Franz Rosati is a sound and media artist, focusing his research on real-time A/V, Visual Music projects and installations following an aesthetic idea based on discontinuity of aural and visual patterns avoiding any kind of repetition through the use of chaos mathematics, generative and stochastic processes. He uses his own custom made software for real-time micro-montage and sound elaboration in the microscopic time scale to realise compositions and performances based on aural and visual matter’s constant metamorphosis.
Your musical practice takes different forms, you play on your own, you do installations, and then there is your collaborative work. What would you say is the common link?
In my approach to music the interaction with other instruments is paramount. I used to play the bass when I was younger and became heavily influenced by prog rock, especially bands like Area, King Crimson and This Heat. I have also dabbled with the guitar and even had a go at the violin, but I dropped all that in my late adolescence. At the same time, I was always something of a computer geek so I just combined these two different passions of mine, not in the sense of recording music at home, but by writing software that would enable me to develop my own musical voice. I always had a DIY approach to music. I even tried making my own musical instruments, but I am not very talented in that respect.
In terms of the sound I work with, I always try to utilize real sounds and what I do is mostly based on field recordings. For instance, two of the most beautiful sounds I am currently working with at present are that of a cicada I’ve recorded in Canada last summer and which is reminiscent of an electric drill, and the sound from a sugar factory in Toronto. I have only ever used synthetic sounds very early on in two releases, but it something I am not too keen on. From a visual side of things, though, I do the exact opposite. I never use concrete images but only what I develop with computer graphics.
Let’s stay on field recordings, considering the way you transform sounds, and the way in which you mix natural and man made or industrial sounds, what is it that you find in them that you cannot get from synthetic sounds?
I always strive to reflect the organic quality of sound in my own music, which is something that synthetic sounds cannot really reproduce. Working within a framework of dynamic stochastic synthesis, as I did with Fields (out on the Brusio netlabel), I am able to reproduce a greater variety of sounds, which would be lost in favour of repetition, and recurring patterns, if I opted for synthetic sounds. There is greater dynamism within concrete sounds. To make an analogy if you consider a tree, you can categorize it by analysing its characteristics, but within the same treetops, for example, there is an infinite variety of ways in which leaves grow and this is what interests me.
Having said that when I utilize concrete sounds and field recordings I am not concerned whether their original sources are still recognisable as such within the end product. On the contrary I like the idea of blurring the lines. However, the organic quality of these sounds is never lost in the mind of the listener.
Most of the reviews of your latest album Theory Of Vortex Sound point out that all the field recordings are virtually unrecognisable, was that your original intention?
At times it all plays out as a kind of game. If I state that I have used a number of field recordings and samples, the listener tends to try and uncover hidden melodies. Things are not easily recognisable but I don’t just do it for the sake of it. I am interested in things which feel incomplete and unfinished, not because that is how they were made but as a result of a process or erosion, which is parallel to the time I take to process the music I make. I like to think of sound as something “in ruins”. The music from 600 years ago that we listen to nowadays, for instance, is not the same music that was composed all those centuries ago. This doesn’t mean that it is inferior, just that it has been subject to “erosion”, because instruments are different, tuning is different etc.
The title of the album is taken from a scientific text on the mechanics of fluids. Sound travels like fluids through pressure. There are an infinite number of different sounds which coexist and, in a similar way, fluids carry an infinite number of different elements. One can discover all sorts of things by magnifying a snapshot of a waterflow. I’ve applied the same mathematical principles to Pathline n1 in my approach to sound with masses of sounds in ruins that are subject to extreme frequencies, going from very low levels to very high and back again. Science can describe nature in a poetic way that is both metaphorical and allegorical.
Did you have the work of Francisco Lopez in mind?
Francisco Lopez is indeed one of the greatest composers of the last couple of decades, but I am also thinking of Mahler’s and Webern’s symphonic music in the way they developed and built on short musical phrases. Generally speaking, though, three composers have been fundamental in my musical development in this respect: Gustav Mahler, Yannis Xenaxis and Ornette Coleman. All three of them explored the concept of dynamics in a way that wasn’t just about playing with low and loud sounds but that took a narrative form.
There is a similar dynamic at play in the music of Gorecki and Kancheli, with one decisive difference though, there is a very strong spiritual element in their case.
