Postcards From Italy: Brianza – Matteo Uggeri / Hue
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Matteo Uggeri has been making music since 1994, at times under the moniker Hue, and within different collaborative projects such as Der Einzige (noise / industrial) and Sparkle in Grey. Over the years he has also collaborated with De Fabriek, Claudio Rocchetti, Ether, Punck, Cria Cuervos, Nicola Ratti, OvO, Nuno Moita, Mujika Easel, Andrea Serrapiglio, Telepherique, and others. His first solo release Un’estate senza pioggia (2006, Grey Sparkle), released under the Hue moniker, mixes field recordings with melancholic sounds of acoustic and electric guitars, glitch electronics and other instruments (organ, didgeridoo). His latest album, Pagetos, a collaboration with Luca Mauri and Francesco Giannico, is the final chapter of the Between the Elements quadrilogy initiated by Maurizio Bianchi, Spyros Abatielos and himself…
You seem to specialise in field recordings, what is your musical background?
I grew up listening to electronic pop (Howard Jones, Depeche Mode…), and then new wave (The Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus…) before moving to industrial music (SPK, Controlled Bleeding, Cabaret Voltaire…). In the ’90s I discovered Warp and later Morr Music. I never really studied music, but I have always loved to record sounds in different places. Having said that, I am not such a big fan of Francisco López or similar artists… I didn’t even know the term “field recordings” when I first took some crap mic to try and record things around me. My biggest influences, have been other Italian musicians and friends, such as Fhievel, Logoplasm, Punck and my Meerkat mates.
You sometimes record under the moniker Hue. How did you choose the name Hue? Also what differentiates Hue from Matteo Uggeri?
It’s an old moniker that I prefer not to use anymore. I loved it at the time, because I like sinesthesias and, from what I could gather, it means both ‘scream’ and ‘colour’ in English. Also, it recalls the initial of my surname, “U”.
Your first album as Hue, Un’estate senza pioggia (A Dry Summer) was born from a journey you undertook on your own between Bologna, Arezzo, Roma and L’Aquila. At the time you carried a minidisc with you and a microphone. How has your use of field recordings changed throughout the years, both from a technical and a conceptual point of view?
It hasn’t especially changed. I’m not really into technical equipment and I do not invest that much in it. Back then, I had a tiny Sony stereo microphone, of the kind one uses for interviews, and a minidisc. Then I bought binaural mikes and a M-Audio digital recorder, but it wasn’t very good (unreliable batteries and ugly interface) so I got myself a Zoom H1. Always pretty cheap stuff… I’m more interested in the concept of field recordings as such, in the emotional meaning they may hold for me or for the listener, rather than in the purity of sound, even if I spend hours in post-production and EQ afterwards. Still, when I read an interview with Chris Watson on The Wire I must admit I was pretty envious of his equipment.
More often than not, you seem to indicate the locations of the field recordings on the linear notes of your albums. Why is it important to you, if indeed it is, to be able to locate precisely each track? Is it a way of introducing a narrative element or simply a way of grounding the music into a specific space and time framework?
It’s related to this “emotional” and meaningful approach I have to field recordings, yes. A while ago, I read that Francisco López doesn’t give titles to his files, so that he can completely forget where and when they were recorded. Some other artists use them with documentary purposes, when visiting very special locations and somehow it feels as though they were taking sonic photographs of these places. In my case, on the other hand, what is important to me, is my relationship with a specific place and its people; it’s more of a personal sound diary, sometimes a way to document moments from the life of friends and family, or even of myself. Un’estate senza pioggia is, in fact, full of (credited) sound recordings from the people who are dear to me. I know this is not, strictly speaking, an experimental approach, but more of a “melancholic new wave” take on things. But I do also take great care of the purely aesthetical side of things. I spend hours mixing the right sound at the right place, and record and introduce new ones into a specific track if I feel it needs it and aids its dynamic and concept. A fitting example is the sounds of cooking (boiling, burning…) which I’ve inserted into “Kapnos” (Smoke) by Meerkat…
In a similar way, the titles of your tracks are usually quite descriptive. I am thinking of the album you did with Andrea Ferraris out on Hibernate for instance, with tracks such as: “Steps on leaves, kids on skateboards, steps in the mud”. In the case of Pagetos you also indicate a precise time such as 4:56 pm : Ground Frost Breeding. Are you not afraid of giving too much of the game away, so to speak, or of signposting too precisely a direction for the listener to take?
It’s funny what happened with the album I did with Andrea because it was actually him who convinced me to give these titles to the tracks precisely in order to allow the listener to “undertake his/her own journey” with the music. At the beginning I had selected different titles altogether, more evocative, more personal, even sillier, but Andrea told me it was better to just indicate the sounds in the tracks. This way I even wrote where the sounds were actually taken (ie. “Steps on leaves in Monza…” etc). In the end, we came to a compromise, but I think he was right: I give too much of the game away. This may be because I am something of a control freak and it might have something to do with my desire to direct the listener in the direction I would like him/her to take.
