Postcards From Italy: Treviso – Ennio Mazzon
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Ennio Mazzon (b. 1985) from Treviso, Italy is a field recordist and sound artist. In his works, environmental recordings and concrete sounds are processed, manipulated, decontextualized and absorbed into electronic textures and complex sonic habitats. Haunted by waters, ripples and reflections he aims to “transform natural silence” into sound. Apart from his activity as a sound artist, he also runs Ripples recordings, a label focused on electroacoustic music.
Considering you only started releasing albums back in 2008, you have been quite prolific. Not only that, you have also set up your own label Ripples Recordings and you have been developing your own musical software. What prompted you to do so and what is the trigger that makes you want to release a particular album on Ripples?
I do realise that in the last four years I have been busy on several different fronts, and that I have worked on several projects, but if we are to talk just about albums, I don’t think I have been especially prolific considering that since Skritha came out [Q-tone, 2010], – which I consider to all intents and purposes my first proper album, – I have only released little over two hours of material. Having said that, I am not dismissing my earlier works, which have been fundamental from both a personal and formative point of view, I would only like to point out that I consider them my coming of age in terms of electronic sounds and not proper albums as such.
I remember spending several months in complete isolation, without being able to share the process with anyone. I was at my last year of college, and I was living in a rented flat in Padova with no internet connection but more importantly I had never listened to an album of experimental and electronic music up to that point. Then, completely by accident, one day I heard :suoni:oggetti:risonanti: by Tiziano Milani and a whole new world opened up to me.
From then on, I started listening to carefully selected material and at the same time to experiment with filters, delays and reverb. After about a year I changed drastically my way of working. The fact that I had studied engineering probably helped in this respect, and thanks to my passion for numbers and mathematics I begun to create my own softwares and applications for the manipulation of sound. From being self-taught in the main techniques for sound synthesis and processing, as I gained knowledge in the field of digital audio data I went on to work first with Pure Data and subsequently with Supercollider and more recently with Max/MSP.
Nowadays, developing and programming my own digital instruments is, without a doubt, the principal aspect of my work. Ripples Recordings came about almost by accident, as I only really wanted to do a compilation album with the artists I most admired and with whom I was in touch at the time. I didn’t think that initial project would have a longer life span, but the idea of a label acquired a life of its own and to date I have released 11 albums on Ripple Recordings with a further two already in the pipeline and scheduled for release in the next couple of months. I don’t follow any specific plan on what or who to release and I don’t have a preconceived idea for a specific sound. Generally speaking I try to collaborate with musicians I know and I rate, which means that releasing an album becomes a spontaneous process.
What do musicians such as Franz Rosati, Gianluca Favaron, Nils Quak, Nigel Samways, N0 + ICS, James McDougall and David Vélez, Philip Sulidae and Ennio Mazzon all have in common other than the fact that they partake in this “shape which is constantly changing”, to paraphrase Ripples programmatic statement?
The shape which is constantly changing, is the trait that the musicians who have collaborated to Ripples Recordings all share. I like to think of Ripples as an ensemble of sounds/musicians balancing themselves on some kind of borderland, as “sounds that fill the space between the phase boundaries”. In other words, I like to think of it as sound compared to a thermodynamic system depending on a series of external parameters that condition the shape of the perceivable physical state. So, for instance, to better explain the thermodynamic analogy with the sound of Ripples Recordings, one only needs to think that by altering the temperature and the pressure of a natural material or a substance such as water, this acquires a different physical state (from solid to liquid and gaseous), which determines a shift in the way we perceive it even if, in fact, it remains unaltered. It is a journey through different states of equilibrium only determined by external conditions. In a similar way, Ripples aims to explore sound by adopting musical works that allow themselves to be subjected to this process of transformation and that can be constantly redefined and requalified within numerous interpretations.
Your 2010 album Celadon, released on Impulsive Habitat, started as an audio documentary of the Piave river, which is located in the north-east of Italy. The Piave originates in the Alps and flows south-east for 220 km into the Adriatic Sea near the city of Venice. The purpose was to represent with sounds (field recordings and electronic interludes) the contrasts and the complex interactions between the “natural side” and the “urban side” of a place. In this respect it follows in a well established tradition of juxtaposing Green and Grey to borrow the title of a recent album by Julia Kent which plays out this very dichotomy. And yet, I feel it is not just advocating an ecological discourse but also acts as a metalinguistic device in the way it breaks down any possible narrative reading by fragmenting and distorting the soundscape as the piece develops. Were you actually striving for a radical “decontextualisation” of sounds and mental images with Celadon?
Yes, in the end, I developed the structure of Celadon with the aim of decontextualising all field recordings and concrete sounds. Of fundamental importance to the outcome of the album was the introduction of sudden contrasts, which enabled me to recreate the same sense of disorientation that one could experience by watching a nature documentary where the natural sounsdcape had been substituted by digital sounds pertaining to a technological landscape.