That is something that is totally absent form my work. Having said that I am interested in Terry Riley’s or Steve Reich’s reprising of transesthatic’s principles, and devotional music from the Middle East, more on a sound level than a from a cultural point of view. For instance I seldom use rhythmic sequences and yet I find their use of polyrhythmic phasing really intersecting. I am fascinated by the internal poetry of Sufi music and by the way they make time expand and shrink. Two hours of music can feel like 20 minutes and this is something amazing.
Going back to Mahler, Xenaxis and Coleman, though, what I love about them is that they were not concerned with creating beautiful sounds and I find that nowadays within electro-acoustic music there is a tendency to focus mainly on sound as such, on timbre, rather than the narrative aspect of music, whereas I am interested in the exact opposite. I would even say that to me finalising and mastering a product isn’t always as important as playing it live and giving it a narrative dimension. To give you an example, I was lucky enough to see Novi_sad playing live and I must say that he is a master in playing with very low dynamics, which especially in an outdoor space forces on the listener a level of deep listening which pertains to the narrative dimension. This is something, which is evident in Novi_sad and in Francisco Lopez’s work. There is art in creating disturbing sounds, music doesn’t have be always beautiful. Finding oneself imprisoned in a musical cage where sounds can be jarring as well isn’t necessarily a bad thing if upon reflection one starts to question and reconsider what has been played. The listener doesn’t always want to be pleased.
I take it that traditional loops are dead as far as you are concerned?
Personally, I don’t like using loops and when I do so, I either go for something very brief or something extremely long. I don’t really like delays either, which is something quite common within electro-acoustic impro, nor do I like reverberation much. On a structural level, reverberation is indeed necessary in the mastering phase, but as a creative tool they leave me rather cold. There are always exceptions and at the end of the day it all comes down to how one uses certain techniques. Toshimaro Nakamura, for instance is a master of the no input machine technique and what he does is absolutely amazing. It is not something I would attempt, but he is great in what he does.
Can you tell me more about the software you have developed?
I am not sure it is really that interesting to go into the technical aspect of it. It is something I have fun with and that, in a way, resembles the process of composing since I place different parameters together in order to create different sounds. I like being able to control the music I produce with my own software, but I wouldn’t say that this is similar to playing an instrument, they are two different things.
Improvisation is another important aspect in your work.
Yes, absolutely. For instance, I am currently putting the finishing touches on an album I am recording with Francesco Saguto who plays guitar. I met Francesco through the Franco Ferguson collective of impro jazz where I played electronics for a number of years and improvisation is at the basis of our collaborative project Gridshape.
Francesco and I have opted not to use any other external sonic sources other than the guitar in order to produce a more coherent sound. We begun by playing together in May of last year. Initially we just improvised with no particular strategy. Francesco would play and I would process live samples of his music. The interplay between us has been very important. At times I would play something in order to bring a particular piece to a close, or he would lead me down on an unexpected path but neither of us has ever tried to dominate the proceedings, we have always interacted on an equal basis. Also, I have always been careful not to use too many effects, as I wanted the sound of the guitar to retain its own integrity. In this respect, even though we may be influenced by 70s prog rock and early 90s grunge music, we specifically chose a classical rather than an electric guitar because we wanted a more rounded and fuller sound. I like raw sounds and grunge was all about making music rather than playing notes, if you see what I mean. I am not too keen on anything which is too chiselled and sleek. I still listen to a lot of free jazz, and people like Archie Sheep, which has completely changed my approach to music.
In this respect, I prefer recording something live rather than spending hours and hours on a sequencer even if this is something I do, but only on minimal level.
From a strictly technical side of things, I like to adapt old tape looping techniques to the new technology. For instance, I can achieve the same layering of sound that Brian Eno and Robert Fripp achieved with Frippertronics in the 70s with their two reel to reel tape recorders situated side by side, in a matter of a few minutes. The virtual tape recorder I have devised enables me to create layerings that would otherwise produce distortion or to switch direction abruptly. Furthermore, I can work produce soundclouds with small fragments of sound and to concentrate on details within granular synthesis, which is what is important to me.