With “Pagetos”, however, to be honest, the time indications do not refer to anything in particular, but only to the idea of an unspecified cold morning with the frost slowly melting by the minute. What I care about is the meaning attached to any specific record I work on.
Pagetos (Morning Forst) 2012, out on the Italian label Boring Machines, is the latest chapter of the quadrilogy Between the Elements. The previous ones were Nefelodhis (Cloudy) 2007, Erimos (Desert) 2007, and Kapnos (Smoke) 2009. The concept and inspiration is by Maurizio Bianchi, Spyros Abatielos and yourself. Could you tell me something about how the quadrilogy came about? Also, has the project developed in the direction you were hoping, or indeed expecting, considering different artists have been contributing to each single release? Finally, why isn’t Maurizio Bianchi appearing on Pagetos?
To begin with, Maurizio asked me to collaborate with him on one record. I was indeed honoured and surprised. Afterwards we had a thick email exchange about concepts (he was fond of the idea of clouds, I was into the concept of desert) so we decided to do two different records. I had quite a lot of time on my hands back then in 2006/’07 (even though it sounds strange now) and we agreed on doing two albums on these two very different subjects. Later on, speaking with Spyros, a Greek friend of mine, whom I consulted for proof reading, we came up with this concept of “between the elements”, that M.B. loved. Now I think it sounds a bit new-agey, but I still like the idea of something which is “between”, something with shaded boundaries, and I think this is captured by the musical outcome we got: four albums that have independent lives of their own but at the same time that have a sort of common thread. Maurizio’s contribution faded out slowly from Nefelodhis to Pagetos even disappearing from the liner notes of the latest album as he also completely gave up making music for the second time now. Also Pagetos is a much less of a noise or industrial album than the first two.
About Maurizio Bianchi, he is something of an institution within the Italian electro acoustic scene. He is an incredibly prolific musician who in recent years has been collaborating with a number of different young Italian artists. What do you feel you have learnt from working with him?
I learned so much from him. I even tried to write an article about all of his collaborative projects, but I got lost within the wealth of material. A lot of people, and most journalists, ignored or were dismissive of these collaborations, but I feel it is a mistake to overlook this output. He made something really crazy and unusual by accepting to collaborate with unknown artists form the world over, giving away the same samples to different people, disseminating his sounds and concepts in various manners. No one, really has a clear map to navigate through all this. It’s all very chaotic and I must admit there is some questionable stuff in there, but there also great masterpieces. He has forced listeners and fans to work out for themselves which were the pearls… I sometimes even doubt about how much he’s aware of this. When I see him (which unfortunately is seldom), he always comes across as so down to earth. I have great admiration for him.
On a general level, most of your work stems from collaborations. How do these come about? For instance, with Pagetos, Francesco Giannico told me you contacted him specifically to create the piano parts for the album. Do you generally have the whole album mapped out before you initiate a collaboration or is every project different and if so, in what way?
Yeah, you got the point: I can’t work alone just by myself. I do not know exactly why that is but I do not like doing things on my own. I like sharing, exchanging, even arguing at times. Music is mostly a collective art. On the other hand, when I draw or work on graphic design projects, I strongly prefer to do everything on my own, but that is different. Moreover, I don’t play any instrument (except for the trumpet, but I’m a real amateur at it and I stopped studying it), but I love the sounds of cello, guitar, bass, violin, every instrument. So I need someone else to play with and for me. And it is beautiful. So sometimes I ask precisely what I’d like to get from someone (see Francesco’s piano melodies), sometimes someone else proposes me an idea (Andrea Ferraris acoustic guitar in “Autumn…”, or Alessandro Calbucci drones for “The Distance”).
But my very firsts solo releases should be out soon: one is an EP on Fluid Audio, and another one is a full length album on Will Long’s (aka Celer) Two Acorns label (fingers crossed).
You are part of a growing number of Italian musicians who have started their own label. Also, many of the musicians double up as graphic designers, I am thinking of Fabio Perletta and Lorenzo Senni, to pick but two names. Does this come from a DIY approach or is it symptomatic of a difficulty to find an outlet on the international market?
Personally, I’m more of a graphic designer than a musician: I studied graphic design and I like to draw. The idea of the label came mostly because I wanted to give a specific “brand image” to the products I was involved in, and it has a DIY approach in the sense that, again, I like doing things in a very specific way. Also, yes, it is not easy to be released by an international label. Sending demos out is a time consuming and emotionally draining exercise, which means that, sometimes, I just give up.
Could you tell me how Moriremo Tutti Records came about and why do you state that you “express nothing through sounds”?
Ehmm… that is quite a teenager-ish sophism, isn’t it? This slogan came up in 1996 during a conversation between Marco Volpi – one of the very first guys I’ve ever collaborated with, and with whom I had an EMB band – and I. At that time, I was into the kind of philosophical musings which can be found in the first SPK’s records (mostly Michel Foucault), so I really wanted something extreme, like the name of the label itself (We Will All Die), but at the same time it was meant to be ironic. “Maximum Redundancy / Minimum Information”: everybody knows we will die, but no one says it (not like this). So the music I release on the Moriremo Tutti label is a sort of iconoclastic but ironic industrial stuff (like the VHS “Remote Control”).
