Interview: Raffaele Pezzella (Sonologyst & producer)
Raffaele Pezzella showcases today all the Experimental music worldwide. You would ask why, I will tell you why. Raffaele Pezzella leads a radio show in Italy, with the broadest reach worldwide, Unexplained Sounds. With the additional particularity of including musicians from around the world, whatever they origin, be they classically trained or self-taught, also accounting its project “Sonologyst” that has driven new Experimental Music tendencies. He also owns EigthTower Records Label, today one of the major world actors on Experimental music. I invite you to read this pleasant interview.
By Manuel Knwell
For many of us who do experimental music, and styles that do not go into the commercial, you are one of the greatest cultural managers of world music in that category, how did you create a radio program and edit music, did you take from everybody, did you study musicology? It’s beautiful the work you’ve done with Arab and Latin musicians.
Well, I just started three years ago with a simple group of experimental music passionate people. I named that group “Unexplained Sounds” that was the title of a Sonologyst (my own music project) album. And since there the community grew day by day, much beyond what I could imagine in a first moment. Actually I didn’t have any idea that we would become thousands of people in a short while. On my side, I have a background as sound technician, with almost 30 years of listening of all kind of music and a great passion for everything, which is groundbreaking in the music field.
And how was this passion born, to hear all kinds of music, how was your childhood?
A very simple childhood. Like many people, I loved to listen to pop and rock music. That different interest comes from a literature source. When I was 19 I started to read William Burroughs’ novel “Naked Lunch” and then a biography dedicated to the American writer. There I found many strange anecdotes around the way Burroughs used the tape recorder, including experiments to record the “voices of the dead”. Then I began to search for those recordings, and through that path I was lost in a lot of alternative music and underground productions, literally a paradise for my ears.
You say it comes from a normal childhood, but you developed that taste for more experimental and underground music, unlike the vast majority of people who do not value this type of music. When Miller asks the owner of Mute records about the under and mainstream music, he says: “The underground music can not live without the mainstream and vice versa, since the mainstream is inspired musically in the under, and bands like Depeche Mode allow me to be able to edit albums from bands like Laibach or Neubauten that I know that they will not give me money,” what do you think of that?
Personally I think that what we consider the underground alternative music is part of a mental environment. A world where our intellect has to face exciting challenges, and not simply feel some pleasure for something we’ve already used in some way, like in the case of mainstream. Obviously there are other aspects, political and aesthetic, involved into this matter. But for me, working with underground artists makes me feel like being in a secret society or a heretic sect. Maybe it’s also for that reason that I often introduce in my projects references to unusual arguments from philosophy, mythology, science and so on. But that is another thing…
Explain more about how you work with Sonologyst, if you see the end of your project take an impartial position, and how do you manage to create that balance, by taking influences from science, mythology or philosophy?
My music production started in 2000 with a project titled “Memorie Elettroniche Sonore”, now quit. After many years, around 2012 I went back to my old ideas to develop a mainly electronic music project and Sonologyst came out. But apart from music I have deep interest in science (I studied maths and physics at University), philosophy, mythology, paranormal, and alternative thinking. So those interests soon permeated my way of thinking music. And finally, it’s clear that, especially in the latest works, and in the forthcoming album I’m completing, I came to a sort of documentary style, very influenced by old documentaries of which I’m an avid consumer. It can seem a contradiction because my music is almost totally improvised. In some way it’s similar to the alchemists’ approach who mixed science and magic.
No, they referred to the meaning of Sonologyst, is it something that is within parameters, where 0 is what matters most, or I am wrong, where does that name and how does it represent in his music?
The name is referred to the sonology, the science of sound. And I liked to represent the project like a sound science laboratory.
You don’t think that it distances the most common people and that they are in tune with other things that don’t have to do with the neoliberal system? Imagine a peasant of my country, how would you reach those people? Did you think or feel good about being part of an elite that listens to you?
I’d like to make wider the audience of my music, but I can’t pretend too much, unless I change the nature of my musical interests. It’ll remain in the underground world. There’s not an elitist pleasure in this status, it’s just a matter of fact. Sometimes I make music a little bit more accessible, sometimes it’s quite more experimental, but both cases I do it mainly for myself. It’s just when I publish it that I hope people will appreciate it, but it’s a second moment, when I take a distance from my creation and look at it like something out of me.
