Gianmarco recently caught up with Franz Rosati, Francesco Saguto and Paolo Armao whilst in Milan to discuss Nephogram's latest offering 'Gridshape'...
Hi Franz, last time we spoke you were still working on your collaborative project with Francesco Saguto ‘Gridshape’, “an intersection of heavily distorted violent sounds with points of kinetic aural quietness through the interaction between digital electronics and guitars”. The album was recorded in January of 2012 and has just been released. I’d like to focus now on the post-production side of things especially considering you have stated that to you “finalising and mastering a product isn’t always as important as playing it live and giving it a narrative dimension”. How did you go about assembling the finished product and did you enjoy the editing process?
Franz: The album was initially recorded in just a single take while playing live in a studio. We have done 6 or 7 takes and then chose the one we were happiest with. This is because both Francesco and I want to preserve the “live impact”. Also, this is how I tend to work, my habitual approach. I don’t like to spend a lot of time editing material, I prefer to spend time playing everything live in a studio, recording the moment, collecting, indexing and picking what I like from this big pool of material without affecting the performance characteristics.
By preparing a stable and fixed setup, intended as a complex electronic instrument and not as a fixed “project” with audio clips and sequences and so on, I can obtain a more organic result in the end. This is how I’ve worked on releases such as Theory of Vortex Sound out on Ripples Recordings. The same applies to the Field series I chose to release on the Brusio Netlabel, and which is pretty different and is more experimental and psychoacoustic oriented stuff based only on dynamic stochastic synthesis whereas my other releases are based on concrete source processing. This is basically the approach I’ve taken over the years, since my earlier works such as Pleisochronous or Improvisation I.
This time round it was quite different. After two weeks we decided to go back to the studio to record other sounds we had in mind and to superimpose them in some parts of the music…so we started experimenting with amplifiers and distortions, both analog and digital, and then we mixed them with the good take we had selected from the original recording session. At that point, I made a mix for the electronics, and Paolo Armao started working on the final mix before sending it to Taylor Deupree for the final mastering session.
With Gridshape there wasn’t a really heavy editing process, even if we worked on it just a touch after the recording sessions, just for the necessary time and interventions that would enable us to maintain the original live studio approach and enrich some parts with additional sounds.
So even if I like to maintain a defined approach, I’m basically open when I feel it can be good for the final results. That’s why, in my humble opinion, the approach and the way an artist works, also technically, is a really important part of the conceptual and artistic output.
Paolo Armao: The contrast between Franz’s electronics – characterized by a dense and complex aural structure – and Saguto’s guitar, creates a charming and overwhelming flow in Gridshape. This contrast also represented a big challenge during the mix while we were searching for the right balance between the two instruments. After an accurate listening to the recordings, I started working on Saguto’s guitar, meticulously recorded by Willio and Franz himself with the use of 3 mics (1 condenser pickup, 2 AKG 414). In order to avoid a denaturalization of the instrument’s texture, I mainly used gentle equalization slopes, supported in specific points by subtle dynamic equalization to emphasize interesting frequencies such as fundamentals, or harmonics.
Doing that, I was able to guarantee a constant and detailed presence of the instrument also in critical moments, when the electronics had a strong diffusion in the aural spectrum. Understanding the interaction between the guitar and the electronics was the first step to take, in order to deeply understand how my work would have influenced and supported the composition. With the use of dynamic equalization techniques on the electronics too, we were able to maintain a constant connection with the guitar, reinforcing important details where necessary. The concept that I always try to keep in mind while mixing, is that I don’t want to affect the balance between the instruments involved, whose dynamics have been already decided by the composer, supported by the recording engineer.
How did you go about selecting Taylor Deupree for mastering duties and what did you learn from working with him?
Franz: I’ve listened to a lot of works from 12k, and to many albums that Taylor has mastered. All of his work sounds very elegant and clear to me. Working with him is straightforward and fast and straight away I had the impression of talking to a very kind and patient person.
Did the album turn out different from what you expected when you and Francesco first started improvising together?
Franz: Sure, when we started with the impro stuff, we were totally distant from an idea of pseudo-composition but looking back to the beginning of our experience I can now see a very clear path. The first step was improvisation. The second step was isolating a few good ideas and defining some “song-like” macrostructures. Then we mixed those structures together following a precise order and transitions and using new improvisation to merge the material. Every single step has now become a sort of tool for our work, which we now use to work on new stuff. So basically we did not have a project in mind, we had a method.
The album art is by HOPNN aka yuri, a street artist and a familiar tag in Rome and specifically in the Pigneto district. Did you discuss the concept with him or did you leave him carte blanche?
Franz: I’ve known Yuri for about 2 years now. A common friend of ours took me to the Laszlo Biro Gallery, in Rome, where I saw Yuri at work on some of his concepts for the first time. One of them is the Mimetic Picture. I really liked this concept: hidden figures or letterings inside a military styled pattern. I’ve seen a metaphor in this: often in life we hide our real will or emotion under a mask, or a sort of uniform we use to fight fears and obstacles. Guitars in Gridshape are often “mimetized” beneath electronics and so on…and at the same time I found this artwork really appropriate for the project. The colours and the hidden images came from Yuri, whom I consider one of the most interesting artists around. His capacity to criticize society is really direct and focused but not arrogant or violent. I also liked a lot the fact that the drawings are completely handmade. On the other side, it’s a really different artwork from the ones used by Nephogram in the past, basically landscapes photos such as the ones from Marika Moscatelli for Porya Hatami or the one for Darius Ciuta from Elisa Piaggesi.
