Postcards From Italy: Torino – Andrea Serrapiglio
Posted In: Andrea Serrapiglio, Gianmarco Del Re, Postcards from Italy, Torino
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Andrea Serrapiglio is a cellist and composer currently based in Turin. He has collaborated with a number of musicians including Carla Bozulich (Gerardine Fibbers,Evangelista), Scott McCloud (Girls Against Boys,Paramount Styles), David Tibet (C93), Barbara de Dominicis, Claudio Cinelli, Luca&Alberto Serrapiglio, Marco Messina (99posse), Shahzad Ismaily (Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog), Julia Kent, Nels Cline, Massimo Pupillo & Luca Mai (ZU), Stefano Pilia, Leonardo Diana, Angela Torriani Evangelisti, Nicola Guazzaloca, Luca Bernard, John Russell, Francesco Cusa, Angelo Contini, Gianni Mimmo, Cristiano Calcagnile, Mirko Sabatini, Andrea “ICS Ferraris, Luminance Ratio, Tim Trevor-Briscoe, Dominic Cramp, Tara Barnes, Ava Mendoza, Lisa Gamble, Jason Van Gulick, Jean Michel Van Schouwburg, Michael Tracy, Adam Baz, Adama N’Diaye Rose…
After years of collaborating with a number of different musicians, you have recently released your first solo cello album, The Ship as a free download. What prompted such a move?
I spent so many years looking at free tutorials and following free resources from the internet, learning a lot from ordinary guys like me. People who do things at home and take time to experiment. I’m learning how to play instruments like the sitar, the phin, the ukulele, and I learnt how to solder, and how to do many other things. I got a lot from the web, and I’d like to offer something in return, but I’d also want it to be unique, free and 100% mine. I really enjoyed making the design for the first cover of the album, which was a printable and a foldable cd cover case. After a year or so of free download from my website, I decided to put it on iTunes and other stores because I wanted it to be more “official”, and also, if someone wants to look for a cello album, it’s easier to find it. Furthermore, the artwork has changed, because now there’s a really beautiful picture made by my girlfriend, who helps and inspires me a lot in my work. It’s still available on my website for free, if one looks for it, and it can also be streamed on youtube or soundcloud, too.
Delays and loops seem to be the rule of the game for a solo project based on a classical instrument. The most obvious example that springs to mind is that of Julia Kent, whom you’ve also played with. Are you comfortable working along these parameters?
I met Julia when Barbara de Dominicis asked me to record the Valdapozzo’s and the Forte Marghera’s sessions of their project Parallel41. I had the chance to improvise with Julia during a break (luckily, I’d left the mics on… and it ended up great!). I really loved playing with her, and I hope we’ll have a chance to do a live set together one day. The landscape of sounds that we created realtime was only possible through the use of our delays and looping machines. I love the idea of arranging tracks for more than one cello and perform them live with my looper. I use the classic boss rc-20 and ableton live for looping. Being repetitive with delay and loops is also a good form of meditation that really works for me, and it also helps me to compose classical-ish tracks, without worrying about writing down harmonies. I love hitting that overdub button and let my ears do the rest! It’s a pity that teachers don’t use loopers at the conservatory in Italy. They could be useful for a lot of exercises and performances.
Let’s stay with the cello for a moment, which is your instrument of choice. You come from a musical family and both your father and your brother are musicians. What attracted you to this particular instrument in the first place?
When I was a child my mother took my brother and I to our father’s concerts. When you have a symphonic orchestra in front of you, it’s impossible to remain indifferent to the various sounds, shapes and colours of all of those instruments! The moment of the concert I always liked the most was in the backstage, when musicians were rehearsing their most difficult parts or were just relaxing with their instruments, and then I suddenly saw him… the cello player, seated on a chair in his corner trying to find the perfect tune of his instrument and doing long notes with the bow to help him concentrate on the colour of the notes. When I was 6 years old, I asked my dad to bring me a cello home, and everything started the very next day!
The cello also seems to lend itself very nicely to “electronic contaminations”. I am thinking of recent examples such as Cello+Laptop and Mem1. Do you find these works inspiring or do you go back to classics such as Bach’s Cello Suites for guidance or do you draw from contemporary composers such as Alexander Knaifel, Sofia Gubaidulina or Alfred Schnittke in your work?
