Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Your latest album: Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It (RareNoise) provides the soundtrack for a new documentary on the American Artist Cy Twombly, called Cy Dear. Can you tell us about how you got involved in the project and about its origins?
I was contacted last year to compose the soundtrack of this documentary film, the first ever made about the contemporary art giant Cy Twombly. The production company and the director contacted RareNoise Records to ask if I would be interested in working on it. I loved the idea and also because the film is shot and written from a very intimate perspective. It’s biographical but at the same time really intimate – a trip back in time meeting the people he loved most or that were the most important for him and his art.
What does the artist’s work mean to you personally? Do you favourite piece of his work?
Twombly is a giant, one of those figures who is so emotionally charged that anything you look at of his is fantastic. I’ve got my favourites; one of these is the cover of the album. What I like about him is how he transmits strong emotions through his paintings and at the very same time keeps them simple and direct. Twombly is one of those artists whose work you stare at in awe and are mesmerised by. I find him hypnotically entangling.
The album was mainly created through the use of guitar and various effects. Can you give us an idea of how constructed one of the tracks from the album? And about the types of affects you used in that process?
It’s true. I mainly used guitars, treating them in order to achieve what I had in mind. I used a lot of pedals: mostly Strymon or Eventide reverbs and delays. Various types; tape, analog, modulated digital. I created drones and loops with guitar and on top of them I improvised with guitar or piano, often for hours, until I found the theme or the emotion I wanted. At this point I’d start from the beginning and construct the whole track, arranging it at a later stage. It’s a time consuming process but it’s the only one that works 100% with my brain. I need to improvise in order to find the right colours. Improvising is giving me the right emotion I need to carry on composing.
I worked entirely on Ableton Live as DAW. Live has a very handy function that records all midi actions even if you’re not recording, it does it in background.
To me this has been a key point, as I could improvise for ages knowing I could edit all my sessions of piano to edit at a later stage.
For example in “The space between us” I had this piano theme turning in my head. I created the backing drone with guitars, as well as most of the little melodies that you can hear here and there, I then played the theme and started to build a groovy part…so back to the drone, I muted the piano, finished constructing the groove and added the bass. Once I was happy with that I played again the piano improvising on the theme.
I then leave the “finished” track for days – not listening, not working on it. And after a good mental space I go back to it with fresh ears for the final touches.
Would you say that good music is more about Art or Emotion? Or both? What elements make a piece of music particularly special for you?
For me it is mostly about emotion, I crave to feel something when I listen to music. You can be the most skilled player in the world, you could play thousands of notes per second, know every single micro detail of theory, orchestration and whatnot, but in the end if what you play doesn’t transmits feelings I’m not into it. There are loads of people who aren’t interested in this side of thing and more in the technical one. The perfect piece of music for me is a combination of the two, 70% Emotion 30% Art. I want and need to dream, fly, cry, get angry, smash things, destroy speakers when it comes to music. I’m interested in falling, endlessly. As long as the emotions are there that’s for me. It’s not a general rule however, it depends from music genre to music genre.
Do you ever feel that instrumental music misses words? Or does it create more impact to leave that space for the listener’s imagination?
Sometimes it does. I tried my best to replace “possible” singers with piano and guitars. Impact is created by emotions and sound. In the end it doesn’t matter if there’s a voice or not, as long as the sound is wrapping up you and your heart. It’s obvious that having a singer is more direct but there’s been so many great tracks without vocals that it really not does matter on a personal taste level.
What is your favourite guitar? Do you own one?
I have owned many guitars over the years. It’s a fever all guitar players have. You buy and sell guitars searching for that perfect tone that is playing only inside your head. In the end I discovered two that I absolutely love.
A Gibson Les Paul standard from 1981 and a baritone Nude Guitar with aluminium neck.
Baritone guitars became my main tool since 12 years, I love the deepness of sound they have, the suspension of frequencies they create. Nude Guitars are hand made in Italy one by one. They sport an aluminium neck that resonates like a dream and are really versatile and also when I play heavier music. I could never give up to these two guitars, they’re my sound now.
The closing track from the album: Near By Distance is dedicated to Robert Miles. Can you tell us more about that?
Robert and I were friends. We actually got in touch a long time ago, I think it was around 1996.
That track has been the one that I composed for this soundtrack – I mean the piano theme. The rest came when I started to arrange it. The more and more I listened to it, it was distantly reminding me of Robert’s melodies so in the end I thought it would be nice to dedicate it to him. I’d love to play him this song, to know what he thinks, but sadly I can’t. It’s not an homage, just a way of remembering a friend and a great artist.
How long did it take to make the album? Do you ever feel hurried or rushed in creating music, or is it a more naturally evolving thing? And how would you describe your studio’s environment?
The composition stage didn’t take too long, as after about one week I was so emotionally involved that things started to flow.
The arrangement took longer. I’m a a “freak” when it comes to sound and mix. I spend weeks and weeks changing small details, sounds, effects, and inevitably once a mix is done once I listen to it I always find something I’m not happy with. At some point I need to give myself a deadline.
I never felt pressed or pushed on anything. The production and the director left me total freedom to do whatever I was feeling that I wanted to do. My studio is very simple since I left Italy and moved to London. I was forced to shrink my environment. It’s a normal room with a Mac, subwoofer, speakers, loads of pedals and synths here and there. Boxes of effects, small noise machines, guitars etc etc. nothing fancy. It’s more a mad scientist’s laboratory than a studio. When I need to record acoustic instruments I use external studios.
And finally. Can you tell about any forthcoming plans for promoting the soundtrack and what you have in store for 2019?
I’m starting to think how to bring on stage this album. 2019 is going to be quite busy. There’s a new Blackwood EP coming out – the third Equations of Eternity chapter with Bill Laswell, a duo with bass clarinet wizard Gareth Davis, one with Markus Reuter from Stickmen, one with Japanese electronic artist Ken Ikeda and one with electronic wonder Nadia Struiwich, soundtracks, music for adverts and the beginning of some projects that will be disclosed at the right time.