What is the concept behind Grey Sparkle and the cartoonish visual element of it?
This is the “lighter” label, devoted to electronic, post-rock, and even pop music. In 1999, I was tired of noise and doom and gloom, and I discovered the Warp label and Morr Music, as I said earlier. Therefore, I wanted to create a new logo – the “sparkle dancer”, a chubby smiling boy on a couch – and a new iconography, that grew with these cartoon characters I like to draw, that I call the Roundmen. I often draw them during meetings at work and at first I did it mostly, if not exclusively, for my girlfriend. Now they’re the visual representation of Sparkle in Grey, the band I play with, and people have come to recognise them. I think they match the sound.
Yes, you also play in a number of bands, most notably Norm and Sparkle in Grey, which is “a 4-member band devoted to a sort of electronic and eclectic post-rock”. This reminds me in a way of Nicola Ratti who, aside from releasing great albums of electro acoustic music, also plays in a similar band called Ronin. Both bands, Ronin and Sparkle in Grey, could be seen as composing soundtracks for imaginary road movies. Rather than picking “Paris, Texas” or Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western films, though, you have only listed the Italian documentary Sentire l’aria as a favorite on your Facebook page. What is your relationship with film, and the visual arts in general, when it comes to your music?
I never really worked on soundtracks, even if many people told me “Wow, your music is nice but strange, a bit melancholic, even gloomy… have you ever thought about doing soundtracks?” Personally I am not against the idea, but I prefer (as far as I can) to play music with no ornaments, so to speak, just on its own, free from a specific aim related to a movie. But I’m open to the idea… Manuele Cecconello, the director of “Sentire l’aria” seems to like “Pagetos”, so probably we will collaborate on something in near future, or at least I hope so.
I like Ronin, and Bruno and Nicola are good friends. I really like what Ratti plays, solo and with the band, but mostly I am a big fan of his collaborative project Bellows, with Giuseppe Ielasi. We even collaborated on the very first Sparkle in Grey album where he made a great remix/cover of one of our tracks.
You are based in the North of Italy and, to be more precise, in Brianza. Has this particular location influenced any of your works and if so which one in particular and in what way? Pagetos, for instance was recorded in Merate and Seregno, both small towns in Brianza, as well as in Taranto, I suspect thanks to Francesco Giannico’s presence on the album. Has living in Brianza shaped the concept of this album at all?
Oh God, yes, I think so. Milan and its environs is a densely populated area, extremely polluted, and rather suffocating, but Brianza is no better, even though there are still quite a few green areas one can escape to. It is like a jail with open doors. One feels the need to flee the urban areas, but at the same time is attracted by its opportunities. One goes away, takes a holiday, and eventually returns. In particular, in Brianza, my wife and I enjoy the regional park of Montevecchia and of the Valley of the Curone. It is a protected area, even though it is not strictly speaking a nature reserve. That is where we always go to whenever we are in need for some fresh air and to enjoy the countryside. Strangely enough, I have never taken there my digital recorder with me. Not sure exactly why that is, but it must mean something…
Anyhow, the idea of an escape and that of the call of the wild are – I think – a frequent occurrence in my collaborative albums such as Sparkle in Grey’s Mexico or Autumn is coming…, – the album I did with Andrea Ferraris -, and the whole quadrilogy.
Finally, you also interview fellow musicians and contribute to a number of online magazines. From an insider’s point of view, what is the current state of the Italian electro acoustic scene? Any particular names / locations / venues / festivals you would recommend?
I’m happy to notice the interest we get from abroad. It is wonderful for me to see that people in Europe, US or Japan think that the “Italian experimental scene” is interesting. Festivals like Tagofest (Marina di Massa, Tuscany – which alas is no more), Musica nelle Valli (S.M. Spino, Modena) and the NOfest in Turin are great, as they mix experimental stuff with rock, pop and whatever. Alas, Milan is not the best place in Italy to play, mostly because of political reasons, as a recent article in The Wire points out.
In terms of the musicians… I would recommend all the above mentioned in the interview, plus Luca Sigurtà (and the bands he plays with, Harshcore and Luminance Ratio), My Dear Killer (Stefano Santabarbara), St.ride, Andrea Marutti from Afe records, Airportman, Stefano Gentile’s label Silentes, Claudio Rocchetti and all the projects he’s involved in… I could go on for hours, but since they are mostly friends of mine, I shouldn’t be seen doing such blatant promotion!
- Interview by Gianmarco Del Re / Photos by Gaia Margutti and Roberto Uggeri taken at the regional park of the Valley of the Curone and Lake Sartirana.
The Brianza is a geographical area at the foot of the Alps, in north-western Lombardy, northern Italy.