And is there a way to change that? You know what I think your work as a musician, researcher, manager, is extraordinary, but the problem is the musicians you promote, because I’m sure many of them don’t mind making their music more known, and they feel superior, to do something quite abstract musically, the rarer the better for some elite to praise, what do you think about it?
I don’t share that way of thinking; music is a way to communicate, and the wider the communication, the better. But if someone likes to feel himself/herself like that, I have to respect it.
Could you watch this video and respond from just seeing and feeling the music of the video what you feel, please?
The genuine origin of the music, the necessity to express musically ourselves with any means we have, and the desire to make rituals in order to go beyond the simple matter. The bridge to divine
Shamanic chant to enchant a Kaisiya whale (57) [Mutes of dying whale] The whale is mounted on me.
Lola Kiepja – Shamanic song to enchant a Kaisiya whale, tell me what to think when you hear this? Describe me more deeply, which is what you imagine, go to the bottom of your being, to that common area that we all human beings have where the esoteric and pagan is present in the subconscious, as Carl Jung says his red book.
I simply feel the warmth of an old mother, an ancient woman who will help me to be saved from this world, and I feel hungry too : )
Did I read Carl Jung’s red book?
I know basically the Jung’s thought, but I didn’t read that book.
And what books do you recommend to open the horizons to your fellow musicians and anyone who wants to learn more about your knowledge?
Not one in particular, but all the books where the authors have an uncommon, different, alternative thinking. No matter if their thoughts, opinions, theories, are close to the truth or not (admitted that a single truth really exists). To keep open our mind to new and even strange way of thinking the reality is the only mean to not die as human beings. I can tell you I’m reading now a biography of Giordano Bruno, an Italian philosopher and magician from XVI century. He was really a saboteur of his age thinking, as in theology as in philosophy.
Tell me, which countries did you travel to outside of Europe, and which ones would you like to know for your culture, to study for your music?
I’ve been around a lot of countries, US, China, Russia, Egypt, almost all Western European countries, but I missed to visit Iran. I’d love to go there as soon as possible, cause it’s been almost two years since I’ve been collaborating with many Iranian artists to promote their music. So I’d like to visit their country to know more closely their culture, art, and traditions, and obviously to meet them personally. Recently, I started a collaboration with Cold Spring label from London, to print a CD edition of the latest Iranian compilation, and I’m planning a split album on Eighth Tower Records, the sub label of Unexplained Sounds, with three Iranian artists. It’s a very exciting adventure to discover music coming from that country and collaborating with them, if you consider all the difficulties they have because of the political issues.
And how was that love born for Iranian music? I feel it could be because of the Sumerians and the origins of civilizations?
That’s true. After thinking about a new country to work for an experimental survey (after the ones with Italy, France, UK, US, Spain, Eastern Europe and so on), I thought to look at a place where ancient traditions could be more alive. And Iran was the first that came to my mind for its incredible reach history. And I have to tell that the response to both the compilations I produced, was very warm and enthusiastic.
It’s curious that sometimes Latin Americans feel as if we are far from the things that happen in Europe, and especially Chile which is a country that is at the end of the world, but when talking to musicians and artists abroad they complain about the same things happening here, the same happens with Spain, Greece and part of France, is this due to the economic crisis or does this really have something to do with the Latin origins, where almost all the countries whose names originate from Greece, Egypt and Sumer, do you have a theory about that?
I think that is related to the musical traditions of these countries. If we exclude France from this matter, the other ones have very resilient folkloric traditions in the music field. That is very good on one hand, because musical traditions have to be preserved from the oblivion at any cost. But, on the other hand, people around the world seem to expect from the music of those countries, always a certain kind of expression. It’s a prejudice hard to fight. About this argument I suggest to read an illuminating essay by Susan Campos Fonseca, a talented musician and musicologist from Costa Rica, who goes deep into this discourse.
Susan article: http://inquiremag.com/feminoise-latinoamerica-un-manifiesto/
Have you ever heard of a string instrument that the Chinese culture had thousands of years ago, which was a giant string and could give the notes of the universe, even the Big Bang? And people who are trying to build something similar for malefic purposes?