Also, the Piave is a well known river in Italy for historical reasons as it was the scene of nearly 200,000 casualties during World War I, making the Battle of the Piave the decisive battle on the Italian front. The Piave is thus called the Sacred River of the Homeland in Italy (Fiume Sacro della Patria). How did you deal with its highly charged historical importance?
The historical importance of the Piave river is not something I took into account during the recording of the album. For some reason I have always been attracted by rivers, by the colours and the different forms that water can take and, obviously, by the different sounds generated by water. Along the Piave river I have found some amazingly rich and complex aural environments. It has been really fascinating to explore those locations trying to isolate certain sonic details in order to use them to orchestrate the natural sounds of the Piave area. I remember, when I was at the herons nature reserve Città degli Aironi, which really is a city built on trees where herons and little egrets come and nest as if they were building a block of flats, I had temporarily placed my digital recorder on some stones and I noticed that the sound of the river which was only 400 feet away, became amplified filtered through the characteristics of the landscape itself.
The transformation of sound in relation to space and a particular environment is an aspect that deeply fascinates me, and it represents the principle reason why I love field recordings.
Celadon is not the only project I have developed on the subject of a river. I have recently completed Hisilmark, an album made from the sounds I have recorded along the Sile river, with its resurgent springs located near Vedelago in the Treviso province, which will be released in early 2013. Again, the aim of the field recordings was to emphasize certain specific aural contrasts of that particular soundscape, which I then developed though digital sound processing.
Do you consider Celadon a political work and is there room for overtly political works in the electro-acoustic field?
Celadon is not a political album. My interest is limited to sound and its characteristics. Within the field of electro-acoustic music, but even a general level within music tout court, I don’t believe it is necessary to add any political meaning to sound.
Is Skrida the B-side or the flipside of Muffled?
Aside from being the name under which I create my own softwares, Skrida is also the track that represents a new stage in my musical development and the beginning of a new phase. Muffled, on the other hand, dates back to my earliest experiments with softwares and techniques that I have since left behind changing drastically the way I approach sound.
Together with Gianluca Favaron, your record under the moniker Zbeen which you describe as “an electroacoustic project that considers the sound as a vector space, like a geometric entity that at the same time generates and fills spaces and structures.” Still, your debut release K-frame seems to be subverting these rules and algorithms for generating sound by introducing field recordings into a predetermined digital context. How strictly did you try and control the texture of the resulting tracks, which unravel discreetly without ever losing their composure?
Zbeen could be seen as an algorithmic project since we can control both the macro and the microstructures of sound by programming our digital instruments, even if our objective goes paradoxically in the opposite direction. Our intention is in fact to free ourselves from any compositional straightjacket in order to follow a more improvisational approach within the man-machine paradigm, which, in our case, is represented by our interaction with the digital instruments we have created. So, yes, being able to control the sound is important to us in order to create our tracks, but at the same time, we try and free up the outcome of the music.
Stillheten is a software for electroacoustic live improvisation you have developed using Max/MSP. What does it allow you to achieve which you couldn’t have achieved otherwise?
Stillheten is a software that I developed specifically for the project Zbeen. The idea behind the software takes form from a rather simple concept: the possibility of managing different independent audio streams, obtained with several techniques of synthesis and audio processing, and using their combinations to get new “sound spaces”.
The result vaguely resembles the mathematical concept of vector space, a geometric entity generated by a linear combination of linearly independent vectors, which can be thought of as simple and rather sterile “objects” when considered individually, but that acquire meanings and “size” when combined.
Generally speaking, I have been often asked why I waste my time programming and creating my own softwares when there are so many softwares readily available with which one can already achieve great results. To be honest, the final result is just one side of the story. I’ll try and elaborate on this. Developing digital instruments, which enable me to create my music and to play a live set, allows me to be creative on two different fronts. Firstly, to programme a software means to implement a set of algorithms and rules, which introduces a series of constraints and limitations. This is something I find stimulating and creative since it implies having to create spaces where the sound is made to acquire specific characteristics.
The second level of creativity comes into play when I utilise my instruments to compose a track or to achieve a particular sound as the presence of limitations and constraints, which I set during the programming phase, represents an incentive to explore in finer detail the different sound capabilities of the instrument I have created.
So, to sum up, what I find interesting about working this way, is not just what I can achieve with my own software, but also, and more importantly the process that allows me to select and define a particular type of sound.
K-frame was mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi, which to me seems like a natural choice for an album like this. How important is it to have the the choice of the right person to do the mastering?
Giuseppe has done a wonderful job an we are really happy with the end product. I consider the choice of the person doing the mastering as fundamental. This is an album very much built around overlapping and finer details and Giuseppe has been excellent in bringing out the different layers of sound and the complex alternation of sonic structures.