The cello fits very well with electronic, it’s such an open instrument, able to produce almost every kind of sound and to recreate different situations from rock to dance and classic.
As for myself, I could say I am mostly inspired by soundtracks, even though I prefer to be inspired by feelings rather than by other musicians, who attempt just like me to do create something original. Obviously I’ve always listened to a lot of music, from classical to hardcore, but in the past few years I’m less open to external influences in music. I prefer to take a walk, or to look at someone in the eyes, living a beautiful or a bad experience and be inspired by that, rather than listening to someone else’s music. It’s distracting. Now I listen to music when I read something or when I need to reach a certain feeling and I don’t have the right instrument to play. An album I can’t stop listening is “Giorni Rubati”, by Erik Friedlander and Teho Teardo, it’s a perfect combination between cello and electronic. They’re both great musicians and composers, like all the names that you mentioned.
You have also invented the Matilda, a “circuit bent instrument”. It’s made out of different recycled objects, and as you explain yourself, it is “totally easy & fun to play”, sort of a “keyboard for dummies”. As you also explain, by plugging it into a bass amp, it will go from very low frequencies all the way up to very high whistles. Also, the Matilda features in Barbara De Dominicis and Julia Kent’s album Parallel 41. What was the inspiration behind it and what future use do you envisage for it?
Doing circuit bending for me is part of my daily researches in music and sounds. Today, we use a smartphone to do everything, but I remember when one had to have something to play with, a calculator to do your maths, a walkman to listen to music, and so on. Now all these things are “trash”, useless. Fortunately there’s a pretty huge community of circuit bending, and I think they are doing a great job in recycling plastic and making new instruments that look like Art. After watching few tutorials about circuit bending on youtube, I was playing with an old walkie-talkie, trying to make some sounds out of it. I was impressed by the lyricism of that object, from bass to whistle, from melodic to brutal, it was just perfect for my needs. In those days my lovely niece was born, and the choice of the name for the new instrument, made from one of my favorite childhood toy, was obvious to me: Matilda, like the name of my brother’s baby. Matilda’s future? Uncertain, like all the things I do, but it will always be around, even if it might end as the tomorrow’s trash? Keep recycling!
One of the albums you have collaborated on is Andrea Ferraris and Matteo Uggeri’s Autumn Is Coming We Are All In Slow Motion, which you also mastered. Is the technical side of music, from recording to mixing and mastering, something you are keen to do yourself and that you take pleasure in or is it simply something you have learnt to do out of necessity?
To begin with, I was just curious about how one can record a voice or an instrument and make it sound beautiful, then it became a necessity, because I never had the money to go to a studio. I like it best this way because I have full control on what I do, and I can manage my own time. It took many years before I did something professional, and I will never stop learning. Recording, mixing and mastering are 3 totally different worlds, and I’m trying to put a step into all of them. With Matteo Uggeri and Andrea Ferraris we already worked a lot in studio together, I’ve recorded and mixed two Airchamber3′s albums and I recently recorded the last album for Sparkle in Grey. With internet, things have really changed, thanks to that I’ve recorded myself for Carla Bozulich and Scott McCloud. It’s amazing that the cello tracks were ready to be mixed in California and New York in the space of a click. Now a studio is more than ever a network of studios, so I need to be always ready and know how to record myself.
To follow the Andrea Ferraris link, could you illustrate to me the Airchamber3 project you share with Andrea and your own brother Luca Serrapiglio with its piercing and dramatic style?
Airchamber3 is a project where I can really be myself with no worries. Now we’re living in three different cities, so it’s difficult to rehearse, but every time we manage to do so, it’s like when you meet an old good friend. Nothing has changed, things just evolved. I think it’s even better because when you don’t see each other for a long time, then you have a lot to say.
The result is always a soundtrack for a movie that still doesn’t exist, but it’s already in our projects. We like a lot to collaborate with talented friends, with the formula “Airchamber3 + n”. We had guests like Barbara de Dominicis, Dominic Cramp, Gianni Mimmo, Alessandro Buzzi, Luminance Ratio, Leonardo Diana and a super guest for the upcoming album, Vincenzo Vasi with a track that will blow your minds!
You have also worked with Carla Bozulich on her Evangelista project. What have you learnt from this particular experience?