What have you learnt about your album through the whole post-production and promotion process and do you believe that Nephogram, which is your own label, was the right home for it?
Franz: I don’t want to saturate my own label with my own works, but this time round I wanted to release this album to indicate a sort of landmark in Nephogram’s output. Nephogram is mainly based on the idea of working with concrete and physical sound sources in very different manners.
Nephogram is not about “music generes” but “musical approaches”, so it’s not only about my own taste. I see a very clear link between Andrea Valle, Porya Hatami, Darius Ciuta and Gridshape even if they’re very different dimensions. It’s basically about perspectives on music. So, yes, in this case it was necessary to put out Gridshape on Nephogram even if it is more difficult to work on the promotion of your own project.
If you could change one thing about it or do one thing differently, what would that be?
Franz: Not much, I would say. I think that every work I have made, alone or with other musicians, represents exactly the moment in which it was written, composed, and performed. So maybe one can find something that one sees as an “error” or as a “wrong way” of doing something or something “not popular”. One can say that there is a lack of low frequencies or that the guitar disappears and it’s not clear in some points etc…but this is exactly how we wanted the project to sound. In fact, this first recording by me and Francesco was structured following some guidelines. Now we can start analyzing and changing guidelines on the new material, or make some ideas stronger or maybe erase completely some of them.
Francesco Saguto: I’m satisfied of this work, Gridshape has got a wonderful sound to me. From a technical point of view the work on guitars, especially the arpeggios stuff, is complicated. The first and second sections not so easy. Every time I play it I need some more concentration ‘cause it’s a quiet difficult passage. There are few notes that I played not so well but i didn’t overdub anything. It’s about concentration and relax. For example, the second section is a division of a beat: first 4, then 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 note for beat. I use four fingers arpeggios so if you count 5 the second beat starts on your index finger, the third beat starts on your middle finger, the forth beat starts on your ring fingers, the fifth beat starts on your thumb and than I change in 6, 7, etc.. Every number has different rhythm, sounds and chord. This continuous transition between notes and all the shifting accents, produces rhythmic and timbral variations that came to me from various classical Indian music concepts, translated into the approach on guitars and “western” music, most of all regarding rock, pop and jazz ways of articulation.
You have performed Gridshape at the Teatre Valle, in Rome, one of the oldest public theatres in Italy built in 1726, which was occupied in June 2011 to prevent almost certain privatisation following budget cuts from the Italian government. You will also soon be performing at the Nuovo Cinema Palazzo, an old cinema located in the San Lorenzo district which, again, was occupied to prevent it from being turned into a casino, as part of the MainOff festival. Is this something that “just happened” or did you specifically make a point of playing in occupied spaces?
Franz: Nothing “just happens”, it was a clear choice. To me it is an important statement to play in occupied spaces also outside of Rome, such as the Cantiere San Bernardo in Pisa, for instance, where I played in March thanks to Arboretum who invited me, or the following Gridshape gig at TPO in Bologna, for MainOFF 2012.
It’s basically about support. We’re not only talking about a “space” or a “venue”, we’re first of all talking about people that assumes ourselves the risk to occupy a place and use it to spread culture and be active on local areas. All of those people are motivated by an urge to reclaim a space for the city and the people. To reconfigure territorial spaces with culture, brings people to see something new or just to enjoy some music. Is very important especially for a country like Italy, affected by over twenty years or real denigration of culture, lack of interest and lack of funds. The Nuovo Cinema Palazzo, for instance, was occupied to prevent it from being turned into a Casino… Now it is one of the greatest venues one can play in Rome and where one can organize festivals such as MainOFF for which I’ve produced the Roman dates. Speaking of MainOFF Rome 2012, I had a very strong and pleasant connection with the guys from NCP and the ESC Atelier. So yes for me it is important to connect with these spaces and people especially in my own city.
What is Gridshape’s place within Franz Rosati’s musical output?
Franz: Gridshape to me represents something just a bit different from the rest of my output. From a technical point of view I like to work with concrete sounds or sounds coming from a physical source, and not with synthesis, except for the releases we’ve just talked about such as the Field series. With Gridshape I only worked with the sound of the guitar played by Francesco, recorded and processed in real-time by my ordinary custom made software Honegumi. I find there’s more interaction this way especially on stage, I didn’t want to save sequences or pre-recorded sounds, so for example if Francesco took an electric guitar that will affect the sound for sure, and I enjoy to work with unexpected variables. I don’t seem to play too well when everything is already prearranged. So, I don’t want to prepare a live-set at home, for instance, and simply push some buttons on stage just to make something happen.
Will there be a follow up to Gridshape, or do you believe you have exhausted this particular chapter?
Franz: Well I think so, we just started writing and playing live new material and we’ll publish something for sure in the next future. At present we are concentrating on live performance that is the other side of Gridshape by changing guitars and setup sometimes just to not get bored and find new ideas also on stage. We also started working with Giuseppe Pradella from XX+XY Visuals for the live videos, this time I preferred not to make live visuals my own as usual, and Giuseppe and Sladzana are great artists capable to put out really strong concepts as beautiful images.