The second phase of our project was to develop macrostructures where both Francesco and I knew how a certain track would begin and how it would end, leaving ample space for manoeuvre in the middle sections. Now, though, we have established a detailed plan of how each different track should unfold and Francesco currently plays a fixed set. In the album there will also be entire sections with just the guitar, which is something I would never have fore planned.
How and where are you going to release the material?
The album will be released by Nephogram. I am always in two minds whether to release my own work on my label, but at the end of the day what Francesco and I have produced so far is very much in line with Nephogram’s editorial line and it seems only natural to self release it. The label is very much focused on acoustic and concrete music which relies heavily on a technological input.
About your label, how do you go about selecting material for your label?
I receive quite a few emails. There is a lot of good stuff out there, but the main problem is that it is seldom in line with what Nephogram is all about. I consider a label to be a work of art in itself and I would like to retain a certain integrity within its remit. I am not interested in becoming an impresario, what I would like to do is to produce a coherent musical discourse.
The next release is going to be another album by Andrea Valle, a very interesting musician based in Turin, who basically operates in the opposite way I do. He uses digital inputs connected to different sized metal boxes to produce sounds. He does things that no percussionist would ever be able to do and yet he is profoundly human in his approach to music. I was blown over when I first saw him live.
There are two futher releases in the pipeline but it is still too early to talk about it.
Are we talking about physical or digital releases?
Physical with limited editions of 300, – just because economics, it is cheaper to print 300 copies than 50 for example. But there will also be download options.
Let’s talk about the visual aspect of your work.
I have always been interested in combining sound and visuals even though the first project where this has become of paramount importance is Pathline n1, which I only developed last year. It all came about because I had seen some drawings by Leila Bahlouri, which I liked very much and I tried to copy them with my laptop. When she saw them she said, “Why don’t you add colours?”, or “Why don’t you make them move this way or that?”, so I devised a system whereby she could retain total control and basically created my own software once again. In a way, it something that recalls early film experiments by Viking Eggeling from the early 1900s as we work with simple geometric shapes that move organically in an empty field. With Theory Of Vortex Sound, I am more constricted in what I can do as I work on my own and I have to control sound and image at the same time which gives me less freedom to improvise.
Gridshape is currently the only project with no visuals. I might be integrating some video footage, but I am still unsure about what direction to take.
You were born and brought up in Rome, how has living in such a complex city influenced your music?
I have made a huge number of field recordings in Rome but I have never made an album referencing a particular sound from a specific area, building or neighbourhood. I was brought up in Casal Bruciato next to Pietralata district with its Ina-Casa social housing of the 50s, that Pasolini has described so well in his books. At the time, those were the outskirts, but the city has grown and morphed in a way, which makes it difficult to say where its margins are anymore. Rome is a difficult place to navigate. There are only two underground lines, for instance. Technology has been used with laughable results if one juxtaposes modern developments to the ancient ruins dotted around Rome. It is impossible for any visitor not get confused. I still occasionally get lost in Trastevere! All this isn’t necessarily reflected in the sounds I work with but rather in the way I organize the sounds with which I create my music. This has shaped my notion of “beauty”, I personally don’t find in beautiful sounds but rather to organized chaos. It all goes back to that notion of “ruins” that we were talking about earlier.
To sum things up, how would you label your music?
I wouldn’t. People have called it experimental, which it is in a way, even though I work within a rigorously codified musical language and I know exactly what I’m doing; they have called it electro acoustic, which again it is up to a point, and they have called it noise, which it is because I create very noisy sounds capes, something akin to aggressive ambient music. Still, I wouldn’t know how to define it.
And finally, which are the most interesting names that spring to your mind within the Italian scene?
There are many: Lorenzo Senni with his own label Presto Records, the netlabel Brusio form Palermo, the electro acoustic festival Flussi in Avellino, the Quit Festival in Cagliari, and XXXY Sound and Visual Art.
Pietralata was one of the 12 official districts created by the Municipality of Rome to relocate the original inhabitants of the old neihgbourhoods nestled around the Campidoglio in the heart of the city. Between 1935 and 1940 Mussolini had implemented a new urban plan, which cut right through the ancient Roman ruins of the Fori Imperiali sending hundreds of families to live on the margins of the city in poorly built areas.