No, I never heard of it. But it’s quite sure that the Bing Bang had a certain frequency, and it would be very intriguing to find it.
That’s what they are looking for to destroy everything. What do you think of Reznor’s work with NIN? And what he has done as producer of Coil, composer of OST and who has edited a record doing a tribute to Merzbow, do you find it curious? Or does it have any logic to you?
Sincerely I stopped to follow the NIN’s work many years ago, when they did a raw and genuine rock. So I can’t give you a precise opinion about that, sorry.
And what do you think of musicians who went beyond music like Sun ra or Moondog? What music today symbolizes to you that spirit that had those geniuses?
They were some kind anarchic geniuses, and it’s almost impossible to find similar personalities in our times. But if I find someone with that spirit in music, I’ll certainly will involve them in some project with Unexplained Sounds : )
Apart from the music of Iran that you love and fascinates you, what projects do you recommend to people who read this, but who are not from Europe?
Do you mean Unexplained Sounds Group projects?
Well, I suggest to listen to the surveys focused on Belgium and Latin America. And speaking about Belgium, the album Morana that I produced for Ashtoreth, the project by Peter Verwimp from Antwerp. They’re between the best things I worked on recently and, obviously, if you’re a dark ambient passionate, all the projects from Eighth Tower Records.
Do you collect music in physical formats? Or are you more of a music lover than a collector?
I like to purchase music in physical formats, but I can’t consider myself a collector. Actually, I listen to music through any kind of format, while I prefer physical mostly for limited editions or old releases.
And how much has been the most you have paid for a record and which and what edition?
Some Japanese CD editions, like in case of Artemiev’s Solaris soundtrack. If I remember well, I paid around 45 euros. But it was because I am a fanatic of Tarkowski cinema.
What do you think of everything that we are living, with the new changes, returning to the past, and every day there are more homophobic, racist, classist people? Do you think we have a way out or we will go to shit?
Difficult to say, but the general conditions are not good. Adding to the usual ignorance and fear of everything is a new path in the society, we have other serious problems: over population and huge immigration, terrorism, economic crises and so on. Those things are all related to each other and people are going to be even more intolerant because there’s a great fear around the next future. I tried to give my music version of that through Sonologyst’s forthcoming album “Apocalypse”. Maybe the title is more explicit than my words. If you read the book “The limit of growth,” published in 1972 by four scientists, you can be aware that all terrible problems we’re going to face, were already very clear at that time. But at that time, we were in time to find a gradual solution. Now, after 45 years, it’s too late. We can just limit the damages until they will the end.
Of course, there are several groups and projects that talk about apocalypse, I remember Hellhammer with his album “Apocalyptic raids”, what do you think of the metal genre, is it a genre that you like more, like doom, funeral doom, black metal, Orthodox black metal?
I was a follower of related metal genres in the early 90’s. Afterwards, I made the choice to concentrate on everything experimental and avant garde. But I share the spirit of that kind of music, the vision.
Do you like Ved buens ende or Fleurety?
Sometimes I heard ved buens ende tracks on Youtube, and yes, even if I’m not following the genre, I liked the music.
How is the form you compose with Sonologyst, do you use a method or several, is there an instrument you appreciate more? Why? Do you ethnic instruments? Which one is your favorite?
I worked for a long while with the elctric guitar and all kind of manipulations it was possible to do, trying to make a sound that was not easily recognizable as guitar based. Maybe “A Dream inside a Dream” is the album where this concept was better realized. Then I hadn’t a specific kind of instrumentation, and have experimented with many sound sources, including instruments like dronin built by my friend Massimo Olla, as well analog synthesizers. But a wide part of my work is based on editing mixing and mastering. There I try to find alternative solutions to the simple recording of instruments. About ethnic instruments, I love them and I have various old gongs I processed electronically.
To finish this kind conversation that we have had, is there something else you’d like to add?
I thank you a lot for this kind conversation, and just add what I’m used to say: “Music is out there.”
Translator & edition by Gabriel Varela.
Translator by Jorge Yacoman.