosure from the US Government of unclassified documents and new revelations, it’s possible I’ll find a new reason to go on.
Stay tuned for more information in the next USG blog post!!!