There will be a follow up to K-frame, which will be once again mastered by Giuseppe. The album, a coproduction between Entr’acte and Ripples, will be entitled Stasis and will be coming out in a few month’s time.
The are mainly two strands in your work, field recordings and electronic audio. You seem to have combined the two with striking results up until Azure Allochiria, which is your first solely electronic audio work. Did you abandon organic sounds in favour of strictly digital for this album, simply to explore new avenues, or in order to prove something to yourself?
I didn’t really conceive the project in order to make an album. At the time I was using Pure Data as a software, making short and simple patches. At first, I was mainly interested in exploring the higher end of the sound spectrum, very high frequencies, which I alternated creating beats and interesting rhythmic structures. I then started to incorporate low sounds and to fill the remaining frequencies. I was modifying and modulating parameters recording brief fragments of audio. After a few months, I realised that the material I had recorded did have a certain coherence, so I attempted to compose a few tracks that eventually became Azure Allochira.
The sound on Azure Allochiria appears to be extremely layered and it reminds me at times of Tiziano Milani’s work. I also get the impression you have taken a more “compositional approach” with this album, is that the case?
Thanks for drawing a parallel with Tiziano Milani’s work. I am really pleased by this. I have probably learnt more from Tiziano than from any other musician. It is funny, though, as we have never physically met, but thanks to Internet we have been in touch for several years now. Listening to his work has been instrumental to me, especially when I was first starting out. I have definitely taken a compositional approach with this album and I pleased you have noticed this musical shift in my work.
The album was recorded and mixed between October 2009 and March 2010, only to be revised in November 2010. What happened in the intervening months?
Once I completed the album, I gave it a few months before submitting it to Triple Bath, a Greek label with a fantastic back catalogue. We hadn’t scheduled a release date, I only knew there were many albums due to come out before mine was, so, in the intervening months I decided to completely forget Azure Allochira and to concentrate on some other new projects.
When, in November 2010, Triple Bath gave me a release date, I listened back to the material and made a few small changes before sending it to Themistoklis Pantelopoulos for the mastering. It was very interesting to do that a few months after I had originally completed the album and it made me realise how ephemeral and undefined are the sounds I record. I would’ve liked to intervene more drastically on the structure of the tracks, but then I decided to hold back and only to just adjust slightly the equaliser at times, as I wanted to preserve the initial set up of the album. It would now be interesting to use those same tracks as a basis for a new piece of work, just to understand how sound evolves over time.
How does one transform “natural” silence and is joy indeed possible?
“Transform the natural silence” is a sentence that’s been with me for a few years now. I like to think of my work as a momentary turbulence rocking the natural quietness, as a vibration that interrupts the silence, and as momentary condition of unstable equilibrium that ends when the initial state of things is restored.
Is joy possible? Of course it is! Still, to be honest, this sentence, which I used as the title of one of my first works was inspired by Michel Houellebecq’s novels… so I suppose that a few years back, that same sentence didn’t have the same positive ring to it.
With For Warmth, 2011, you seem to be exploring notions linked to resonance and space more than with previous works. Did the album actually begin with you uttering the words “I am sitting in a (hotel) room”?
Unlike my other works, For Warmth was born in an urban context, the source material consisting of recordings I took at night in a hotel room in Istanbul. To be honest, it doesn’t even make much sense to place the recordings since, when I listened to the material, I decided to take out any voice, including that of the muezzin, and any other sound that might locate it within a city like Istanbul.
Unlike Alvin Lucier’s case, my room didn’t have an active role in the album. It was just the place where I was able to capture the urban sounds I could hear.
Generally speaking, would you say you are somehow loop averse?
I have always tried to avoid loops and repetitive and cyclical structures, right from my early works, not because I am intrinsically against them, it’s just that I prefer to use different techniques, at least for the time being.
Finally, you are based in Veneto, which is currently a very vibrant region in terms of its electro-acoustic scene, with several interesting labels and musicians all based between Treviso, Vittorio Veneto and Venezia. Would you consider yourself part of one big happy family, or like any other family do you feel it is dysfunctional on some level?
It is true, I realize that within a few miles there are several great labels and musicians that have spurred me on to pursue my own work and have been of fundamental importance to me, people like Enrico Coniglio, without whom I would never have probably started performing live and Gianluca Favaron, who’s become a sort of Beta Tester for my softwares. On a more local level, though, I wouldn’t talk about a family, as there are so many different strands of music and musicians operating in the area making a possible dialogue between us somehow compromised.
I am, however, really pleased of the long distance musical relationships I have developed with other artists, which points to a common intent on a national scale between us. I am thinking, for instance, of sound artist and Farmacia901 label head Fabio Perletta, from Roseto degli Abruzzi, who shares with me a similar approach to sound.
- Interview by Gianmarco Del Re / Photography by Ennio Mazzon & Gianluca Favaron