Carla is a gift of nature, without her I wouldn’t have done so many things. She made me more comfortable and secure with the music I play, as if she took it from the deepest corners of my stomach, and made me throw up the real music, the music that I feel. Fortunately, it worked perfectly for her show too. I think we have great musical chemistry. She taught me how to be on stage with my acoustic cello connected to loopers, distortions, reverbs, delays and a huge bass amp. She shaped the sound on me, helping me find the right pedals, with the right pick-up and the right amp, she knows a lot about it. It was hard work and it took me a couple of tours with her to be able to crank my amp without it feeding back like a screaming pig. I remember the first tour with her, it was a three months tour, one month and a half in the US and the rest in Europe. It was my first tour ever, and it started the week after my cello degree. That was probably the strongest and most beautiful experience of my life, I was so stressed out and the tour was like reading Henry Rollins’ “Get in the Van”, it was fucked. I can almost say that I slept on at least a floor in every country of the US, and then back in the van for a ten hour drive and a soundcheck… I’ve learnt how to be a nomad.
You also play with the Orchestra Multietnica Furastè, which is made of over 20 different musicians from a number of different countries, from Senegal to Ruanda. This seems to be one of many similar Italian based bands, like the Orchestra Multietnica di Arezzo, L’Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio and the Orchestra di Via Padova, designed to unite local talent with international musicians from immigrant communities.
I’ve always played with musicians from all around the world, and one of my best experiences is with the great percussionist Adama Ndjaye Rose, who comes from the most important family in Senegal for the Sabar. They played with Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones and other big musicians. He recommended I went and played with that multiethnic orchestra and I spent a great year with them, so many talented musicians, so many different influences. I was also recording the album in my studio, everything was ready but we had a big argument with the organization, which resulted in 15 of us walking out. We are now planning new concerts but without the name Furastè, that name is still alive but with conditions that me and other musicians don’t like.
Last year you wrote a piece in memory of Vittorio Arrigoni, the Italian peace activist killed in Gaza. I am intrigued by the title of the track, Song of the Birds as often birdsong is used as a lazy shortcut to conjure up ideas of pastoral beauty and serene landscapes. Here it introduces an element of disquiet. Could you elaborate on the ideas behind this particular track?
Vittorio was a citizen of the world, who didn’t believe in borders and flags but in dreams, and so do I. He was a good shepherd in hell, and I wanted to recreate the same situation using an arrangement made by Pablo Casals from an old Catalan Christmas song “El Cant des Ocells”. That song was just perfect, I only needed to recreate hell, and for me the war is the closest thing to it, so I decided to fill the song with bombs and strike fighters. That was my small tribute to his life, dedicated to the people.
Like Andrea Ferraris, you are from Alessandria, Piedmont, but have recently left that city for Turin, whereas Andrea chose Genova. Could you briefly tell me the reasons behind such a move? Also, Turin seems to have quite an active music scene as well, with people like Eniac, Andrea Valle and Easychord, to name but a few. Was that one of the factors that prompted your move?
I love Torino, there’s a great musical scene, one can go to a concert every night and listen to music on the streets. It’s like a smaller version of Paris, another city that I love. Being able to discover new sounds so often was one of the main reasons for sure. Alessandria is like a dead end track, all one can do is to go for a pint in a pub, listen to commercial music and later have to return home without being able to see a thing because of the ever present wall of fog, typical of my hometown. With the new mayor Rita Rossa I now see some new hope for music and art, but everything needs to be reinvented, because for the first time an Italian city went bankrupt, and it was Alessandria.
Finally, Barbara De Dominicis has been singing the praises of Valdapozzo to me, a beautiful farmhouse in the Piedmont valleys, where you play and rehearse. How much does this particular location inform your music and more generally speaking how does the Italian soundscape influence your compositional approach if at all?
Valdapozzo is not just a place to rehearse, it has more than 20 years of activity. All kinds of shows have taken place there, every year. Several albums happened in Valdapozzo, a couple of them recorded by me. The acoustics of the main room, our theatre, are very good. No external sounds, can be heard even if it’s not acoustically treated. I recently joined the group of people that runs it, and I finally feel at home, with technicians, musicians, photographers, sculpture makers, light designers, etc. There’s always something to talk about with these guys, it’s amazing. I just lived there for 2 weeks, making the music for the new show by the choreographer Leonardo Diana, with my brother and 3 dancers. The atmosphere in the choreographies is already mystical, but the surreal landscapes that surround Valdapozzo helped a lot for sure.